Tackling the challenge of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a lifelong dream for many. Yet packing for it can soon turn into a nightmare. With weight regulations, fluctuations in temperatures and the conundrums that arise from having to hike for days in remote and mountainous landscapes, not to mention the fact that you’ll probably be traveling elsewhere either before or after your trip, packing for a multi-day hike along the Inca Trail can seem a bit daunting. How do you pack for all the eventualities of hiking in the Peruvian Andes?
With a guide, naturally!
Our very best Inca Trail Packing Guide will help you discern the useful from the useless and our tried-and-tested tips should certainly help alleviate most of your concerns.
Inca Trail Packing List
Passport – It is compulsory to carry your passport with you at all times along the trail (it’s checked at the start) and a photocopy simply won’t do. Make sure to carry it inside a zip-lock bag in case of rain.
Cash – Although there are a few chances to buy trinkets and snacks on the first day of the trail, you’ll mostly need cash to spend in Aguas Caliente at the end of the trail and to tip porters and guides at the end of your trek.
Daypack (with rain cover) – Top carry your daily essentials, you’ll need a decent size dayback with different zip-up compartments and a rain cover.
Hiking clothing – Generally speaking, we recommend you pack one T-shirt/shirt, one pair of underwear and one pair of socks for every day. One clean set for sleeping and hiking the next day, and so on. Zip-off pants are ideal for the Inca Trail because you’ll want the options of wearing long pants or shorts at a moment’s notice. Finally, you’ll need to pack a fleece jacket for resting periods during the day, and for the evenings.
Hiking shoes – Comfortable and well-used hiking shoes will trump a brand new pair of boots any day on the Inca Trail. Whether you choose to hike in sport shoes or ankle-high boots will be a personal decision, although do keep in mind that the extra support of ankle-boots will be beneficial when going down steep, rocky steps. Make sure your shoes are as lightweight as can be.
Relaxing clothing – Depending on how fast you hike, you could have several hours relaxing at camp at the end of every day, before you need to put on thermals for sleeping. Relaxing in light and comfortable clothing is an absolute godsend. Pack a comfortable pair of pants to relax in (like yoga or tracksuit pants) and a pair of flip-flops, to air out your tired feet.
Thermals – Once the sun sets on the Inca Trail, it’s time to put another layer of clothing on. This time, though, it should be thin yet warm thermals. Make sure you also pack a wool beanie, scarf and gloves too, as nights in the Andes can be bitterly cold.
Head-torch – A flashlight is an absolute must to find your way through the camp at night, and make sure to pack extra batteries.
Inflatable pillow – Many people use their clothing bag as pillows but quite a few have bemoaned the lack of a proper pillow. On an expedition where rest is key, pack an inflatable pillow and ensure your dreams are sweet.
Sleeping bag & liner – A good quality, four-season sleeping bag is essential on the Inca Trail, as is a silk liner, for extra comfort and warmth.
Waterproof outer gear – You should always be prepared for rain on the Inca Trail, that’s why it’s imperative you pack a waterproof jacket, pants & boot covers too.
Hiking poles – Not everyone’s cup of tea, hiking poles can be very helpful when walking downhill on rugged terrain.
Basic toiletries – A compact toiletry bag should include toilet paper, wet ones, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser and a small towel and soap for a cold-water wash mid-way through the Inca Trail. Make sure you pack a strong insect repellent, hand-sanitising gel and sunblock in your day pack, as well as chapstick.
Zip-lock/plastic bags – Make sure to also pack a few zip-lock bags to keep your belongings dry and plastic bags to separate dirty clothes from dry ones.
Water bottle – You’ll have a chance to fill up your water bottle every night and day along the Inca Trail, so bring a durable bottle and help reduce waste. We recommend you drink 2lt of water a day, so either pack one large bottle or several smaller ones.
Snacks – Protein bars and nut packs will help boost your energy during the day.
First-aid kit – Your guide will be carrying a first-aid kit but it’s always useful to have your own personal and compact kit at the bottom of your pack. The most useful items are antiseptic cream, Band-Aids, blister packs, Panadol and rehydration sachets.
Camera gear – Make sure to pack plenty of spare batteries and memory cards!
Sunglasses & hat – A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, as well as sunscreen, will help you avoid a case of sunstroke.
Swimwear – If you wish to soak your aching muscles in Aguas Caliente.
Reading material – To be brutally honest, you’ll probably be far too knackered at the end of every hiking day, to stay up and read. You’ll no doubt crash the moment your head hits your inflatable pillow. But you will have at least an hour every afternoon to rest and recoup before dinner. Many find this to be the most relaxing hour of the day, so pack a book or a couple of magazines and devour them whilst lying down in your tent. Blissfully perfect!
What to know…before you go
Here are a few more things about packing for the Inca Trail to keep in mind:
You have a base point to leave your stuff – Some people panic at the mere thought of packing for their trip to Peru because they think they’ll be stuck lugging around aaalllll of their belongings on the Inca Trail. Not so. Cusco, the amazing former capital of the Inca Empire, is the base town from where you will begin – and end – your Inca Trail adventure, which means you’ll be able to leave jour belongings there and only take with you what you specifically need for the Inca Trail.
You may have a porter to carry your stuff, but… – Inca Trail porters are those Peruvian angels who will be paid to carry most of your belongings. However – and thankfully – restrictions are in place to limit how much each porter can actually carry. This means you will need to keep your belongings at the bare necessities. Your porter will carry a duffle bag containing your sleeping gear and you will carry your own day pack with your daily essentials, like your camera, water, snacks, sunscreen etc. Note that you will not have access to your overnight bag until the end of every day (your porter will be way ahead of you) so in your day pack you’ll need to include potentially essential items like spare batteries and your first-aid kit.
You don’t need to pack ‘big’ camping items – If you don’t intend camping during your trip to South America, aside the few days of the Inca Trail, then we suggest you rent a sleeping bag in Cusco. On organised treks, tents and inflatable mattresses (as well as kitchen tents, tables and chairs) are provided and carried by porters, so although you’ll still need to bring a few small camping items (like a head torch), big-ticket camp items like a sleeping bag, liner and hiking poles can be rented instead.
You will need to layer – Fluctuations in temperatures is what makes packing for the Inca Trail tricky, yet all this is easily taken care of if you keep layering at the forefront of your mind. Instead of one ginormous down-feather jacket, you should pack long sleeve tops, a fleece and a waterproof jacket. Pants that can zip to shorts are perfect for daytime hiking (when your own body temperature will spike) and extra-warm thermals for the bitter cold nights.
You WILL succeed! – There’s no denying that the Inca Trail is a physically challenging adventure yet you should know that completing it successfully has more to do with mental strength rather than physical prowess or quality of gear. People of all ages and fitness levels not only complete the trail with relative ease every year, but they have an absolute ball while they’re at it. What does this have to do with packing? Lots! A ‘Yes I can!’ attitude is what will help you put one foot in front of the other on the hardest stretches, and reach the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu on the last day, not what brand of hiking shoes you’re wearing. Pace yourself, enjoy the hike and – whatever you do – stop often to soak up the mesmerising views.
The Inca Trail is one of South America’s most sought-after adventures and an experience that very much emphasises the journey and not just the destination. In this case, of course, the destination is mystical Machu Picchu, and what better way to combine these two treasures than by planning a multi-day hike in the heart of the Andes Mountains, retracing the steps of the ancient Incas. If you haven’t yet planned your journey, why not check out the amazing Inca Trail trips we offer, and contact us for more info? We’ll be delighted to help you plan your Inca Trail dream trip.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”