To make it easier for fellow friendly travellers looking to make the hike I hope this guide helps you decide what to pack, as trust me, you feel every last sock when you are carrying it up and down that mountain!
Packing for Borneo is quite a challenge – we packed for mountain climbing, jungle adventures and island hopping, keeping in mind to pack culturally appropriate and conservative clothing that will also keep you cool in heat and humidity. This meant our backpacks were a little heavier than normal, mine weighing in at 12kg on the way there. Most of this was clothing for Mount Kinabalu!
Make sure to bring a smaller backpack to take on your mountain trek. We trustingly left our big backpacks at Kinabalu HQ for a small fee of 10 ringits per day and luckily they were still there when we got back! I noticed pack sizes varied on other climbers but I recommend 20 litres at the absolute MINIMUM. I took my trusty 22 litre Macpac and it was a tight squeeze fitting everything in, and this didn’t include our Olympus camera which Jai carried in his 40litre pack.
My essentials list:
* KINABALU HIKING PASS- you get this at Kinabalu HQ on arrival and have to have it on you at all times, there is a checkpoint at roughly 3800m where your have to show it. It would really suck if you had lost it at this point!
* MINIMUM 20 LITRE BACKPACK – I took a Kahu 22 litre Macpac ($160AUD).
* RAIN COVER – for your backpack or (like I used) a simple plastic garbage bag to wrap around your pack to protect your belongs from the inevitable rain at some point on your trek.
* HEADTORCH – with either spare batteries or a spare head torch. My torch stopped working and having an easy spare was a lifesaver. You don’t want to be hanging onto ropes blind in the danger zone at 4am if you can help it!
* WINDPROOF and WATERPROOF JACKET – so important. I bought mine in true disorganised Kate style the day before I left and I’m so happy I did. I would have been extremely wet, cold and miserable without it. Mine was a Macpac Dispatch women’s rain jacket ($280AUD).
* WATERPROOF GLOVES WITH GOOD GRIP – I spent AUD$80 on some flash windproof, grippy Kathmandu gloves and they were great until I picked up the wet, soggy ropes and those super cool gloves were instantly soaked through and my hands were freezing for hours. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
* TREKKING SHOES – sneakers are just not going to cut this. Make sure you have some good quality, water resistant and well worn in trekking shoes. Wear them in well, Jai had worn his around America for six weeks and thought they would be fine but ended up limping down the mountain in our 5 foot tall guide’s sandal because his boot had cut into his ankle.
* THERMALS – it might be hot and humid down the bottom but it’s freezing at the top. Sleeping at 3290m is not toasty. I slept in full thermals, hiking socks, a fleecy hoodie and was still cold in my sleeping bag. I also wore my thermals to the summit and appreciated them the whole time.
* HIKING SOCKS – I bought two pairs, especially good if one pair gets wet.
* A DECENT JACKET – I bought my Kathmandu duck-down jacket. Lightweight, warm and I believe its wind and water resistant too. It is a Kathmandu Heli Women’s lightweight down jacket ($280AUD).
* TREKKING PANTS – I threw these in my bag on the way out the door leaving Adelaide. So glad I did! They might not be super fashionable but they were comfy, warm, resistant to wind and rain and felt nice and tough when clambering up and down the rockfaces.
* SPORTS BRA AND UNDERWEAR.
* SINGLET TOP – it’s hot and humid when you start so dress lightly, some kind of fancy dri-fit or sports top would probably be good here but I was really comfy in my AUD$10 Target top.
* 3/4 LENGTH PANTS – I wore these between Kinabalu HQ and Laban Rata to keep cool but also provide some protection from the wind, rain and slipping on the rocks.
* LIGHT LONG SLEEVE TOP – this came in handy to pull off and on in the ‘between’ temps, act as an extra layer between thermals and jacket and give some weather protection. As soon as you pause hiking you get cold but at the time I got so hot, so this light extra layer is good to have, especially on the summit. Once again you can buy something flashy but my cheap AUD$10 Cotton On top worked great.
* WARM JUMPER – I didn’t wear this quite as much as I thought I would, the hike up to the summit was too warm once we got huffing and puffing and I quickly removed it. As we got higher it seemed like too much effort to take my other layers off to get it back on under them so I just abandoned putting it back on. At this point I was already in thermals, long sleeve top, down jacket, windproof jacket, scarf and beanie. However, I did really need it at Laban Rata and slept in it so I still think it’s good to bring, just choose a non-bulky, lightweight but warm option.
* BEANIE – this is a must, it is freezing on the top and having a warm head makes a huge difference. I bought mine from the mountain people on Mt Toubkal in Morocco and it’s insanely warm.
* SCARF/NECK ROLL – you can buy legit ones of these from hiking stores but I just used a fashion one that did the trick in keeping the cold air away from my neck and face.
* EARPLUGS – a must! You’re sleeping in a 16 bed dorm with exhausted climbers at altitude. Enough said.
* EYEMASK – these things are only tiny and weigh next to nothing and well worth it to get a reasonable sleep at Laban Rata as after hiking 6 hrs that day you have to get up at 1.30am for the summit and then be awake enough to tackle the descent.
* TIMEPIECE – of some sort, be it a watch or phone. Preferably with an alarm to wake you up at 1.30 to start your summit trek.
* MEDICATIONS – Remember your usual medications, I bought my thyroxine with me as well as Panadol, Neurofen and Diamox to help prevent altitude sickness which I had experienced whilst hiking Mount Toubkal in Morocco last year.
* WET WIPES AND DEODORANT – no showers and lots of hot hiking is not a great combo.
* SUNSCREEN – confusingly you can get really burnt up there even when it’s freezing and the altitude and dry air can really dry your skin out.
* CASH – to buy water and food at Laban Rata, no PayWave at 3290m!
* TISSUES – whilst travelling in Asia you should be used to always carrying tissues for the inevitable lack of toilet paper which stays true to form whilst on the mountain.
* WATER – there is water available at the shelters but it is mountain water and not filtered. Feel free to try your luck with this, bring water purification tablets or purchase water and bring it with you. I took 2litres and finished it well before reaching Laban Rata, so I would recommend 2.5litres minimum. You can purchase more at Laban Rata for the summit ascent and final descent. It is far more environmentally friendly to refill and purify your water and to reduce the amount of water and rubbish carrying the locals have to do up and down the mountain.
* SNACKS – healthy and delicious snacks make each rest stop much more enjoyable. Obviously don’t feed anything to the mountain squirrels and take your rubbish with you 🙂
Some other items that would really come in handy include:
* Camera to capture those amazing views and pained expressions on the way back down.
* Chargers, spare battery, adapters etc for your technology.
* Bandaids/bandage, mini first aid kit.
* Whistle as a safety precaution.
* Hire a trekking pole at the Kinabalu HQ for 10ringit or bring your own if your a super keen climber.
Obviously everyone will pack differently but this is what I took and I was really happy with everything and used it all. There is an option to get a porter to carry your pack but we didn’t investigate how much this cost as we were very happy to carry our own. On the final ascent to the summit you won’t need as much so if travelling with a partner you could probably share a pack or at least leave things you don’t need down at Laban Rata and collect them on your way back down.
We found ourselves googling ‘what to take’ for the hike, so we hope our lists help someone else in the same position. Stay tuned for ‘The guys guide to packing for Mount Kinabalu’.
If you’re keen to read about our tales on the mountain click here.