Climbing Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan (富士山) in Japanese, is no easy task; huge increases in elevation, long hiking distances, inclement and ever-changing mt. Fuji weather, as well as less-than-desirable steep and slippery portions of the path make climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji very difficult.
However, with the correct gear and knowledge of the mountain go a long way to ensuring a safe and enjoyable hike to the top of Japan’s most iconic landmark.
Essentials for Climbing Mt. Fuji
Okay, perhaps hiking shoes aren’t exactly essential, however, a good pair of protective and supportive shoes will go a long way on the trek to the top of Fujisan. Although some paths are shorter than others, and some are more gradual in elevation than others, all paths have steep rock portions that are often slippery. Near constant drizzle and the occasional downpour ensure that these portions are nice and perilous.
Shoes with good traction will assure that no unwanted slips or slides occur. In addition to the surface of the trails, strong winds towards the summit of Mt. Fuji have been known to not only blow climbers off their feet, but blow the completely off of the trail!
How long to climb mt. Fuji? Anywhere between eight and sixteen hours of climbing for a round trip. Therefore, a pair of good shoes, preferably hiking shoes, are extremely useful.
The weather and precipitation on Mt. Fuji can be described best as “dynamic”; Clear skies often give way to dark clouds which one can thankfully see approaching from a distance, which can either pass by threateningly or downpour on climbers. The average amount of time spent hiking in the rain is about one hour, which may not seem like much, but when it is combined with high altitude, exhaustion, hunger and thirst, as well as no natural shelter, it becomes very taxing.
Having appropriate waterproof rain gear will keep you (mostly) dry and if you have an additional cover for your backpack, the other equipment and food can stay nice and dry too.
An outer waterproof shell is the best option, preferably from a brand that specializes in outdoor activities or mountaineering, as these brands will allow maximum breathability, mobility, and protection.
Often times there is a large difference (up to 60° F!) between the start of the trails and the summit of Mt. Fuji; strong winds only decrease the temperature, and the summit of Mt. Fuji often approaches freezing! In addition to the waterproof shell layers, it is essential to wear warm clothing.
Layers are very useful because you can put on or take off layers when the conditions change. It is recommended to bring a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, and warm jacket, and wear the additional layers as the altitude increases.
Also, a change of clothes is very useful, as sweat and rain often soak climbers, and the wet clothing can drain their temperature.
The biggest attraction for most climbers on Mt. Fuji is the beautiful sunrise; an unobstructed orange sun rising up out of a sea of clouds, casting warm rays on the countless spectators at the summit.
Be that as it may, the sunrise during climbing season can be as early as 4:30 am.
Therefore, climbers often scale about half of the mountain, and then rest for a few hours in the scattered huts along the trails, and then complete the climb in the darkness of night. Additionally, climbers often find themselves struggling and falling behind schedule as well as falling into night, where the strong winds and lack of vision becomes very dangerous.
Bringing a light source, whether that be a flashlight or preferably a headlamp, not only makes the climb more enjoyable, but ensures climbers’ safety on the mountain.
First of all, there is food on the mountain. All of the mountain huts have meal options such as ramen, and there are vending machines that snake up the trail to the summit. Despite this, the meals are often overpriced and underwhelming, and the vending machines charge such an understandable premium, that these options really are bleak.
Packing your own meals and snacks will save not only money, but stomach-growling, too. Not to mention homemade or konbini onigiri will most likely taste better.
High calorie snacks are a must when climbing Mt. Fuji, as the journey lasts for over 10 hours usually, and most are on the mountain over the course of two days. Snacks such as “Calorie Mate”, nuts, protein and nutruition bars, as well as sweets (your diet will be fine if you’re on Fujisan) are all great options.
Humans need water to survive, and even more water to be comfortable and healthy. The amount of water necessary for an average man with a sedentary life is about two liters per day. The reccommended amount of water for someone climbing Mt. Fuji is anywhere between three and four liters of water.
Of course this amount is not mandatory, but it serves to explain that one does need to drink plenty of water for the hike to the peak.
Beverages, like food, are available on the mountain. However, also like the food on Fujisan, it is much overpriced, with most drinks being sold for 500 yen in the vending machines.
Believe it or not, the mountain huts on Mt. Fuji do not take credit cards. Therefore, if the provisions run out and the mountain hut “restaurants” or vending machines are used, make sure to have plenty of cash.
Also, there is a fee to use the restrooms that are scattered up and down the mountain, typically priced at about 200 yen. Make sure to bring plenty of 100 yen coins.
A good rule of thumb is to bring about 1000 yen worth of 100 yen coins.
To bring all of the provisions and gear required to safely navigate the mountain, of course a backpack is needed. An average sized bag should suffice, fitting all that is needed.
There are very very few trash bins in the entire region of Mt. Fuji, so expect to carry your waste around until you go back to home base. Mt. Fuji is a UNESCO world heritage site, a national icon, as well as a spiritual and historical place; don’t leave your trash laying around and try not to disturb the area as much as possible.
Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.
A good pack should include about two liters of water, some snacks (and rice if you’re an especially hungry person), extra layers, and a first aid kit with a small oxygen canister.
Yes, oxygen is in short supply at the summit. On the way to the top of Mt. Fuji, there is a noticeable decrease of oxygen; there is only about 66% as much oxygen at that altitude than at sea level. Because of this, many suffer from altitude sickness. Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breathe, and nausea. Altitude sickness can even lead to lung and brain malfunction if severe enough and if untreated.
Oxygen canisters are sold at the start of most trails, but the prices are fairly inflated. In case it’s needed, pick up a can in Tokyo or another city and pack it in the backpack.
Not as important as the other kit, but they help with traction while crawling up the steeper portions, and can help with the frigid conditions at the summit.
Although not essential, a good hat will help keep those pesky sun rays at bay. There is no protection from the sun above the cloud line, and because Mt. Fuji looks like something a Mars rover would patrol, there is no natural shelter either.
It is very easy to get sunburn or skin irritation, even if it’s cold.
For the same reasons that the hat is important, it might be a good idea to pack along a small bottle of sunscreen. Most of the time, most of the skin will be covered, but it never hurts to be cautious.
An oft-overlooked portion of preparedness is a good face mask (like the kind you see countless Japanese people donning to avoid spreading sickness).
Although going up is a fairly clean and dust-free fare, the trip down is filled with loose volcanic dirt that is kicked up and hovers in the air. By the time most people make it back to the trail head, there is “Fuji dust” in their hair, eyes, clothes, shoes, and even lungs. Avoid coughing up dust for the 24 hours after the journey; bring a face mask.
How to Climb Mount Fuji
Paths to the top
There are four separate paths that snake their way up to the summit, varying in length, steepness, and number of mountain huts.
This path starts at the highest elevation, and is therefore the shortest route. However, this also makes it one of the more steep and rocky paths on Mt. Fuji. Another worthy point of mention for the Fujinomiya trail is that the path for ascent and descent is shared, so although it is easier to navigate, it also leads to more congestion. Check out our detailed guide on Fujinomiya Trail.
Gotemba trail has the starting point with the lowest altitude, so the hike is much longer than other trails and climbers will experience a greater change in altitude. But this also makes it one of the more gradual paths to use, travelling a greater distance to scale the mountain.
As a result of the relative difficulty of this trail and the lack of public transportation to the trail head, it is the least used path on Mt. Fuji. Because of this, there are also the fewest amount of huts along this path.
The Subashiri trail is known for having the most woodland surrounding the route, which extends higher up the mountain than any other area. Because of the heavily wooded path, traveling during very foggy weather or at night is difficult, and more dangerous. The path for ascent and descent are separated, which makes this trail fairly less populated than other more popular ones. The descent path also has a long sandy portion which makes the run down much easier, if not down right fun.
Often considered the easiest trail to tackle Mt. Fuji, Yoshida trail is the most used path and has both a moderate walking distance with a moderate gradient. Although the ascending and descending trails are separate, there is still much congestion and “traffic jams”” at certain bottleneck points because of the popularity of this route. Also as a result of the popularity of this trail, it has the most mountain huts and amenities. Check out our detailed guide on Yoshida Trail.
Best Times to Climb Mt. Fuji
Open Climbing Season
The official season to climb Mt. Fuji is usually between early July to mid-September. During this time, public transportation is frequent and all trails and mountain huts are open (weather permitting).
However, it is possible to climb Mt. Fuji during the off-season, but the mountain huts are closed and there is much less support in case of an emergency. What’s more, the mountain is covered in a blanket of snow for most of the year. From November to the climbing season, the conditions on Mt. Fuji are akin to those in some portions of the Himalayas.
During this time, the chance of avalanches is very high, as well as extreme wind speeds and temperatures that stay well below freezing.
Japanese school is generally out between the end of July to the end of August. Perfect timing for the open climbing season on Mt. Fuji.
To beat some of the crowd, plan to hike near the beginning or the end of the climbing season.
Mt. Fuji Weather
As mentioned multiple times in this article, Mt. Fuji weather ranges from picturesque to near-arctic, and changes in a moment’s notice. It is imperative to note that the proper preparation does not only make the journey more enjoyable, but also ensures safety.
Do not try and climb to the summit during winter. Do not push on if you feel the extreme symptoms of altitude sickness. If the conditions are too bad, or if the visibility is nonexistent, take a break and try and wait for Fujisan’s tantrum to pass. Perhaps something more calm, such as hanami or koyo, would be a better choice when climbing mount Fuji is too difficult.
To climb Mt. Fuji is an enlightening experience, and offers much in regard to self-actualization, excitement (and drudgery), as well as a great feat of personal perseverance. Although not one of the tallest mountains in the world, and in all honesty not one of the more difficult climbs, the experience takes endurance and grit. If in Japan for any length of time, scaling Mt. Fuji is a major must-do.