5 Things You Need To Know & Prepare Before Hiking Up Mount Kinabalu

It is important to pack right, but also pack light.

Cover image via May Vin Ang/SAYS

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Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia.

It stands at 4,095m above sea level and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its beautiful biodiversity.

With its breathtaking sunsets and majestic viewpoints, Mount Kinabalu attracts thousands of climbers every year.

Besides overseas climbers, we think the climb should also be on every Malaysian's bucket list.

So, here's some information on what it's like to hike Mount Kinabalu:

1. The scale up and down Mount Kinabalu is a two day, one night journey

The climb up to Low's Peak is recommended to be completed over two days, or maybe even three days if you'd prefer to take your time to acclimatise to the altitude.

Single-day climbs are no longer allowed by the Sabah authorities for safety reasons.

The hike up Mount Kinabalu must be planned a few months ahead as only a limited number of climbers are allowed up the mountain at a time.

As of January 2023, only 163 permits are issued per day.

Also, all climbers are required to engage the services of a mountain guide, while porter services to help carry your equipment are available.

2. You will need to book a climbing package to hike Mount Kinabalu

The packages should include climbing permits, mountain guides according to the number of climbers in your group (there can only be six climbers to one guide), and mandatory accommodation at the Panabalan base camp.

Climbers on all packages will also be given packed lunches, supper, and breakfast.

According to the Mount Kinabalu website, a basic 2D1N package costs between RM1,000 and RM1,500 to hike Mount Kinabalu. This excludes flights/travelling to Sabah.

3. Climbers do not require special skills to ascend Mount Kinabalu. However, it does pay off to be fit and prepared.

In fact, the most difficult part of climbing the mountain is having to brave its multitude of weather conditions — from the humid heat of the rainforest to the extreme cold and wind of the mountain summit, as well as the scorching sun and high altitude.

It could also rain any time of the day, all year long.

4. The trek is 8.5km long and begins at Timpohon Gate

While the distance sounds short, you must take the elevation of the mountain into account.

It takes an average climber four to five hours to reach Panabalan base camp (about 6km) on the first day.

After a short night's rest, climbers start at 2am on the second day to complete the remaining 2.5km, climbing for about three to four hours to catch sunrise at the peak.

After admiring the magic of the summit, it takes two hours to descend back to Panabalan to pack up, and another four to five hours to descend back to Timpohon Gate.

5. It is important to pack right, but also pack light

Here's a list of what you will need for the two-day hike:

 A hiking bag. Find a medium-sized 25L to 40L bag with chest straps and waist straps to hold all your supplies. It should also have its own rain cover.

 A smaller bag for the summit. When hiking to the peak, you will need a small 10L bag to carry supplies to the top, such as an extra thermal top, water, medicine, and sunscreen.

A head torch. This is an essential as the summit hike begins at 2am on the second day in pitch darkness.

A trekking pole. It will help with both the ascent and the descent.

Knee guards. Descending the mountain impacts heavily on the knees, combined with fatigued muscles, you may need guards to help stabilise your knees on the way down.

A 2L water pouch/hydration bladder. These pouches have tubes that make drinking water convenient while climbing.

Hiking boots. Get a pair of boots made specially for hiking as you will be treading on different kinds of terrain. It is best if they are waterproof.

A plastic raincoat. A raincoat will help stop the rain from completely soaking into your clothes, even if your hiking jacket and pants are considered waterproof.

A hiking jacket. It needs to be lightweight yet thick enough to keep you warm at the summit.

A light hiking shirt and pants for the first day hike. As the weather is hot, wear light and layer up as you climb higher.

Waterproof gloves. Gloves will keep your hands warm and dry, and also prevent rope burn when climbing up to the summit.

Cash. You will have to pay for things at the Panabalan base camp with cash.

Light snacks. Having a chocolate bar to munch on at every other rest stop is not only comforting but also energy-replenishing.

Power bank and charging wires. Panabalan has limited electricity supply, so it's good if you can charge your phone and cameras with your own power bank.

Toiletries and medicine. Pack some medicine for the altitude sickness and some painkillers for muscle ache.

A change of warm clothes for the second day summit hike and descent. A beanie, scarf, thermals, shirt, pants, socks, and underwear.

Image via Mount Kinabalu

The Mount Kinabalu website recommends deciding on the things that you may need to bring up the mountain and then halve it

This is because it is important to travel light and every piece of clothing counts. Personally, this writer carried a bag that weighed about 6kg, including 2L of water, for the two-day journey.

Also, it is best to bring as many waterproof items as you can, in case it rains.

You can find more comprehensive information about climbing Mount Kinabalu and how to pack for the climb on the Mount Kinabalu and Sabah Parks official websites.

These Malaysians conquered the peak in their own special ways:

Here are some hiking trails in Klang Valley to train at before climbing Mount Kinabalu:

If you're in Sabah, be sure to check out these beautiful locations too:

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