So, you’re getting ready to hike the Inca Trail! Yay! But, wait, what in the world should be on your Inca Trail packing list? Well, hopefully you listened to the advice I gave in my lessons learned while hiking the Inca Trail and booked a porter. If not, pause and sort that out. You’ll thank me later.
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Things To Consider Before Packing for the Inca Trail
Now that you’ve got your porter sorted, let’s get to the nitty gritty. There are a few things you should consider before packing for your Inca Trail hike.
When to Hike the Inca Trail
The temperature on the trail can be quite cold at night. Throughout the year, average low temperatures generally stay below 45F (or 7C). If you’re traveling in the winter (May-August), it can get close to freezing.
But don’t let the cold temperatures scare you away! From May to September, the trail tends to be less rainy, less crowded and more sunny than the remainder of the year. So, just add a 3-season sleeping bag to your Inca Trail packing list!
Pro Tip: Most tour companies for the Inca Trail will offer the use of a sleeping bag if you don’t have one or don’t want to travel with yours. Ask at the time of booking.
Strategize What to Carry & What to Leave Behind
I recommend strategizing ahead of time what you want the porters to carry, what you’ll carry with you, and what you’ll leave behind at your hotel or tour company.
I left several pairs of clean clothes, toiletries, and other items in a small suitcase at the hostel in Cusco. If you’re backpacking through South America, you’ll probably have lots of extra items you want to leave behind! Our tour company 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. // Check prices on hotels in Cusco now!
Pro Tip: Tour companies in Cusco may offer to hold your bag, but check their open hours to ensure you can access it when you return to Cusco. Most hostels/ hotels will hold your bags for you.
Inca Trail Packing List
Let’s dig into the Prepared Girl’s Inca Trail packing list. I’ve split the list into seven sections: hiking gear, clothing and footwear, camera gear, food and drink, toiletries, first aid and other essentials.
Again, most tour companies can provide all or most of these items if you ask in advance (for a cost).
- Hiking poles: These aren’t so much for navigating the terrain as they are for keeping your knees from aching on the long uphill and downhills sections. These Hiker Hunger poles are great because they weigh under 1lb, collapse to 24″ (61cm) to fit in a small suitcase, come with tip overs, and have cork grips that don’t get nasty when you’re sweaty. // Save your knees, buy affordable hiking poles now!
- Sleeping bag: I brought an older, bulkier sleeping bag and wished I had something more compact. Bring at least a 3-season sleeping bag to stay warm and, depending on how cold you get at night, consider bringing a sleeping bag liner as well. I prefer the “mummy” style sleeping bags because they curl up around your head to keep you warm, but some may find it a bit too confining. // Stay warm and cozy at night, buy a 3-season sleeping bag now!
- Sleeping pad: Sleep is exponentially more comfortable with a sleeping pad. Plus, in the colder months one will also protect you from the cold ground. Find an ultralightweight inflatable one to keep your pack weight down. // Stay warm and sleep comfortably, buy an inflatable sleeping pad now! Here’s more info about the best backpacking sleeping pads available if you’re ready to invest in some higher end gear.
Pro Tip: Hiking pole tip covers are required on the Inca Trail to protect the trail from damage. If needed, most outdoors stores in Cusco carry them.
Clothing & Footwear
If your pack is too heavy and you need to leave something behind, choose clothing. I left some items behind at the last minute and was so glad that I did.
Because we planned to stay one night in Aguas Caliente after the hike, I needed to account for this on my Inca Trail packing list. This list does not include this extra clothing.
Pro Tip: On the trail, plan to go to bed in clean, dry clothing every night so you don’t wake up with icicles in unpleasant places (this actually has happened to me). Give yourself a baby wipe shower before you put on your “pajamas” at night and then wear those as your outfit on the last day.
- Lightweight, breathable pants (2 pairs): I love the Athleta brand because they’ve got such lightweight options that are really packable.
- Tank top w/ built in sports bra (2): Choose ones that are less bulky to bring along!
- Lightweight, breathable v-neck t-shirt: This is nice to have as an option to protect your shoulders from the sun, if needed, and in case your pack is rubbing your skin with a tank top on.
- Sports bra
- Tank top
- Lightweight, long sleeve functional top: I wore this at some point every single day. Start the day with layers, and then adjust as needed. My Nike top (shown below) was perfect because 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. In Cusco, I realized how cold it gets at night and ended up buying a sweater at the local market for S/18 ($6). I was glad I had this at night at the campsite over my pajamas!
- Packable down vest: Instead of a down jacket, I opted for a vest. Mine is from Costco (<$15) and I love it. It packs 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. // Buy an affordable packable down vest now!
- Underwear (4 pairs): I think you get it.
- Long sleeve base layer top: Keep warm at night while wicking away sweat. // Buy my favorite SmartWool base layer top now!
- Sports Bra: Or not, whatever.
- Base layer pants: Bring something breathable that will be easy to move around in while you’re inside your sleeping bag. // Get a pair of my favorite cozy SmartWool base layer pants now!
Outerwear & Accessories
- Hooded rain jacket: Rain jackets are like an insurance policy, you hope you don’t need it but if you do you’re really glad you have it. Just bring one! Mine came in handy on Day 2 at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass where it’s quite cold and windy. // Don’t hike in soggy wet clothes, buy a rain jacket now!
- Scarf/ Buff: What isn’t a Buff good for? Keeps you warm. Protects your neck from sun. Keep dust out of your mouth and nose. Works as a headband when your hair gets funky. Seriously, just bring one! There’s loads of fun colors of design to pick from. // Pick out your favorite design and buy a Buff now!
- Hat: Cover up your funky hair and shield the sun from your eyes with a baseball hat. I love mine from TenTree!
- Wool hat: Essential, especially in the colder months, at night around the campsite and while you’re sleeping. // Buy my favorite The North Face wool hat now!
- Lightweight gloves: When the clouds come in and you’re at altitude, the temperature can drop quickly. This happened at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass for me and I was so glad I had these in my pack. // Buy my fave lightweight running gloves now!
I can’t stress enough how thankful you will be for having both pairs of recommended shoes with you. I nearly left behind my sandals to reduce my pack weight, but am so glad that I didn’t.
- Hiking boots: Duh. Because the trail includes long uphill and downhill sections as well as uneven terrain, I recommend some ankle support in whatever hiking shoes you wear. I rolled my ankle twice and was thankful to have a mid-rise boot. My Merrell boots were so comfortable and lightweight yet affordable! // Buy my hiking boots now!
- Sandals: Bring sandals you can wear socks with. It’s not the most fashionable choice, but your feet will want a break from your hiking boots each night at the campsite. With the colder nighttime temperatures, you won’t want to be barefoot. // Buy my Chaco sandals now!
- 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 in case of rain. // Buy my absolutely favorite hiking socks!
So, this is where I spent the most time strategizing. I love photography and didn’t want to miss any great photo-ops.
- Mirrorless Camera: After years of carrying a heavy DSLR, I’ve downsized to a mirrorless camera. Honestly, I don’t feel like I had to compromise on functionality one bit! For longer treks like the Inca Trail, every ounce matters. At just 1.1lbs, the Olympus OMD-EMD10 Mark ii is a great option for any outdoor adventurer, novice photographer or even more advanced photographer. Plus, how awesome is its retro look! // Reduce your pack weight with an Olympus mirrorless camera now!
- Comfortable camera strap or camera clip: Accessibility of your camera is key. Think through in advance how you plan to carry yours. I wore a cross body comfy leather strap and found it comfortable. Alternatively, try a semi-permanent camera clip on your backpack strap. // Buy a camera clip now! Or get my favorite ONA leather camera strap now!
- Camera insert: A camera insert is a great way to store extra camera gear when its not in use. They’re compact, padded and included lots of storage pockets to keep your gear organized! // Buy my favorite Tenba camera insert now!
- Power bank: Especially if you want to take photos with your phone (or read on the Kindle app like me), you’ll want to keep it charged. Look for one that will give you 2-3 full charges on your phone. // Don’t run out of juice on the trail, buy a power bank now!
- Phone + extended power pack phone case: An extended power pack phone case is an essential travel item for me! Be worry-free about your phone dying on the trail. // Be worry-free and buy an extended power pack phone case for your phone now!
- Phone charging cable: Obviously, don’t be the person that leaves your cable behind.
- Camera memory cards: I took over a thousand photos on the hike (excessive? maybe). Bring at least one extra memory card! // Don’t run out of memory on the trail, buy an extra memory card now!
- Extra camera batteries: Bring at least one extra camera battery for the hike. // Don’t run out of battery on your camera before you reach Machu Picchu, buy an extra now!
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 including food of your own on your Inca Trail packing list.
- Reusable Water Bottle: The first couple of days there will be places to purchase bottled water, but on Day 3 the tour company will begin boiling water for you to carry. I keep it simple with Nalgene 32oz wide mouth water bottle when I’m hiking. // Stay hydrated, buy a water bottle now!
- Electrolytes: Why do you need electrolytes on the trail? Whether it’s from hiking, an unfortunate bout of diarrhea, or a *surprise* night of excessive drinking, sport beans and electrolyte drink mixes will rehydrate you! I bring Sport Beans (some flavors even have caffeine!) and no sugar added Propel packets on every trip. // Get your electrolytes, buy Sport Beans or no sugar added Propel packets now!
- Protein: Protein keeps me fueled on long hikes. My favorite on-the-go protein options are Primal Kitchen Collagen Protein Bars (gluten-free, paleo, no sugar added), Larabars (gluten-free, vegan, dairy free, soy free), Mighty Bar Grass-fed Organic Beef Bars, and Justin’s Almond Butter.
- Collagen protein powder packets: Add some to your coffee before you hit the trail in the morning to give yourself a boost of protein and collagen! I love Primal Kitchen’s product because it’s paleo with no sugar added but a yummy vanilla coconut flavor. // Buy my favorite collagen protein powder now!
- Coca Leaves or Coca Candy: Available in almost any store in Cusco, grab some to help with altitude sickness. Altitude is no joke on the trail! Every time you feel a headache coming on, pop in a candy or chew on some of the leaves and it’ll disappear!
- Sunscreen: Like an idiot, I left mine behind. The sun can be intense at altitude, so don’t be me. // Don’t get burnt to a crisp, buy some all natural biodegradeable sunscreen now!
- Antibacterial Gel: Because squatty potties and camping. // Buy some chemical free antibacterial gel now!
- Deodorant: I think you get it. // Don’t smell up the campsite, buy some deodorant now!
- 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. // Stay fresh and clean, buy some travel size baby wipes now!
- Kleenex: For your runny nose on cold mornings! Bring 1-2 packets and save your toilet paper for *ahem* toilet related things. // Buy some travel size Kleenex now!
- Roll of Toilet Paper (1-2 rolls/ person): 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. // Look fabulous when you reach Machu Picchu, buy some dry shampoo now!
- Chapstick: To combat the sun and wind. // Buy my favorite Chapstick Medicated now!
- 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. // Buy my absolutely favorite DEET-free but effective bug spray now!
- Face Wipes: As an extension of the baby wipe shower, I brought face wipes to wash my face each night. // Keep your face looking fab on the trail, buy some face wipes now!
- Young Living Essential Oils: There are a few I bring on every trip! Deep Relief was awesome for sore muscles or knees after the steep climb on Day 2. Purification is handy for bug bites. And lavender works well for sunburn, inflammation and to help you sleep.
- Comb/ brush
- Toothbrush & toothpaste: Because it’s not cool to have funky breath even on the trail. // Buy some travel size toothpaste now!
No Inca Trail packing list is complete without at least basic first aid. Here are the items I recommend.
- First Aid Antiseptic Spray: To clean cuts or blisters. // Avoid infections, buy this adorable travel size Neosporin spray! Band-Aids
- Blister Pads: Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but blister pads are a lifesaver if you get a blister! Both Band-Aid and Compeed brands stay on for days and keep water out. // Grab a variety pack of blister pads now!
- Antihistamine (Benadryl) tablets: Always carry these in case you have an unexpected allergic reaction to something. I had one to bug bites on the Inca Trail and was so glad I had these! // Buy some antihistamine tablets now!
- 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. // Don’t get diarrhea on the trail, buy some meds now!
- Aspirin/ Ibuprofen: For aches and pains. // Grab a travel size now!
- Packing cube: Keep your clean socks, underwear and clothes organized with a packing cube. I love double-sided ones so I can dirty clothes on one side and clean on the other! // Stay organized on the trail, buy a double-sided packing cube now!
- Zipper pouches (1 small, 1 medium): Organize your gear, toiletries, and food in a small or medium size zipper pouch. // Buy the zipper pouch I take on every trip now!
- Headlamp: This is a must-have. The last day of the hike, you’ll be on the trail at around 330am in order to reach the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu at sunrise. It’s also helpful to have at the campsite. // Buy an inexpensive but durable headlamp now!
- Wallet: For emergency cash and credit card.
- Passport: This is required for entry into Machu Picchu.
- Immunization records: In case you get hurt or sick on the trail.
- Poncho or waterproof backpack cover: This isn’t just for staying dry (you probably have a rain coat packed already) but for keeping your pack weight down if you get caught in the rain. No one wants to carry a waterlogged pack all day. Buy one 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. Get one just big enough to keep your essentials dry including camera, phone, and passport. // Buy an ultralight dry bag now!
- Quick dry camp towel: If you don’t plan on showering this may not be necessary, but could be helpful if you get rained on. I recommend washcloth or hand towel size. // Dry off in a flash, buy a quick dry camp towel now!
- Watch: Not necessary, but helpful especially if you have a backlit option to tell time at night or early morning when you’re getting ready at the campsite.
- 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 buy little rolls or roll some around a pen.
- 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!
Pro Tip: If you want to save money on a packing cube, try using a gallon size Ziploc bag instead!
Everything You Need on Your Inca Trail Packing List
So, now that you’ve got your Inca Trail packing list sorted, go ahead and enjoy every step of the trek (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!
Pro Tip: Did you know there’s a 2-day version of the Inca Trail hike? If you’re limited on time but still want to experience the magic of the trail, try the short Inca Trail hike instead!
Thirsty for more tips on hiking the Inca Trail? Not a problem!
13 Machu Picchu Experts Share Their Best Packing List Tips (featuring me!)