So, you’re getting ready to hike the Inca Trail! Yay! But, wait, what in the world do you take with you? Well, hopefully you listened to the advice I gave in a separate post (Hint: link below) and booked a porter. If not, pause and sort that out. You’ll thank me later.
Assuming you’ve got your porter sorted, let’s get to the nitty gritty. First, the temperature on the trail will be quite cold at night, so it’s worth investigating what you can expect. Here’s one site I found helpful. You’ll notice that throughout the year, it mostly stays below 45F (or 7C). If you’re traveling in the winter, it can get close to freezing.
Second, it’s worth strategizing ahead of time what you want the porters to carry, what you’ll keep with you, and what you’ll leave behind at your hotel or tour company. For instance, I left several pairs of clean clothes, toiletries, and other items in a small suitcase at the hostel in Cusco. Our tour company also offered to hold my bag, but they were going to be closed in the evening when I returned, so I opted for the hostel. From what I found, most hostels will hold your bags for you.
Ok, so you’ve thought through where you’ll leave your extra stuff and checked the weather. Let’s dig into THE packing list for hiking the Inca Trail. I’ve split the list into five sections: hiking gear, clothing and footwear, camera gear, food, and other essentials.
It’s important to note that most tour companies can provide all or most of these items if you ask in advance (for a cost). Note that I don’t bring a pillow, instead I ball my clothes up and use them as a pillow.
- Hiking poles: I brought these Hiker Hunger poles from Amazon. What sold me is that they weigh under 1lb total, collapse to 24” (61cm), and have cork grips that don’t get gross when you’re sweaty. Also, note that tip covers are required on the trail, but you can buy them in Cusco if needed ( covers are included with these poles).
- Sleeping bag: I brought an older (bulkier) sleeping bag and wished I’d had something more compact. You’re going to want at least a 3-season sleeping bag for the temperatures and depending on how cold you get at night, you may want a sleeping bag liner as well. I also prefer the “mummy” style because it curls up around your head to keep you warm, but some may find it a bit too confining.
- Sleeping pad: This is important because it not only makes sleeping way more comfortable, but also protects you from the cold ground. I used the OutdoorsmanLab Ultralight Sleeping Pad, which is inflatable but also compact at just under 1lb. The pad was a little slippery on the floor of the tent, but for the price and weight it still worked well.
Clothing & Footwear
If your pack is too heavy and you need to leave something behind, choose clothing. I chose to leave some items behind at the last minute and was so glad that I did. One thing that made it tricky for me, is that we planned to stay one night in Aguas Caliente after the hike. So, needed to plan clothing for that. This list does not include this extra clothing.
Also, before I left a friend gave me the advice to always go to bed in clean, dry clothing. She may have gone to bed once with sweaty clothes on and woke up with icicles in unpleasant places. My strategy was to bring one set of clothes to only be worn to bed each night with a pair of clean socks. So, before dinner I would have a baby wipe shower and put on these pajamas. On the last day I wore the pajamas the whole day.
- Lightweight, breathable pants (2 pairs): I love the store Athleta because they’ve got such lightweight options that are really packable.
- Tank top w/ built in sports bra (2): I chose this gray Nike tank because it’s less bulky than others I have.
- Lightweight, breathable v-neck t-shirt: I chose a t-shirt so that I could protect my shoulders from the sun, if needed, and in case my pack was rubbing on my shoulders with a tank top on.
- Sports bra
- Tank top
- Lightweight, long sleeve functional top: I ended up wearing this at some point every single day. It’s best to start the day with layers, and then adjust as needed. I chose this Nike top because it’s lightweight and packable, but also breathable.
- Sweater: I had debated bringing a lightweight down jacket, but left it at home at the last minute as I was panicking about the weight of my pack. After I got to Cusco and realized how cold it gets at night, I ended up buying a sweater at the local market for S/18 ($6). I wore this at night at the campsite over my pajamas and was glad that I had it.
- Packable down vest: Instead of a down jacket, I opted for a down vest. I actually bought this at Costco for under $15 and love it. It folds up into a tiny pouch, is warm (but not too warm), and has great pockets. I also wore this at night at the campsite and at the start of each morning.
- Hiking socks (5 pairs): Take a pair for each day, plus an extra. Sure, you could cut back here but you’re hiking 26 miles so it’s worthwhile to double-down on taking care of your feet. The extra pair was mostly in case of rain. I absolutely love the Smart Wool Hike Light Crew Socks.
- Long sleeve base layer top: I opted for Patagonia’s Capilene 3 Midweight Crew.
- Sports Bra: Or not, whatever.
- Base layer pants: I just wore some Reebok running tights I had, but my friends had SmartWool pants that they loved.
- Hooded rain jacket: Again, check the weather for the time of year you’ll be on the trail. You may not need it, but I chose to bring mine and use it as another long sleeve layer option. I did end up wearing it on Day 2 at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass because it was quite cold.
- Scarf/ Buff: This comes in handy not only to keep you warm, but also for dust, wind or sun protection. The nice thing about the Buff Brand is that it also can be a head band. Let’s be honest, your hair starts to get a little funky by Day 3. Plus, they’ve got loads of fun colors and designs.
- Hat: Not essential, but was nice to have. I brought my favorite hat from TenTree.
- Wool hat: This was also worn at night around the campsite and while I was sleeping. I love The North Face Black Women’s One Size Cable Minna Beanie.
- Lightweight gloves: I also wore gloves at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass and was glad I brought them. When the clouds come in and you’re at altitude the temperature can drop quickly, so it’s worthwhile to bring some along. I’ve had these gloves for years and love them because they’re lightweight!
I can’t stress enough how thankful you will be for having both of these with you. I nearly left behind my sandals but am so glad that I didn’t. Your feet will want a break from your hiking boots when you get back to camp, but with the cool temperatures you won’t want to be barefoot.
- Hiking boots: Duh. I actually rolled my ankle twice, so was glad to have some ankle support with my Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof hiking boots. Seriously, I’m embarrassed that I put up with my old heavy, uncomfortable hiking boots for so long. These shoes were so comfortable and lightweight!
- Sandals: Again, you want something you can wear socks with. I brought my Chaco’s.
So, this is one area where I spent the most time strategizing. I love photography and didn’t want to miss any great photo-ops. My advice is to think through how you’re going to carry your camera, because you want it accessible. I wore mine cross body under my pack the entire time and found it comfortable.
- Mirrorless Camera: After years of carrying a DSLR, I recently downsized to an Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark ii. For longer treks like the Inca Trail, every ounce matters. At just 1.1lbs, this camera is a great option for a novice or more advanced photographer. Plus it’s got a cool retro look to it!
- Camera Strap: I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. I got the ONA Leather Presidio camera strap as a gift last year and love it. It’s actually comfortable to wear all day!
- Camera Case: Since you’re already wearing a backpack, you’ll need a more compact case for your camera. I recently discovered the Tenba Camera Insert, which is perfect to keep your gear safe, but also not bulky. I stored my spare batteries, memory cards, and zoom lens in here. This one has several pockets to help keep you organized.
- Spare Camera Batteries: The last thing you want is to be on Day 3 and run out of batteries. How many you bring will depend on your camera and how long you leave it on. I brought a battery for each day (just in case of a malfunction) but only used 1.5 batteries.
- Spare Memory Cards: Same as the batteries, bring extra. I brought 32GB total across 3 memory cards and that was plenty.
- Zoom Lens: This is one item I wished I’d left behind. The stock lens on the Olympus is so versatile that I didn’t even end up using the zoom lens. If you’re on the fence, I’d leave it behind.
- Power Pack: Especially if you want to take photos with you phone (or read on the Kindle app like me), you’ll want to keep it charged. I brought the Ventev Powercell 6000 Combination charger. I like this because it has 2 USB ports, plus a fold out wall charger.
- Phone + Extended Power Pack: I always travel with a Mophie Juice Pack on my phone to make my battery last longer.
- Phone Charging Cable: Obviously, don’t be the person that leaves your cable behind.
Food & Drink
The meals provided by my tour company (Inca Trail Reservations) were very impressive! The food wasn’t just adequate, it was delicious. But, you have long stretches on the trail so I strongly recommend bringing some food of your own.
- Reusable Water Bottle: The first couple of days there will be stands along the trail that you can purchase bottled water, but on Day 3 the tour company will begin boiling water for you to carry. I brought a Nalgene 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle and kept topping it up.
- Electrolytes: I brought both Sport Beans and Propel/ Gatorade Packets. I seriously use Sport Beans on every trip. Whether you’re on the trail or have a *surprise* night of over-drinking (whoops!), they replace electrolytes that are critical to hydration. Some flavors even have caffeine!
- Protein: My favorites bars are Primal Kitchen Collagen Protein Bars, Larabars, and Mighty Bar Grass-fed Organic Beef Bars. I also brought a couple of packets of Justin’s Almond Butter as well.
- Protein Powder Packets: I like to add Primal Kitchen Collagen Fuel Vanilla Coconut to my coffee in the morning to help keep me energized on the trail.
- Coca Leaves or Coca Candy: This candy is available in almost any store in Cusco and helps with altitude sickness. Whenever I felt a headache start, I popped one in! You can also chew on the leaves as well.
- Sunscreen: Like an idiot, I left mine behind. The sun can be intense at altitude, so don’t be me.
- Antibacterial Gel: Because squatty potties and camping.
- Deodorant: I think you get it.
- Baby Wipes: Bring a bunch so you can take baby wipe showers at the camp each night. I wasn’t brave enough to try the cold showers.
- Kleenex: Not to be confused with toilet paper.
- Roll of Toilet: The toilets will not have toilet paper. I recommend 1 roll per person, available at most stores in Cusco.
- Dry Shampoo: Not necessary for everyone, but helpful if you don’t plan to shower on the trail.
- Chapstick: To combat the sun and wind. I love Chapstick Medicated!
- Bug Spray: There are portions of the trail where bugs are an issue. I make my own bug spray with essential oils, but just make sure you have some sort of spray.
- Antiseptic Spray: To clean cuts or blisters. I love this little travel size Neosporin spray bottle.
- Face Wipes: As an extension of the baby wipe shower, I brought face wipes to wash my face each night.
- Young Living Essential Oils: There are a few I bring on every trip! Deep Relief was awesome for sore muscles or knees at the end of Day 2. Purification is handy for bug bites. And lavender works well for sunburn and to help you sleep.
- Blister Pads
- Comb/ brush
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Antihistamine (Benadryl) tablets: I ended up needing this because I had a reaction to some of my bug bites.
- Anti-Diarrhea (Immodium) tablets: Trust me, the last place in the world you want to have diarrhea is on a trail with only squatty potties.
- Aspirin/ Ibuprofen: For aches and pains.
- Packing Cube: I sometimes opt to just use gallon size Ziploc bags, but chose to use a double-sided Eagle Creek cube this time. It was helpful to keep pajamas/ socks/ underwear on one side and all other clothes on the opposite side.
- Zipper Pouches: These are great to organize your gear, toiletries, and food. I brought one small and one medium Eagle Creek pouch.
- Headlamp: This is a must-have. The last day of the hike, you’ll be on the trail at around 330am because the goal is to reach the Sun Gate at sunrise. It’s also helpful to have around the capmsites. I personally like Petzl brand, they’re inexpensive and durable (I’ve had mine for over 10 years).
- Wallet: Emergency cash and credit card.
- Passport: This is required for entry into Machu Picchu.
- Immunization Records: Because you’re on a trail and if you get hurt, this could come in handy.
- Poncho: The poncho isn’t just for staying dry (after all you probably have a rain coat packed already), but also for keeping your pack weight down if you get caught in the rain. No one wants to carry a waterlogged pack all day. You can buy in most stores in Cusco for S/ 8 (~$3USD).
- Dry Bag: Like the poncho, you probably won’t need this, but if it rains you can keep your critical items dry. I brought this Osprey 3L Ultralight bag that was just big enough to hold my camera, phone, and passport. At only 0.05lbs (about the weight of a piece of paper), it was worth it for me!
- Quick Dry Camp Towel: If you don’t plan on showering this may not be worth bringing, but could be helpful if you get rained on. I would recommend one that is washcloth or hand towel sized if you decide to bring one.
- Watch: Optional, but I have a Timex similar to this that is water resistant and has Indiglo for at nighttime.
- Duct Tape: Yep. I bring duct tape. I use this on almost every trip – repair a backpack, bandage a foot, fix a broken shoe. The list goes on. I either buy these little rolls or roll some around a pen and bring that with me.
- Trash bag (or reused plastic bag): Leave no trace, which means no wrappers or toilet paper. An empty plastic bag from any of the vendors in Cusco comes in handy!
So, now that you’ve got your packing sorted, go ahead and enjoy every step of the Inca Trail (well, maybe not every one of those uphill steps). Let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have questions about any of these recommendations!