female hiker in front of Kilimanjaro

Advice for women climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Jul 12, 2021

Ladies, let's talk hygiene on Kilimanjaro. Things like where you go to the loo, how to stay clean, and what you do if you get your period. Because forewarned is forearmed!

Here are three (very valid!) questions we're often asked by women preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro:

  • Where do I go to the toilet during the climb?
  • How can I keep clean during the climb?
  • How do I manage my period on the climb?

Read on for our advice on how to prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro as a woman. And don't worry – this is a blog post written by women, based on our own experiences of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, so it's the real deal. 😉

Where do I go to the toilet during the climb?

Needing to wee and not being able to go ... we've all been there, and it's stressful! When climbing Kilimanjaro, you'll need to wee fairly often. Altitude makes us urinate more frequently plus you'll be drinking more water than usual. So here's some basic info and advice when it comes to:

  • peeing while hiking
  • pooping while hiking
  • the toilet tent at camp

Peeing while hiking

You'll be drinking a lot of water during your Kilimanjaro climb. In fact, you should be drinking a minimum of three litres a day! That means you'll be needing to go to the toilet a lot. Additionally, the higher you climb, the more often you need to go, as altitude makes you urinate more frequently.

Some women climbing Kilimanjaro like to use a Shewee or similar urinating device to make it easier to take a leak whilst hiking. These devices let you wee in a similar way to a man: you just need to turn your back on the crowd, unzip your trousers and push your knickers aside, then wee into the contraption. The funnel ensures your wee comes out in a stream away from your feet. We suggest you opt for a device that comes with a storage container.

Urinating devices

Female urinating devices are, of course, all about personal preference. But know that you won't be the only one using it on the mountain. The higher up the mountain you climb, the less vegetation there is to hide behind for dropping your trousers and copping a squat. The 'bush' toilet will turn into a 'rock' toilet. You might also find during tiring stretches of the hike that you're grateful for the heightened ease and efficiency offered by the Shewee.

Consider bringing a Shewee or similar female urinating device so that you can pee at any time without needing to find something to hide behind!

Friends celebrating Kilimanjaro

Come prepared with all the little practical items you need so you can just focus on enjoying the adventure!

 

 

Pooping while hiking

Hiking at altitude often makes bowel movements more frequent. So it's quite likely that you'll need to pooh while on the trail. It's best to prepare yourself mentally and practically for this (deciding you won't need to go before reaching camp, or that you'll talk your bowel into submission, isn't really a plan, and just provides unnecessary stress).

Biodegradable disposable bags for toilet paper

To help keep the nature of Kilimanjaro National Park in tip-top condition, any toilet paper and wipes you use on the trail mustn't be left on the mountain (not even if buried). Instead, please pack biodegradable (compostable) disposable bags so that you can use one each time you go poop for storing your used loo paper and wet wipes. You can then get rid of these every evening in camp. You basically want the same bags you'd use for taking your dog for a walk – small ones where you just tie a knot to close it.

It's important to note that Tanzania doesn't allow regular single-use plastic bags to be bought into the country. So the bags you bring must be biodegradable ones.

Note that you're likely to fart quite a lot on summit day. But don't worry, everyone else is doing it too! It's a side effect of high altitude.

The toilet tent in camp

Unless you're hiking the Marangu route, which provides permanent hut accommodation, you'll usually be using a portable toilet inside a tent when in camp. Most tour operator provides its trekkers with a private toilet tent. Be sure to check your trip inclusions. If a private toilet is not listed here, you will be using the public toilets at camp.

We recommend going to the toilet tent every morning just before breaking camp to try eliminate (pun intended) the need to do a no. 2 on the trail. We also highly, highly recommend going to the loo just before bedtime, even if it is just a paranoia pee. You do not want to have to go to the toilet too many times in the middle of the night while on Kilimanjaro. Waking your tent buddy by cursing over a sleeping bag zipper that won't open ... fumbling for the tent door ... having a heart attack at how cold it is outside ... tripping over the tent's guy ropes ... once is enough!

For this same reason, we suggest having any hot drinks early in the evening, and not right before bedtime.

We highly recommend going to the toilet just before getting into your sleeping bag for the night!

Camp Kilimanjaro

Your Kilimanjaro tour operator will supply a toilet tent for use in camp

How can I keep clean during the climb?

Keeping clean on a Kilimanjaro climb is an interesting exercise. At no point on the mountain is there showers available, unless you're hiking the Marangu route, which does offer cold showers. For the rest of us hiking one of the other seven Kilimanjaro routes, there'll be no showering during the trek. And that means we'll all be getting a bit smellier than normal.

We suggest that you both embrace the holiday from hygiene while still keeping the worst at bay by following these handy tips with regards to:

  • 'bathing'
  • nails
  • hair

Prepare yourself for the fact that you – along with everyone else – will have to drop your hygiene standards a little during the trek, as showers simply aren't possible.

'Bathing'

Every evening in camp your mountain crew will provide you with a pallet of warm water and soap for washing faces and hands. This is known as 'washy washy'. We suggest you bring along a face cloth for some extras scrubbing power. Maybe even a small nailbrush if dirt under your fingernails will perplex you.

If you have sensitive facial skin, you might like to bring some cleansing face wipes too.

Also don't forget a quick-drying, small microfibre towel for drying off. If this has a loop or hook attached, that's useful, as you can then more easily hang it up in your tent to dry.

In addition, we recommend you bring some biodegradable wet wipes and feminine wipes for further strategic cleaning when in your tent. You'll be able to dispose of these in the camp bin.

Nails

We recommend cutting your nails short just before starting the trek to avoid (too much) dirt getting under them. A small scrubbing brush and a toothpick for cleaning under your nails might also be good ideas. If the sight of dirty nails horrifies you, than we recommend wearing a dark nail polish to hide the dirt.

Group shot Kilimanjaro

Caps and bandannas are good options for hiding dirty hair

Hair

You're going to be on the mountain for around seven days without a shower. So it's a good idea to plan ahead of time what you want to do about your hair. And since everyone's hair is different, we suggest making a game plan based on what you know about your own hair.

Obviously a good idea is to wash your hair just before you head to the mountain, that way you're golden for the first couple of days. After that, consider tying longer hair in a plait to limit the dust that can settle on it. Giving it a brush at night should also help to remove a bit of dust and any freeloaders like the odd small leaf.

From then on, the plan might simply be a bandanna, beanie or cap that keeps it covered. And that's a solid, Kili-stlye plan. We suggest you might like to use the head cover as well as utilise a little baby powder or dry shampoo at the roots, to keep the oiliness under control. Be sure also that your hair tie (if you have long hair) is sturdy, or that you have a backup band should yours break or get lost.

We suggest you pack a small brush or comb as well as a small bottle of dry shampoo or baby powder.

How do I manage my period on the climb?

According to the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, a woman's menstrual cycle can be affected by changes in altitude, particularly a great increase in altitude. This means climbing up Mt Kilimanjaro could well result in 'surprises', from causing your period to stop before usual to causing it to be early, irregular or longer than the norm. Basically, your period should be thought of as a wildcard on a high-altitude trek. And this means that every lady with a period should prepare to deal with it on the climb, even if you're trekking at a time that you know you shouldn't get it.

High altitude can change your period in various ways, and so every lady with a period should be prepared mentally and practically to deal with it during the climb.

Kilimanjaro camp

As you can see, beanies are the name of the game!

Q&As with past hiker Micaela

We chatted with a couple of ladies – Natasha and Micaela – who hiked Kilimanjaro and had to deal with their periods during the climb. Here's what they had to say in response to the following handful questions ...

1. Were you expecting to start your period during your climb?

Natasha:

I wasn’t due to start my period on the climb – I was actually due to start about a week after I came back down from the mountain. I therefore hadn’t really done much research around it beforehand, so I wasn't prepared at all!

Micaela:

I had read up a little bit about handling [one's period at] altitude, and there were bits and pieces of information floating around the internet about other climbers dealing with it. I wasn't supposed to get my period, but it happened, and I'm so glad I prepared for it!

2. What provisions did you pack (even if for just in case)?

Natasha:

I always carry things with me just in case, and I had a last-minute "Ah, take those tampons with you, you never know" kind of moment when I was packing the night before. I’m so glad I did! Not quite sure what I would have done otherwise. I packed:

  • tampons 
  • panty liners
  • small, disposable rubbish bags
  • feminine wipes

Micaela:

I packed:

  • Luüna pads, as I was worried about the hygiene around tampons and my menstrual cup, so I opted for pads.
  • Baby powder to keep my underwear dry and fresh during the long days of hiking and no baths. 
  • Feminine hygiene wipes for cleansing and refreshing. 
  • A biodegradable plastic bag that was designated for collecting and holding the waste when needing to change while climbing.
I wasn't supposed to get my period, but it happened, and I'm so glad I prepared for it!

– Tash

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Micaela and hubby at the summit!

3. How did you manage with your litter?

Natasha:

You aren't allowed to take plastic bags to Tanzania due to the government-imposed plastic ban. I therefore took some degradable small bags with me to put my litter into, so if I was on the move I would use those and put it in my pocket until I got to camp. There are bins at each camp so I would dispose of anything I had 'accumulated' along the way in those!

Micaela:

I had one bag that I carried in my daypack that held my waste and another that contained my 'period kit'. Organisation is critical on the mountain! I made sure to use hand sanitiser before changing my pad, and did my best to breathe through the frustrating moments.  

4. How did you manage any period pains?

Natasha:

It was really interesting, actually, I didn’t experience much pain at all from having come on my period during the climb. Usually I have a really painful first day, like, excruciating to the point that I am curled up in a ball with a hot water bottle. But on the mountain it was completely different. I experienced very little (if any) pain and it caused me very little discomfort whilst trekking.

The main inconvenience was the admin, but even that was less than usual because my flow was also really light. I assume the altitude made my whole cycle a little strange and unusual!

Micaela:

I took it slow, and I kept my guide informed if I was struggling. There is no reason to lie, and if you're hurting, it's better to be honest. They always knew how to help. I also took Advil and then used the heating pads at camp to ease the pain.  

There was something about getting my period while climbing the world's tallest freestanding mountain that made me feel like such a warrior!
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Climbing Kilimanjaro is one of the most hardcore things you'll ever do in your life!

5. Overall, how did being on your period affect your experience on Kilimanjaro?

Natasha:

On the whole, being on my period didn’t really affect me much. As I mentioned before, it was more the extra admin of having to change my tampon and being aware of timings, etc. Something I didn’t really want to have to be thinking about, but alas, nature calls. In hindsight, I would have liked to have been a little bit more prepared mentally. I think knowing that the altitude could induce my period would have taken away the shock factor slightly, but apart from that, it really wasn’t too much of a bother for me. Now I kind of like the ‘achievement’ of having summited the roof of Africa whilst on my period. Haha. 

Micaela:

There was something about getting my period while climbing the world's tallest freestanding mountain that made me feel like such a warrior. It was hard, but I kept saying to myself, "If I can do this, I believe I can do anything." And I did! You won't believe how many times I've said to myself in the last six months, "You climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, on your period, this is nothing."

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Don't let your period deter you from achieving something amazing!

6. What advice would you give to other women about dealing with their periods on the mountain?

Natasha:

Know that the altitude can do all kinds of funky things to your menstrual cycle, especially if you are due on slightly after your climb. It can induce your period and, from my experience, make the whole experience different. Bring along your usual kit for the climb and be prepared for it to happen, that way you can’t really go wrong!

Talk about it with others and find out about their experiences of being at high altitude as a woman. It’s a topic that not a lot of people openly discuss, but such a massive factor – one that can affect your experience quite a lot if you do experience pain as part of your cycle.

Micaela:

Don't be ashamed! It's totally normal, and plan for it to happen! Because it probably will. 

Communicate with your fellow climbers. I climbed with my husband, and I briefed him on how I might have to deal with this, and he was so patient and helpful because we prepared for it. Just like you'd pack to be ready for anything that mountain throws your way, these conversations are important preparation too. 

Celebrate it!! It totally sucks and will not be fun, but having a positive mindset is EVERYTHING when tackling Kili. Don't let it discourage you, and don't sit in pain. You are stronger than you realise. Heck, we can birth humans!! Remember that!

 

 

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