Things I Wish I’d Known before Hiking Mount Kinabalu

June 20, 2016 by Ross Jennings

With its dramatic crags, plentiful flora and fauna and mist-whipped peaks, Mount Kinabalu was right at the top of my list of things to do in Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo. Climbing it was equally as important and, in a nutshell, it did not disappoint. Having read various articles and online reviews in advance, the hike seemed pretty doable with a moderate level of fitness, so I felt totally prepared for the two-day / one-night trip.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and there are still several things I wish I’d known before taking on the challenge – here’s just seven of them:

Embarking on the climb... (Image: Ross Jennings)

Embarking on the climb… (Image: Ross Jennings)

Back-up water is a very good idea

I sweat a lot, and I mean A LOT, so took four litres for the hike up to Laban Rata (the mountain lodge rest spot three-quarters of the way up), but I had finished this well before I’d arrived. There was water to buy at Laban Rata, however, it was pretty expensive as it has to be carried up the mountain every day, and in some cases it can run out. No one wants to be stuck up the mountain without water, so be sure to grab that extra litre before you go. And remember to sip – don’t guzzle it down.

Sweating to the summit (Image: Ross Jennings)

Sweating to the summit (Image: Ross Jennings)

NEVER wear waxed cotton

I started the hike in my finest Rwandan waxed cotton Kitenge shirt, and I honestly don’t think I’ve sweated so much in my life. That sounds like an exaggeration but it was pretty much like wearing a bin bag. Don’t do it. I looked like a prat and I definitely wasted water by sweating an unnecessary amount (maybe worth it for the photo though…?!). Within an hour it was off and I was sweating into another t-shirt that I had vowed to keep dry, and I was then left with nothing dry for the summit. Silly. I’d recommend just wearing quick-dry sports gear EVERYTHING!

Layered up atop Mount Kinabalu  (Image: Ross Jennings)

Layered up atop Mount Kinabalu (Image: Ross Jennings)

Stopping for longer than five minutes will give you the chills

This should be common sense, but when you’re panting and sweating profusely you tend to forget it’s pretty chilly… until you start shivering, that is. Somehow I completely missed this out in all the posts that I’d read.

Laban Rata mountain lodge (Image: Ross Jennings)

Laban Rata mountain lodge (Image: Ross Jennings)

You can buy gear in Kota Kinabalu (or rent it from the Kinabalu Parks)

Instead of being a stingy traveller and thinking I could brave the cold, I really should have just bought another sweater for the summit. It gets seriously cold! Hiking gear isn’t that expensive in Kota Kinabalu, and it’ll probably be cheaper than renting it when you get to the park. As a back-up, guides will suggest head torches, walking sticks etc. and, if they do, they’re not trying to rip you off. They genuinely do help, and you definitely need a head torch!

Prepare for the busy summit (Image: Ross Jennings)

Prepare for the busy summit (Image: Ross Jennings)

It gets hectic at the summit!

Everyday there are 100-150 climbers hiking up Kinabalu and you all come to a point at the top. This isn’t something I’d taken into account so I was a bit frustrated with the massive crowd queuing to reach the summit. It did ruin the vibe slightly. However, I found a spot, stayed put, and managed to convince my guide to let us stay at the top a little longer than everyone else. Sunrise is awesome, but what’s even nicer is being at the top of the mountain without anyone around you. My guide and I had 15 minutes of the summit to ourselves and it was utter bliss.

The porters have A LOT to carry (Image: Ross Jennings)

The porters have A LOT to carry (Image: Ross Jennings)

Everything is carried up the mountain

This wouldn’t have impacted how I approached the hike, but it is something that I didn’t consider. The mountain lodges do have a helipad but that is rarely ever used. Every item of food, rubbish and building material is carried by hand. Serious respect to the porters and guides who have to slog everything up and down the mountain.

At the top of Mount Kinabalu (Image: Ross Jennings)

At the top of Mount Kinabalu (Image: Ross Jennings)

The toilets don’t have loo roll

I don’t think this needs much explanation. Bring tissues, enough said.


Climb to the top of Mount Kinabalu just like Ross on our Best of Borneo Journey, or check out the rest of our tailor-made holidays to Malaysia.


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About Ross Jennings

I travel so that I can learn but I mainly do it so that I can share. Simply put, If I can convince you to go somewhere I've been then I'm a happy man. You'll usually hear me before you see me, but if you want to get in contact before that happens, drop me a message @RossOCJennings