I made an Inca Trail packing list! Yay me.
When packing for the Inca Trail, I went great lengths to keeping things streamlined and as lightweight as possible. It’s not like I’ve never been backpacking before. However, my so-called backpacking prowess fell inevitably short, as my pack ended up being much heavier than I would’ve liked. Even tiny items like floss contributed to the insanity! I wish I hadn’t taken so many items. I did well in certain aspects, and others, not so well. So I summarized, pondered, summarized some more, and had a brief moment of reflection.
Thus, the Inca Trail packing list was born!
In this post, things are laid out in this order: essential camping gear, personal care items, supplies, and clothing. I’ll close with things I didn’t bring (but wish I had), things I brought (but wish I hadn’t), and then how this list accounts for the ten essentials of hiking for you purists. I’ve listed every single item I took, brand/model I own, and rationale.
Note, the following assumes you’re not hiring a porter and carrying items yourself!
Osprey Ariel 65L (link)
Choosing a backpack size for the Inca Trail really depends on if you’re hiring a porter. Since I wasn’t planning on doing that, the 65L size was perfect for me. I carried everything I needed for Peru in the 65L pack and come time for Inca Trail, I downsized. So I took some items with me, but I left other items at the Cusco hotel I would be staying at when I returned. The tour package came with a pre-booked hotel room and they coordinated with the hotel for guests to store their belongings. Super convenient!
2. Backpack duffel bag
REI pack duffel bag (link)
This is a necessity if you’re planning on checking your backpack during your flight. This is because it protects your bag’s straps from getting messed up when checked. It also extends the amount of space for packing to-from Peru.
When it’s time to leave a few items at the hotel before your trek, you can just stick them in this.
4. Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles (link)
Sometimes I don’t like hiking with trekking poles because I like to have my hands free. However, they’re necessary because the steps and rocks are too steep and numerous. And while you can rent poles in Cusco or from your tour company, I always prefer my own. I like these guys since they’re light weight and easy to adjust. The cork handles are cool too!
5. Trekking Pole Tip Protectors
Black Diamond Trekking Pole Tip Protectors (link)
Rubber protectors are mandated on the Inca Trail to protect the terrain. And while they do sell them in Cusco, better to bring your own. Duct tape them onto your poles before you leave home.
6. Sleeping Bag
Nemo Rhapsody 30 (link)
I like how this bag isn’t a true mummy bag. The shape really allows you to move around, and you don’t sacrifice (not really) weight or warmth. I didn’t know sleeping bags could be this comfy!
7. Sleeping bag compression sack
Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sack (S) (link)
8. Sleeping pad
Therm-a-rest NeoAir All Season (link)
9. Sleeping pillow
REI Backpacker Pillow (link)
When I was a younger, I was perfectly fine with using my stinky fleece as a pillow. But at my advanced age, I need comfort. I’ve tried several pillow systems. The blow up one sucks. Stuffing clothes into the pseudo pillow case sucks. This one is just right.
11. Collapsible water bottles
Vapur Element Water Bottle 1L (link)
These bottles are amazing. When they’re full, they stand up. When empty, you can roll them up and fit them in your pocket. I admit, I was iffy about the plastic carabiner though it seemed like a neat idea. I didn’t have any problems with it. Bring 2!
12. Toilet Paper/Wipes
Coleman Biowipes, 30 Count (link)
I like these since they’re “biodegradable.” Ideally, you will want to carry your used wipes with you, even the poopy ones. But in desperate times, take solace that these are more biodegradable than other wipes.
☞ Extra roll of toilet paper
The Deuce of Spades Trowel (link)
Comes in cool colors too!
14. Bug repellant
Deet Mosquito Repellent Wipes (link)
I hate spraying bug spray. The wipes are better since you can lightly target the areas needed.
The sweat resistant, SPF 45+ variety.
16. Shower Wipes
Athletic Body Wipes by ShowerPill (link)
I’ve tested multiple shower wipes and these ones are the best. Individually wrapped. Lightly scented. Large size. You can “shower” using only 1 wipe.
18. Hand Sanitizer
For not “really” washing your hands for 4 days. Oh the humanity!
Antibiotic for travelers’ diarrhea. Get a prescription before you leave home. It’s also available in Peru pharmacies without a prescription.
For altitude sickness. Procured the same was as Cipro.
I’m kind of a hypochondriac at times, so not surprisingly, I was a veritable walking pharmacy on the Inca Trail. My Inca Trail packing list also included Zyrtec, Benadryl, Excedrin Migraine, Pseudoephedrine HCL, and some others.
23. Extra Shoelace or Para cord
BlueWater 3mm NiteLine Utility Cord (link)
I’m paranoid about breaking a shoelace as the consequences will really suck. Hiking with a broken shoelace is almost like hiking with a bad ankle. If you bring a few feet of para cord (you can cut a piece off), this can double as a shoelace, or toilet paper necklace.
I took a camera, three extra batteries, a portable battery pack, my iPhone, and charging cables. However, I wish I would’ve left all the charging cables and battery pack at home! Six camera batteries would’ve been enough, and I never ever needed to charge my iPhone (see section on “things I brought, wish I hadn’t”)
25. Extra food (sparingly)
Tour companies provide trail snacks. There will be occasional vendors selling snacks along the route. Just be prepared to pay 20 soles for a small can of Pringles. If you like a certain food item when hiking, by all means, bring it. But don’t see it as a necessity. I carried a cornflake Ritter Sport bar all the way to Wiñay Wayna. However, I ended up giving it to the porters as a thank you.
26. Water purification
Aquamira treatment drops (link)
Your tour will fill your water bottles in the morning and again at lunch. Gatorade, water, and chicha will be sold in various locations on day 1-2. If you’re paranoid about water (myself included), bring these drops. And while we never had to use them, I felt more comfortable having them on hand.
Packing for the Inca Trail isn’t really about the number of shirts you should bring. It’s about thinking of each day and evening (sequentially), and then planning your outfits you will wear in that order. A good starting point is to aim for 2 full sets of clothing (shirt, pants, underwear, socks) to hike in and the bare minimum to keep you comfortable in camp after a full day of hiking. In four days of hiking, you will repeat wearing each outfit twice.
Short Sleeve & Long Sleeve
Of the sports variety.
I like the ones from ExOfficio, as they are perfect for backpack-type traveling. You can wash them by wearing them in the shower. They are pricey but often go on sale on Amazon. (link)
32. Long underwear/pajamas
I’m a sucker for Smartwool.
I like these from Sierra Designs, as they’re like hiking in leggings but with more durability. (link)
36. Light weight fleece or light jacket
I didn’t bring a fleece and instead brought a light hiking jacket. This was dumb. I kept thinking that the cloud forest mist would forever be permeating my fleece. Consequently, I couldn’t cozy up in my fleece in camp, and instead had to rely on my long underwear top.
37. Down (or very warm) Jacket
Since the Inca Trail involves camping at high altitudes, I brought my puffy jacket for evenings and early mornings. My Patagonia hoodie is stuffable and works great. (link).
38. Hiking Boots
Salomon Quest 4D II GTX Hiking Boots (link)
I’ve had these boots for awhile and they haven’t let me down. They are surprisingly very comfy right off the bat, and didn’t require any break-in time.
39. Sandals/Casual Shoes
I brought my Chacos. And while I love these sandals, they were too heavy and not appropriate for this hike. I wish I would’ve brought some ordinary flip-flops, or casual sneakers.
Things I DID NOT bring. Wish I had.
40. Plastic ziplock for my passport
My passport has permanent chocolate marks due to not bringing a ziplock bag!
41. Plastic Grocery Bags
More plastic bags would’ve been so helpful on this trek! Don’t underestimate the convenience of being able to throw away garbage, storing dirty clothes, and wet items. I brought one bag but wish I brought 2–3.
42. Extra Money
Our tour recommended bringing 300 soles per person, not including your tipping money. I pre-calculated the tipping money before hand and only brought 300 soles between myself and my partner. The primary reason is this – there are NO ATMs at Machu Picchu. While the gift shop and restaurant take cards, the bus tickets and bathroom require soles. Well, I ended up LOSING my bus ticket and didn’t have enough soles to purchase another one. It’s a long story, but I had to depend on the kindness of strangers.
Things I brought. Wish I hadn't.
It was hard to eliminate items when packing, as I like to be prepared for multiple scenarios. Even when taking a guided tour. I did not use these items.
Water Bladder (aka CamelBack, Platypus, etc.)
Carrying a water bladder always seems like a good idea when backpacking, but it isn’t. The reason is, there will be all sorts of stuff you’ll be stuffing in your pack at all hours of the morning, and the last thing you’ll want to do is deal with your water bladder. Even though the Osprey 65L has the bladder component on the OUTSIDE, I still wasn’t into it. After day 1, I switched to carrying plain old water bottles which easily stuffed in the sides of my pack.
Just like the water bladder, gaiters always seem like a good idea for a multi-day trip where inclement weather is a concern. But this only applies to the rainy season. When it rained on me, the trail didn’t get muddy – probably because it’s mostly stone!
During the trek, you will be racing to be in bed by 8:30 PM. There’s just no time to read.
See note about Kindle.
Extraneous electronic items
• iPhone USB cable. I rationalized taking my iPhone because I wanted an alarm clock and didn’t want to leave it at the hotel. Well, guess what? I didn’t need an alarm clock because the tour guides gave us wake up calls! I could’ve left my phone off the entire duration!
• Portable micro USB cable (for charging camera). Solution: bring extra batteries.
• Portable battery (for charging phone and camera).
• Separate cleansing wipes for my face
• Floss (it’s probably fine to not floss for four days. Oops!)
• Face moisturizer
• Deodorant? (Oops! But continuing to wear deodorant past the 2nd day didn’t do any good. For anyone. It’s like thinking you can wash your clothes for a week using Febreze.)
Carrying a whistle has been ingrained in me since youth. I was not allowed to be without one dangling in plain view. To this day, the blasted thing always wriggles its way into my pack.
Swiss Army Knife
I feel bad telling you to not bring this. Ordinarily, it’s one of the most important things you need when hiking. However, mine just added to the pile of unnecessary items, which in the end, severely weighed down my bag. Besides, you will never be alone on this trail and someone else always has a knife.
We’ve already covered 6 out of 10 essentials: sun protection, insulation (warm clothing), illumination (headlamp), hydration, extra food, and first aid. But what about the other 4 essentials? I’m going to tread lightly around this subject. Far be it from me to tell you to negate any of them. Survivalists would have me by the neck. However, the Inca Trail is extremely well established and has 500 people on it during any given day. Some of the “10 essentials” are just redundancies at that point.
Here are the remaining “10 essentials” not already covered.
The Inca trail is extremely well marked, well traveled, and you’ll invariably pass tons of people (locals included) on the road. DON’T BRING
The porters actually carry propane burners for flame sources. DON’T BRING
See note above about Knife. DON’T BRING
I love my Bivy sack, but I love even more that I’ve never had to use it. Be advised that porters carry the camp supplies all throughout the day, and that includes the tents. DON’T BRING