This is the number one thing you should do – be in the best physical condition as possible for your climb. By being in excellent fitness, the rigors of multiday hiking will cause less stress on your body. Then, the body can focus its energy on acclimatization.
Getting your body in great shape through exercise certainly helps prepare you for altitude.
However, the ability to acclimatize to altitude is largely genetic.
As the Kilimanjaro climbing success rates show, some people can climb Kilimanjaro in as little as 5 days (not recommended), while some still fail with 8 days. It is impossible to tell how well a prospective climber may fare in an oxygen deprived atmosphere until he or she is actually in it.
So what can someone do to pre-acclimatize, or prepare for Kilimanjaro’s altitude, before the climb?
Stay at Higher Altitude
If you live in a high altitude town, you are fortunate.
You already have a base of acclimatization for the elevation you reside. To add on top of it, regularly hike to even higher places to get your body familiar with lower oxygen levels. This schedule would be excellent for building long-term acclimatization for Kilimanjaro.
But for the rest of us who live at or near sea level, you may need to travel for high altitude exposure. Note that a short stay at high elevation would not directly improve your acclimatization for Kilimanjaro unless it is done immediately before your climb (a few days). But, it is still worth doing.
Having some experience at high altitude is better than having none. Therefore if you can visit a mountain town or elevated place while preparing for Kilimanjaro, we encourage it. The higher the altitude, the longer the stay, and the more active you are, the more you will learn about how you respond to a hypoxic environment.
Use Altitude Training Systems
High altitude training systems enable climbers to pre-acclimatize at home, drastically improving the success rate, safety and enjoyment of the climb.
Altitude training systems simulate high altitudes to induce beneficial biological adaptations in the body. Besides going to (and staying in) high altitude places, using a high altitude training system is only way to pre-acclimatize to high altitude before your trip.
Everyone can benefit from using altitude training systems to pre-acclimatize to the high altitude. The altitude training system reduces the percentage of oxygen in the air you breathe. Through regular use, the body undergoes physiological changes to cope with the lower oxygen level.
Without pre-acclimatization, as climbers ascend on Kilimanjaro, their bodies respond with short-term adaptations. These quick-response adaptations are meant primarily to prevent sickness and allow for some semblance of normal cardiovascular and muscular performance in an oxygen deprived environment.
Pre-acclimatization through altitude training systems produces long-term adaptations, such as an increase in red blood cells, blood volume, and efficiency of oxygen absorption. These adaptations help:
- Reduce the Incidence of Acute Mountain Sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the main reason climbers fail on Mount Kilimanjaro. Most people will experience some symptoms of AMS. Pre-acclimatization can reduce or eliminate symptoms of AMS.
- Increase performance on the mountain. Pre-acclimatization significantly improves the body’s mechanisms for delivering oxygen to the muscles. The result is increased aerobic and anaerobic performance on Kilimanjaro, such as hiking strength and endurance.
- Increase recovery on the mountain. Breathing rates and oxygen intake decreases when the body is asleep. In an oxygen deficient environment, many people have difficulty sleeping. Pre-acclimatization enables people to sleep well, and thus, recover after physical activity.
Pre-acclimatization is very beneficial. It is like getting a head start, or lowering the mountain for you. In fact, every single client we know of who has used a high altitude system for training summited Kilimanjaro.
Realistically, we understand that unless you already live at altitude, pre-acclimatization is very inconvenient and/or expensive. Most of our clients do not make special plans to travel to high altitude or use an altitude system, regardless of how helpful it may be.
So, if you can’t pre-acclimatize, don’t worry.
Our itineraries, especially those that are 7 days or more, are designed so that an average person can successfully and safely make it to the top without any prior high altitude exposure.