Equipment for climbing Mt Kinabalu

One of the main attractions of climbing Mt Kinabalu is its accessibility. Prospective climbers don't need any previous experience at high altitude, nor do they require any specialised equipment.

However, weather conditions can change rapidly on the mountain. A clear, warm day can suddenly turn into heavy sleeting rain in a matter of minutes. Climbers must be well prepared for any eventuality.

All bedding requirements are provided at Laban Rata, so there's no need to take sleeping bags and the like. Meals can be purchased relatively cheaply at Laban Rata, so climbers need only provide snacks and lunch on the first day (if it's not provided by a tour group).

As such, the trip can be completed comfortably with a small backpack of about 35-40L. A larger pack will be fine, but keep weight to a minimum. After all, it's hard enough climbing the mountain without lugging any unnecessary weight!

Here's a list of items and equipment that every climber should carry:

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Warm, lightweight jumper (polarfleece or windfleece is ideal)
  • Warm, lightweight pants (not denim, as it remains cold when wet)
  • Spare socks and underwear
  • Beanie/woollen hat
  • Sturdy woollen or fleece gloves
  • Snacks (chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, jelly beans) for the climb
  • Water bottles (at least one litre, preferably in small bottles)
  • Water purification tablets
  • Sunscreen cream
  • Small first aid kit
    • Headache tablets
    • Bandaids
    • Antiseptic cream
    • Crepe bandage
    • Triangular bandage
    • Safety pins
    • Cotton buds
  • Plastic bags (large black garbage bags are good)
  • Whistle (in case of emergency in bad weather and visibility)
  • Camera
  • Torch (head-mounted is ideal for the night climb to the summit)
  • Spare batteries
A backpack about this size is ideal, but bigger is OK.
Head-mounted torches are highly recommended.

All your gear should be packed inside waterproof plastic bags in case of rain on the mountain. The last thing you want when you arrive tired and sweaty at Laban Rata is for all your clean, dry clothes to be soaking wet!

Keep in mind that the above list of equipment does not include what you wear on the trail as you set out from park headquarters. What you wear on the trail is really a matter of personal preference. Some climbers prefer to go light and just wear a t-shirt and shorts for the early stages, adding a jumper as they reacher higher altitude. Others prefer to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt - it's up to you. The climb is strenuous and you will get very warm, simply through your exertions. Layering of clothes is always a good strategy, so you can adjust your clothing depending on the situation.

Suggested walking clothes for early stages (not carried in pack)
  • Shorts (or lightweight pants)
  • T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt
  • Woollen socks
  • Sturdy shoes with good grip and ankle support - runners or sneakers are far from ideal
  • Cap or hat to keep the sun off your face
  • Sunglasses

It's a different story for the early morning trek to the summit. It gets very windy and quite cold at Low's Peak, so you'll need to rug up with the gear you've carried up in your backpack.

Wear your warm socks, pants, shirt, warm jumper and waterproof jacket when you head off. Gloves and beanie are also essential. Carry a litre of water, snacks and a camera in your jacket, or in a very small day pack. You may get quite warm in the early stages of the climb after Laban Rata, but you'll be glad of the protection as you trek above the tree line.

Good, sturdy trail shoes are essential.

Permits and other requirements

All climbers must purchase a climbing permit from the park headquarters before they depart. This will be checked at both Laban Rata and the Sayat-Sayat hut closer to the summit, so there's no way around it! Permits cost RM100 for non-Malay adults (RM40 for children), while Malay adults pay RM30 (RM12 for their children).

The park also requires that all climbing groups hire a guide to accompany you on your trek up the mountain. The actual cost of hiring a guide varies from RM70-100, depending on the size of your group, but a guide can be responsible for eight people at most.

Finally, each climber must also pay an insurance fee (RM7) before they embark on the climb.

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