Machu Picchu Inca Trail Packing List and Preparation Tips

Machu Picchu Inca Trail Packing List and Preparation Tips

Planning to trek to Machu Picchu and hike the Inca Trail? This guide gives you a comprehensive Machu Picchu Inca Trail packing list and preparation tips to ensure you are prepared!

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a dream journey for many hikers and camping enthusiasts. Located in Peru, the Inca Trail is not just an ordinary hike; it’s a captivating blend of history, nature, and personal achievement.

Spanning approximately 43 kilometers (26 miles) through rugged mountain terrain, high-altitude passes, and ancient archaeological sites, the Inca Trail takes you on a journey to one of the Seven Wonders of the World – Machu Picchu.

Hiking the Inca Trail is no small feat. Physical fitness, mental fortitude, and adequate preparation are key to completing the 4 day 3 night Inca Trail.

Inca Trail was my first multi-day hike. I had prepared a lot for this hike. But in retrospect, I wish I was even better prepared than I was. Therefore I want to share some tips on how to train and how to pack for the 4 day 3 night classic Inca Trail.

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What is the weather like on Inca Trail?

The weather on the Inca Trail can vary significantly depending on the time of year and the altitude along the trail. It’s important to understand the climate conditions to pack appropriate clothing and gear for a comfortable and enjoyable trek.

There are two main seasons on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu:

  • Dry Season (May to September)
  • Wet/ Rainy Season (October to April)

The wet/ rainy season from October to April is when you will most likely experience rain on the trail. It coincides with summer in Peru (remember that since Peru is in the southern hemisphere the season is reversed).

If you are hiking Machu Picchu during the rainy season, it’s super important that you pack rain gear (good raincoat/ poncho/ rain pants), etc.

The dry season from May to September is characterized by less rain and more days with clear sky. This DOES NOT MEAN it will not rain during your trek.

The dry season is when most people choose to hike Inca Trail, so you can expect more hikers.

Since the dry season coincides with winter in Peru, you can expect temperature to drop significantly at night, especially at higher elevations. Therefore it is important to bring layers, thermos, gloves, hats, etc. with you to Machu Picchu.

If you want to look at temperature at different altitudes at Machu Picchu as well as wind speed, check this website. I used this website when I was hiking in Patagonia, New Zealand and Switzerland and it was very accurate.


Consideration for Altitude on the Inca Trail

Altitude sickness is another potential concern when trekking the Inca Trail due to the high elevations reached along the route.

The highest point of Inca Trail is Dead Woman’s Pass, which reaches an altitude of over 4200 meters (~13800 feet). Although most blogs would advise you to acclimate for a few days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley before trekking Inca Trail, it is not always possible to do so due to time constraints.

The altitude sickness generally takes a few hours to a day before it fully kicks in after landing in Cusco. 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 lightheadedness, 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 to trek the Inca trail.

Don’t attempt to trek Rainbow Mountain before Machu Picchu before the altitude of Rainbow Mountain is higher than even the highest point on the Inca Trail.

rainbow mountain hike peru

There are altitude pills that you can take a day or two before going into high altitude and you should continue to take the pills while hiking in high altitude until your body is used to it.

Therefore before you reach Cusco and definitely before the start of Inca Trail, you should get your hands on altitude sickness medication. Once on the trail, there is nothing you can do if you suffer from bad altitude sickness, you will either have to keep going or turn back before the second day.

One thing to keep in mind is that physical fitness does not mean you won’t get altitude sickness. In fact many very fit individuals suffer more from the effects of the altitude sickness than regular people. It actually is a matter of genetics and some luck when it comes to how you will react to altitude sickness.


How to train for the Inca Trail

Unless you are super fit and are the king of cardio, you are probably wondering how you can best train for the Inca Trail. You cannot predict how your body will react to the altitude but you can control how your body reacts to climbing up the stairs for hours.

If you haven’t already, check out my detailed Inca Trail Guide to know what to expect.

Given the steepness of the trail and the amount of stairs you have to climb, I would highly recommend cardio exercises such as running uphill or stair climbing exercises to prepare for the Inca Trail.

Climbing uphill on the second day of Inca Trail means you need to be comfortable with a constant elevated heart rate as well as being out of breath.

I did stair climbing exercises for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week for a few months and it really helped on the Inca Trail! While others were more or less out of breath, I was able to move more quickly and not have to stop for air.

How to pack for the inca trail


Booking the Machu Picchu Inca Trail Trekking

There are a lot of tour companies that do Machu Picchu tours or Inca trail trekking. There are also a variety of different options. The most common one is the 4 day 3 night Classic Inca Trail, but there are also 5 day 4 night Inca Trail trek, Salkantay Machu Picchu Trek, etc.

Make sure to figure out what you want to do first before booking. Some of the best reviewed Machu Picchu hiking companies include G Adventure, Alpaca Expedition (the one I used), Peru Treks, Llama Path, etc.

These Machu Picchu tour companies will help you book your Inca Trail permits, train ticket between Machu Picchu and Cusco (on the way back), and Machu Picchu entrance ticket.

They also include food, water, snack and your personal porter on the Inca Trail as well as 2-3 hiking guides. They really do take care of everything for you so be sure to go with reputable companies.


Inca Trail Pre-Packing Logistic Information

Before you start packing for the Inca Trail, let’s talk about some of the very basic information so you know what you can/ cannot bring and how much weight you can bring with you.

Most of the reputable guided Inca Trail operators like the ones I mentioned above have a team of porters and English speaking hiking guides that will trek with you.

The job of the hiking guides is to make sure the group stays together and to help you during your trek. They will be guiding you, supporting you, telling you about the history of Inca Trail and explaining what you are seeing during the trek.

The porters, on the other hand, are the heroes behind the scene. They are the ones that will be carrying the tents, sleeping bags, food, water, cookware, and some of your stuff on the trek. They will be hiking ahead of you every day so they can set up your tent and cook your food before you get to the camping spot at night.

Since there is a limited number of Inca Trail hiking permits available, there is also a limited number of porters that can join the trek on a given tour. This means there is limited man-power to carry everything up and down the mountain.

This is why there is a weight limit to how much the porters can help you carry your things. This weight limit is 7 kg (15.4 lb) per person, which includes 4kg (8.8 lb) of clothes and 3 kg (6.6 lb) of sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

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 efficiently.

Therefore there are 2 bags that you can bring to Inca Trail with you:

  • Your daypack (things that the porters cannot carry for you)
  • A duffle bag given by the trekking company that the porters will carry for you. You won’t have access to this bag until evening at the campsite

Do not bring your luggage. You will be leaving your luggage behind either at your hotel in Cusco or at the trekking company.


What can you rent from Inca Trail Trekking Companies?

Most visitors to Peru will not be bringing hiking gears or sleeping bags with them, at least I didn’t back then. So these Machu Picchu trekking companies make it easy for trekkers to rent the necessary gears from them at no additional cost.

In general you can expect to rent the following items from your Inca Trail trekking operator:

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

If you are very particular about any of the items above you can always bring your own.

Photo of Machu Picchu in Peru after finishing the Inca Trail


Machu Picchu Inca Trail Packing List

The following lists are the most essential things you need to bring with you to the Inca Trail. This list is broken up by different sections, making it easy for you to note down what to pack and what goes into your daypack versus duffle bag.

Inca Trail Packing List Essentials

Passport

Passport is the single most important thing you need to bring to Inca Trail with you. You will get your passport checked at the start of Inca Trail and when you enter Machu Picchu.

You will not be able to do the Inca Trail without your actual passport (no photocopy please).

Cash

Cash is another thing you need to bring with you. You need cash to tip the porter (recommended 150-200 sol) and your guides (100-150 sol per guide).

You may also want to bring some USD in case you have to turn back during the hike and stay at a local hotel or pay for your train ticket going back to Cusco. It is rare but it happens! We actually saw someone turning back (from a different tour group) while we were hiking on the first day.

Power Bank and Extra Camera Batteries

You will not have access to power outlets during your Inca Trail. I assume you will be taking a lot of photos and videos during your trek, so you absolutely need at least 1-2 power banks so you have enough battery on your phone until Machu Picchu, the last day of the trek.

If you are a photographer that take photos with an actual camera (props to you for lugging a camera and lenses to Machu Picchu), you will need multiple battery packs with you.

Trash Bags

There is no trash can on the Inca Trail and we all need to play our part to keep Inca Trail clean for other visitors. Therefore you should bring trash bags with you on the trek for your trash and dirty laundry.

You do have access to trash cans at your camp at night.

Clothes you should pack for the Inca Trail

Since the temperature during your Inca Trail trekking can vary a lot throughout the day, with the morning and evening being extremely cold and the day being hot and sweaty, you definitely should layer your clothing during the trek.

I actually wore up to 4 layers everyday (sports tank top, quick dry shirt, long sleeve jacket and waterproof jacket) but took off some of the layers when I got warm hiking.

Here are the essential clothes and accessories you should pack for the Inca Trail:

Lightweight gloves: Since the morning is freezing cold, we were told to bring gloves with us. These gloves were good so I could hold onto the hiking poles without freezing my fingers off.

4 pairs of wool hiking socks: you will be walking a lot, so you need socks that can keep your feet comfortable. Wool socks are great for hiking since they can regulate temperature.

A hat in the morning and at night because it gets really cold on the Inca Trail

4 sports bras (for women) and 4 pairs of underwear

2 Short sleeve quick dry shirts and 2 long sleeve quick dry shirts

2 yoga pants or hiking pants

Rain jacket and pants: even during the dry season it could rain (like what happened to us). Our trekking operator gave us plastic ponchos but if you want to be more stylish, bring your own rain clothes

Jacket/ Fleece: bring at least one jacket or fleece to layer. It gets really cold at night and early in the morning. Zipper ones are the best so you can take it off easily.

How to pack for the inca trail

Hiking Gear You Need for the Inca Trail

A hiking backpack is a must have on your Inca Trail packing list. You want the weight to be evenly distributed and not hurt your shoulder so don’t use a regular backpack. I highly recommend the Osprey brand, such as this one

If you don’t already have a hydration Bladder with your hiking backpack, you need one! You won’t have time or energy to keep grabbing for a bottle when you are trekking the Inca Trail. I recommend getting the 3 Liter one so you have enough water for the day.

Sleeping bag liner and/or sleeping bag: our trekking company gave us sleeping bag liner, but I brought my own because I wanted to be really warm (and clean). 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 it can rain on the hike and you don’t want your hiking backpack to be soaked.

Head lamp: a must-have hiking gear on the Inca Trail otherwise you will not be able to see at night or once the sun goes down. You will need a headlamp when you walk to dinner, use the bathroom, looking for things in your tent, etc.

How to pack for the inca trail

Sun Protection on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Trek

Some parts of Inca Trail are shaded but other parts (especially the first and last day) are quite exposed. The last thing you want is getting sunburned with no shower and no aloe.

Sunglasses: it gets super sunny while trekking the Inca Trail so sunglasses should definitely be on your Machu Picchu Inca Trail packing list

Bandanna: on a sunny day it’s important to cover your neck so you don’t get sunburned.

Mineral Sunscreen: At high altitude you are more likely to get sunburned. I only use physical blocker and never the spray type for health purposes so I highly recommend this one.

How to pack for the inca trail

Toiletry to Pack for the Inca Trail

There are generally no bathrooms on the Inca Trail except the night of Day 3 where there is a public bathroom with cold showers (depending on where your company sets up the tents).

In general, once you arrive at camp after your day of trekking, your porters will bring you some hot water to wash your hands and face.

During the evening you will also be given water to brush your teeth. Since you can’t shower, I highly recommend wipes to help you stay clean.

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Makeup, face wipes and make up remover (if you use makeup). If not, you still need face wipes to clean your face after a day of hiking.

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: Now you can clean your hair without washing them since there is no shower on the Inca Trail. 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 and you would be glad you included insect repellent on your Inca Trail packing list.

Small towel: a lightweight trekking towel is useful if you want to dry your hair, face and hands after an entire day of hiking.

How to pack for the inca trail

Food and Medicine to Pack

I didn’t think too much about this before I went to the Inca Trail but looking back, I think food and especially medicine were really important and I’m glad my pharmacist friend brought some with her.

Your Inca Trail guide will bring some medicine with them such as a first aid kit and stomach medicine as well as things to treat blisters but if you have special needs, make sure to bring your medicine!

During the Inca Trail your guides will also be giving you snacks to eat everyday but I find that bringing your own snack is beneficial as you may not like what they give you.

First aid kit: I actually didn’t bring this to the Inca Trail but needed it because I slipped and fell. Get a small first aid kit like this.

Medication: Diamox (altitude sickness pill), Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol (for upset stomach), imodium (for Diarrhea), cold medicine, allergy medicine are all important to bring to the Inca Trail.

Snacks: I brought some protein bars but everyday our guide gave us enough snack to last through the day

Liquid IV: I didn’t bring this but I wish I did. Someone in my trekking 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.

How to pack for the inca trail
View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

Shoes for the Inca Trail

You need the right shoes to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The trail is long and can be very slippery when it rains (remember even during dry season it could rain). So shoes with good traction are almost a requirement.

Hiking shoes: I love this pair of hiking boots since they are the most comfortable ones I’ve tried (the women’s version that is). There are also hiking boots that offer ankle support. I didn’t think it was necessary for the Inca Trail. But if you prefer more ankle protection then it’s not a bad choice.

Flip Flops or casual shoes: after a long day of hiking, you will want to air out your feet so bring another pair of casual shoes you can walk in. Your feet will feel so much lighter I promise.

So…What Should Go into Your Day Pack On the Inca Trail?

Now you know what you need to bring with you to Inca Trail, your next most important task is to figure out what can go into your day pack versus the duffle bag your porter will carry for you.

For your day pack, I would highly recommend bringing the following with you. Remember you cannot access your duffle bag until you reach camp so you need to make sure you have what you need in your daypack throughout the day.

  • Water, food, snacks. Water will be provided to you after they boil and cool down the water. So you just need to fill up your hydration pack and bottle
  • Small trash bag in case you have things to throw away like granola bar wrappers
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, bandanna
  • Bug spray
  • Poncho, rain cover
  • Gloves and layers
  • Camera, phone, power bank
  • Passport and cash!!! <— you cannot hike the Inca trail without your passport with you
  • Headlamp, hiking poles
  • Any medication you need to take during the day

Remember your porter can only carry 7 kg in the duffle bag (including sleeping bag) and you need to bring the rest with you in the day pack.

Hopefully this Machu Picchu Inca Trail packing list and preparation tips are useful. You can also use this packing list for other hiking trips such as Rainbow Mountain, Salkantay, Lares or even Patagonia.

Other Peru Travel Resources

To help you plan your Peru Trip, here are some other Peru blogs you can check out:

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Inca Trail Packing list