One of the most stressful items is knowing how to pack for an Inca Trail Trek or Alternative Treks. The information below will help you prepare for your outdoor trekking adventure in one of the most stunning regions of South America.
To truly understand how to pack you need to realize that the weather here is South America and especially in the Cusco Region is not like the northern hemisphere or even the rest of the world. First, when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter here and vice versa. Second, there are really only two seasons, the dry and wet seasons. The dry season is from about May through November. Wet season, December through April. November and April are transition months as the new season enters.
As soon as you have a handle on the weather the packing list will make more sense. A complete packing list with as much detail possible on each item is provided below. The packing list includes recommendation on gear that we have discovered is the best for the value and at the same time provides good performance for the conditions here in the Andes. After all, you do not want to ruin your trek and be miserable on it because you were not prepared or did not have the best clothing.
The dry season is confusing for people because it is winter here in Peru but there is not much rain and no snow like the rest of the world experiences. If you think of the desert, you will come close. In the winter here, there is little or no rain showers. The temperature during the day’s averages around 70 to 74 degrees maximum, however the temperature at 4pm begins to drop fast and by 5pm it is cold and you need a jacket or sweater. The sun is setting at 5pm and this is pretty close all year round since we are at the equator. By 8 or 9pm the temperature will be in the 30’s Fahrenheit or 0 to 4 Celsius. In some months it can drop to 28 to 32 Fahrenheit and -2 to 0 Celsius.
Due to the altitude in Cusco and even higher in the mountains on the treks, it can be quite warm and the intensity of the sun at the higher altitudes is intense. It may only be 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius but it seems quite hot and because of the high UV rays, one can burn very quickly. There is no cloud cover to block or protect from the sun. Night and early mornings quite cold and the day time temperatures quite warm. You need to understand it can be quite a bit colder in the higher altitudes of the Andes at night and the day temperatures may reach the high 60’s in Fahrenheit and 15 to 20 Celsius. Do not underestimate how cold it can be in the high Andes Mountains at night in the winter. The bottom line for this type of extreme differences in temperature is to dress in lots of layers.
The main difference in the rainy season, is not the temperature. It is a bit warmer during the nights but daytime can be colder if it is cloudy and or a tropical rain has come down in torrents. When it rains the temperature can drop quickly, with even a bit of hail at times. You must be prepared with a rain jacket and or umbrella because when the tropical rain hits, it hits fast and comes down in torrents. Usually, it moves quickly to another area. It can be raining in Cusco and just a few blocks away it is not raining. It does no usually rain all day; it is a tropical type of rain. In the mountains where you will be hiking, weather can change rapidly especially in the rainy season. See the charts below for more detailed information on temperature and rain.
Layers will be your best friend while trekking. Along the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks, temperature can drop during the night and warm up a lot during the day, so having layers will make -your trip more enjoyable. You will be able to adjust to the changing temperatures with layers. Also, temperatures will fluctuate based on your location on your trek. Treks pass through micro-climates as you hike. You’ll changes layers when reaching the summit point of a trek and back down, as you hike you get warmer, and during the morning when it can be cold and humid.
Remember, layering doesn’t mean to wrap yourself up like a mummy. Your body needs to breathe especially in the humidity. Breathable fabrics are perfect for this, ask before buying your trekking clothes their wicking ability and breathability, materials do matter. Below we give you some examples to help out:
Clothing Layer System for Hiking in the Andes:
It is important to have your layer system dialed in so you can trek while not getting overheated. Everyone feels the cold and conditions differently but here is an example of a possible system.
Lower body – 3 layer system:
Upper body – 3 or 4 layer system:
The first and most obvious layer is your underwear. Wicking/Breathable: Important in a base layer, this is a fabric’s ability to pull moisture (sweat) away from you and move it to the fabric’s outer surface, where it can dry quickly. That lets you break a sweat without feeling clammy or chilled.
How warm a base layer depends on the weather conditions you will be experiencing and your own body’s need for extra warmth. Check out the list below for some possible picks and good brands.
A great pair of hiking pants offers comfort, freedom of movement, the versatility to perform well in a range of environments, and durability over the long haul. In terms of materials, many of today’s top pants are made from lightweight and stretchy nylon for mobility and protection from wet and windy weather, and increasingly come with features like zip-off legs and articulated knees. Depending on the season in which you will be hitting the trails, thickness and breathability matter as well. No jeans, please!
A tip for the ladies: Consider bringing along a lightweight mid-length skirt. This allows for privacy when changing in and out of base layers on the trail. Also useful for unexpected restroom breaks in-between camps.
There is a big difference between hiking shirts and regular shirts. Hiking shirts or t-shirts have multiple technological features that are simply not present in regular t-shirts. The most effective hiking shirts usually use fabrics like merino wool/blends or polyester because of their moisture-wicking and quick-drying tendencies. Polyester and Merino wool is breathable, lightweight, and quick-drying. Merino wool of course offers more warmth than most polyesters.
Make sure that your shirts are not cotton. Cotton: Notoriously inefficient at wicking and drying, cotton excels at soaking up sweat, staying wet and chilling you. They may work in the heat, but when conditions turn cool, cotton next to your skin is a recipe for hypothermia, which is why longtime hikers say that “cotton can kill.”
Hiking Shirts or T-Shirt Options
When choosing your warm Jacket, its insulating abilityis key to your staying warm. Clothing doesn’t actually generate heat, but, if it’s efficient at insulating, then it’s good at holding in the heat that your body produces. We highly recommend getting a good quality jacket as it is one of the few key items that will ensure your warmth and comfort.
If you’re looking for a jacket that offers solid warmth at a good value, synthetic insulation is the way to go. You don’t get quite as high of a warmth-to-weight ratio as down, but synthetic jackets resist moisture, can breathe better, and are more cost-efficient. With the choice of both types in our gear closet, we find ourselves consistently reaching for our favorite synthetic jackets for just about everything but lightweight backcountry pursuits where every ounce counts.
With a wide variety of insulated jackets on the market, the classic fleece still is the most comfortable and affordable. These polyester jackets have been providing cozy warmth for years from campsites and ski resorts to the streets and restaurants of mountain towns. Fleeces run the gamut from casual to breathable performance pieces for serious adventures. Below are our picks for the best fleece jackets of 2022, with options from leading outdoor brands across a range of price points.
It’s tough to beat a great down jacket, whether it’s for casual use or tearing around the backcountry. This cozy insulation type offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio on the market and packs down smaller than synthetics for easy storage. Make sure you get one that is rated for a minimum of -15 centigrade or 5 Fahrenheit. The high mountain ranges can get cold in the winter here at night in the Andes if you are hiking in the winter time.
In addition to the previous items, you should bring a water-proof/wind-breaker soft shell layer. This is if you do not already have a combo Jacket that included the rain/wind breaker. Remember, packing light is key here just make sure the jacket is rain proof and a wind breaker. This jacket is to avoid getting wet by the rain, and to protect from the wind.
If you feel you need additional protection from the rain, a plastic light weight rain poncho is the ticket. As mentioned before, weather in the mountains is unpredictable and during rainy season the down pours of tropical rain can be quite strong. This last item is to prevent any inconvenience of the rain from getting the rest of your clothing wet. It is very inexpensive to purchase here in Cusco and can be thrown out after the trek if you do not wish to carry it home. It weighs almost nothing.
You need to bring a hiking hat that provides adequate face and neck sun protection. Your hat should be light and easy to bend / fold so that it can fit into your daypack or rucksack. Trekking hats with a neck cover are very good. The UV rays in the mountains are very high and one can burn even when it is cloudy. All of the indigenous people in the mountain communities always use a hat outside.
These scarfs are multi-use. If your hat doesn’t have a neck cover, these will be the perfect solution to not get sunburn.
Temperatures can get very cold in the evenings and early mornings, particularly as you reach the higher altitudes on the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks.
A warm fleeced beanie or fleeced headband are absolute must-haves. Berghaus, Colombia, Eddie Bauer and North Face provide good beanies.
You need to protect your eyes to witness the wonderful Inca Trail and or Alternative Treks. At high altitude (greater than 4,000 meters) the UV intensity is very high and visible light is strong. You can easily burn your eyes or damage them without sun protection, especially if you have lighter color eyes. If you take an alternative trek at high altitudes where there is snow, you also need protection from the glare of the snow.
Look for polarized sunglasses that provide 100% protection from UV light and reduce the glare. You can also get prescription sunglasses that provide all of the above protection and more, plus in your prescription. If you leave home without good sunglasses, Cusco offers an abundance of optical stores where you can buy them at economical prices.
Once at the campsite during the night, your vision is limited due to the lack of light. If you need to go to the toilet, you’ll need a light and running your phone’s battery is not a good option. A headlamp is the perfect option, it’s small, easy to pack, and will leave your hands free. Plus, you can carry extra batteries if needed.
On the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks, you may or may not experience very cold temperatures depending on the altitude. However, you will encounter cold nips on the higher passes as well as in the mornings and evenings. You can look for gloves, such as wool gloves for the cold only or you can get a type of glove that gives warmth and is waterproof. Depending on your preferences, you may need one or two pairs of gloves.
During the hike water-proof gloves are a must, mostly for the rainy season that begins in November and ends about May. You need to have lightweight and completely waterproof gloves to protect your hands from the rain and cold.
Walking poles are highly recommended for the Inca Trail and Alternative Treks as a point of balance. Your leg joints, particularly your knees, will take a battering due to trekking along an undulating landscape for up to 5-6 hours a day for 3 to 4 days. These will reduce the impact on your joints by up to 25%.
Your trekking poles should be lightweight, adjustable, aluminum or carbon-fiber, and with a good water-resistant grip. Cork is most durable and performs well in wet conditions, rubber and foam are fine but not ideal for wet conditions. Also, for the Inca Trail they need to have a rubber end to protect the path. If you can’t bring yours, you can rent them the Travel Office.
You need to protect your feet, they’re your tool to get through your Inca Trail or an Alternative Trek. Trekking boots are a must for any trek of 3 days or more. There is now a complete array of waterproof hiking boots with Gore-tek that look more like a sturdy type tennis shoe and others are made of pure leather. Actual trekking boots, that support your feet and protect your ankles are best. Be sure to get hiking boots that are waterproof, since water can be standing anywhere on a trail or a downpour can get your feet wet. Wet feet are very uncomfortable and cold to be hiking in. Remember your feet are what are going to get you through the trek and there is nothing worse than hurting feet. Pleased, do not arrive with brand new boots that you have not broken in yet. You’ll get blisters, sore feet, and even lose toe-nails. You made such an effort to be able to fulfill your dream of trekking in the high Andes, do not allow your boots to stop you.
Items to keep in mind when purchasing or selecting hiking boots.
When arriving at the campsite you’ll take off your boots and let your feet breath. To avoid any injury or cold, take some normal sneakers or sandals to let your feet rest without any danger. This will also allow your trekking boots to get dry in case you sweat too much or it was raining.
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