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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. By hiking the trail, you’ll get to see smaller ruin sites and follow the path Incans took for centuries to reach Machu Picchu, arriving right at sunrise. Because of the high altitude and difficult trail conditions, though, having the right gear is essential! I researched, packed and trekked the Classic 4-Day/3-Night Inca Trail Hike to bring you this tested Inca Trail to Machu Picchu packing list. Keep reading for information on what to wear to Machu Picchu, what gear to take including backpack and footwear advice, and exactly what to pack for your Inca Trail hike!
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Inca Trail Basics: Packing Preparation
In order to prepare your Machu Picchu packing list, you’ll need to understand some basics about the logistics of the hike, weather seasons, and what tour companies provide. Before you purchase any gear, research carefully and also find out what the tour you’ve booked (or are considering) includes.
Inca Trail Trek packing logistics
Luggage for the Inca Trail Trek is generally divided as follows:
- Your main suitcase or backpack, which will be left in storage in your Cusco hotel. You’ll generally stay at the same hotel before and after the trek.
- A small daypack that you will use to carry daily essentials such as a jacket, camera, water and sunscreen.
- A bag weighing up to 6kg that your tour group’s porters will carry for you. This bag will be provided by your tour company and will include your clothing, toiletries and sleeping bag.
You’ll only have access to your porter bag when camp is set up each night until you begin trekking again each morning. This and the weight limit are why it’s so important to prepare and pack carefully!
After you complete the trail (yay!) and arrive at Machu Picchu, your group will go to the front gate, where you can use the restroom facilities, etc. You won’t be able to take trekking poles into Machu Picchu so you can leave these there. You’ll pick up all your gear again including the porter bags before you board the buses to Aguas Calientes at the end of your day at Machu Picchu.
Gear & services that trek companies provide
Be sure to read your full trip details and confirm that all of these things are included in your booking.
- Guides, porters and cooks for your group. The guides will let you know what to expect each day along the trail and stay with your group as you hike. With Intrepid Travel, we had 3 guides for our group of 12. The porters are truly amazing! They’ll carry all of the camp gear, set up a camp kitchen and dining tent for lunch, and a full camp every night. They’ll quickly pass you along the trail each morning and will always have your camp set up by the time you arrive. The cooks will prepare all of your meals during the trek.
- Tents. Generally these are provided and carried by the porters, so they DO NOT count in your weight allowance limit. Ours were 3-person tents for 2 travelers. The porters will also set up a shared dining tent.
- A small duffel or stuff sack for your personal belongings that the porters will carry – with a maximum filled weight limit of 6kg (13lbs, 3.6oz). You will only have access to this at camp in the evenings and overnight. BE SURE THAT YOUR TOUR INCLUDES THIS, since some offer this as an option for an additional fee.
- Water after the first day of your trek. Most companies ask you to carry water the first day, then will fill your bottles or water reservoir with boiled water at mealtimes. (Some might ask you to bring purifying tablets or a Steripen – be sure to check).
- All meals during the trek and plates, utensils, cups, etc. Your porters will carry everything to magically set up breakfast, lunch and dnner each day – often with several courses each meal! You might want a few small snacks, but even these are sometimes provided. After you reach Machu Picchu, meals are not included. But you can buy lunch at the restaurant there.
- A portable toilet. Ours was set up at lunch and overnight in camp.
- Transfer to km 82 (the starting point), entrance fees/trail passes for the trek and Machu Picchu, and train tickets from Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes – Cusco.
- Some companies provide or rent sleeping mats, hiking poles, and sleeping bags. Bringing a mat will count toward your weight limit unless your tour company provides it. Your sleeping bag always counts toward your weight limit.
Inca Trail seasons and weather
Peru is in the South America, so their seasons are the opposite of those in the U.S. The Inca Trail is located in Our summer is their winter, but it’s also the dry season, so many trekkers plan a trip from May – September. I traveled in November, and we had a steady drizzle for a good part of 2 out of 4 days, but the scenery was greener due to the rain.
Dry season: If you hike during June, July, August, or September this is the dry season. During these months you’re less likely to have rain during your trek. However, Machu Picchu will also be more crowded when you arrive. (The number of people permitted on the trail is the same in all seasons, though, but many people take the train to get there rather than hike.) In addition, you’ll need to be careful to protect yourself from the sun, which is strong at the high altitude.
Wet season: October, November, December, January, March, and April are the rainy season. (The Inca Trail is closed in February each year for maintenance, although Machu Picchu is still open.) During the wet season, muddy trails can make the already-difficult trek more challenging. The trade-off is that Machu Picchu could be less crowded, and you can get greener landscapes for your photos.
Be sure you have what you’ll need for your season: bring sunscreen and UPF clothing for the dry season, and extra socks and quick-dry clothes during the rainy season.
- Check out more info on Cusco seasonal average temperatures and rainfall from Holiday-Weather.com
- Inca Trail climate info from IncaTrail-Peru.com
Best time of year to hike the Inca Trail
The best time of year to hike the Inca Trail depends on your personal preferences. I recommend considering the “shoulder seasons” of April and May or September, October and early November. During these months, you won’t visit during peak tourist season, and can take advantage of slightly lower prices on tours and hotels. Keep in mind that these months are the end and start of the wet season, though.
Gear weight limit and packing tips
Most treks include use of a duffel bag that the porters will carry for you during the day. This bag has a maximum weight of 6kg (or 13lbs, 3.6oz). While you trek, you’ll carry a day pack including water, a jacket, camera, sunscreen, or any items you’ll need before evening. You might be inclined to take extra and spread the weight to your day pack, but I strongly encourage trekkers to carry as little as possible during the day.
The “Classic” Inca Trail hike is 4 days/3 nights of trekking to reach Machu Picchu. My itinerary included an overnight in Ollantaytambo before the trek began, so my list below includes clothing for that night as well as 4 days/3 nights on the trail. It might look like more than 6kg, but keep in mind that you’re wearing a good amount of the clothing and gear while you trek.
With clothing, the biggest concern should be warmth, sun protection and keeping dry. You won’t have much energy for photos along the trail, and honestly no one cares how many times you’ve worn your pants. Except the llamas. They’re super judge-y.
The exception will be the day you arrive at Machu Picchu. Plan to have a clean outfit that day for photos at Machu Picchu.
Inca Trail Packing List
Clothing and Footwear for the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
- Pants: 2-3 pair. I brought the Prana Monarch convertible (zip-off) pant, the Bettona Boyfriend pant from Athleta and yoga pants/tights to sleep in. I love all of the Athleta hiking pants – check them out here.
- Tops: 3-4 short sleeve t-shirts and 1-2 long sleeve. Some blogs I read recommended wool, but I preferred quick-dry performance fabrics. I slept in that day’s shirt to save space in my pack.
- A fleece pullover
- A down vest (that doubled as a pillow)
- 5-6 pair of wool socks. Consider taller ones: you can tuck your pant legs into them if you have to use squatty potties. (Yes, I can’t believe I typed that either.)
- 4-5 pair of underwear
- 2 sports bras (one to wear and a spare)
- Waterproof pants – I actually didn’t use these though because it was never a downpour, just a steady drizzle.
- Ahnu Sugarpine waterproof hiking boots – especially important during the rainy season. I was glad I had the ankle support and my feet stayed dry. I usually wear an 8M (sometimes 7.5) but I sized up to an 8.5 and added a pair of insoles. If you travel in the dry season and are sure-footed, you might prefer Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiker. (See below for detailed info on choosing shoes for the Inca Trail Trek)
- Flip-flops or lightweight slip-on shoes to wear at camp. You’ll want to take off your hiking boots at the end of each day.
- A cap, a warm hat and mittens. Because I had read that you could buy knit hats and mittens as local crafts, I picked those up at a market the night before our trek began.
- A good poncho, even if your pack has a cover – in the rainy season, this is a necessity! You can buy them in Ollantaytambo or this one has room for a pack under it and comes in lots of designs including flamingos
- If you travel in the dry season, I recommend a UPF headband, hat or scarf.
Essential gear & equipment for hiking to Machu Picchu
- A day pack. I carried a 36-liter day pack for my Inca Trail Trek, although a 20 to 24-liter pack would be a good size for the hike. More detailed info below on choosing a daypack.
- 1.5 or 2L water reservoir – our guides were good about telling us how much water we needed to bring for the first day of the trip, and our cooks boiled water for us to carry after that.
- Sleeping bag. I chose to buy a sleeping bag so that I could be sure to get a warm, lightweight option. You can rent them from your tour company or gear outfitters in Cusco, but they are likely to be bulkier bags. I used a Marmot mummy bag like this one rated to 20 degrees F and weighing less than 3 lbs. Keep in mind that in all seasons, the nighttime temperature on the trail is right around freezing. Mummy bags will keep you warmer because of their shape.
- Try an inflatable pillow or use a down vest that folds into its own pocket.
- Collapsible water bottle for use around camp (for meals and brushing your teeth).
- Sleeping mat (often these are provided or you can rent them).
- Trekking poles – I rented these in Cusco through my tour company, but you might consider buying them if you’ll use them again.
- Headlamp – this is a must-have item. You will finish trekking sometimes after dark and start again before dawn. Be sure your pack includes this! I recommend a Petzl Tikkina lamp.
- A small microfiber towel and washcloth – our porters brought us a bowl of hot water each morning.
Toiletries for your Inca Trail packing list
Urban legends abound that there are shower facilities on the Inca Trail, but my group never found any. Instead our porters left a large bowl of hot water for each person outside the tents each morning. (Keep this in mind for choosing your toiletries!)
- Since there are no showers, I recommend bringing along body wipes and face wipes or this environmentally-friendly biodegradable wipe (2-3 packs, based on how much weight you have and how clean you want to be)
- Antibacterial hand wipes (1-2 packs)
- Sunscreen – in the dry months, the weather will be cool but sunny during the day. Since you’ll be at a high altitude, reapply sunscreen during the day.
- Lip balm with sunscreen
- Basic toiletry bag (deodorant, toothbrush/paste, lotion, tampons or menstrual cup just in case). I didn’t wear makeup on the trail but put on a little for photos at Machu Picchu.
- Basic first aid items: pail reliever, diarrhea medication, sports tape if needed, blister prevention cream
- These are the best waterproof band-aids ever or bring some of these plasters in case you get blisters
- Toilet paper and “shepee” – I honestly only needed these once because our tour provided a pop-up bathroom when we stopped for lunch and at camp, but I was glad I had them.
- When I travel, I always have pocket packs of tissues with me (you never know when a bathroom won’t have toilet paper)
Other Inca Trail packing list necessities
- Giant Ziploc plastic bags. I’m not kidding – buy these if you go during the rainy season or just to keep everything clean and organized. I put all my stuff inside the XL storage versions and managed to keep everything inside both my daily pack and the porter bag dry.
- If you travel during the dry season, you might prefer lightweight packing cubes. Definitely use either Ziploc bags or packing cubes to keep your gear organized, since you won’t have much time to repack each morning.
- Cell phone and battery pack. I set my phone to airplane mode and slept with it inside my sleeping bag to keep it warmer, to save on power. Just don’t forget it there or you won’t have it until that ight!
- Motivational playlist – for the most difficult parts of the trail. I’m looking at you, Dead Woman’s Pass.
- Camera – I took most of my photos after we got to Machu Picchu, but I had to carry it the entire time, which was possibly the worst thing ever in my life (maybe).
- A few snacks – our tour group kept us well-fed and provided snacks at some breaks, so I didn’t need most of what I brought.
- Passport – you’ll need it to enter the park, and you will get a stamp there and at Machu Picchu.
- Luggage scale – check the weight of your bags with a scale, but leave it behind for the trek.
- Cash to tip your guides and porters. Seriously, they will make it possible for you to hike the trail – don’t forget this one!
Choosing shoes or footwear for the Inca Trail
One of the most-asked questions is what shoes you should wear for the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu. I strongly recommend waterproof hiking boots with ankle support.
Along the trek, you’ll encounter a variety of terrains – dusty paths, large stone steps, muddy conditions, rocky trails, and uneven footing throughout. While the porters make it look easy, you will be pushing yourself to the limits of your endurance every day. It can be very easy to stumble or lose your balance. For this reason I can’t stress enough that shoes with a good sole and ankle support are must-haves for the Inca Trail Trek. If you research, you can find tons of lightweight waterproof options.
If you hike the Inca Trail during the dry season and hate the idea of boots, I recommend at least wearing hiking shoes with a sturdy sole. You don’t want to feel every rock in the trail through a pair of tennis shoes (trainers). Check out these women’s hiking shoes by Keen or these from Merrell, or this Adidas pair for men.
Be sure that you break in your shoes by using them during practice hikes. I bought mine 1/2 size larger so that I could add insoles for extra comfort, and in case my feet swelled a bit during the hike.
Additionally, be sure to bring a pair of flip flops or lightweight slip-on shoes like these to wear around camp to give your feet a break from the boots. Check out these lightweight Birkenstock sandal options.
What backpack to choose for Machu Picchu
Each hiker should have their own daypack for the Inca Trail with a pouch for a hydration reservoir (water bladder). I recommend Osprey backpacks because of their durability, features, and excellent ratings. Depending on the style, they are sized to fit women’s, men’s or unisex torso sizes and come in different liter sizes. Many have a suspension system for weight distribution and ventilation so your back doesn’t get sweaty.
A 20-liter to 24-liter backpack is the right size for hiking the Inca Trail. (I used an Osprey Sirrus 36-liter pack because I had my camera equipment.) Check out the Women’s Osprey Sirrus 24 or Men’s Osprey Stratus 24 and add a 2-liter water reservoir.
Journal and reading material for Machu Picchu travelers
Included in my Inca Trail Packing List, I also brought these adorable journals for me and my sister, in case we survived and wanted to blog about the trip later. (That one keeps selling out, so here’s another cute option for llama journaling!)
For more Peru reading for your flights, check out Fodor’s Essential Peru or Frommer’s Easy Guide to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu. For info on Machu Picchu history, grab a copy of Turn Right at Machu Picchu or Lost City of the Incas.
Haven’t yet booked your trek? Check out these itineraries from G Adventures and Intrepid Travel!
Next up on the Inca Trail Survival Guide: You’re ready for Part III: The Trek.
Catch up if you haven’t read Part I: The Training Plan.
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