Packing List for Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

by Dijana

Embarking on the Salkantay trek (or the Inca trail) and seeing the magnificent Machu Picchu for yourself is very likely going to be one of the most memorable trips you’ll ever do in your lifetime. Walking through the Sun Gate and being blessed with the opportunity to dive deeper into the lost (now, thankfully, recovered) world of the Inca civilizations will assuredly tickle all of those adventurous buds in your body.

No matter if you’re doing the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu or the Inca trail or any of the other trails , you’ll need to plan well before leaving and do an extensive packing list for the hike.

Why, you ask?

Well, the trails leading to Machu Picchu shouldn’t be taken lightly – all of them are deemed as demanding. So doing a nice little packing list will save you from some additional troubles during your hike and will leave you with enough time to just enjoy the trip, which is, of course, the whole reason for why you’re doing it!

So, where to start?

Think before you pack

Before you actually start stuffing your suitcase with everything you think you might need for your Peru trip, just slow down a bit and take a few key factors into consideration before packing.

Female hiker trekking the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu

The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is a great trekking experience in the Andes. Make sure you are prepared and have packed everything you need. Photo Credit

The first thing you’ll want to pay attention to is the weather / season . The dry months in Peru are April through September, while the rainy months are October through March. Of course, there are the chances of rain even in the dry months so you’ll still want to take a few precautionary measures there as well. However, if in some case you’re going to head over there in the midst of the rain season, then your packing list might end up magically expanding for a few more necessities because rain has this tendency of drenching things and rendering them useless unless well protected.

On top of that, your packing list will slightly vary depending on the trail you’re doing . The reason for that is that different trails take different time to complete. For example, if you’re doing the classic Inca trail, it’ll take you 4 days and 3 nights to get there; if you’ve decided to go for the Salkantay trek, which is a bit more demanding, then you’ll need to pack for 5 or 6 days. That extra day can make a significant difference in the number of things you need to pack.

Last but not least, remember that you’ll be camping most of your time there. You’ll be dealing with a lot of dirt, sweat, and maybe even tears, who knows? However, it might be for the best to leave all those fancy clothes back in Cusco and wear something suitable for the camping occasion.

Your rucksack – your new best friend

Your rucksack will become your new best friend during this hike. You’ll be wearing it on your back all the time even if you have porters to help you with some of the camping gear. So it should go without saying that you need to pick your rucksack carefully.

Trekkers on a narrow dirt path falling off towards one side on the Inca trail

Pick your rucksack carefully. It will be your constant hiking companion on the Salkantay trek. Photo Credit

Pay attention to the size of it – is it big enough to store all of your items but not too big because you might end up overstuffing it? For the ladies, picking something up to 30L might be enough; for the gentlemen out there, you may pick something larger and up to 65L but remember that you’ll be the one to carry it on your back. I’d say that 30-35L is enough and should store all of your things comfortably as long as you have a porter to help with the camping gear.

Another thing to look out for is the weight distribution. You know how your friends “have your back” in tough times? Well, your rucksack should do the same. Remember that good rucksacks transfer the load weight to your hips as well – your shoulders shouldn’t carry more than 30-35% of the total load. As far as the shoulder straps are concerned, make sure they feel comfortable to you. They shouldn’t make you feel literally “strapped” and should allow for a free arm movement.

Oh, and don’t forget to grab a rain cover for your rucksack as well – you’ll thank me later for this one.

Footwear for Salkantay

Do you feel tempted to get a pair of new hiking boots for this trip only? While I strongly encourage the idea of self-treating, I’d also say that now might be a good time to resist the buying temptation. Remember that all trails are quite demanding and you’ll be walking miles and miles per day – would you really want to do that with new shoes on?

Rocks at the highest point of Salkantay Trek

The trail becomes rocky so you need to wear good shoes. When people make it up to the highest point of Salkantay Trek, many of them try to make little rock pyramids. This point allows you to see Apu Salkantay (Mount Salkantay) in its imposing glory, so it has spiritual significance. You also offer 3 coca leaves to Apu Salkantay when you get here. Photo by HG

No, I didn’t think so. The general rule goes that you should wear something you’ve already had and worn for a while – ideally, something that has your actual foot molded in the inside of the shoe! That doesn’t mean you should wear your gym sneakers; you’ll be slipping all the time. Actually, plan on wearing sturdier, over the ankle hiking boots that would be, preferably, waterproof.

It’s okay if you decide to bring a pair of runners for the evenings – you’ll want to take off the hiking boots – but again, don’t hike with them during the day. In case you don’t have a pair of hiking boots, you should break them in before embarking on the trip.

Clothes – a friend or a foe?

When hiking to Machu Picchu, your clothes can either be your friend or your foe. To avoid the latter from happening, the key thing here is to wear layers. Due to the high altitudes and the Peruvian climate as well, you’re likely to experience all four seasons during one day – chilly mornings, blistering hot days, breezier evenings and subzero temperature nights. Layering gives you this cool benefit of putting and taking things on and off.  

Considering the number of clothing items you’d want to bring, go for a clean shirt each day but reuse hiking pants multiple times. For example, if you’re doing a four-day hike, get four clean shirts, four pairs of underwear but two pairs of pants would do. Also, remember to pack one long-sleeved shirt as it might come in handy for evenings in camp.

Campers on the base of Salkantay

Evenings in the Camp on the Salkantay trek. Pack clothes in layers that you can put on and take off. Photo by Credit

Remember that no one from your group will have access to showers so don’t worry about smells but do change into clean clothes for the night. You could either set aside a sleeping outfit or just slip into the next day’s clean clothes. Your shirts, pants, and underwear should be comfortable and breathable, something along the lines of what you’d wear in the gym.

As far as jackets are concerned, take two. I know it may sound ridiculous to take two jackets while cutting down on everything else, but considering the weather, you’re very likely to use both. One should be a light, fleece jacket, while the other should be a bit sturdier and warmer, preferably with a hoodie.

Don’t forget to make room for a nice sun hat that would shield your face from the fierce sun during the day. On the complete opposite end, tuck in a pair of gloves that will be light and weatherproof – you’ll probably use them a lot in the mornings. Throw in a pair of sunglasses as well – though make sure they’re of top-notch quality and will actually protect you from harmful UV rays!

Pro tip: keep a clean shirt and a clean pair of hiking pants for the day you arrive at Machu Picchu. You’d want to look nice and crisp up there because you’ll probably take millions of pictures – it’s not that you get to go to Machu Picchu every day, right?
Bonus: use a pair of pants to hike in, but sleep in a clean pair that you’ll get to use for picture taking as well.

Miscellaneous items to pack for your Salkantay trek

Alongside the basic packing list, here are a few more things you should make room for in your rucksack.

Man with hiking poles on the Salkantay trek with the Andes in the background

Hiking poles help ease the load on your knees, especially during the descent Photo by Andre

Final word of advice

The important thing to remember is to not overdo it even if you have porters carry your things. Focus on the most basic stuff as you’ll be fine without everything else for a few days and nights.

Taking pictures with the locals in Cusco

Taking pictures with the locals in Cusco Photo by Antony

After traveling to Peru , you will have to reach Cusco and check in there. In case you’re spending more time in Peru after your trip to Machu Picchu is done, you will definitely need more additions to this packing list, but those will be dependent on your itinerary and duration of stay, so choose wisely. Make sure to leave those items back at your hotel in Cusco, as you won’t be needing any fancy outfits on any of the Machu Picchu trails.

You’re there to experience great things – make it less about the material things and more about the experience.  

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