Peru, Places, South America, Travel Tips
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The Inca Trail – What to Pack?

This was originally part of the The Inca Trail: How to Command and Conquer the Famous Hike post, but for the sake of brevity, I decided to turn it into a separate post.  

I often get asked what I packed when I did the four day Inca Trail.  I will premise this by saying I did hire a porter for the trek, and checked the majority of my belongings not necessary for the trek at my hostel in Cusco.  So, in terms of what you should have on your person, and what you should bring in your duffel bag that the porter carries for you, the following is my essential packing list for surviving and conquering the Inca Trail.

  • Walking stick – you may not think you’ll need this, but it becomes helpful when going up and down the steep stone stairs.  You can buy one in Ollantaytambo for 3 soles.
  • Good hiking shoes – you don’t necessarily need to have hiking boots, but a good pair of hiking shoes will make a huge difference in your overall comfort throughout the hike. Though on Day 3, which is five hours of steep downhill, you may want to opt for boots for increased ankle support.
  • Good socks (at least 3 pairs so you can alternate if socks get wet) – I bought these anti-blister socks from Mountain Equipment Co-op before the hike, and I didn’t get any blisters the entire time.  Well worth it.
  • Legwarmers – You can buy some colourful alpaca wool ones from the markets in Cusco.  They’re helpful for when it gets cold at night, and also in the early mornings of your hikes (you start hiking around 7:30-8 every morning, sometimes earlier before the sun is even out).
  • Hiking pants – As mentioned, get the ones that have the zip-off so they become shorts, it means you can bring less pants.  I used hiking capris for the whole time and my lower legs got cold, especially in the rain.  Don’t hike in fleece-lined leggings like I did the first day – your inner thighs will start to chafe and do the chub rub and that’s no fun.
  • Fleece lined leggings – BUT, fleece-lined leggings are great for sleeping in due to the cold.  Use these, or pack a couple layers of long underwear/thermals.  It’s good to have an additional pair of bottoms for sleeping, in the event you spent the day in the rain and your pants need to dry out.
  • Wicking T-shirts (made of merino wool) (2-3) – these keep you dryer and don’t show signs of sweat stink as quickly, so you can re-wear them throughout the hike.
  • Wool alpaca sweater – keeps you warm at night and when you’re wandering around the campsite; again, can be bought in the markets of Cusco.
  • Light rain jacket – I have a bomber-style one from MEC that folded up really small and light when I didn’t need it, but it also kept me dry.  It was never cold enough while hiking to require a warmer, thicker jacket, especially if I layered with the hoodie/merino wool shirts underneath.
  • Toque – you can get an alpaca wool one from Cusco or bring one from home – helpful for those cold mornings and also for sleeping.
  • Gloves – I bought a pair of alpaca-wool mittens that’s tops came off so you could have access to your fingers.  They’re not waterproof, however, so bringing a good pair from home is helpful for those cold rainy days.
  • Wicking sweater/zip-up hoodie – Another good layer to have for transitioning between hot and cold.
  • Baby wipes – You won’t be showering for four days, so it’s good to have some baby wipes or pre-wetted face wipes to wipe off some of the sweat and grime.
  • Deodorant – do I need to say why?  You’re not showering for four days.
  • Sunscreen – You are going to be very exposed to the sun, don’t skimp out on this even if it’s not warm out.
  • Hat/buff – use a hat or a “buff” (tubular headwear that can act as a scarf) to protect your head from heatstroke and keep your hair out of your face.
  • Toothpaste/toothbrush – while you won’t have running water for much of it, brushing your teeth is the one way you can feel clean the whole hike!
  • Facial moisturizer with SPF – protect your face and keep it moisturized, your skin will thank you.
  • Change of underwear for the four days
  • Sports bra (if you’re a girl)  I found out the hard way that 8 hours of walking can take its toll if you’re just wearing a regular bra.  Save yourself a little bit of pain.
  • Scarf – doesn’t matter what kind, it’s just a little bit of extra warmth.
  • Pack towel – they dry quickly, and even though you won’t be showering it’s nice to have something to wipe the sweat off with.  They can also be used as an additional blanket or pillow when you’re sleeping at the campsite.
  • Water – the first two days there are places at the campsites to buy water bottles.  Buy water whenever you can.  By Day 3 the porters will boil water for you to get rid of impurities, but you can’t drink it right away (because it’s hot!).  Water purification tablets are also good to bring, but are useless on Day 1 because of the close farming communities that are along the trail, and the water is too dirty and muddy even for the tablets.
  • Toilet paper – there won’t be any on the hike.  You can get cheap rolls in Cusco or get the tightly wound travel toilet paper from a store like MEC.  Side note: you’ll definitely be squatting by day 2 with no more upright toilets.
  • Hand sanitizer – you’re going to be dirty so try and wash your hands with hand sanitizer before you eat anything.  Last thing you need is to come down with a cold on the hike.
  • Painkillers – Advil or anything for muscle/joint pain will help make the days easier.  Also bring some A535 or menthol cream to rub on your aching muscles.  I was the only one who brought some in my whole hiking group, and it got passed around by Day 3 because everyone needed some.
  • Camera and spare battery/memory cards – bring this all from home as it’s not guaranteed you’ll find the right ones in Cusco.  Last thing you want is for your camera battery to die before you get to Machu Picchu, or to run out of picture storage space.
  • Chocolate/nuts/snacks – good for in between meals and for keeping you motivated!
  • Rain cover for your backpack (or a poncho that goes over both you and your pack) – You don’t want all that chocolate to get wet.
  • Dry shampoo – you can get little containers of this back in North America.  If your hair gets greasy quickly, this is a nice way to get it kind of clean-looking again.
  • Stomach remedies – if you have a sensitive stomach, it’s good to bring something like Tums, Ovol, Gravol, or Lactaid because you can’t count on anyone else to have some on the hike. It is also good to bring Imodium and a doctor-prescribed medication for traveler’s diarrhea.
  • Coca leaves/coca candy – In addition to how important it is to acclimatize to the altitude before you depart on the hike, it’s also handy to know of some on-the-spot remedies for what they call soroche.  Sucking on a coca candy can help relieve the headachy-nausea symptoms that come along with altitude sickness, and an even stronger remedy than that is chewing on coca leaves with a bit of baking soda mixed in.  The latter option is of course an acquired taste and not for everybody, whereas coca candies can come in a variety of flavours and can be bought in Cusco and Ollantaytambo.  Additionally, there will be coca tea served with every meal.  You should also get a prescription from your doctor before you go for a set of altitude sickness pills to take if it gets severe.  However, I would not recommend getting the medication that you take throughout the whole trek to prevent altitude sickness – it can have unpleasant side effects, and it’s better to see if your body can handle the altitude and THEN treat it rather than subjecting it to possibly unnecessary discomfort.
  • Sunglasses – if you have sensitive eyes like me, the sun can get quite bright at those high altitudes.
  • Head lamp – much easier than a flash light when you’re wandering around the campsite at dark (and it gets dark around 6 pm), and for going to the bathroom/changing clothes.

Was there anything I missed, or that you found useful when you’ve done the Inca Trail trek/similar hikes?  Let me know in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Inca Trail: How to Command and Conquer the Famous Hike | Journeys of the Featherless

  2. Pingback: The Inca Trail: How to Command and Conquer the Famous Hike | The Type A Traveller

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