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How to climb Mount Kinabalu: 16 Tips for first-time hikers

To and back from summit (20)-01 s, How to climb Mount Kinabalu

As an average amateur hiker who loves climbing mountains, I had an unforgettable experience last week when I reached the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Before the hike, I received advice from various sources on how to climb Mount Kinabalu, including how to prepare, the necessary training, the items to pack, and accommodation recommendations. Unfortunately, while some of the advice was useful, others were inaccurate despite being given with good intentions.

Drawing on my experience completing the climb, I’ve compiled a list of essential questions and answers crucial for any first-time hiker to Mount Kinabalu. Of course, this isn’t professional advice, but based on my observations and experiences before and during the hike.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

1. Can anyone hike up to Mount Kinabalu? 

To Panalaban (55)-01 s

The answer is yes, as long as you are healthy and exercise regularly. 

During our hike, we met a 75-year-old man and an 8-year-old child. There is no age limit! But, of course, this does not include individuals with special medical conditions. 

You don’t need any climbing experience, professional climbing gear, or mountaineering abilities to scale Mount Kinabalu. Any amateur climber with a reasonable fitness level can ascend to the summit. Most of the trail consists of incline and steep paths, and the summit section has high steps and huge granite slabs, which are slippery due to rain. Nevertheless, you will be aided by experienced guides and ropes.

2. What level of fitness is required to climb Mount Kinabalu? 

How to climb Mount Kinabalu

This is a common and subjective question, but I can provide a general answer based on my experience. I am 61 and free from most illnesses, aside from mild knee pain when lowering my body with one leg. Before my climb, I consistently hiked various hills in Kuala Lumpur twice weekly for 3 to 3.5 hours, including climbs. My favorite spot is Gasing Hill’s “stairway to heaven” section after the suspension bridge, which I found easy to conquer. However, this level of preparation is likely insufficient for Mount Kinabalu. The trail from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban is an abrupt change in altitude, ascending from 1866m to 3273m, a difference of nearly 1400m. Hiking at such altitudes is different from hiking in Kuala Lumpur. Besides, the whole trail took us six hours to complete. 

Despite this, I reached the summit, using 90% of my strength. Therefore, you can use my physical condition to gauge the fitness level needed to reach the summit and descend Mount Kinabalu.

Read our blog “Climbing Mount Kinabalu- the comprehensive guide of the whole hiking trail

3. What kind of terrain will I expect during the climb? 

To and back from summit (42)-01 s
(The granite slab near the summit)

Generally, the hike is easier initially, particularly between the starting point of the summit trail and the Layang Layang hut. Beyond the Layang Layang hut, the trail becomes steeper and rockier. Wooden stairs at specific points along the trail make climbing easier until the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint.

However, after passing the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint, the trail disappears, and you have to climb up to the summit on a large granite slab. There was no path to follow, and therefore a white rope was installed as the guide to the summit.

You’ll be walking in an open area with a tilted surface, making this the most challenging section of the trail.

When you reach the summit, you’ll likely have to climb up large rocks with both hands.

4. Can you hire a porter to bring part of your belongings to Panalaban?

To Panalaban (14)-01 s,How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(You can hire porters to carry your belongings)

You can hire a porter to transport some of your belongings to Panalaban during your Mount Kinabalu climb. The cost for transporting 10kg of luggage is RM65 one way from Timpohon to Panalaban and RM80 up to the summit. It is helpful, especially for novice climbers aiming to reduce their load.

Since we only had a handful of items, we requested our mountain guide to double up as our porter. You can negotiate the cost with your guide.

5. How were the room condition and amenities during our stay at Laban Rata Resthouse?

Panalaban (58)s,
How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(Our room at Laban Rata Resthouse)

We stayed at Laban Rata Resthouse before ascending to the summit of Mount Kinabalu the following day. The Mount Kinabalu climb was divided into two days. We hike from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban on the first day. Since this hike took us six hours, we were required to stay at Panalaban overnight.

Several resthouses are available at Pana Laban, but the largest is Laban Rata Resthouse. This resthouse offers different types of rooms to suit various group sizes. Our tour agent arranged for three of us to stay in a room with two double-decker beds, which was perfect. The resthouse was kind enough to leave the extra bed empty to accommodate us comfortably. However, all rooms do not have an attached bathroom, and all climbers must use the shared bathroom. 

The infrastructure for the electricity supply was damaged after an earthquake a few years ago. As a result, the resthouse now relies on its generator to provide electricity. Unfortunately, this means that the electricity generated is insufficient for all usage. As a result, the electricity will be cut off from 10 pm to 1 am for the rooms, and the restaurant will have no electricity from 7 pm to 1 am.

Moreover, there is no hot water supply due to the electricity shortage, and climbers usually skip bathing for a day. 

Besides, charging any electrical devices in your room is impossible. An intermittent internet connection is available here, but Digi usually has no service, and Celcom has only an intermittent connection.

In summary, if you plan to stay at Laban Rata Resthouse (and other resthouses here), you must mentally prepare for the imperfect conditions.

6. What essentials should you bring for your climb to Mount Kinabalu? 

To Panalaban (86)-01 s
(Bring only essential items during our climb)

We keep our backpacks light by packing only the essential items, even though we hired a porter. A 40L backpack weighing less than 10 kg was our goal.

We brought headlamps with new batteries. It is crucial since we had to start hiking to the summit at 2:15 am. Besides, we got 500ml of drinking water to stay hydrated for all our hikes. There was no issue since toilet facilities were available at different stops on the first day of the hike, from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban. However, there are no toilet facilities on the second day while ascending to the summit. Therefore, we honestly only drank just enough water during our final push to the summit. 

The first day of hiking was relatively warm, so a T-shirt plus a jacket was more than sufficient. However, high-altitude clothing was essential on the second day since the temperature could drop to 0°C at the summit with strong winds. Fortunately, the weather was good during our hike.

My brother wore a base layer, a wool sweater as the mid-layer, and a fleece jacket as the outer layer. I overdressed with a waterproof parka as the outer layer and was sweating at the summit! Nonetheless, it’s better to dress adequately in anticipation of bad weather. I also wore waterproof pants for the summit trail in case it rained. Besides, my gear included a beanie, hiking gloves, and walking poles

It’s also helpful to bring high-energy snacks such as chocolate and energy bars for the hike. In addition, I dissolved some glucose in my water to ensure I had enough energy during the hike.

Tip: Pack smartly and lightly for the climb to ensure an enjoyable experience!

7. Do you have a sample packing list of things to bring for the climb? 

To Panalaban (22)-01 s

The summit is around 4000 meters so the temperature might drop dramatically. Also, the temperature at night might drop below zero at Panalaban. 

Here’s what I suggest:

Clothing: Bring a cap, T-shirt, trekking pants, hiking gloves, hiking poles, thick socks (bring extra), windproof and waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, beanie, neck gaiter, long johns, wool sweater, fleece jacket, and undergarments.

Other items: Headlamp, power bank, camera, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglass, high altitude sickness pills, painkillers, and any other personal medication you may need.

A good pair of hiking shoes with a good grip is also essential when climbing Mount Kinabalu. Please wear it a few times before the hike to get used to it if it is new. 

8. What about food during the hike and at Panalaban?

Panalaban (7)s
(The restaurant at Laban Rata, the base camp)

The restaurant on the ground floor of Laban Rata Resthouse is the only food outlet at Panalaban. Dinner was served as early as 5:30 pm, just a moment after we arrived. Most hikers arrived between 3 pm and 5 pm, which had plenty of time for dinner. The restaurant offered a buffet with various dishes: fried rice, fried noodles, soup, congee, chicken, eggs, desserts, and more. Coffee and tea were also available, along with sugar and creamer.

Since most hikers started their last lap of hiking before 2:30 am, supper was served at 1.30 am to ensure they had enough energy to reach the summit by 6 am for the sunrise. Breakfast was available from 7:30 to 10:30 am for the returning climbers descending from the summit. However, we were not allowed to fill our flask with hot water on the buffet line. (Cold water is OK). 

If you’re hiking with a tour agent, they may provide you with a packed lunch and a bottle of 500 ml of drinking water for the first day of the ascent. Overall, the food and water options at Panalaban are well-taken care of.

9. Please tell me about the highest post box in Malaysia, at Panalaban

The highest post box in Malaysia is located at Panalaban, on the ground floor of Pendant Hut, just a five-minute walk from Laban Rata Resthouse. After dinner, we headed straight to Pendent Hut to send out a few postcards, knowing each one would be stamped with a special chop that signified it was sent from this extraordinary place. We finally reached Pendent Hut after climbing another long flight of stairs, just in time before it was closed,  

The person in charge, Alvister, is a friendly guy who advised us on the postage required and allowed us to stay inside to wait for the sunset. 

How to climb Mount Kinabalu

And what a sunset it was! The spectacular sunset was the best I have ever seen.  The sun appeared suspended atop the billowy cloud, casting a golden glow on the cloud against the backdrop of a serene blue sky. It was an unforgettable sight to behold.

How to climb Mount Kinabalu

It was important to note that the post office closed at 6 pm daily, so we were glad we had gone there earlier to witness this awe-inspiring sight.

10. How much does it cost to climb Mount Kinabalu?

The cost of climbing Mount Kinabalu varies depending on several factors. Firstly, the climbing fee for foreign guests differs from that of Malaysians. The price may also vary based on your choice of hotel and whether you opt for an extra night stay in Kundasang to acclimatize to the high altitude.

You can refer to this website for more information on the costs. However, spending more time in Kundasang and Kota Kinabalu would be wise if you travel from another part of Malaysia or overseas. We spent a week in Sabah and allocated more time in Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang before and after the climb.

Please contact Horizon Borneo, the travel agent who expertly planned our trip, at for further details.

11. Permits and fees to climb Mount Kinabalu

To and back from summit (14)-01 s
(It is worth to pay for the permit fee to relish the spectacular view at the summit)

You must get a climbing permit to climb Mount Kinabalu. Sabah Parks only issues 163 climbing daily.  As a result, you may not be allowed to climb if you do not make your reservation before arriving in Kinabalu Park. Thus, arranging your reservations in advance, including lodging and the climbing permit, is crucial.

Effective from 1.1.2023, the Mount Kinabalu climb permit fee is now RM100 per Malaysian and RM400 for international adult climbers. The entrance fee to Kinabalu National Park is now RM10/day per Malaysian adult and RM50/day for the international climber. The mountain guide fee is RM350/pax.

12. How to apply for a climbing permit?

To and back from summit (43)-01 s, How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(South Peak, as printed on the RM100 note)

You will need a permit to climb Mount Kinabalu. However, just 163 climbs are issued daily by Sabah Parks. As a result, you must make your reservation before traveling to Kinabalu Park to be permitted to climb. Hence, making all your bookings in advance is essential, including lodging and a climbing permit.

You may make your reservation directly with the Mount Kinabalu administration or tour operators. We booked with the tour operators since we wanted a hassle-free trip. They organized the whole itinerary for my trip to Sabah, including applying for the climbing permit, accommodation, and mountain guide fee.

13. What climbing training would you recommend?

To and back from summit (7)-01-01 s, How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(Sunrise at the summit)

Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not technically challenging, but it is physically demanding. The hike spans two consecutive days, taking 15 hours to complete.

We trained at Gasing Hill in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for this challenge, where we hiked on steep inclines and rocky steps. Walking up the stairs of a high-rise condominium can also be helpful. I walk up and down the stairs for an hour every alternate day for two weeks before the climb to accustom myself to the high step at Mount Kinabalu. I intentionally walked up and down by crossing two steps each time, finding this a very effective training method.

Nevertheless, walking on hiking trails, with inclines and uneven steps, remains the best training.

The challenge of climbing Mount Kinabalu is not limited to ascending to the top but also descending. Good control when descending is crucial, particularly when crossing high steps and coming down the steep and tilting granite slab. Proper training should also include mastering step control while descending.

I have heard of people hurting their toes while descending, likely due to exerting too much force on them. I shift my center of gravity slightly towards the back and land each step with the sole or ankle instead of the tip of my feet. I also step sideways instead of directly to the front, easing the force exerted on the toes. I am not a professional hiker, but there was no toe pain by using these methods, which was reported by others. 

While I did not use a walking pole while ascending, I found using one during descent helpful.

14. Is high altitude sickness a genuine concern for climbing Mount Kinabalu?

To and back from summit (22)-01 s, How to climb Mount Kinabalu

If you arrive at Kota Kinabalu and climb to the summit of over 4000m the following day, there is a risk of catching altitude sickness. 

To avoid this issue, we spent one night in Kundasang and another night in Kinabalu Park, at an altitude of over 1500m. Doing so gave our bodies time to adjust to the higher altitude, effectively reducing the likelihood of experiencing adverse symptoms.

In addition to our extended stay, we took acetazolamide, a medication to prevent high altitude sickness, twice daily before the climb. This medication helped further reduce the risk of altitude sickness. Acetazolamide is a controlled medicine in most countries, so please consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking it.

Our extra night’s stay and medication proved effective, and we did not experience any symptoms of high altitude sickness during our hike.

Gradually ascending and increasing water intake also reduces the likelihood of high-altitude sickness. You can take paracetamol, an over-the-counter medicine if you have a headache. However, if the symptoms persist, it is essential to prioritize your safety and abandon the climb.

Be safe, and do not rush. We had seen accident cases ourselves while we ascended to Panalaban. 

15. What is the best time to climb?

sunset at pnlaban, How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(Sunset at Panalaban)

The period between March and September is ideal for climbing, owing to the dry weather conditions. However, securing a climbing slot may be difficult because this is the peak season. Conversely, the weather is relatively wetter from October to January. Therefore,  the chances of the summit being closed are slightly higher. Nonetheless, obtaining a climbing slot during this period is relatively easier.

16. Is it still worth it to only hike up to Panalaban rather than reach the summit? 

Kinabalu Park certificate , How to climb Mount Kinabalu
(Certificate fo our climb)

Your objective determines the extent of your climb. While my brother and I aspired to the summit, others were content with making it to Panalaban and relishing the breathtaking mountain scenery and frigid weather. My wife, conscious of her knee condition, had reservations about climbing to the summit and was elated with her accomplishment of reaching Panalaban. A few hikers had to abandon their journey before reaching the final checkpoint, Sayat-sayat, on the day we climbed. It is vital to acknowledge our physical limitations and avoid excessive risk-taking. Remember, you can always plan for another attempt in the future.

Here is our video shot during our climb to the summit 👇👇

Before you go, don’t miss out on the video shot during our climb at Mount Kinabalu. Click the image below to watch on YouTube (shot in high definition!).


Thursday 30th of November 2023

Thank you for this great article. I've been up there twice but would like to do it once again (I'm 53) with my sister, B-I-L and some friends and what a great way to introduce to them the experience by refering them to your article!



Thursday 16th of November 2023

Great source of information. Your sharing inspired me to take up the challenge. I'm planning to climb the Mount of Kinabalu next year.


Wednesday 15th of November 2023

Thank you for sharing your experience. I had climbed MK more than 20 years ago and would like to climb again before hitting 60 years old. Your sharing has indeed been very helpful for my preparation.


Friday 6th of October 2023

Thanks you so much,nice writing& sharing. Much inspirational& appreciate it. i read this after my Mt Kinabalu success hike on 9.9.2023(in bad weather)


Sunday 24th of September 2023

Your thorough description of conquering Mount Kinabalu is extremely inspirational! Your devotion, planning, and willingness to share your experiences will be beneficial to fellow hikers. Your experience, from physical training to conquering altitude obstacles, offers a vivid picture of what to expect. Thank you for your excellent thoughts, and here's hoping that we can all experience this magnificent climb one day!