What to Pack for the Inca Trail

What to Pack for the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail was easily the best part of our trip to South America. Despite its popularity, there isn’t a lot of information out there on what to bring on your hike. That’s where we come in, here you’ll find a complete list of everything we recommend to pack for your once in a lifetime trip on the Inca Trail.

The Ultimate Packing List for the Inca Trail

Below is a list of everything we packed four our 4 day hike of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This list includes only what we packed for the hike, and not what we brought for our entire trip to South America. Also note, we decided to carry our own gear so our strategy was to pack light and bring only what we needed.

If you want to learn more about the actual hike check out our tips and must knows about hiking the Inca Trail.

Bags & Camping

1. 32L Backpack – We decided to carry our own gear for the Inca Trail so we needed to bring full sized backpacks to fit everything. I used an ultralight style backpack from Gossamer Gear because it’s lightweight and has plenty of room. If you are opting to have a port carry your gear for you, you won’t need a large backpack (they’ll provide a bag for you to put your gear in), but you will want a daypack.

2. Daypack – I also brought a daypack with me after learning that once you reach Machu Picchu, you are not allowed to bring large sized bags onto the site. Since we knew we’d want to bring water and camera gear, and we were planning to summit Wayna Picchu while there, I brought my Osprey Daylight. It was a perfect bag to bring because, not only is it super light but it also has no internal frame which made it easy to pack away in my backpack during the actual Inca Trail hike.

3. Water Bottle/Hydration Reservoir – I prefer to carry my water in a reservoir for easy drinking access. You’ll want to have at least 1.5L of capacity (2L is better). Whether it’s 1 big bottle or reservoir, or 2 smaller bottles, make sure you have this.

4. Sleeping Bag – Because we would be carrying our gear, we opted to bring our own sleeping bags. The sleeping bags offered by the companies are much heavier (5lbs) than our own personal bags (2lbs) and not any warmer. I carried a women’s mummy bag rated for 26F (comfort rating) and found it to be plenty warm and saving those 3lbs is huge.

5. Compression Sack – Since we were carrying our own sleeping bag, the compression sack was a must have. Compression sacks allow you to scrunch down your sleeping bag to a surprisingly small size. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at how small it can get! I like Sea to Summit’s compression sack because it’s waterproof, durable, and lightweight. And on the Inca Trail, carrying your own gear, every ounce matters.

6. Sleeping Pad – This is another item the Inca trek companies will provide, however the pads they offer are heavy, large, and not that great. We decided to bring our own blow-up style sleeping pads that weight just over 1lb (the rentals being closer to 3) and pack down quite small. I use the Big Agnes Air Core Pad because it’s a lightweight but good quality pad that doesn’t break the bank like some other air mattresses.

7. Waterproof Pack Cover – It can rain quite a bit in the Andes so it’s a safe bet to make sure to bring something to protect your entire pack from the rain. We used these pack covers by Sea to Summit since they’re durable but lightweight. Thankfully we brought them because it rained a number of times while we were hiking. Be sure to keep them easy access, so if it does start to rain suddenly – you’ll be ready.

8. Dry Bags / Garbage Bags – A pack cover wont gauranteee your stuff will stay dry if there’s a major downpour. In that case you’re going to want an extra layer of protection to keep your stuff dry. There are a number of choices from pack liners (which can even be a simple garbage bag) to keeping all your stuff in compartmentalized dry sacks. We used these waterproof stuff bags by Sea to Summit because not only are they waterproof but they keep your stuff organized and can even double as a pillow at night. We also brought a couple garbage bags (for wet stuff) as well as a number of ziplock bags for any small items we needed to keep dry (like money, batteries, etc).

Shoes & Clothing

9. Trail Running/Hiking Shoes – You really don’t need heavy hiking boots. Get something comfortable that works for you. I used these shoes from Merrel (Women’s) (Men’s) because not only are they comfortable and lightweight, but they are also waterproof. Considering the amount of rocks you’ll be walking on, make sure you bring something with a slighter thicker sole.

10. Sandals/Slippers – After a long day of hiking, your feet will thank you for the opportunity to get out of those hiking shoes. Sandals are great if the weather is warm, otherwise a pair of slippers/moccasins will do nicely for the cold nights.

11. Merino Wool Socks (4 pair) – I highly recommend merino wool socks for any sort of traveling. They don’t get smelly nearly as fast as cotton but they are just as comfortable. You can usually wear them multiple times without washing and are also great at moisture wicking. I used these ankle socks (Unisex) to keep my shoes from rubbing against my heels. I also recommend wearing 2 pairs of socks at a time – the extra padding provided will feel good on your feet.

12. Long Pants (2 Pair) – Because you’re at altitude the temperature can get cold even in the warmer months. I absolutely love these pants by Outdoor Research (Women’s) (Men’s) they’re a little more expensive because they’re rock climber’s pants, but incredibly worth it. They’re comfortable, flexible, water resistant, and don’t get dirty easily.

I decided not to bring shorts which was just as well since I never felt the need to wear them. However if you’re a shorts person, go ahead and bring a pair.

13. T-Shirts (2) – Just make sure they’re not cotton and you’ll thank me later. Cotton doesn’t wick moisture, it dries slow, gets smelly fast, and is often not great at heat/cold management. Merino wool, or anything that’s a blend will serve you much better.

14. Long Sleeve Shirts (2) – Always nice to have a long sleeve shirt for those colder moments and they double as sun protection. The weather on the Inca Trail (May) wasn’t terribly hot, so the long sleeves were perfect for hiking in. I would roll up my sleeves and I’d be perfectly happy. When I wore a t-shirt I usually had to pair it with a jacket. Again, if it’s not cotton, you’re good.

15. Warm Jacket(s) – I actually brought 2 warm jackets. During the day I relied on a thin fleece jacket and for the colder nights I’d layer my puffy North Face jacket (Women’s) (Men’s) over the top of it. This double jacket strategy proved great for the cold nights and early (cold) mornings where the temperature can get down to the 30’s F.

16. Waterproof Jacket/Poncho – It rains out in the Andes and you definitely want to be prepared. I brought my incredibly lightweight and easy to stow Outdoor Research Helium jacket (Men’s) (Women’s). I kept the jacket in my pack’s side pocket for easy access, which proved useful because the rain can start with little-to-no warning.

If you don’t own a rain jacket, don’t worry about it – just buy a poncho while you’re in Cusco and it’ll work just as well. 

17. Beanie, Scarf & Gloves – It gets cold at night, and during the early morning starts. I would recommend buying these in Cusco, as they are very cheap in Peru and there’s a ton of marketing selling great Alpaca wool items. It’s a great souvenir and you’ll love wearing them on the trail.

18. Pajamas/Thermals – Bring something you’ll feel comfortable sleeping in while camping, and will also keep you warm. I recommend thermals.

19. Underwear – I recommend using travel underwear, my favorite being from Exofficio. They wash (and dry) easily – so you can wash them in the sink and they’ll dry by morning.

20. Hat – Ideally you want a hat that has a full brim (not just a baseball cap) to keep the sun off your neck and face. At high altitude, the sun is much more powerful than you expect. I personally just used my Buff Headband (Unisex).

21. Sunglasses – You definitely don’t want to forget these!


22. Camera + Memory + Charger – This is an adventure of a lifetime! You definitely want a way to capture all the amazing sights along the way. I personally love my Sony RX 100 ii because it’s a small point and shoot with the power of a DSLR (without the tediousness of carrying one). Whatever you do, make sure you have something. And be certain to bring extra memory – I had 2 64GB sticks with me as well as 3 batteries (and a charger).

23. Flashlight/Headlamp – I prefer headlamps over flashlights – it’s nice to go hands free sometimes. Either way, these come in handy at night time when you’re at the camp sites an you’ll need them to go to/from the bathroom.

24. Sunscreen – You’re at high altitude – the sun doesn’t forgive – don’t forget this! I recommend a minimum of SPF 35 (we used 50)

25. Insect Repellent – Repellent a day keeps the mozzies away.

26. Brush/Hair Ties – 3 nights of no showers, you’re going to want to put your hair up.

27. Deodorant – You may be roughing it, but you don’t have to smell!

28. Body Wipes – There really aren’t any showers along the trail (there’s technically 1 for the 3rd night, but you won’t want to use it). We brought these body wipes which are made for camping. The directions say to use 1 wipe per extremity, but honestly 1 wipe is enough for your whole body.

29. Chapstick – Ideally you’ll want chapstick with SPF.

30. Toothbrush/Toothpaste – There was not a single day where we didn’t have a chance to brush our teeth.

31. Toilet Paper & Hand Sanitizer – Most of the bathrooms do not have their own toilet paper or soap – make sure to bring your own. We each brought 1 roll of this traveler’s coreless toilet paper.

*TIP* If you bring toilet paper with the cardboard toilet paper roll in the middle, you can run a string through the center and turn it into a necklace (there’s no where to place the toilet paper when using the bathroom)

32. First Aid – It’s always nice to be prepared. Basic things to cary include aspirin, ibuprofen, cold medicine, throat lozenges, antacids, bandaids, Neosporin, and moleskin. You’ll also want to bring your traveler’s diarrhea medication and if you have it – altitude medication.

33. Earplugs – You may not need them, but if you do, you’ll wish you had them. Some of the campsites can get crowded and not everyone goes to sleep at the same time. Not to mention, you never know if you’ll be near someone who snores. I only used mine for one of the nights.

34. Money for Tips – You’ll get told about this during your pre-trek talk, but make sure to bring some cash (soles are fine) to give to the porters. It will usually be about 80 soles per person depending on the size of your group.


35. Your Passport! – You will need your passport not only to get into Peru, but also along the Inca Trail at various checkpoints. Copies are not accepted. DO NOT FORGET THIS!

Also, when entering Peru, you’ll get a white traveller’s slip. You need to hang on to this and return to the custom’s agent when leaving the country.

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