How To Prepare and Pack For the Inca Trail

For someone who’s never been to South America and never been on a multi-day hike, it was daunting to prepare for the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. In retrospect, I wish I was even better prepared than I was so I want to share some tips on how to train and how to pack for the 4 day 3 night classic Inca Trail. To read more about the actual trail, click here.

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Training

A lot of people asked me how to best train for the trek and honestly I think just being physically fit is key. But given the altitude and the long incline of the trail, I would highly recommend cardio exercises such as running up the stairs or up a hill or stair climbing exercises. Climbing uphill on the second day means you need to be comfortable with a constant elevated heart rate as well as being out of breath. I did stair master for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week for a few months and it really helped on the trail! While others were more or less out of breath, I was able to move more quickly and not have to stop for air.

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Altitude Sickness

This is a major area of concern for almost everyone. How do you prevent altitude sickness? In theory altitude sickness drug Diamox (acetazolamide ) works to prevent it if taken a day or two before you go to Cusco. It’s a prescription only drug in the US, but they have this over the counter in South America.

I read on an old Times article that ibuprofen can also help with preventing altitude sickness, but I don’t know how valid this claim is since it’s from an article in 2012.

There is really no sure way to know if you will get altitude sickness or not. Rumor has it that people who are very fit and those who are very NOT fit tend to suffer more from it, again, not sure if it’s valid. Apparently even if you felt fine before, the next time you go to a high altitude area, you may get it. REALLY CONFUSING!

The altitude sickness generally takes a few hours to a day before it fully kicks in, you may feel tingling in your hands and feet (I did), slight or massive headache (got that too), nausea, puking, elevated heart rate (yup), out of breath (yup), dizzy or light headedness, etc. Don’t panic! Most hotels and even the Inca Trail guides have oxygen with them. Just remember to rest well and drink plenty of water or coca tea. This is also the reason to take at least two days to acclimate before you attempt the trail. Don’t attempt to do Rainbow Mountain before Machu Picchu (will discuss more in a later post).

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Inca Trail Packing List

As mentioned in my other blog post, you have a weight limit that the porters can carry for you, which is 3.5kg. If you don’t rent the air mattress (I highly recommend that you rent it), you have 4.5kg. Whatever the porter can’t carry for you, you will have to carry it yourself. It’s not fun to carry anything while you struggle to breathe, so pack light but efficient.

What you can rent

  • Hiking sticks
  • Sleeping bag
  • Foam Mattress
  • Air Mattress

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What you should buy/bring

Travel Essentials

  • Passport: this is EXTREMELY important. You can’t even start the hike without your passport
  • Cash: you need to tip the porter (recommend 150 sol) and guides (recommend 100 sol per guide). You also want to bring some USD in case you have to turn back during the hike and stay at local hotels/pay for train ticket
  • Phone/Camera/Batteries
  • Trash bags: there is no trash can on the Inca trail, the only time there is trash can is at your camp. So bring trash bags and dirty laundry bags with you along the way

Hiking Attire

  • Light weight gloves, I used this one and they worked amazingly well
  • 4 Pairs of wool hiking socks
  • A hat in the morning/at night because it gets really cold
  • 2 short sleeve quick dry shirts
  • 2 long sleeve quick dry shirts
  • 2 yoga/ hiking pants
  • Rain wear: our group got poncho from the company but if your company doesn’t give you a poncho, make sure to bring your own
  • Flip Flops casual shoes: After a long day of hike, you will want to air out your feet so bring another pair of shoes

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Hiking Gear

  • A good hiking backpack. This is extremely important as you want the weight to be evenly distributed and not hurt your shoulder! I highly recommend the Osprey brand, such as this one
  • If you don’t already have a hydration pack with your hiking backpack, you need one! You won’t have time or energy to grab for a bottle, so hydration pack is key.
  • Good pair of hiking boots. I got this pair and they were extremely soft and comfortable. Some people hike with sneakers, I don’t really recommend it as the ground can get really slippery when it rains so you want something with really good traction.
  • Sleeping bag liner: our Inca Trail company Alpaca Expedition gave us sleeping bag liner, but I brought my own because I wanted to be really warm. Not absolutely necessary to bring, more of a personal preference
  • Rain cover: my Osprey bag actually comes with a rain cover, but if yours don’t have one, bring one since the weather is unpredictable on the hike
  • Head lamp: extremely important otherwise you will not be able to see at night

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Sun Protection

  • Sunglasses
  • Bandanna: on a sunny day it’s important to cover your neck so bring one!
  • Sunscreen. This is also really important. At high altitude you are more likely to get sunburned. I love Japanese skincare products so I used this one since it’s small and portable and not greasy.

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Toiletry

  • Tooth brush and tooth paste
  • Face wipes/ make up remover
  • Body wipes as you won’t have a shower. I got these and they worked well. I usually needed to use 2 everyday.
  • Dry shampoo. I bought mine from Walgreens, but you can get them online too.
  • Bug spray. Especially if you go in August/September. The bugs there are vicious.

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Food, Medicine, etc

  • First aid kit. I actually didn’t bring this but needed it because I slipped and fell
  • Medication: Diamox, Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismo (for upset stomach), imodium (for Diarrhea), cold medicine, etc
  • Snacks: I brought some cookies but everyday our guide gave us enough snack to last through the day
  • Gatorade Powder: I didn’t bring this myself but I wish I had. Someone in my group brought this and it was really smart. You sweat a lot on the hike and it’s very easy to get dehydrated at such a high altitude. Def consider bringing it to stay hydrated.

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If you also plan to hike Rainbow Mountain (which is amazing), you can definitely use the hiking gear (backpack, shoes, sun protection, hiking poles, etc). Curious about the hike itself? Read my other post here to learn more!

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