What to Pack for the Inca Trail (Heat Without Setting Off Fire Alarms)

When I did the Inca trail last year, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had a little bit of direction from Roberto of Incarunners.com, but for the most part I just had to make my best guess.  I’ve done a fair amount of camping/hiking in my time, but I’m by no means an expert.  The one thing I am very good at is packing light because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that when you’re travelling in Peru, sooner or later you’re going to have to carry everything you brought with (as opposed to leaving it in a car or having a donkey carry it).

I think the best thing to do for packing light is start out with a relatively small back pack.  I used a Mammut Glacier 30 that I bought from a sales rep four or five years ago.  He was closing out his inventory and I got a great deal on the thing.
As you can, kind of, see in the above image, it’s a 30 L bag, which is pretty small.  In fact, I probably could have gone a little bigger and been able to carry it fully loaded without too much trouble.  Both Martin and Roberto, who accompanied me on the trip, had larger bags and more equipment, so if you think I travel too light, feel free to bring more.
Here’s my complete list of what I brought the last time I went:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Zip-up pants (a warm-up pant with a full side zip)
  • Camel Back hydration system
  • Light rain jacket
  • Light weight button up short sleeve T-shirt
  • Light weight nylon pants
  • Shorts
  • Thermal Shirt (outer)
  • 3 Thermal Shirts (under)
  • Thermal Tights
  • Small Towel
  • 3 T-Shirts
  • 6 pair of underwear
  • 6 pair of Socks
  • 2 Cameras and Camera Bag
  • 2 plastic bags
  • Tooth brush
  • Deodorant
  • Jacket
  • Flashlight (a headlamp would be better)
  • Winter hat
  • Hand warmers (I didn’t bring these last time, but I’m bringing them next time for sure)
  • Hard candies (to suck on at elevation, it helps with the headaches)
  • Flip-flops (for walking around the camp at night–I didn’t have these and my blisters made me wish I did)
Again, this is a very minimal list.  I took this from my notebook that I brought along on the trip, so I believe there were a few last minute additions like, well, the notebook, pen, and a 12 pack of snickers bars (because you want to be somewhat in control of your own food supply).
Over the years, I’ve pretty much discovered that if you have socks and underwear for a week, everything else pretty much takes care of itself.  On Roberto’s Inca Trail expedition, we only spend about 6 nights on the trail, and then we’re in civilization where you can do some laundry.  There’s no need to pack a different outfit for every day you’re on the road.
The thermal shirts and tights turned out to be very important.  During the day, it can get pretty warm as you’re hiking and you’re essentially in a lightweight shirt and shorts.  However, in the evening it can get very cold.  I slept every night with my thermal top and bottom on, and often used my heavier thermal shirt and even my jacket.
Roberto and I had a major discovery on the second to last night.  We had a very cold evening with no cloud clover and we went to bed with our teeth chattering.  However, we found a couple hand warmers in the first aid kit.  I went to sleep with one of these on my chest and found that the reflected heat kept me toasty warm and I slept like a baby even though it was freezing.  I would recommend had warmers to other forms of artificial heat because they’re chemical and don’t have an open flame.  Remember, there are no fire alarms in a tent!
The winter hat is also important since most of your body heat escapes through your head.  Sleeping with a hat on keeps you a lot warmer.
Some of the items on this list are a little bit vague.  My jacket could have been better honestly.  It was a Caterpillar jacket (the company that makes bulldozers), and it kept me warm but it didn’t breathe, so I ended up sweating it out.  Also, you should try and get the warmest, but smallest sleeping bag you can find.
I don’t consider this to be a definitive list, just a starting point.  There are certainly things to add, so feel free to post them in the comments!
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