Climbing Kilimanjaro as a Woman: What You Need to Know

Climbing Kilimanjaro as a woman has some delicate considerations. Want the inside scoop from someone who has done it and learned a thing or two?

You’re in the right place. Here, I’ll talk about those secret lady things that most blogs aren’t going to tell you. And you’ll be perfectly prepared to summit the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

peeing as a female

Yep… let’s get right into it. A woman hiking Kilimanjaro likely has some pee questions.

It’s pretty well-known that it is more complex for women to pee ‘in the wild’ than men. There’s dropping your pants, squatting and toilet paper. Must be a lot easier to just unzip and go, right?

Well, I can’t replicate a man’s experience for you, but I can simply the female dilemma a bit.

Tip #1: Get yourself a pee cloth.

You will notice on the mountain that there is a LOT of toilet paper. It’s gross and unsightly. But you can be better than that. Better than leaving your potty trash on a National Heritage site.

So if you plan on climbing Kilimanjaro as a woman, purchase a reusable silver-infused pee cloth before you go.

Get one that is waterproof on one side to keep your hand clean and a silver-lined soft eco-material like bamboo on the other. Like this one.

The silver keeps it hygienic, meaning no smell and no bacteria.

a woman, a she-wee and a pee bottle

Yeah, we’re still on the bathroom topic. But trust me, you’ll be grateful.

When you climb Kilimanjaro, you may take Diamox. Diamox is a diuretic, which means you will likely have to pee more often. Plus, your guides, if they are any good, will encourage you to drink lots of water. (“Sippy sippy!”)

This is all great when you have access to a bathroom. But, when you’re on the trail, you don’t. And when you’re in your tent, late at night, at 14000 feet, and it’s freezing outside, you won’t want to expel the energy to get up, walk outside, then come back to a cold tent and try to bring your body temperature back up.

Instead, you’ll want to pee in your tent.

I’m not kidding.

peeing in your tent

Select a corner and make yourself a little bathroom station in your tent where you will store your pee cloth, headlamp, a wide-mouthed bottle and a shewee.

The shewee is a urination device that acts as that coveted body part us females are missing. Basically, it’s a funnel that is contoured to the curve of your body. 

So, position the shewee between your legs, press it against your body, and put the tip of the extension tube into the wide-mouthed bottle. Commence peeing like a man!

Kinda. You’ll still have to pull your pants down and you’ll likely be on your knees at this point in your tent, but it’s close enough to greatly increase convenience.

You can use this on the mountain too, especially when you reach higher altitudes and there are fewer things to hide behind. I do recommend practicing with the sheewee before you climb though, so you are familiar and comfortable using it.

let’s talk periods

Okay, if you are one of those unlucky ladies that seems to get your period at the most inconvenient of times, this is for you.

Because, here’s the thing: even if you JUST had your period, and think you’re in the clear, the mountain does funny things to a body. The altitude can mess with you enough to kickstart a period again. Being a woman is fun, right?

Getting a surprise period when you’re climbing Kilimanjaro is definitely not fun. So, do NOT forget to bring period equipment, whether you’re expecting it or not.

Unfortunately, the hygienic conditions are less than stellar so you’ll want to leave your trusted cup at home. Probably pads and tampons are best, but please, please, please be prepared to store used ones. Not awesome, I know, but you really don’t want to leave used pads and such on the mountain.

Bring a zip loc bag (or a couple) and a dedicated cloth/canvas bag (just something you can’t see through) for this type of trash storage during the day. You can likely toss it at the end of the day when you reach camp. If you think you’ll need to keep it for the duration of the trip, think about a deodorizer, like baking soda or an essential oil that can mask any smells.

unwashed hair on kilimanjaro

You’re on a mountain! You’re living wild; you’re one with nature.

But as a woman climbing Kilimannjaro, your hair might get pretty greasy looking.

My hiking trip took 11 days. So, 11 days without washing my hair. And honestly, it wasn’t bad.

You want to know why?

Because I rarely wash it now!

I know what you’re thinking… gross. But check out my No ‘Poo blog. That’s how I got my hair to this place. Around 2 years ago I quit washing my hair. (It was rough at first.) Then gradually, I reintroduced a reliable, healthier shampoo and conditioner to my routine. I still only wash my hair about every 6 days. And sometimes, I just use water and scrub my scalp.

The thing is, drug store shampoos are actually not great for your hair. They dry out your scalp and you end up producing more oil to compensate for the oil that was washed away. When the oil factory is on high production, your hair is going to get greasy FAST. And after day 4, it’s going to be stuck to your head like you smeared butter over it.

Lovely, right?

So here is what I suggest. Start training your hair as early as you can to go longer without shampoo. If you are a daily shampoo’er, skip a wash day. Start extending the length of time between washes; use hats, bandanas, braids, whatever you gotta do to accept the first month of greasy. It does get better, and your hair will love you.

It actually made my hair thicker, healthier, and less prone to breakage. So, do it for the mountain! But keep doing it for better hair health and less product dependency.

But, if you don’t have enough time to get your scalp in non-washing shape before you climb, that’s okay. You’ll likely be wearing a warm hat most of the time anyway, so only you will know the level of greasy that’s going on underneath it.

No matter which path you choose, when you are on the mountain, do take the time to brush your hair every night. It helps spread the oils down the shaft of your hair. It can be dry up on the mountain, so it helps moisturize your hair by distributing excess oils from your scalp.

speaking of hygiene

Concerned about sweating and smelling and storing used undies?

As a woman climbing Kilimanjaro, we have a secret tool: bring some panty liners! It’s not super sustainable, but it can reduce your phobia about dirty undies in your duffle bag. A new one every day can keep you and your undies fresher.

If you have a good outfitter, they will bring you a soap on Day 1, and water to wash every day. You might also bring your own body wipes. I brought a muslin cloth for my face, and a body washcloth and towel. I discovered that it was very hard to dry the washcloth though, so I stopped using it and ended up using Lume body wipes most of the time.

But if you do go the cloth route, a quick dry washcloth offers a better chance to dry out between hikes.

health & beauty

Okay, as women, we probably have more of a hygienic and beauty routine than men. If you want to bring your moisturizers, serums, eye creams and such, I highly recommend that you get small travel containers and label them accordingly.

You do NOT want to bring 6 different nearly-full tubes of products, because it can really eat into your duffle’s weight allowance (which is around 35 pounds).

I used these travel containers and filled them with toothpaste, facial moisturizer, face wash, Vaseline, body lotion, eye cream, lotion deodorant from Lume, menthol, and icy hot. So what would have taken up an entire side pocket slipped easily into a 4×6 inch sleeve and was more than enough for the week and a half.

It also keeps trash off the mountain and keeps you from buying small travel sized tubes of everything, which ultimately ends up in the landfill. So, use your regular sized packages and reusable travel containers. Once you do this, you’ll likely continue the practice for every trip you take. I certainly have.

makeup on kilimanjaro

I’m gonna go with a hard pass here. I didn’t wear makeup, no one else I was with wore makeup, and it’s a pain in the ass to take off every day. So, I would say this is a great opportunity to get reacquainted with your natural face and let your skin breathe in the fresh mountain air. Ahhhhhhhh.

BUT… if you are a daily makeup wearer, and feel completely naked without makeup, then this is what I suggest: find multitasking makeup. By that I mean foundation and contouring that can be used on the eyes too, and a lip color that can also be used on the eyes or as blush. If you do it right, you should have 2 powders for skin and eyes and a lip color that can be blush too. Add in mascara if that’s your thing. But be aware: getting a good wash on your face is tough. Consider a makeup remover or makeup remover wipes. And a mirror. All of which are going to take up space and weight in your duffle.

So again, my recommendation is to skip it all. But if you love your makeup and feel best in it, multitasking options are less space and weight greedy.

skip the shorts

Here’s your annoying reminder again: Space and weight are super limited. So, I’d recommend the multitasking approach here too. Get yourself 1-2 pairs of convertible pants and skip the shorts. You might say to yourself, “Oh, it’s just a pair of shorts. It’s nothing.” But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find you’re taking this approach everywhere and suddenly you’re 5 pounds over your weight limit.

So, bringing a pair of convertible pants is best. (Convertible pants are the ones with zip-off bottoms that convert into shorts.)

Same goes for men, but I bring it up here because convertible shorts are rarely flattering for women. They are big and bunchy in weird places and too long, and you probably aren’t going to love how they look. So you might be tempted to bring your favorite pair of hiking shorts.

But I encourage you to skip them! I actually never wore shorts, being at lower elevation in the rainforest one day, and then higher, cooler zones after that. So, I don’t think it’s worth it to pack shorts at all.

Skip ’em!

sports bras

I didn’t sweat much, because it was cool and we walked really slow. But I know other people did. So, this tip depends on your level of sweatiness and comfort with stank.

Do you sweat a lot?

If so, pack a sports bra for every 2 days you’ll be on the mountain.

If not, honestly, one for every 3-4 days should suffice. I had 3 for 11 days, and it was fine.

And if you don’t care about stink, then don’t go crazy with sports bras. It’s not necessary, because it will be layered under all your other clothes. So even if it does stink, likely no one but you will smell it. (I knew we all had an aroma on the mountain, because we talked about it. But I didn’t smell anybody. Promise!)

The most important thing is that it maintains support, especially for those that are well-endowed. We’re not jumping around and running, so it doesn’t have to be super tight. In fact, it should be comfortable, with a level of support for mild activity. And it should not be prone to stretching much during long wears.  

I’d recommend test-wearing the bras you plan to bring and see if they are comfortable for a whole day, including through any training you’re doing.

climbing kilimanjaro as a woman

Hopefully this helps address some of the more delicate issues of climbing Kilimanjaro as a woman. As women, we have different things to consider, and it’s a slightly different experience for us. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be absolutely incredible. It’s a remarkable experience and I would advise you to do it if it sounds even remotely compelling.

And now, you’ll be more prepared than ever!

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