Kilimanjaro Uncovered

An Alternative Path to Bliss

Tag: Self-heating badges

The best sleeping bag for Kilimanjaro

Updated: 18 December 2018

As you plan your trip to Kilimanjaro, the biggest thing you have to pay attention apart from safety and preventing death on Kilimanjaro is what to pack. While you are arranging all the things you plan on wearing on your Kilimanjaro climb like hiking boots and rain protection, don’t forget about planning what to wear when you sleep, including your sleeping bag. The most important function of your sleeping bag on Kilimanjaro is to keep you warm overnight in freezing temperatures. So the best sleeping bag is one that is rated for very low freezing temperatures. Most tour operators will provide you with the most suitable sleeping bag to rent during your Kilimanjaro climb, but be sure to ask in advance and prepare for the coldest temperatures.

How warm should your Kilimanjaro sleeping bag be?

Our operator offered the Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Bonfire 30 Sleeping Bag for rent, which is rated for -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34° Celsius). These sleeping bags kept us warm and were adequate for Kilimanjaro. They didn’t need to be any warmer, nor any cooler. None of us ended up sweating and, even if, keeping the sleeping bag zip open is a lesser pain than freezing. I personally would not hike Kilimanjaro with sleeping bags rated for anything less than -30 degrees.

However, given you are reading this, you probably have never had a need for such a high-performance sleeping bag, nor will you have so in future. Under normal circumstances, you would prefer your sleeping bag to be lighter and less bulky. Thus, it would be a real waste to buy a new sleeping bag just for one-time use on Kilimanjaro. Therefore, most people prefer to simply rent a sleeping bag from their operator.

In our group of 12 hikers, 11 had come to that conclusion and rented the Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Bonfire 30 Sleeping Bag from our operator. The only hiker who brought his own sleeping bag (also rated for minus degrees, yet not up to -30°) ended up cold overnight and regretted his decision not to rent in hindsight.

Rental sleeping bags

Best to rent your sleeping bag for Kilimanjaro from a high-quality operator

Beware of low-quality sleeping bags on Kilimanjaro climbs

However, beware! Not all operators offer high-quality equipment. In fact, most don’t. If in doubt, better check with them to confirm exactly the type of sleeping bag they would provide. Other than the model, also confirm their usage practices. It doesn’t help if they provide the best of all models but then use it over and over again. After about 10x washing, sleeping bags lose their functionality and will no longer keep you as warm as they should. Read more about operator selection criteria on this blog, and about the shockingly poor sleeping bag practices of budget operators in my book.

Sleep without socks in your sleeping bag on Kilimanjaro

Finally, a counter-intuitive piece of advice: Sleep without socks to avoid getting cold feet! Yes, I know, that doesn’t sound right. I resisted for several nights, experimenting with air activated feet warmers, or self-heating badges, and two pairs of thick thermal socks instead. Nothing worked; my feet felt like ice every single night. Finally, I followed my guide’s advice to sleep bare feet, and—lo and behold—my feet felt warm and cozy all night long!

Wishing you a great experience climbing Kilimanjaro!

5 Kilimanjaro accessories that you will wish someone had told you about

1. Thermos – YES!!!

I strongly believe that a Thermos should be on everyone’s kit list. From hot water warming your body when it’s really cold to a steaming hot towel in the morning, I promise you will love it. It’s absolutely worth the extra weight. Read more about all its fantastic uses on Kilimanjaro here.

2. Solar charger – MAYBE

In our age of gadget addiction, solar panels have become unbelievably popular on Kilimanjaro. They are definitely worth the money if you plan to use your phone a lot, as I did to write my book! My panels worked like a charm and I absolutely loved them. However, they are a total overkill under normal circumstances. If just to take photos on your phone, you might want to invest the money into a decent camera instead. For most people, solar panels will end up in their cellars and never be used again. What a waste just for one trip!

3. Self-heating hand and toe warmers – NO!

Freezing overnight in my tent and during summit night was my biggest fear about Kilimanjaro. Of course I made sure to bring a stack of self-heating badges, i.e. air activated warmers that supposedly heat up as soon as you have opened the packaging and stay warm for several hours thereafter. I brought special hand warmers to put inside my gloves, toe warmers to stick to my socks, and even big warmers for my back. Conclusion: All of them were totally unreliable and – as a result – completely useless. The few instances they worked, they were far too hot. And when I most needed them, i.e. during summit night when I could no longer feel my fingers and toes, they didn’t work at all! I highly recommend you to invest in proper gear instead, like warm gloves and mitts, and a good pair of warming insoles.

4. Mid-layer fleece gloves – YES!

Most gear lists recommend liner gloves as an optional item. Scared as I was about freezing, of course I made sure to bring glove liners in addition to the warmest mittens on the market.  However, that was not enough. I often wished I had another pair of warm fleece gloves, as an experienced hiker in our group was smart enough to bring along. The benefit of thicker fleece gloves is to keep you warmer than thin liner gloves whilst providing more dexterity than clumsy mittens. I would have loved to have some during cold nights in my tent as well as while hiking in cloudy weather when my liner gloves were not thick enough to keep me warm. Most of all, I really wished I had brought some during summit night as a third pair of mid-layer gloves to keep my fingers warmer. Yes, three pairs of gloves/mittens on top of each other – that’s my strong recommendation for summit night (unless you enjoy a miraculous blood circulation)!

5. FUD – NO!

This is for women only. Surely you must have wondered how you will be able to pee in privacy. Blogs warn that at higher altitudes there might be nowhere to hide behind. Marketeers have jumped on this opportunity and come up with FUDs, short for Female Urination Devices. They promise the impossible: pee while standing, just like men. Theoretically, sounds great. Practically, I haven’t seen a single woman using them, nor was there any need to do so. Other than close to the summit, we always found rocks to hide behind; and even summit day won’t cause you any problems because you won’t drink much during summit night in any case. More about that here. So, ladies, no need to worry. You will be fine!

Do you have  any other insights worth sharing? Or do you have any unanswered questions in order to prepare your own climb? Please leave your comments below.

Gloves or mittens

I was so scared of freezing during summit night that I spent the better half of a day doing nothing but researching the warmest possible gloves on the entire planet. To cut a long story short, Hestra Army Leather Mitt it had to be.

Gloves versus mittens

Theoretically, I dislike mittens and their associated loss of dexterity – impossible to grip anything! Practically, I suffer from poor blood circulation in my fingers when it gets really cold. I was looking out for some miraculous wonder gloves that might be as warm as the warmest mittens, but no one wanted to confirm my hopes. So it was my time for an epiphany moment: GLOVES WILL NEVER BE AS WARM AS MITTENS. Reluctantly but nevertheless, my fear eventually made me overcome my mitt aversion: MITTENS IT HAS TO BE!


There seems to be no doubt that leather is the warmest outer material. Furthermore, make sure your gloves/mittens are windproof, waterproof and breathable. The wind during summit night is biting cold, all outer layers really need to be windproof or you will freeze, brrrr.

Other features

I also really like that the Hestra Army Leather Mitt come with a snow lock and pull strap with Velcro closure to keep them tight around my wrists so no heat would escape. Their handcuffs also are a very important feature because every now and then you’ll need to take off your mitts for more dexterity, and you will have more important things in your mind than worrying about losing them. What a nightmare if they were to go flying down the slope in the freezing dark!

Size matters

To make sure your gloves or mittens keep you as warm as possible, you want them to be a nice close fit. Hestra conveniently provides a printable size chart that I could just put my fingers on to identify my size from the convenience of my living room.

Layers matter

Even though the Hestra Army Leather Mitt are supposedly the warmest possible mittens available in the market, I would still want to have liner gloves underneath during summit night. They will keep you warmer, even if only just during the moments when you need to take off your mitts for dexterity.

Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be too much difference between liner gloves in terms of functionality, just select a good price option. And no need to pay extra for touchscreen compatible index fingers – the material will get scratched from holding onto rocks and turn this feature useless in no time.

In hindsight, I would also bring a third pair of mid-layer fleece gloves for maximum warmth. They will also be useful for other days or nights on the mountain when it gets really cold, but not cold enough for your mitts.

Self-heating badges for fingers?

Forget those self-heating badges. I brought a selection of heaps of those for fingers, toes and my back. They are completely unreliable. Either they don’t work at all, or they turn burning hot. I suggest you don’t want to rely on them but invest into some good lasting gear instead.

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