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Training for Kilimanjaro

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By Turtle - Posted on 27 September 2008

Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling book In Defense of Food, famously simplified the topic of healthy eating down to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In that spirit, we present you the KiliTrekker.Com training plan for climbing Kilimanjaro: "Walk. Lots. Preferably hills."

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenge within reach for most people with normal fitness levels, but the more physically fit and prepared you are, the more you're likely to enjoy the climb (instead of being totally focused on your sore legs and feet). You'll hardly ever hear a returning Kili climber say "I wish I had trained less for that."

If you're not sure if you're fit enough to climb Kili, check out our compilation of fitness guidelines for climbing Kilimanjaro. We've also pulled together detailed training plans for Kili, in case you need more structure than our simplified "Walk. Lots. Preferably hills." plan.


Running, bicycling, swimming, elliptical trainers, and so on are great for training your aerobic fitness, but remember that on Kilimanjaro you'll be walking. By all means do the other activities, but be sure to include walking in your fitness routine too, as muscular fitness is very activity specific. I relearn this fact every winter in Canada, when I'm sore for the first few days of ski season no matter how much bicycling and running and other exercise I've done for the rest of the year.

Also try to wear the hiking boots you'll be taking to Kilimanjaro. If you've got full leather boots, they'll require some breaking in before the climb. Walking in your boots will also help to toughen up your feet, and you'll learn if there are any spots that cause blisters or pain. You don't want to find out on day 2 of a 7 day Kilimanjaro climb that your new boots give you agonizing blisters!


An hour long evening stroll through your neighbourhood is good training, but a full day hike is better, and best of all is to do long walks on consecutive days. On a typical Kilimanjaro trek, you might be averaging about six hours a day of walking for seven days in a row, with one gruelling summit day of 12+ hours. Your training should include a few walks or hikes of at least 4-6 hours to know what you're in for.

We know it can be hard to fit full day or multi day hikes into a busy schedule, so try to make walking a part of your daily life. Try walking to work or school, and when you have errands to run, ask yourself "can I walk there?" It may take longer than driving, but overall you'll save time (for example 1 hour walking to the store, vs. 20 minutes driving + a separate 1 hour training walk), plus you'll save a bit of money, and reduce your carbon footprint too!

Preferably hills.

Remember how muscular training is very activity specific, and a summer of cycling doesn't prevent sore legs on the first day of skiing? That also applies to walking on the flats vs. walking up and down hills. If at all possible, you should include hikes in hilly terrain in your Kilimanjaro fitness plan. Best of all is to do sustained climbs and descents on other (smaller) mountains, but I made do with walking laps up and down a steep section of a local hiking trail. Other climbers have trained by climbing the stairs in highrise apartment building or office towers.

Don't forget that descending is as much a part of the trek as climbing. I actually found the descent from the summit to Mweka camp (around 9,000 feet of descent in one day) to be the toughest part of the Kilimanjaro climb. Hiking poles are helpful for balance when descending, and to take a bit of the strain off your knees.

Remember, your Kilimanjaro fitness training plan doesn't need to be complicated, just Walk. Lots. Preferably hills. Make sure you start at least a few months before your climb, as it will be too late if you wait til a week or two before departure to start training.

Turtle says "pole pole"