I will have much more to share about my wonderful recent trip to Peru, but I thought I’d start with one of the things I would have found most useful before I left, which is a detailed packing list for the 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
If you’re reading this I’m going to assume that you’ve already got a permit for trekking the Inca Trail and you’re ready and raring to go! If not, look at permits now as you’re likely to need to book months in advance, since the number of people on the trail each day is limited. If you’ve got a trip booked and can’t get a permit for the Inca Trail, why not try the Lares or Salkantay treks.
I booked my trip to Peru with G Adventures, travelling for three weeks on their Absolute Peru trip. G Adventures have been named Best Inca Trail Tour Operator by the Regional Direction of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Cusco (RDFTTC) in Peru and I would certainly recommend them after my experience. My tip if researching other companies would be to find out at which campsite you will spend night 3 and how long you may have to hike in the dark on Day 4, I was pleased to be very close to the entrance of the trail to the Sun Gate.
Trekking at altitude
Altitudes on the Inca Trail range from almost 2,600 metres above sea level at the start, up to 4,215m at Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass) and back down to around 3,600m at Machu Picchu. Some of these altitudes may be lower than other places you’ve stayed in Peru but you’re likely to still feel the exertion of hiking at these high altitudes – and that has nothing to do with fitness. Symptoms of altitude sickness include breathlessness, headaches, nausea, dizziness and insomnia. The most important way of trying to cope with elevated altitudes, whether trekking or not, is to give yourself some time to acclimatise. Here are some other ways to cope with the symptoms of altitude:
Water – keep hydrated, drinking lots and often.
Coca leaves – chew coca leaves, drink coca tea or suck coca leaf sweets.
Sweets – the Peruvians swear that sweet things will help with the altitude.
Agua de Florída – like a flowery perfume, the idea is to tip some into your hands, breathe it in deeply and let the alcohol open up your airways to get more oxygen.
Medication – speak to your doctor before leaving if you want to look into altitude medication such as Diamox. Tablets are also available over the counter in many pharmacies in Peru.
The Inca Trail – the essentials
Experienced hikers will know that the weight on your back can make all the difference to how easy or tough you find the hike. Our guide recommended that your daypack not weigh more than 7% of your bodyweight i.e. if you’re 70kg person, don’t carry more than 5kg in your daypack. I expect almost all of you to be hiking with porters who will carry the bulk of your luggage, and you’ll be provided with a separate duffel bag that they will carry. Bear in mind this duffel bag can only be max 6kg and will include your sleeping bag and sleeping mat. The good news is the amazing porters (who will fly up the mountains in their dress shoes and converse) will also carry all of the water and food you will need for the four days.
High season on the trail is in the dry season from April to September. Trails can be quieter during the rainy season from November to March, with the trail closed for renovations in February each year. Even in the dry season you will be lucky to have a trek totally without rain, given the trail winds through cloud forest and skirts jungle. Temperatures can range from very warm in the sun to very cold at night so pack layers and for all eventualities.
What to take
Passport – if you take nothing else, make sure you have your passport! Without it you won’t be able to enter the trail. Make sure when booking permits that you give the correct passport details.
Daypack – I would suggest taking a small daypack of 20-25L max, so you’re not tempted to overpack it. You’ll be wearing your daypack for 20+ hours overall so make sure you’ve tried it out in advance while hiking and you know it’s comfortable, I made the mistake of not trying mine out with the weight I expected to carry.
Sleeping bag – if renting one you might want to think about packing a sleeping bag liner (silk is lightweight and keeps you warm)
Sleeping mat – comfortable sleep = better hiking!
Walking poles – I had never walked with poles before but I would recommend taking or renting poles, especially for the downhill sections where they provide some extra balance and save the impact on your knees. If taking your own, bear in mind no metal tipped poles will be allowed on the Trail and no poles at all are allowed in Machu Picchu itself, they will need to be kept in the storage facilities at the entrance
Refillable water bottle/s or water bladder – No single-use plastic is allowed on the Inca Trail. Check your water bladder for leaks before you start!
Waterproof walking boots – hopefully this goes without saying but make sure your boots are properly broken in before setting off
Walking socks – clean pair for each day
Walking trousers – one or two pairs. I personally like to hike in running leggings as they are comfortable, breathable and dry quickly. Zip off styles can save space if you like hiking in shorts.
Breathable base layer tops or t-shirts – one for each day
Warm mid-layer – fleece or wool – it will get cold especially at the peaks and passes and you’ll likely need to put layers on whenever you stop
Underwear – for each day
Something warm to sleep in – thin thermal leggings will keep you warm without adding weight to your packing
Warm hat – for evenings, sleeping, and the cold early mornings
Sun hat or baseball cap and sunglasses – the temperatures will swing from cold overnight to hot in the day and you’ll want protection from the sun. And potentially to hide that Day 4 unwashed hair!
Gloves – waterproof or water resistant and warm. The only time I needed gloves was getting cold from the rain, and I wished I hadn’t only brought woollen gloves
Warm jacket – you’ll need layers for the evenings, I saved space by taking an ultralight packable padded jacket like these from Uniqlo and adding my waterproof over the top
Waterproof jacket and rain poncho – the Inca trail is on the edge of the rainforest, and rainforests mean rain. Consider yourself lucky if you have a totally dry trek. I only took my North Face waterproof but wished I had taken a rain poncho – you may feel like a tourist caught out while sightseeing but they cover you more completely and keep you drier.
Dry bags and waterproof daypack cover – it is best to be prepared, you don’t want damp clothes. I like to use small dry bags in my daypack to keep everything organised.
Small first aid kit – your guide will likely have a first aid kit but you should carry these basics yourself – diareze/imodium (trust me, you don’t want to be suffering on the hike), blister plasters, ibuleve/deep heat to ease any aches and pains, ankle/knee supports if needed. Make sure to pack any medication you need in your daypack
Toiletries – keep these minimal – deodorant, high SPF suntan lotion (this is important as you will be at altitude), toothbrush and small toothpaste, lip balm with SPF, hairbrush (or not, I let mine do its own thing!). With G Adventures we were given a small bowl of warm water when we arrived at the campsite each evening which was great to wash with and perhaps preferable to the ice-cold and not always clean or sweet-smelling showers. To avoid using non-biodegradable wet wipes try a small microfibre cloth or washable make up remover pads (I like these which really do just need water) and a small piece of solid soap.
Small quick-drying travel towel – if you can bear the feel of them, microfibre dries quickly, get one with a hanging hook or sew one on
Insect repellent – you will need a tropical strength insect repellent
Toilet paper – while there are toilets along some parts of the trail and at campsites, these may or may not have toilet paper
Cash – to tip your guides and porters, buy any extra snacks or drinks and pay the ubiquitous 1 Sol charged for toilets along the trail
Headtorch – for trekking on Day 4, and picking your way around the campsites at night
Hand sanitiser – a travel essential, especially when trekking
Power bank and spare batteries – there is nowhere to charge anything along the trail, so make sure you will have enough battery power for everything you need for the hike and Machu Picchu – you don’t want to be unable to take a pic of that classic view after four days walking to get there!
Last but not least – don’t forget a camera!
Additional items to consider taking
Travel pillow, ear plugs, eye mask – think about what helps you get a good night’s sleep – my tentmate had a small pillow case into which she stuffed clothes to make her pillow which was ingeniously space saving.
Snacks – G Adventures feed you extremely well with impressive three course lunches and dinners, as well as providing snacks. You can also buy snacks on Days 1 and 2 but bear in mind you are a captive market and they may not be cheap.
Flip flops – if you do want to shower.
Waterproof trousers – a matter of personal preference – I hate hiking in waterproof trousers and took a chance that my running leggings would dry quickly but make sure your socks and the inside of your boots will not get wet as drying anything while on the hike is difficult and wet feet will make you miserable and more prone to blisters.
What you DON’T need to take
Shampoo/conditioner – unless you have short hair, I would say the chances you will bother washing your hair are slim given both the showering facilities and the inability to dry it, so save the packing space. If you are dead set on taking shampoo I can recommend these biodegradable, plastic free and space saving solid shampoo cubes – they lather well and my hair felt good afterwards, unlike some others I tried
Trekking sandals – I had thought I would be desperate to take my boots off every evening but as you’ll want to keep your feet warm, I’d save space and just loosen the laces on your boots for dinner. Otherwise think about throwing on some socks with flip flops (if you bring them for the showers)
Extra clothes for the evenings – after freshening up when reaching camp you will likely want to put warm layers on. Save space and use either tops that you’ll wear the next day and/or clothes you’ll sleep in
I hope I’ve answered any questions you have about packing for trekking the Inca Trail. Leave a comment with any questions or let me know anything else you couldn’t live without on the trail.