The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it can quickly turn into a difficult one if you’re not properly equipped. To make sure you’re prepared for every eventuality, this Inca Trail packing list details everything you need for the legendary hike to Machu Picchu.
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Inca trail packing list: introduction and basics
Before you start packing for the Inca Trail, it’s important to check what is and isn’t provided by your tour operator (if you haven’t booked a tour operator yet, you need to do that first!). We hiked the Inca Trail with G Adventures. This turned out to be a great decision. We had an incredible experience and we were well looked after from start to finish.
Most tour operators provide tents for the trail, and have other hiking and camping accessories available to hire, such as sleeping bags, mats and walking poles. We brought our own stuff. Along the way, we found out which accessories were worth it and which weren’t, as well as picking up some great tips from other trekkers in our group, all of which we’re sharing in this Inca Trail packing list.
One key thing to bear in mind when preparing your Inca Trail pack-up is to keep it as light as possible. A team of porters will help carry your stuff on the trail, but there is a weight limit for how much each person can give to the porters (for us it was 6 kilograms). You will need to carry everything else yourself. We kept our additional pack-ups down to about 8 kilograms, which meant we took 14 kilograms in total each.
Hiking gear and clothes
1. Hiking boots
The Inca Trail is a multi-day trek that covers 43 kilometres of varying terrain in unpredictable weather conditions. With this in mind, the most important piece of gear to take is a strong, durable and waterproof pair of hiking boots.
Since a very young age I have had a foot condition, which has worsened in recent years and caused complications. This is why I devoted special attention to finding the right hiking boots for the Inca Trail. It was the first multi-trail I’d ever done, and I didn’t want it to be ruined by foot problems.
Lisa and I spent lots of time researching, perusing outdoor gear shops and testing out different boots. In the end, I bought some Berghaus Men’s Explorers and Lisa went for Salomon Ellipse. Not only were these great choices for the Inca Trail, but they’ve seen us through many more hikes since, including the W Trek in Patagonia, and they’re still going strong after two years of wear. For more options, check out our guide to the best hiking boots for travel.
2. Hiking jacket
A resilient, waterproof hiking jacket is almost as important as your hiking boots for the Inca Trail. While hiking the trail in the dry season (May to October) gives you a good chance of avoiding rain, you can’t guarantee it. The dry months are also the coldest, so you need a jacket that insulates as well as protects.
The best option for maximum flexibility is to invest in a 3-in-1 jacket. This basically comprises of two pieces: an outer shell and an inner fleece. They can be worn together or separately, hence three different combinations.
On the Inca Trail, we were up and hiking before sunrise every day. Our full jackets were perfect for the morning cold, and we could strip down to just the inner fleece in the day’s full heat, or switch to the outer shell in rain.
After exploring many options, I went for a North Face Tri Climate jacket while Lisa opted for a snazzy Jack Wolfskin. Just like our boots, they were up to the task and have seen us through many more hiking journeys.| |
3. Hiking socks
To keep your feet in good health throughout the Inca Trail, you’ll also need a good set of hiking socks. The essential qualities to look out for in hiking socks are that they’re light, comfortable and breathable.
Merino wool socks are a great option that tick all of these boxes. We use Bridgedales, and they’ve never let us down.
It’s best to pack a pair for each day of the trail, and consider bringing a couple of pairs of regular socks as well to put on in the evenings.|
4. Walking poles
If you’re hiking the Inca Trail as part of a long-term travel, it can be cumbersome to carry walking poles around with you on the journey. If that’s the case, you don’t need to worry – this is one of the items you will be able to hire through your tour operator or a gear shop in Cusco.
Whether you choose to bring your own or hire them, walking poles will make your Inca Trail experience a lot easier. In particular, the third day of trekking involves a 1,000-metre altitude descent, mostly down stony steps. This will be a lot easier on your knees with the support of walking poles.|
5. Light daypack backpack
One of our only regrets with our own Inca Trail gear was our choice of backpack. We used Berghaus TwentyFourSeven 25-litre daypacks. There was nothing wrong with the quality, and they were great for our general travelling, but the problem was that they didn’t have a waist belt for extra support.
The ideal daypack for the Inca Trail will offer maximum support and optimal weight distribution, as well as flexible storage. We recommend the Osprey Daylite Plus, which features mesh pockets for extra storage and has a capacity of 20 litres, which is plenty enough. It also has a sleeve for hydration, so you can carry a camel pack (see number 8 below). Check out our guide to the best travel backpacks for more options.|
6. Light t-shirts
One of the tricks to packing light for the Inca Trail is to take a batch of breathable, lightweight t-shirts. These will not only make your load more manageable, but they’re also comfortable for hiking in changing temperatures and weather conditions.
We love Mountain Warehouse’s Endurance T-shirts, which are excellent value (a lot cheaper than other outdoor brands) and have performed great for us. They are light, highly breathable, provide UV protection and are quick-drying too.
The classic Inca Trail is four days; we recommend bringing one t-shirt for each day.|
7. Convertible hiking trousers
On the Inca Trail you will hike in early morning coldness and midday heat. With limited space and weight, you don’t really have the luxury of packing both trousers and shorts. The solution is to bring some convertible hiking trousers that can double up as both.
Bienzoe’s quick-dry, waterproof hiking pants are a very good budget option that served us well through the Inca Trail. We found it very handy to zip the legs off once the sun came out, and they didn’t take up too much space or weight.|
Sustenance and self-care
8. Camel pack / hydration system
The single most important aspect of looking after yourself on the Inca Trail is keeping yourself hydrated. For this reason, our hydration packs (or ‘camel packs’) were our favourite piece of gear on the Inca Trail. Several people in our group bought one for themselves after seeing how easy it made things for us on the trek.
A camel pack is a hydration system that consists of a rubber or plastic bladder that fits neatly in your backpack, connected with a hose that pokes out and lets you drinks hands-free. It means you can keep yourself regularly hydrated without having to faff around with getting a water bottle out. Trust us, you’ll be glad you bought one!
We used 3-litre camel packs for maximum supply, but a 2-litre pack would do the trick as long as you keep the water replenished whenever possible (we had a chance to refill every day at lunch).
9. Electrolyte tablets
To make your limited water supply go further, it’s a good idea to bring along some electrolyte tablets. Electrolytes are chemicals, often found in energy drinks, which help to optimise muscle functions and avoid issues such as cramp.
By popping one of these tablets into your water supply each day you can make sure your body salts are sufficiently replenished. Electrolytes can also help to stave off the effects of altitude sickness.
10. Basic first aid kit
For example, if your group becomes spread out and you fall over or struggle with altitude without a guide on hand, you may need to treat yourself while waiting for help.
You should consider bringing the following basics:
- Bandaids/plasters and tape
- Anti histamines
- Antibacterial gel
- Antiseptic cream
- Water purification tablets
- Insect repellant
11. Trekking snacks
Maintaining energy levels on the Inca Trail is vital. On our tour we were provided with all our meals and given extra snacks for the trail, but we still took our own extra supply of trekking snacks, and we were glad we did.
It can be fun to make your own trail mix. Throw in some nuts, dried fruits, seeds and sweets. This is an easy snack to carry and great for an extra little boost every so often on the trail. If you don’t want to make your own you can buy a ready-made mix. Energy bars, cookies, peanut butter fudge, jerky and granola also make for good trekking snacks.
12. Sun protection: sunglasses, hat and cream
The Inca Trail involves long days of hiking, and the sunshine can be fierce. For example, the traverse over Dead Woman’s Pass on day two – which many people say is the hardest part of the trail – is usually done around midday. The sun was out in force when we did this section.
As such, it’s vital to make sure you’re protected to avoid sunburn and sunstroke. Bring some good quality sunglasses and a rimmed hat or cap for extra cover. And of course, bring sun cream and apply it regularly.| |
13. Coca leaves
When you arrive in Cusco to prepare for the Inca Trail, it won’t be long before you encounter coca leaves. They’re sold in shops all over the city, and locals will be chewing on them everywhere you look.
Coca leaves are grown in Peru and its neighbouring countries, and are perfectly legal, although you can’t take them out of the country. The leaves can be chewed or infused for tea, and they’re known to help prevent and alleviate the effects of altitude sickness.
When it comes to altitude, the most important thing is to follow the necessary steps to acclimatise, stay well hydrated and take it easy. But it’s also handy to buy a supply of coca leaves from a local shop to chew on the trail and help stave off the symptoms.
It’s essential to buy an insurance policy to hike the Inca Trail, in fact many tour companies won’t allow you to participate without having one. While it’s not a dangerous hike, it is an extremely remote one; if you happen to get injured or severely ill and need to be transported to receive medical care, the costs could be astronomical if you’re not covered.
One of the most important considerations when seeking insurance for the Inca Trail is the altitude. The highest point on the trek is 4,200 metres, which is not included in all standard policies and you may need to request it as an extra.
We recommend World Nomads for insuring your Inca Trail tour. They offer dedicated hiking insurance, which is tailored around hikes like the Inca Trail. World Nomads has reliable underwriters and provides outstanding customer service, which is vital in your hour of need. Read our guide for more about travel insurance, or you can get started using the quote tool below.
15. Sleeping bag and liner
If you don’t want to carry a sleeping bag with you on your travels, you can hire one in Cusco from your tour operator. If you plan to bring your own, the two most important qualities are that it is lightweight and warm.
We use Vango Ultralite sleeping bags for all our hiking trips, and they were perfect for the Inca Trail. They’re snug, warm, and don’t add too much weight to your load. For an extra layer of warmth, we also highly recommend bringing along a silk sleeping bag liner. They weigh next to nothing, take very little space, and can really make a difference on those cold nights.| |
16. Sleeping mat
A sleeping mat or camping mattress is an optional extra, but it’s a good idea to bring one. The extra layer of comfort can make the difference between getting a good night’s sleep or not. Like sleeping bags, you can hire sleeping mats in Cusco from your tour operator.
We invested in Therm-a-rest Prolite Plus mattresses for our travel career break and took them along on the Inca Trail. We were very glad we did. They’re super easy to inflate, not too heavy and made our camping nights a lot more comfortable.|
17. Travel pillow
As with everything else for the Inca Trail, size and weight are vital considerations when it comes to a travel or camping pillow. Therm-a-rest’s compressible travel pillow for camping is a great option.|
18. Thermal base layer
Keeping warm on the Inca Trail is all about layers. A thermal base layer is a versatile addition to your pack-up, as you can wear it when hiking in the early morning cold, and it can double up as another extra layer of warmth at night.
In the isolated wilderness of the Inca Trail there are no ATMs in sight. Your last chance to withdraw cash will be in the town of Ollantaytambo before transferring to the trail’s starting point.
Even if you have the perfect pack-up, there are still instances when you may need cash on the Inca Trail. For example, there’s often a small charge for using toilets. If you need any top-up water or an extra snack, there are stalls along the trail. The prices are heavily marked up, so it’s better to pack sufficiently than to buy on the way.
Most of all, you will almost certainly want to give a tip to your team of guides and porters at the end of the experience. The work they do to look after trekkers is simply incredible. G Adventures recommends bringing 55–65 US dollars for tipping.
20. Packing cubes
These handy accessories make it easy to pack all of your gear into neat compartments that are easily accessible whenever you need them on the trail.
Looking after your personal hygiene on the Inca Trail can be tough. Not all campsites have showers, and in the ones that do the water is freezing cold. A lot of the time, a bowl of water is all you will have to wash.
It can be tricky to get it right with toiletries, as they take up valuable space and can be heavy. It’s best to buy small bottles and only bring what you absolutely need. As bare essentials, consider bringing:
- Small tube of toothpaste
- Deodorant / antiperspirant
- Travel soap
- Wet wipes
22. Travel towel
Whether it’s drying off after washing or an unexpected bout of rain, a towel is an essential item to pack for the Inca Trail. You can’t just bring any old towel, though. It needs to be compact, lightweight and quick to dry. The last thing you want is a sodden towel in your daypack weighing you down and making your clothes smell.
The best solution is a microfibre travel towel. These come in a variety of funky colours, they pack down into a tiny roll, they’re super-light and they dry fast.|
23. Toilet paper
Using the toilets on the Inca Trail can be one of the most difficult adjustments, especially if it’s your first attempt at a multi-day trek. First of all, there are very few toilets on the trail, and those that do exist do not offer the best quality or privacy. Toilet paper is not provided, so you will need to bring your own supply.
Flushing toilet paper is not permitted in Peru, and the Inca Trail is no exception. After doing your business, you’ll need to deposit your paper in the bin or container provided.
24. Flashlight / headlamp torch
Did I mention that the Inca Trail is remote? This means spending four days completely cut off from any power supply or light pollution. There is no electric light at the campsites, no towns nearby and so it gets extremely dark at night.
In the mornings you will need to get dressed and ready in darkness, and going to the toilet at night can be tricky. Bringing a headlamp torch will make your life a lot easier in these moments.
25. Portable alarm clock (or phone)
Every morning on the Inca Trail, your group guides will wake you up in good time to get ready for breakfast and the day’s hiking. If for any reason you want to get up any earlier, then you’ll need to bring your own portable alarm clock, or a phone that can double up as one.
26. Portable charger pack
We found that we barely needed to use our phones on the trail, and so our batteries lasted. But as a backup, you may want to consider bringing a portable battery charger pack.
Note that the last chance you’ll have to charge any electrical items will be the night in Ollantaytambo before the official trek starts.
With such relentless natural beauty, an array of Inca ruins and the final culmination at the new world wonder of Machu Picchu, you’ll probably want to capture a few of the moments. Make sure you bring a camera and take away memories to last for a lifetime.
We use the Nikon D5600 as our DSLR camera of choice for travel. On the Inca Trail we also brought a Sony DSC-HX60, which is an excellent compact digital travel camera and has the added bonus of taking up less space.
As above, don’t forget to make sure that your camera battery is fully charged in Ollantaytambo before the full trail begins – it would be gutting for it to run out half-way through the trail.| |
28. Spare memory cards
If you’re anything like us, you will want to take a LOT of photos on the Inca Trail. We took over a thousand. Just as it would be a nightmare to run out of battery, you don’t want to run out of storage space either.
You can avoid this by bringing a back supply of SanDisk memory cards. A 32GB card with a spare backup should be more than enough.
It’s extremely unlikely you will have anything robbed while on the Inca Trail, but bringing a travel lock will help make sure it doesn’t happen. It’s more likely to be useful while at your hotel accommodation before and after the trail, especially if they don’t have safety deposit boxes. As always with travelling, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
30. Passport (for your Machu Picchu stamp)
After you’ve arrived at the promised land of Machu Picchu and witnessed the magnificent citadel in the clouds, there’s the added bonus of getting a special stamp in your passport as a keepsake. So don’t forget to bring it with you!
Where to stay in Cusco before and after the Inca Trail
It’s likely you will be spending some time in Cusco both before and after hiking the Inca Trail. Before you start you need to take time to acclimatise to the altitude, and you’ll want a rest when you’re done! Therefore it’s very important to choose a comfortable place to stay with good facilities for trekkers.
If you’re travelling on a budget, take a look at our guide to the best hostels in Cusco for before and after the Inca Trail.
Here are some basic factors to consider when choosing your Cusco accommodation for either side of the Inca Trail:
- Does it offer luggage storage for when you’re on the trek?
- Are there kitchen facilities for preparing snacks and pack-up?
- Does it have hot showers?
- Is it in a quiet area?
- Is it in close proximity to where you are meeting your tour company?
- Does it have a social space to meet other trekkers?
- Is there a laundry service in the accommodation or nearby?
For more accommodation options in Cusco, see the booking.com map below:
Further reading on Peru
If you’re spending more time in Peru, you may find our other articles useful:
- How much does a Peru trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Colca Canyon trek: an up and down experience
- Flying over the Nazca Lines: a complete guide
- 24 hours in Huacachina: the Peruvian desert oasis
- Visiting Iquitos: the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
- Lima in 2 days: the perfect itinerary for backpackers
- Discovering Peru on a budget: the legendary local menú restaurants
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