Boots or Shoes on Kilimanjaro?
Can I Wear Trail Shoes on Kilimanjaro?
This is a frequently asked question, as everyone has a favorite pair of comfortable runners, and they are often reluctant to switch to a more robust form of footwear.
As a general rule, however, Embark strongly recommends choosing a mid to heavy weight water-proof hiking boot for this mountain, with a stiff sole, at least a 3/4 shank of either steel or plastic, and a mid-height ankle cuff with multiple lacing eyes to provide a variety of tying options. That might strike you as overkill, but consider why we do that: Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, with rugged, sometimes wet and slippery variable terrain. It can rain so hard that the trails might be 6″ deep in water, impossible to keep feet dry in low topped or non-waterproof boots.On summit night temps may be well below freezing and the upper route may have several inches of fresh snow. This is not a place for low-topped shoes, no matter how comfy they may be.The sort of footwear we recommend will provide the most stable platform for walking safely on uneven ground, optimize ankle support against twists, sprains and fractures, provide good traction on sharp volcanic rock and loose scree, and keep your feet warm and dry across a wide spectrum of weather conditions.
Proper boots need not be uncomfortable.
Properly fit, they should, in fact, be comfortable and blister-free right out of the box. To be sure of that, however, we recommend that they be well broken in, through at least enough use to know for certain that they will not produce hot spots. Is that 100 miles? I don’t know, but it has generally been my experience that if a boot fits wrong, I know it after a day of use.
All that said, you might well be able to climb Kili in light trail runners. But the odds are more in your favor if your feet and ankles have all the protection you can give them. Consider the consequences of an injury: hiking in wet shoes through snow, or in sub-freezing temperatures puts you at risk for frostbite; a twisted ankle on Kili would probably mean an evacuation. Either scenario would mean the end of the experience for you, and it would likely mean diverting 1-4 porters to escort you down, depending on the severity of the injury. Why take that risk unnecessarily?
Here’s a compromise to consider: use a comfortable pair of appropriate boots during the day, and bring with you a pair of your favorite, most comfy sneakers, slippers, sandals, or flip-flops to change into the moment you reach camp each day. Let the dogs breath all night, and be ready to hit the trail the next morning knowing that you are giving yourself the best chance for success that you possibly can. Good Luck!