Climbing Mount Kinabalu: Top 10 Tips For First-Timers

Scaling the heights of Mount Kinabalu is every mountain climbing enthusiast’s highlight during a trip to Sabah—a Malaysian state in the northern tip of Borneo.

As Malaysia’s highest peak, the mountain is a celebrity in its own right. It’s the crown jewel of the UNESCO-listed Kinabalu National Park, which accommodates even visitors who couldn’t make the daunting climb but wish to have a good look at the mountain nonetheless.

However, if you’re a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie, read up as we round up 10 helpful tips so you can conquer Mt. Kinabalu’s peak like a pro.



Fast Facts About Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu Trek
A majestic view of Mount Kinabalu | via Nokuro on Shutterstock
  • Rising to 4,095 meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is considered the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago.
  • Because of its four climate zones, it serves as home to over 5,000 species of flora and fauna.
  • Kinabalu National Park was designated by UNESCO as a Centre of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia. 
  • Mount Kinabalu is formerly known as St. Peter’s Mount. Its current name is derived from the Kadazan term “Akinabalu,” which means “Revered Place of the Dead.”
  • Only 130 people are allowed to climb or trek Mount Kinabalu per day.
  • A climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu takes at least 2 days and 1 night.



Top 10 Tips For A Successful Mount Kinabalu Climb


#1 Pack light.

When packing for your climb, limit the weight of your bag to 8kg at most. If your bag goes any heavier than that, you have less chances of summiting because of exhaustion, and yes, not everyone who starts the climb gets to reach the peak. Every part of your climbing journey is time-sensitive, so if you don’t make it the checkpoints at a certain time, you won’t be allowed to proceed. Don’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime chance of summiting Mount Kinabalu just because you have to take extra breaks after bringing a heavy bag. 

*Tip-off: Consider hiring a porter to lug your stuff during your climb to save yourself some energy—that is if your guide doesn’t double as a porter. You may book your porter upon arrival at Kinabalu National Park, and the fee starts at around 13 MYR per kilogram per trip. 



Packing Light For The Trek
Porters are seen preparing the bags of climbers outside a hostel | via Sharif Putra on Shutterstock



#2 Keep your climbing gear simple.

Since it’s recommended that you pack light for your journey, you may be wondering what the essentials are that should go into your climbing bag. Well, fortunately, you don’t need complicated equipment for your Mount Kinabalu climb. The key is to keep things basic.


What To Wear

You need not hit the local mountaineering gear shop to purchase top-of-the-line climbing apparel. You’d want to prevent yourself from sweating too much, so wearing a simple T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt as your top would be enough. For your bottoms, you can wear shorts, track pants, or even leggings—whatever you have or find comfortable. And for your footwear, you may opt to wear hiking shoes, but slipping into your trusty trainers should be fine, too. 

As the temperature dips after dark, make sure to bring a lightweight thermal undershirt, fleece jacket, waterproof jacket, socks, and gloves for your night climb to keep yourself warm.


What To Bring

  • Energy bars
  • Dry change of clothes
  • Basic toiletries
  • Sunblock
  • Lip balm
  • Water bottles
  • Small first-aid kit (painkillers, altitude sickness medicines, adhesive bandages, antiseptic creams, etc.)
  • Plastic bags (for your trash and to keep your stuff dry in case it rains)
  • Raincoat
  • Lightweight towel
  • Flashlight
  • Camera



Comfortable Clothing For Trekking
It is recommended that climbers wear comfortable clothes on their Mount Kinabalu climb | via hkhtt hj on Shutterstock



#3 Reserve your climbing permit and accommodation via Sabah Tourism Board.

While there are a lot of private tour operators that offer climb packages with inclusions that sound rather tempting, it’s still best to reserve your climbing permit and accommodation on Sabah Tourism Board’s official website, as they offer the best prices and you can rest assured that your booking is 100% legitimate.

Alternatively, you may book your climb on the official website of Sabah Parks, which is managed by The Board of Trustees of The Sabah Park.

*Note: The climbing fee for Malaysians is comparably cheaper than the fee for foreigners. Locals can climb Mount Kinabalu for as low as 350 MYR, while international visitors will have to pay a bit more. 

As for accommodations, Lemaing Hostel is exclusively for Malaysian climbers. If you’re a foreigner and are climbing on a budget, your best bet is Panalaban Hostel, which is also situated along the summit trail. 



Hostel in Mount Kinabalu
Enjoy stunning views of the sky and mountain from your hostel | via hkhtt hj on Shutterstock



#4 Book your climbing permit at least 30 days in advance.

As a well-sought-after activity in Sabah that accommodates just 130 visitors a day, a climb on Mount Kinabalu can be quite difficult to secure. Although booking a slot 30 days before your trip is said to be pretty safe, especially during off-peak season, placing your reservation much earlier than that will give you a higher probability of getting a slot you want. The earlier you book your climb with an accredited tour operator, the better. 



#5 Time your visit well.

The peak season of Mount Kinabalu runs from March through September. Reserving a slot is especially hard for trips that fall in April, July, and August. You might want to check Malaysia’s holiday calendar, too, as the place gets even busier on days near a major holiday like Lunar New Year. 


*Tip-off: Avoid scheduling your climb during Sabah’s rainy season (October to February), as tour operators don’t issue refunds in case of inclement weather. 



Best Weather for Mount Kinabalu
Panalaban Hostel on Laban Rata base camp | via Alen thien on Shutterstock



#6 Arrive early.

Whether you’re a morning person or not, it’s important to arrive at the climbing site early to register.

The daily registration period starts at 7 am and ends at 10:30 am, meaning you have to be able to register by 10:30 otherwise you wouldn’t be allowed to make the climb within the same day. Once registered, you can start your climb. It’s best not to delay because climbers will no longer be permitted to proceed with their climb after 11 am. 



#7 Never lose your ID Tag.

Upon registering before your climb, you will be given an ID tag, which you must wear at all times during your climb. We couldn’t stress this enough. That ID will keep you safe and secure by notifying the park’s management about your approximate location—yes, it also works as a tracker, as you will be presenting your ID tag at checkpoints and when you check in and out of your lodging. 



#8 Keep cash on you

Credit cards are not honored in the mountains, so it’s best to keep cash (MYR) on your person to pay for additional fees and purchases such as snacks, meals, and other provisions along the way. 

*Tip-off: You ought to know that there are no ATMs in Kinabalu National Park, so withdraw your money before proceeding to the area for your climb. 



You can buy snacks and meals at hostels along the summit trail | via hkhtt hj on Shutterstock



#9 Hydrate!

In case you missed it, we listed water bottles among the items you should pack for your climb. This is so you can hydrate yourself regularly throughout the journey, as you will be losing a lot of fluids as you go. You may also bring water-purifying tablets for when you refill your bottles at rest stops, especially if you’re extra-sensitive.



#10 Don’t hurry!

This is perhaps one of the most important tips on this list that is also usually overlooked.

Sure, you have a schedule to follow to make it to the checkpoints on time, but hurrying to the summit is not the answer. If you’re in a rush, you’ll burn yourself out more, miss out on the beautiful scenery, and increase your chances of getting injured. 

So take it easy. Savor every step you take, make new friends along the way, and take in the sights you will not see anywhere else in the world. 



Beautiful Views From Mount Kinabalu
Climbers reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu | via Aaron Lim on Shutterstock



For Sabah tours and experiences, check out KKday now! Book your day tour to Mount Kinabalu from Kota Kinabalu to explore Poring Hot Spring and try the Canopy Walk. 


*Featured image by Yusnizam Yusof on Shutterstock