What to pack for the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail

I’ve recently returned from an incredible two weeks in Peru, naturally booking myself on to do the famous Inca Trail as part of my trip. Like the majority of travellers, I’d searched online and asked around for tips on what to pack for a four-day adventure that would take me to the lost city of the Incas.

A question I’ve often been asked is why Peru? And why the Inca Trail? What’s so special about this country and this experience that’s so talked about in the travel community?

I’m pretty sure any person who’s been to Peru and done the Inca Trail will give you a different answer, but personally, my travel tastes and desires have changed greatly over the years. Gone is the basic need to simply catch a tan for a week or two at a fancy resort or to do the same activities that I can do at home with my friends, (there’s nothing wrong with a relaxing beach getaway of course! But just not on every single holiday).

I feel that with age you learn to appreciate the world around you more, and my desire to learn more about different cultures and history that makes up the world we live in has been a definite factor in wanting to travel to more places that go beyond the pool. Peru is a country that is filled with so much, most importantly the iconic Machu Picchu dating back to the 15th Century which was the perfect starting point for someone that had never travelled there before.

Which, brings me to that all important packing list! To be honest, I had no idea what to really expect on the Inca Trail despite asking as many questions about it as possible, so the first thing I will say is that you will most likely go into it with a set expectation of what you think you should pack vs the reality of the situation. Especially if you’re a first-time trekker! That’s why I’ve put together a handy comparative list of the things you should definitely pack vs the things you think you should pack before you set-off on your very own Incan adventure.

Expectation of what to pack:

  • Appropriate hiking attire (thick walking socks, light zip-off trousers, quick-dry shirts, underwear).
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • A quick dry towel
  • A swimsuit
  • A book
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant
  • Toilet paper
  • Rain jacket
  • Bank cards
  • Insect repellent
  • Walking poles
  • A sleeping bag
  • A hat/cap
  • A day pack
  • Soap
  • A travel power adapter
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Camera
  • Make-up/face-cream
  • A torch

Our hard-working porters will carry 5k of luggage for each person on the Inca Trail every day.

Reality (what you will definitely be using):

1. Appropriate hiking attire

Thick walking socks, light zip-off trousers, quick-dry shirts, underwear, waterproof raincoat

All of this is correct. Many of your fellow trekkers will also have zip-off trousers as it can get quite hot during the dry season and as you are walking for hours, so it is advisable to have the option to wear shorts or long-sleeved trousers. Waterproof clothing is also essential as the weather on the Inca Trail tends to be unpredictable. Rain is likely to make an appearance and you are likely to be hiking for hours on end in the rain on some days.

I would also advise bringing lightweight breathable shirts (gym-wear tops are also good as they are already designed with exercise in mind). Where possible avoid cotton shirts as these will take longer to dry and there are no opportunities to wash and dry clothes on any of the trails.

2. Toilet paper & Tissues

One of the most popular comments I received from the people I asked and I found from the research I did before setting-off was that the toilet facilities would be both limited and not of the greatest quality, which all turned out to be true. My tip is to pack at least two rolls of toilet paper per person. You will realise that you will need the tissue for more than just the use of the toilet. Everything from rain, to when you are eating. If possible pack a few packets of tissues as well.

3. A swimsuit

A couple of online blogs I have stumbled upon all suggest a swimsuit as there are hot springs at a town called Aguas Calientes. This however is optional as it is done after the Inca Trail is completed. Only pack swimwear if you intend to use it as the key is to pack light for the trail.

4.  Extras

A quick dry towel, soap, walking poles, sleeping bags, snacks, a travel power adapter, a book

These items have been grouped together as not all are actually necessary to pack for the Inca Trail.

As mentioned above, there are very limited toilet facilities, which also includes the lack of showers. Whilst some campsites may have shower facilities, they are not in the best condition and only produce cold water, so there is no real opportunity to have a proper shower until the entire Inca Trail is completed. This is why quick-dry towels should only be brought if you are going swimming at the end. It is also recommended that you pack plenty of wet wipes and hand sanitiser instead of soap.

Walking poles and sleeping bags are definite must-haves, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you can rent these for a good price before you start the trek which your guide can help sort for you in advance.

In terms of snacks, you can most certainly buy chocolates, fruit and granola bars to take with you before you start the trek, but all Tucan Travel tours cover this so you don’t have to. Instead I would advise focusing on the purchase of water before you begin the Inca Trail.

Similarly with a travel adapter, there is no electricity available at the campsites so it is advised to bring a portable charger if you plan on using your phone for photos and videos.

If you are thinking of packing a book for the actual Inca Trail itself think again. As entertaining as a book would be the reality is that you are trekking for around 5-7 hours a day with the only long breaks you get being for lunch and dinner. After that and with no electricity, the reality is that you will be far too tired and have no light to sit down and read a book properly. Tip: Still pack a torch or a headlamp for those dark nights where you’ll need to make a trip to the toilet and equally for those very early starts where you’ll need to pack up your stuff before sunrise. 

I would also advise to take some lip balm/Chapstick with you. I found it to be much more useful with the high altitude that is experienced which can quickly dry your lips. Long trekking days require you to be at the most comfortable that you can be, and even something as small as a lip moisturiser can make a big difference on this type of trip.

5. Insect repellent and altitude sickness tablets

Finally, my last bit of advice for what to pack on the Inca Trail, is to remember a good quality insect repellent. As it’s mostly colder at night and you are at a high altitude, you are less likely to come across as many insects or mosquitos as say the Amazon but it does definitely help on hot days and at the campsites where the chances of getting bitten are higher.

Altitude sickness on the other hand varies, with each individual experiencing  different levels of the common side effects such as breathlessness and nausea. To avoid feeling uncomfortable (especially if you are new to the world of trekking) I would advise taking some altitude sickness tablets with you which you can consult with your GP before travelling.

Happy Trekking!

Tucan Travel have many tours that include the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. To read more about their Peru tours, trips and holidays click here.

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