Ours. EBC trek trekkers

Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp: which is harder?

Apr 13, 2022
Reading time: 10 minutes

Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp are two of the world's most famous and challenging high-altitude treks. But they're very different from one another. We discuss these differences and argue that Kilimanjaro is the harder trek overall.

A common question among trekkers and would-be trekkers is if Kilimanjaro is harder than Everest Base Camp? The answer, as you might suspect, is not clear cut. While we feel that at the end of the day Kilimanjaro is the harder of the two treks, there are a couple of reasons for arguing that Everest Base Camp is in fact harder. So we lay before you the reasons for arguing that each is harder to help you decide for yourself.

Let's begin by looking at the two ways in which Kilimanjaro is harder than Everest Base Camp ...

Two reasons for arguing that Kilimanjaro is harder than Everest Base Camp ...

1. On Kilimanjaro you do a night-time summit hike

Summit night on Kilimanjaro is a real test of mettle. Having had only a handful of hours of sleep (or nervous rest), you must leave your warm sleeping bag and prepare for a night-time ascent. Then, around midnight, you head out into the cold and dark to make a go for the summit, known as Uhuru Peak. 

The physical and mental strength required to complete the roughly eight-hour ascent to Uhuru Peak in the thin air cannot be understated. And once you (hopefully) reach the summit, you still have roughly six to eight hours more of hiking ahead of you as you take on the first part of the descent. 

View of the sunrise over a cloudbank as seen from the summit of Kilimanjaro with a glacier in the foreground

View from the summit glacier of Kilimanjaro of sunrise

Summit night involves a really big jump in elevation

Summit night (which also of course bleeds into summit day) is one heck of a challenge, and nothing on Everest Base Camp comes close to it. On the Everest Base Camp trek you only ever trek during the day. 

Further, Everest Base Camp doesn’t require a final big climb – you walk into camp pretty much on the level. In fact, you only ascend 400 m in total on base camp day. On Kilimanjaro, on the other hand, summit night requires you to ascend in elevation by nearly 1,200 m (4,000 ft)!

Isis Gaber

The welcoming sign at Uhuru Peak!

We do wish to point out that occasionally a climb team will opt to start their summit hike during the day. This is not the norm, and we explain why in the blog post below.

2. You (sometimes) climb to high altitude faster on Kilimanjaro 

There are seven Kilimanjaro routes leading up the mountain. Some start higher than others, some approach from different sides of the mountain, some take longer to climb, and on it goes. The shorter and steeper routes – which you complete in fewer days – are the harder routes. 

The hardest routes on Kilimanjaro are the Umbwe and Shira, followed by the Marangu and Rongai. The Lemosho, Machame and Northern Circuit routes are the easier routes (though not easy!) as they allow more days for the ascent. Each of these latter three routes also offers an opportunity to ‘climb high and sleep low’, which is an excellent acclimatisation strategy.  

A view taken from high about over a valley along the Everest Base Camp route and with Tibetan prayer flags blowing wildly in the wind in the foreground

The winds on the Everest Base Camp route can be fierce

Shorter Kilimanjaro routes take you high very quickly

When you do one of the shorter Kilimanjaro routes, you climb to high altitude much more quickly than you do on the Everest Base Camp route. This greatly increases your chances of developing altitude sickness and not making it to the summit. 

On a five-day Kilimanjaro climb, for instance, you ascend nearly 4,000 m over just four days! On the Everest Base Camp trek, however, you ascend about the same elevation over seven days, and one of these is a rest day that allows for acclimatisation. 

 

 

Kilimanjaro has a much lower success rate

Everest Base Camp has a success rate of around 90%. Kilimanjaro’s average is only around 45%! 

The average success rate on Kilimanjaro is half that of Everest Base Camp. 

Low angle of trekkers from behind as they walk along path in moorland zone of Kilimanjaro and heading towards Karanga Camp

Trekkers walking through the moorland band of Kilimanjaro

Of course, the Kilimanjaro average accounts for all of the different routes up the mountain, so this figure can be quite misleading. The eight- and nine-day routes, for instance, enjoy far greater success rates than the five- and six-day routes. In fact, eight- and nine-day Kilimanjaro routes enjoy a similar success rate to Everest Base camp, as we discuss in 10 interesting facts about Mount Kilimanjaro

Don’t underestimate Kilimanjaro

We see over and over again that people underestimate Kilimanjaro. A few don’t train hard enough. But by and large the biggest issue is trekkers choosing routes that don’t allow enough days for the ascent. Altitude sickness is the key reason for the mountain’s low summit success rate, and why so many go home disappointed in not having made it to the top. 

Kilimanjaro’s 5,895 m elevation demands respect, and it’s the ones who afford it this respect that generally reach the summit. 

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We advise opting for at least an eight-day Kilimanjaro trek. Even if you’ve trekked at high altitude before, it’s always better to allow your body adequate time to adjust to the elevation increase. After all, why not do all that you can to bolster your chances of making it to the roof of Africa?!

View of Kilimanjaro from afar with an acacia tree and other vegetation in the foreground

Kilimanjaro rises up out of a plain

Height of Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp

When it comes to the height of Kilimanjaro versus Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro is the higher of the two sites. Uhuru Peak is 5,895 m (19,341 ft) above sea level. Everest Base Camp, by comparison, is 5,364 m (17,598 ft). So you climb half a vertical kilometre higher on Kilimanjaro to reach your destination. 

That said, most folks trekking Everest Base Camp also climb the hill Kala Patthar the day after reaching base camp because it offers a great, unobstructed view of Everest and is 5,643 m (2,106 ft) above sea level. Compared with Uhuru Peak’s 5,895 m, at the end of the day there’s not much difference in the height you must ascend on each trek. 

Two reasons for arguing that Everest Base Camp is harder than Kilimanjaro ...

1. Everest Base Camp is the longer trek

The shortest Kilimanjaro route – the Umbwe – is 53 km (33 miles) in total. The longest route – the Northern Circuit – is 98 km (61 miles) in total. On the other hand, if you trek to Everest Base Camp using the most direct route in and out, you cover 130 km (81 miles) in total. This means Everest Base Camp is a notably longer trek than Kilimanjaro.

A trekker stands by Tibetan prayer flags near to Namche Bazaar, a town that sits along the Everest Base Camp trail and is a common acclimatisation rest stop

Tibetan prayer flags can be found all along the Everest Base Camp route

You need more days to complete Everest Base Camp

A Kilimanjaro climb and descent can be done in as little as five days by the very experienced high-altitude climber. But most people take six to 10 days to complete it. We consider eight to 10 days to be the sweet spot, with seven days being doable in some cases. Those who allow too few days for the ascent run the risk of developing altitude sickness and not summiting the mountain.

The Everest Base Camp trek, on the other hand, usually takes about two weeks. The trek we offer as part of our Everest Base Camp 16-day itinerary takes 13 days. This includes a detour on the return route via the beautiful Gokyo Lakes. It also includes one all-important acclimatisation day during the ascent, where you can either rest or go on a day hike. 

The Everest Base Camp trek usually takes about double the number of days as Kilimanjaro to complete.

You can reduce the overall trek duration of Everest Base Camp by a day or two if you opt to hike the most direct route back. This does, however, mean backtracking, and we feel it’s so much nicer to see some different places and sights on the return journey.

Gokyo Lake and a small settlement on its shore, surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks toped with snow

Gokyo Lake and small settlement surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks

You can also make Everest Base Camp a markedly shorter trek by opting to take a helicopter ride back to your starting point the day after reaching base camp! This option sees you trekking for just eight days, and is offered in our Everest Base Camp 10-day itinerary.

 

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Teahouses vs tents

It’s worth pointing out that you stay in lodges and teahouses on the Everest Base Camp trek, whereas on most routes up Kilimanjaro you stay in tents. The teahouses and lodges have warm communal dining rooms, indoor ablutions, and beds with mattresses. So while it’s a much longer trek, you have some great creature comforts along the way. 

Kilimanjaro campsite at night with tents lit up from inside and a view of the town lights far below and Mt Meru in the far distance

A campsite on the southern slope of Mt Kilimanjaro

Beware trekking fatigue

Please note that there’s a chance of developing trekking fatigue on very long treks. It’s really important to do smaller treks leading up to big treks like Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro to avoid this. 

 

 

2. You hike farther each day on the Everest Base Camp trek

Generally speaking, you trek further each day on the Everest Base Camp trek than you do on a Kilimanjaro climb. While the hiking hours per day tend to be similar for each trek (around four to eight hours, summit night excluded), daily distances on the Everest Base Camp tend to be longer.  

On the Everest Base Camp route, you hike roughly 10 to 18 km (6 to 11 miles) a day. On Kilimanjaro, by contrast, you hike around 4 to 11 km (2 to 7 miles) per day, not counting summit day. This means you need to walk a few extra kilometres each day on the Everest Base Camp trek.

You need greater fitness and endurance to complete the Everest Base Camp trek. 

It’s worth noting that the terrain underfoot can be treacherous on both treks. We’re talking narrow contour paths, gravel, loose stones, rocks, scree, ice and snow. This makes both treks harder than those with only smooth trails. 

A line of trekkers walks along a trail through the snow on the Everest Base camp route

At certain times of year you can expect to trek through snow in the higher part of the trek

So which is harder: Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp?

Most people agree that Kilimanjaro is harder than Everest Base Camp.

While there are aspects of the Everest Base Camp trek that are harder than Kilimanjaro, the general feeling is that Kilimanjaro is the harder of the two treks. The main reason for this is summit night – it’s a biggie. Everyone who climbs Kilimanjaro talks about the toughness of summit night. They talk about the physical and mental endurance required to not only reach the summit, but also then hike for hours downhill to reach the campsite for that night.   

Kilimanjaro is harder, because of summit night. I was actually fitter for that trek than for Everest Base Camp. But still, Kili was the harder trek.

– Marco Glauser

Hikers wearing backpacks walking over rocks towards a suspension bridge in a forest valley along the Everest Base Camp trek route

The lower part of the Everest Base Camp trek involves crossing some rivers by suspension bridge

All that said, have you hiked both Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp? Do you agree with us, or do you have reasons to feel that Everest Base Camp is harder than Kilimanjaro? Whatever your thoughts and end decision, we’d love to hear from you!

Learn more 

For more detailed info on the difficulty of each trek, please read How hard is Everest Base Camp? and How should I train for Kilimanjaro? You might also like to read Kilimanjaro routes for a breakdown of the different ascent trails, as some are harder than others. And as always, please feel free to chat with us and we’ll gladly share with you our knowledge on these two epic treks!

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