Last week, I successfully completed the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. And I’m going to be honest…before last week, I had never been on a trek before, so I had NO idea what exactly it entailed. When I left, I thought I had everything covered. I had been to REI and talked to the various department experts, I talked to my travel doctor, and I had my adventure-enthusiast boyfriend suggesting and researching most of my purchases.

But when you actually get out there, everything becomes new, and you have to make the most of what you’ve got, and share when you can.

To help other trekkers on the Salkantay Trek (or other similar adventures) I thought I would put together my packing list, and go over what was helpful, and what was a waste of money and backpack space. I will also give you some pointers that I didn’t do…so my mistakes don’t get made again.

First, I packed:

  • a large backpacker’s backpack–which was way too big. If you have a backpack where there is a day pack that breaks off, I would recommend that. My stuffed pack was about 11 kilograms, and there was no way I could have carried it the whole time.
  • hiking boots–which I thought might be a little excessive, but I liked them. I am usually not a big fan of the shoes that come up over your ankle. But when you walk as much as you do on the trek, and go through waterfalls, and up and down mountains, extra support and coverage can really be a lifesaver.
  • 5 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks–which was not enough. Your feet are bound to get wet (or just gross) so it is nice to have a couple of extra pairs of socks to change into at night when you’re not trekking. Also, I recommend bringing both really heavy hiking socks, and lighter socks as well. The weather is all over the place, so you want to make sure you’re not too cold or overheating.
  • 2 pairs of long underwear, 1 super thick, 1 capeline midweight–which was perfect. I wore the same pair consistently during the day (when needed) and had the other cleaner pair to change into when we were done for the day and to sleep in.
  • 2 pairs of pants, 1 hiking, 1 cotton–which was just enough. I had sprayed both pairs with an insect repellent spray for clothes before the trip, and I wish I would have done the same for all of my clothes. (All of my bites were on my arms and hands.)
  • 2 tshirts, 2 long sleeve shirts–which worked, but I wish I had 1 more. The last night before Machu Picchu you actually stay in a hostel and get to shower, and it was sort of gross putting on a dirty, smelly shirt afterwards.
  • 1 hoodie, 1 fleece jacket, 1 fleece shirt for layering, 1 vest–which was good for me, but I am a cold person. Other people on the trek definitely got away with less layers than I had, but for me, the layers helped.
  • 1 rain jacket, 1 warm/winter jacket–which was critical! Initially, I had only packed a rain jacket, expecting to layer everything together for the first 2 cold nights. But thankfully, my guide in Cusco strongly recommended I buy another jacket, so I got a cheap winter jacket in town and brought that as well. The first night got as cold as -10 degrees Celsius and the second day you go up into a snow covered mountain, so the big coat is a must. The rain jacket was also extremely helpful, as pretty much all of days 2 and 3 it was raining (even though it is their dry season!)
  • 1 sleeping bag–which you need…hands down. Like I mentioned before, it gets really cold at night, so I recommend a bag that can handle -10 degrees Celsius.
  • 1 Cocoon sleeping bag liner–which might be my new favorite thing. I bought one that adds 4 degrees of warmth to your bag, and is made of a wicking material to keep you dry. The cool thing about this is that I use it EVERYWHERE….in hostels, at the place I am staying when it gets cold. It is super light weight and easy to pack, and definitely does its job.
  • 1 small camping blow up air mattress–which was amazing. They provide small rollup mattresses, but on the first day, my roommate froze through hers, and I was fine.
  • Snacks, gum and lozenges–which are needed. The trek is long and they don’t take many breaks. So if you keep a bar or some nuts in your day pack, they will really help you keep going.
  • A Streripen–which (my boyfriend will kill me) I never used. There are spots about every hour or so on the trail to buy bottles of water, and few spots to actually fill up water from a natural spring or river. That said….a key item to bring is:
  • CASH–Few places in Peru accept credit cards, and in the mountains, you’re not going to find an ATM. I brought about 500 soles with me, and would recommend bringing at least that much in case something goes wrong or you need help.
  • Travel-sized tissues and wet wipes–which I could have used more of! The air is cold and damp, so your nose is going to run a lot. Everyone seemed to run out of tissues by the end of the trek. Also, most bathrooms do not have toilet paper (if you even get a bathroom), so wet wipes are key.
  • 1 bathing suit–which came in handy. The third and fourth nights are near hot springs, so if you plan to go, bring one. That said, a lot of people brought towels, but you don’t need them. You can rent towels at the hostel or hot springs for 1 or 2 soles, which frees up a lot of backpack space.
  • 1 pair of flip flops–which are nice, but not needed. I wore them to the hot springs, and in the shower at the hostel…that’s it. And the hostel was actually quite nice, I could have gone without.
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.–which you need, but pack light. You’re going to be filthy and gross, so you don’t need shampoo and soap and all of that. Pack the day to day minimum.
  • bug spray with 30% DEET in it–which you need, but it doesn’t work very well. The issue with Salkantay is that most of the bugs are not mosquitoes. They are these small flies you can’t even see that leave weird bites that first look like you pricked your finger, and then blow up into itchy red bumps. Unfortunately, these bugs seem to bite you no matter what kind of spray you put on.
  • a head lamp–which is useful. If you don’t have one, at least bring a small flashlight. But personally, I find headlamps easier to use.
  • a travel pillow–which I needed. They don’t provide one, so if you like to sleep comfortably, bring a pillow. They make these really cool ones that sort of roll up into themselves.
  • this buff/headband thing–which might be my second favorite thing. My boyfriend thought it was totally excessive, but I use it almost every day. It works as a scarf, a headband, and to cover your nose when it is dusty or smelly (which happens A LOT in Peru). Here is a link to one: http://www.rei.com/product/736217
  • a camera….no explanation needed!

Now, I DID NOT pack:

  • 2 bags, 1 day pack, and 1 pack to hold everything else. Your guides will carry up to 6 kilos for you each day, so if you have 2 packs, you can divvy up the weight pretty easily and only keep on you what you need.
  • iron tablets and pills for altitude sickness. Several people on my trek had varying degrees of altitude sickness, and both of these remedies (in addition to the provided coca tea) were very helpful in alleviating the symptoms.
  • a watch with an alarm. You don’t need it, but there are a lot of early morning wake up calls, and on the last day to get to Machu Picchu, you need to wake up on your own. Also, the guide talks time a lot (meet at 6, dinner at 7, etc.) so a watch would be nice to have.
  • sun screen. I don’t burn easily, but for those who do, there are days where the sun gets really hot.
  • Imodium AD or something for your stomach. About half of my group got an upset stomach at one point or another on the trek. Trust me, with 8-10 hours of hiking each day, you need to get over whatever the day throws at you quickly, so bring some meds.

And I think that’s covers it! I hope this helps!! Good luck on the Salkantay (or whatever trek you take on) and enjoy :)

Holly Brinkman is a researcher and blogger with the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.

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