Throughout my years of experience as a guide on the Inca Trail. I noticed that many of the tourists with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the experience of completing the Inca Trail had in common the same big question, which was What to Pack for the Inca Trail?
For a lot of tourists, preparing the appropriate equipment to do this hike can be a bit confusing, especially when you find so many articles of travelers who experienced the Inca Trail once in their life and make some good recommendations based on the condition of the trail on that particular day that they hiked.
In my years as a guide, I saw the Inca Trail on wonderful sunny days and beautiful days where the sky opened up and poured rain down as we trekked from one camp to the next, following in the footsteps of the Incas. The weather in the Andes can be unpredictable and change quickly at any time of the year.
I hope this post will help you to know what to pack, no matter what time of year you hike.
Traveling Like a Caterpillar
Doing the Inca Trail today is totally different from the Inca trail 30 years ago. The trip was a little more challenging since the tourist was not only hiking as a passenger, but also packing in the camping equipment and helping to set up the tents. Some were part of the kitchen crew, in charge of feeding their group of tired and hungry hikers who had walked between 7 to 10 miles to get to their camp, at higher altitude than most of them were used to.
Traveling like a Butterfly
Today, the Inca Trail is another story, because tourists only have to focus on carrying their own travel equipment, and have the option to hire porters to assist with that as well.
The secret to enjoying the Inca Trail is to have a basic set of equipment that will keep you comfortable on the trail and prepared for the trail conditions on the day you are hiking. In a few words, pack SMART and pack LIGHT. Remember that you will only be in the mountains for 4 days. You will arrive to each lunch or camp at the end of the day to freshly prepared hot food and coffee or tea, your choice, and be able to relax and share stories of your experiences that day. Your tents will be set
up and ready for you to jump into your sleeping bag so you can go and rest up for the next day’s hike.
Keep in mind that as the days pass on the Inca Trail, even your expertly minimalized and perfectly packed backpack will feel like it becomes heavier due to the physical fatigue from hiking for four days. Take time to prepare your equipment for the hike, and you can focus on enjoying the gorgeous landscape instead of the weight on your back.
Traveling like the Inca (King):
If you are not used to hiking with a heavy pack, or you just want to do the Inca Trail and focus on taking pictures and enjoying the landscapes without worrying about your pack, you have the option of hiring the services of a porter to help transport your personal belongings along the Inca Trail. You will still need to carry a day pack with your essentials for the changing weather, water, and your camera, but you can travel much lighter and more comfortable.
Be a Smart Traveler! Acclimatize!
Apart from having the basic equipment and packing light or hiring the services of a porter, it will be very important to arrive in the city of Cusco 2-3 days before the hike, the more time the better. This is so you can help your body to acclimatize before starting the hike. Taking time to acclimatize is key in being able to enjoy your long-awaited adventure and finish satisfied instead of dragging yourself up and down the mountain and be too exhausted to enjoy your time at Machu Picchu.
What to Pack?
Feel free to pack the equipment with which you feel safe and comfortable. The list that I give below is the list of basics that I think are the most important to hike the Inca Trail any time of the year:
– Hiking Boots or Shoes (Athletic shoes don’t provide the same protection)
– Flip flops (for wearing around camp at the end of the day)
– Backpack (with rain cover and enough space to carry your sleeping bag)
– Hiking Poles (rubber tips, not plastic)
– Sun Glasses
– Head Lamp (extra batteries)
– Pocket Knife or MultiUse Tool
– Whistle (usually built into backpack straps) PICTURE of Backpack strap whistle
– Watch (water resistant, with a light)
– Sun Block (SPF 50+)
– Mosquito Repellent
– Water Bottle or Hydration Pack (1 to 2 liters)
– Binoculars (optional)
– Sleeping Bag(20˚F/-7˚C)
– Rain Jacket/Plastic Poncho
– 2-3 Plastic Bags (to separate your dirty or wet clothes)
– 4 pairs of Socks – Merino wool (5 pairs September – April, rainy season)
– 2 hiking pants with pockets (no jeans, 3 pants September – April)
– Thermal Underwear
– 4 Shirts Preferably quick dry material, long sleeve (protects from cold/sun)
– Swim suit (optional for hot springs in Aguas Calientes)
– 1 Fleece/Polartec
– 1 Jacket Rain/Cold resistant
– 1 Sun Hat
– 1 Warm Hat for cool evenings and mornings (can be purchased in Cusco) PICTURE – chullo
– 1 Pair of warm gloves (can also be purchased in Cusco)
– Bandana (can be used to protect your neck from the sun or get wet to cool off)
– Shampoo (cold water showers available along the trail)
– Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss
– Disinfectant towels or antibacterial hand gel
– Toilet Paper (1 roll in a plastic bag to protect from rain)
– A small, quick-dry towel
– Student ID (if booking with student ID)
– Camera (Extra Batteries)
– Cell Phone (No signal on the trail, used for camera)
– GoPro (or other action camera, extra batteries)
– Solar Charger
Note: Drones are not permitted on the Inca Trail or at Machu Picchu.
– Peruvian Soles (for snacks/water along trail and tipping)
– Dried Fruit
– Salty/Spicey Snacks (Day 1, 2, and 4 it’s possible to buy this along the trail)
– Make sure you have a small kit to treat scrapes, blisters, and minor cuts.
Expert Inca Tip:
Be sure to pack all your travel gear and documents inside plastic bags to keep them protected from moisture and dust.
What to Pack in a Day Pack?
If you choose to hire an extra porter service along the trail, you will still need to carry a day pack with your essentials. You will only have access to the equipment you send with the porters at the end of the day in the camps.
Day Pack Essentials:
– Jacket/Rain Poncho
– Sun Block/Insect Repellent- Sun Hat/Warm Hat
– Spending Money
If you have specific questions or need advice, you can always contact us. For more details on each item in the list above, you can see our What to Pack section of our Inca Trail trek. You can also check out our very extensive FAQ section for the Inca Trail. Have a nice trip!