Keeping Clean on Kilimanjaro

One of the biggest misgivings I had when I first set my heart on climbing Kilimanjaro was the question of cleanliness. Never a natural outdoorswoman, I came late to the joys of the great outdoors and while I love day hikes, I was a relative noob at multi day camping. Climbing Kilimanjaro on the Rongai route would take six days – the longest I’d been without a shower previously was four while hiking the Inca Trail. Here’s my guide to keeping clean on Kilimanjaro and how I managed to make my peace with the dirt and dust.

Cover your head

The fine, volcanic dust on Kilimanjaro will get everywhere and into everything by the end of Day 1. Forget dry shampoo – it’s one extra thing to carry and you won’t need it if you cover your hair while climbing. A buff is a great way of keeping your hair clean and safe from the dust for shorter hairdos, but for us ladies with longer tresses, I recommend braids or pig tails, which you can then cover with a hat or beanie.

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Bring wet wipes

You will get a bowl of warm water in the morning when you wake up and another in the evening when you get into camp. There’s just enough water to wash your face and hands – if you bring some paper soap or a small bar, you’ll be able to get most of the dirt out. For all your other bits, though, you’ll be relying on wet wipes, which are surprisingly efficient at making you feel clean and like a human being again. Bring at least 4-5 wet wipes per person per day at a minimum.


Hand hygiene

Your hands will get filthy. The combination of sweat, sunscreen and dust resulted streaks of black on my skin by the end of each day. Washing them with soap and water, then applying an anti-bacterial hand sanitiser did the trick, but the dirt that accumulated under my nails were stubborn. Every night I used a nail brush to clean them. I was wearing contacts and had to be sure my hands were 100% clean before putting them in or taking them out. It also made me feel a lot less grubby, but if this is too much work, you could always just trim your nails short and paint them a dark polish before you start on your climb.

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Wear wool against your skin

Wool should be on the top of the list of things to wear for climbing Kilimanjaro. Wool is naturally resistant to odour, is moisture wicking and helps you retain body heat. I brought just two sets of wool thermals for the climb – one for the day while climbing, and the other “clean” set for sleeping in. The “clean” set was also what I wore for summit night, but even the thermals I wore for 4 days straight while walking up a mountain didn’t stink too badly. The further you climb, the colder it gets so you will be unlikely to sweat much – you won’t smell as much as you think you will.

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Be one of the guys (but not too much)

One of the things I brought with me on my trek was my P-style. My sister had climbed Kilimanjaro the year before and she said she wished she had this with her. With it, I didn’t have to bare my bottom to the wind, or leave the tent in the middle of a cold night to run to the loo, or struggle too hard with finding a big enough boulder behind which to take refuge during bathroom breaks. It was freeing and made the trek a lot easier. Paired with disposable liners (remember to pack it in and pack it out!) this little contraption relieved all my previous worries about the bathroom situation.


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