Climbing Mt. Kinabalu is a relatively quick, yet challenging climb, and as for most activities, it can be hellish if you’re not prepared. To ease the pain, here are some recommendations of what to pack to climb Mt. Kinabalu.
It rains on Mt. Kinabalu. Often. Depending on the season, it can rain through your entire hike, or just in the afternoon. Around 2 or 3pm, nearly every day, there is a considerable rainstorm on the mountain. I had a MEC rain cover for the outside of my pack, a small waterproof dry bag for my camera, passport, and extra socks, and an old-school 1997 anorak from Gap.
Hiking Boots (Custom-Fit)
My friend was in running shoes. I was in North Face hiking boots. On the way down, she slipped far too often than necessary. No injuries, but a few close calls! I, on the other hand, was stable. My hiking boots had the good grip necessary for the slippery rocks that dominate the trail. However, make sure your boots fit properly – on the initial walk down from the summit, it was so steep that my toes jammed into the toebox of my boots and consequently, I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose both of my big toenails (gross, I know, I’m sorry, but it illustrates how important well-fitting shoes are!).
Snacks & Water
I love my vapur anti-waterbottle because it clipped on to my pack, was super light, and folded up when empty, taking up virtually no room. I regret not bringing water-purification tablets, though, because there are untreated water stations at all the rest-stops, which would’ve been nice to have.
We grabbed some snacks at the grocery store in Kota Kinabalu, which included trail mix and granola bars. We also received basic sandwiches, apples, and hard-boiled eggs (ew!) at the start of the hike – these were included in our package from Downbelow, so you may not get these extras if you travel independently or with other companies. The apples were epic. Bring some.
Thanks to the gear advice page on Legal Nomads, I grabbed a Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp (came with batteries), which was an asset on the morning climb to the summit. I wouldn’t advise doing the climb without a headlamp.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu is a game of layers. For us, the first day was ridiculousy hot and humid, and I spent the whole day in lululemon running shorts and a tank top, grabbing my anorak for the last little bit.
For the summit, I had lululemon leggings, and layered on top with my tank top, a thin tshirt, a sport hoodie, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wind-breaker type light jacket. I was sweltering, and ended up taking off the jacket and long-sleeved shirt until we got much closer to the top. I was perfectly warm at summit (I’ve heard other people complain of the cold), so I was happy to be comfortable. My layering tactics paid off.
Toque & Sturdy Wool Mitts
While the first day of the climb will likely be very hot and humid, the morning summit of Mt. Kinabalu will be cold and windy. A toque or headband to keep your ears warm is a really good idea, and you will definitely need sturdy mittens (ideally strong wool) to keep your hands warm and to pull yourself up the thick ropes that lead to the summit. I used Thinsulate convertible mittens and they were perfect.
Be careful. Remember when packing that you have to carry this stuff up and down the mountain. My pack was way too heavy, thanks to my crazy heavy Nikon D40x DSLR, which I cursed all the way up. In the end, I was thankful to have had it for sunrise, but consider this when you’re packing.
All you need is a daypack backpack (15 – 35L), preferably with zip pouches on the outside for easy access to snacks, etc. The one I used is from high school, so MEC doesn’t have it anymore, but it’s similar to the MEC Flux 2 23 Daypack.
A Walking Stick
If you don’t have a walking stick, and don’t want to spend the money, don’t worry. You can rent walking sticks for RM 10 (approx. $3.50 CAD / £2 GBP) at the registration area. Rent a walking stick. This will be an invaluable tool for your climb, especially on the treacherous way down. Please trust me on this one. It will be the best RM 10 you ever spend.
Being prepared will making climbing Mt. Kinabalu a much less painful experience. I won’t say it will make it easy or enjoyable, but it can certainly be a lot more painful, dangerous, and uncomfortable if you’re not well-prepared…and it’s a tough enough climb as it is.