Where do you sleep when you climb Kilimanjaro? What sort of bedding do you need to bring? Why is it hard to sleep at altitude? And is there anything you can do to make sleeping on Kilimanjaro easier? We answer these questions and more in this post. This way you can head on your Kilimanjaro climb confident that you’re fully equipped for the adventure ahead – as well as that all-important sleep!
Sleeping on Kilimanjaro is an important and often overlooked part of every climb. Getting enough sleep is an essential part of an enjoyable experience on the mountain. The key is to be prepared with the right equipment, as well as the right attitude. For instance, you want the right gear to be both warm and comfortable. You also want to understand the struggles with sleep that many face at high altitude so that you don’t stress if you experience them too.
- Where do you sleep when you climb Kilimanjaro?
- What nighttime gear must I pack?
- Why is it hard to sleep at altitude?
- 6 tips for sleeping soundly on Kilimanjaro
- Things we love about nighttime on Kilimanjaro
Where do you sleep when you climb Kilimanjaro?
When you trek Mt Kilimanjaro, you sleep in one of two places: in a mountain hut or a tent. Most trekkers sleep in tented camps, as only the Marangu route offers hut accommodation. Everyone hiking one of the other seven Kilimanjaro routes must camp.
Fortunately, things are made easier for you as your porters carry all of the camping equipment and also set up camp for you. While you may be a hardy sort who’d be happy to carry your own camping gear and make camp yourself, that’s just not how Kilimanjaro works. Nobody can climb Kilimanjaro on their own. Instead, you must climb the mountain with a registered tour operator and assisted by a mountain crew.
Everyone hiking one of the other seven Kilimanjaro routes must camp. Personally, we think camping is the more fun option.
Like many other tour operators, we at Follow Alice provide our climbers with high-grade domed tents that comfortably sleep two people. If you’re joining us as a solo trekker, we can find someone for you to share a tent with, if you’d like. This is a great way to meet and bond with a fellow climber. It’s also a little more affordable. If, however, you’d like a tent of your own, that’s totally doable too.
The huts provided by Kilimanjaro National Park are wooden, A-frame structures. They contain beds with mattresses, though you must bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. The huts were built along the Marangu route as this is the original Kilimanjaro route. It’s a well-established route with a decently gradual incline. It’s also sometimes called the Coco-Cola route, as you can buy a couple of amenities like a Coke at some of the overnight stops. It’s consequently a fairly popular route and can become rather crowded at times.
What nighttime gear must I pack?
The following five items are essentials for everyone climbing Kilimanjaro. The one exception is the sleeping mat for those hiking the Marangu route, as the mountain huts have mattresses.
But let’s start with that most essential of all nighttime items: the trusty sleeping bag.
It’s incredibly important to bring the right sort of sleeping bag to Kilimanjaro. You can’t pussyfoot around with a flimsy little bag; you’re heading up Africa’s tallest mountain, and it has an arctic climate at the summit! This means every Kilimanjaro trekker needs a four-season sleeping bag to keep them warm at night. (Learn more about the type of sleeping bag required for the trek in our Kilimanjaro packing list.)
Many companies require you to bring your own sleeping bag to Kilimanjaro. This is fine, unless of course you don’t have one (or one that is warm enough). A quality four-season sleeping bag doesn’t come cheap, and not everyone is necessarily in the market for one. At Follow Alice, included in our trip price is a four-season sleeping bag for you to use during the trek. The bags we use can keep you warm near the summit. Having a sleeping bag provided for you means you don’t need to travel with a sleeping bag, nor do you need to rent or buy if you don’t have one. It’s a big saver both in terms of cost and admin.
We also provide our climbers with sleeping bag liners. These are laundered after every climb. You could also of course bring your own liner if you prefer.
At Follow Alice we provide you with a four-season sleeping bag that can keep you warm during the cold nights on Kilimanjaro.
A sleeping mat is an important piece of gear for any trekker sleeping in a tent. It’s an extra layer between you and the cold, hard ground. Your sleeping mat should be thick and insulated to keep you both warm and comfortable. (Remember that you fortunately don’t have to carry your own sleeping gear, as the porters in your mountain crew do this for you.)
At Follow Alice we include thermal sleeping mats in our package price – a further item you don’t need to think about. 🙂
A thermal sleeping mat is important for keeping you warm and comfortable at night.
Most people like a pillow for when they sleep, and Kilimanjaro is not the time to do without an essential nighttime comfort. You could bring along a pillow, though of course it shouldn’t be too big, as it needs to fit in your duffel bag.
We provide our climbers with blow-up pillows, so you have this option if you’d like it. But we’ve found that sometimes you don’t feel like blowing up a pillow at high altitude, where you already feel a little breathless at times. A really handy trick is to simply bring a pillow case and put your down jacket inside it each night. Et voilà! A down pillow for a beautifully comfortable sleep.
If you stuff your down jacket in a pillow case, you have a beautifully soft pillow for nighttime!
Speaking of down jackets, you need one for Kilimanjaro! This is especially true at night, when the temperatures are regularly well below freezing point. Remember that you’re climbing to almost 6,000 m above sea level; the climate near the top of the mountain is alpine desert and then arctic. Down is an incredibly warm material that’s perfect for a jacket battling subzero temperatures.
A down jacket (or similar) is an expensive item, and not everyone has one. If you’d like to rent one from Follow Alice, you can do so for $40.
Of course you also need other warm items for nighttime on Kilimanjaro, like a beanie and thermal gloves. We list and discuss these items in our comprehensive Kilimanjaro packing list.
We have down jackets perfectly suited for the harsh conditions of Kilimanjaro that our climbers can rent for $40.
Everyone needs a head torch (flashlight) at night on Kilimanjaro. Navigating around camp is tricky without it. There are lamps inside the mess tent for when it’s dark, however, apart from that, you need to provide your own light. When you’re in your own tent, or heading to the toilet tent, you need a head torch to make movement easy. It’s generally good practice to keep it in your pocket, so you’re never without it.
Be sure to test out the torch before leaving home to ensure it still works. And we advise putting fresh batteries in it too.
Some people like to bring a separate hand torch on the climb as well. Or you could consider a little standing lamp for inside your tent. Both are good ideas. 🙂
To keep yourself from fumbling around camp and tripping over guy ropes, ensure you bring a head torch on the trek.
Why is it hard to sleep at altitude?
Sleeping at altitude is notoriously hard. Some people find it hard to fall asleep at all when at altitude, while others find that they wake during the night and then can’t drop back off again. Others find that they sleep fitfully. Sleeplessness and interrupted sleep are just the name of the game in high-altitude trekking.
The reason it’s hard to sleep at high altitude is that the reduced oxygen affects your breathing. This isn’t something to worry about, it just means you may well have poorer quality sleep, and struggle with fatigue the next day. Again, this is normal and part of the course. Yet another reason you need determination to reach the top of Kilimanjaro!
So when you reach the higher altitudes of Kilimanjaro, you can expect to find sleep hard. Or at least harder than usual. In one sense, you want to just accept this, especially if you’re one of those people who stress about lying there awake and by doing so make sleep even more evasive! Understanding that most people find sleeping on Kilimanjaro to be difficult might eliminate a little of the stress.
So yes, falling asleep high up on Kilimanjaro can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you sleep better …
6 tips for sleeping soundly on Kilimanjaro
Based on our own experiences of climbing Kilimanjaro, here are our top tips for sleeping well at night.
1. Shake your sleeping bag before getting in
Your sleeping bag will have been squashed into a bundle for transport during the day, and this can lead to the bag’s inner clumping. This is especially the case with bags made with down, for instance. You want the inner to be spread evenly for the warmest sleep. So we advise shaking out your bag before getting inside.
2. Bring a soft, comfortable and warm hat
You probably already know that most of your body heat is lost through your extremities, which includes your head. Even if your sleeping bag has a hood, we highly recommend a really comfortable beanie for bedtime. This should be a separate beanie to the one you wear while trekking, so that it’s always clean and dry. A super-soft beanie made from wool, cashmere, felt or the like works really well.
3. Don’t drink too much just before bed
It’s a good idea to limit your liquid intake in the hour or so before bed. Nobody wants to need the loo in the middle of the dark, cold night. That said, you should balance with this advice to drink plenty of water. Water is invaluable in helping to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. So we recommend drinking plenty of water throughout the day, but then stopping a little while before bedtime. Rather take only little sips in that last hour to reduce the chances of needing the toilet in the middle of the night.
4. Go to the toilet just before hitting the sack
Linked to the tip above, we recommend making a loo stop just before going to bed. Even if you don’t feel the need much – go for a paranoia pee. That said, if you wake up in the middle of the night and need to wee, just bite the bullet and visit the dunny tent. Get it over and done with, we say, rather than laying there miserable.
5. Sleep in layered clothing
If you’re trekking Kilimanjaro with a proper four-season sleeping bag, you shouldn’t need to wear too much warm clobber in bed. That said, some nights are so icy that you may well want the extra insulation of some warm clothes. We recommend wearing a few layers to bed so you can just peel off one or two should you become too hot. It’s less hassle to strip off a layer than to rummage for more clothes to put on.
6. Wear earplugs
At night things are generally pretty quiet, as everyone at camp is on the same wavelength and wants a good night’s sleep! That said, there can be a hum of chatter and activity, especially if you’re one of the first to hit the hay. Also, the porters and cooks always wake up before you in the mornings, as they need to complete certain tasks like making breakfast. We therefore recommend light sleepers bring along comfortable earplugs for the nighttime. Even if you’re not a light sleeper … snorers. ’Nough said.
Keen for more Kilimanjaro tips? Check out our 10 tips for climbing and summiting Mt Kilimanjaro.
Things we love about nighttime on Kilimanjaro
Nighttime on Kilimanjaro is truly special. Just ask anyone who’s been. There’s the sight of all the tents lit up from within against the settling darkness. And you know that for a few days you’re a member of a special, small and intrepid community huddled together on the side of an immense and forbidding mountain.
Hanging around for sunsets
At camps such as Karanga Camp and Shira 2 Camp, you can witness some of the most spectacular sunsets. We definitely recommend that you venture outside whilst the sun is disappearing to enjoy these special moments on the mountain. You’ll discover spectacular colours and often rolling clouds that quickly change hue with the dipping sun. A fine reward for a hard day’s work!
Looking up at starry skies
When climbing Kilimanjaro, we love to gaze up at the vast starry night sky. When you’re high on the mountain, there’s little to no light pollution, so the night sky is brilliantly clear. The Milky Way is a clear swathe above you, and you can enjoy looking for the Southern Cross.
Waking up for sunrises
The sunrises on Kilimanjaro are beautiful. This is especially the case once you’ve climbed above the rainforest zone and enter the moorland, alpine desert and, finally, arctic zones. These climate zones have few or no trees to obstruct your view over the plains surrounding the mountain. Also, you’re frequently looking down on the cloudbank that rests over the lower slopes. When the sun rises above the cloudbank, you feel as if you’re above the world! We highly recommend taking a moment (even if it’s just with your head poking out of your tent door) to watch the sun each morning as it climbs up into the sky.
Kilimanjaro summit night
Did you know that no matter which of the seven Kilimanjaro routes you choose, on summit ‘day’ you actually start your ascent to the peak at midnight? This is because summit day is one heck of a long day – depending on your route, you trek for around 13 hours today. Even the term ‘summit day’ could be said to be a misnomer, as much of the day is spent descending the mountain. That’s right, you summit Kilimanjaro and descend a large portion of it all in one day, starting at midnight! It’s the Big Push, if you will, and many describe this part of the climb as the most mentally and physically challenging part of the whole experience.
Kilimanjaro full-moon climbs
A Kilimanjaro full-moon climb is the ultimate in Kilimanjaro trekking. Given that you start summit day at midnight, a full-moon climb means you’re never trekking in the dark, guided just by your beam from your head torch. Instead, the bright light of the full moon illuminates your path the entire way. It makes the climb that much easier, and also that much more beautiful. The moon lets you see the peak you’re heading towards, as well as the bulk of the mountain that you’ve already conquered below you. We love a full-moon climb and cannot recommend it enough!
“I climbed Kilimanjaro during the full moon and it was truly amazing! The views were second to none.” Sarah Johnson