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Training for Kilimanjaro

How to Prepare for High Altitude?

Climbing a mountain is not merely about one’s cardiovascular endurance. Lower saturation of oxygen experienced at higher altitudes has a physical effect on all bodies; even the most athletic. While cardio exercises certainly help prepare the body for the physical activity every hiker will engage in during the climb, aerobic exercise alone cannot fully prepare for the conditions at 19,000 feet/5790 meters.

  • Oxygen at Various Altitudes

    Mount Kilimanjaro is at an altitude of 19,341 feet/5,895 meters, meaning that every breath accumulates less than half the amount of oxygen that one breathes at sea level.
    Now, those who already reside at higher altitudes are at an advantage. Their bodies have adapted over time to the less saturated oxygen. However, that ‘advantage’ is not necessarily everything - because no one lives at the high altitude of the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. No matter what your normal altitude level, there will be some amount of acclimatization for all hikers.
    It is imperative to allow for adequate acclimatization to a successful climb; meaning, don’t try to run up the mountain. Schedule your climb with adequate days to ensure your body is appropriately (and safely!) adjusting to the increased altitude.
    Prepare for the altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro by training on a regular basis at least 8 weeks before beginning your climb. Physical exercise is important, and a routine should be at least 4 times a week, and include aerobic exercises, strength training and hiking. Also consider the use of altitude simulators to give you even more of an advantage and help you reach Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.

    • All you need to know about training for Kilimanjaro

      Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the highest point in Africa - it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world! Any climber who attempts to climb Kilimanjaro should prepare mentally and physically with an exercise regime and an understanding of altitude.
      Every year an estimated 35,000 or more climbers take on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, statistics show a failure rate of anywhere from 30%, to even as high as 50% of all climbers. Meaning anywhere from a third to a half of all climbers turn back.
      While Kilimanjaro is a ‘walkable mountain’ - meaning there is no need for specialized equipment to reach the top - it does not mean that it is an easy climb. Hikers should be physically fit, but at 19,340 feet (5,895 m), simply being in top physical shape may not be enough. Training for Kilimanjaro is essential for a safe and successful summit.

    • Strength and Endurance Training

      Specific physical conditioning is really important. After 20 years of experience of high altitude mountaineering, we can tell you that carrying a weighted backpack, building up the weight you carry, should be at the core of our training. We recommend building up to carrying double the weight you will carry on the mountain. Along with building up to maintaining an endurance based heart rate for 1 hour and 30 minutes in your daily training.

      You should be aiming to build up hiking from 3 to 8 hours once a week. Hiking up and down hills is important, as this will be what you are doing on Kilimanjaro. You should be building from 500m/ 1,640 feet of elevation in a hike to 1,000m/ 3,280 feet in your weekend hike. Building slowly over months is important.

      If you do not have access to hills, then you need to be using a stair master machine in the gym or stairs wherever you can find them. You are not running a marathon, you are hiking up and down the side of a big mountain, with weight on your back, all in a low oxygen environment. Some days are longer than others.

      Your endurance training and leg strength are key components as you train for Kilimanjaro. We have no problem with you mixing up your training, however running should not be your core focus. You need to put on a weighted backpack, building up the weight you will carry and train 5 to 6 days a week. You can read our training advice on the linked page, however, we can tell you that the reasons most people fail to reach the summit is due to two factors; not enough days on the mountain and not doing the specific training that Kilimanjaro demands.