So, you’ve signed up to trek the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, huh? You’re taking on the traditional Inca Trail’s less crowded, more challenging sister. You’re going to be out in the middle of nowhere, hiking in high altitudes up mountains, past glaciers and through jungles. The terrain will be varied, the weather unpredictable and once you set off, there’s no turning back.
Yeah, I know… I made that sound pretty damn dramatic ….
The truth is- hiking the Salkantay trail is a ton of fun! I’d recommend the Salkantay Trail to anyone with a love of the outdoors. This 5-day trek is an unbelievably incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll no doubt remember it for the rest of your life! Get ready. You’re going to meet new people, walk your way to Machu Picchu and be surrounded by stunning scenery and awe-inspiring landscapes in the process. All for a full 5 days! (4 if you take the shortcut)
But yes, like I already said, you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere. No cell service. No convenience stores. No supermarkets. And for this reason, it’s important to come prepared. Once you venture outside of the comforts of Cusco, what you’ve got is what you’ve got. That’s that. So, to make sure your experience is the absolute best possible, you’ll want to have the right goods.
When packing for a 5-day trek through the wilderness, LESS IS ALWAYS MORE! A good tip- if you have to think twice about bringing something, you probably won’t use it and definitely don’t need it. Most trekking companies will give you an allowance of 5-10kg of personal equipment to be carried by mules (my company allowed 5kg) and after you pass the weight restriction, the rest goes on your back. Unless you want to be stuck trekking along with added weight slowing you down, only bring the bare necessities.
Newsflash ladies, it’s a nature trek. You’re supposed to be dirty, sweaty and a little smelly. It’s all part of the experience. So no, you don’t need a new pair of clothes for every day, an extensive makeup kit or fancy hair products.
My main concern when packing for the Salkantay was bringing along too much. Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m an over-packer. Still, I wanted to make sure I was adequately prepared. After scouring tons of websites and blogs, I finally came up with a complete and concise list of what I was going to pack. All said and Salkantay done, I think I did pretty well! I wore and used almost every single item that I packed. That’s how you know you did a good job!
So, in this post, I’m going to go through my detailed list- what I brought, what I was happy to have, and what I really didn’t need, so hopefully you can be fully prepared and learn from my mistakes.
**Keep in mind, this list will reflect the following- I trekked the Salkantay in July (dry season) and I am a female (boys you’ll have to adjust). I booked my trek through Viajes Cusco and choose to participate in their optional activities- visiting the Hot Springs and the Zip-line.
Here’s my 5-Day Salkantay Packing list:
Get a printable version here.
- Light Waterproof Jacket or Poncho- Up in the mountains the weather is extremely unpredictable. You never know when you’ll encounter rain. I brought a light packable jacket by Colombia or you can purchase a plastic poncho in Cusco for the equivalent of about $1.
- Windproof Warm Jacket- I brought a warm, thick, insulated jacket that easily rolled up and squished down for packing. I was very happy to have this at night at the campsites and for hiking in the early mornings. I packed one by Chilean brand Lippi, but I also love this warm, compressible, lightweight, and weather resistant jacket.
- 1 Long Sleeve Top Layer– I packed a long sleeve warm half-zip for layering on those extra cold early mornings
- 2x Long Sleeve Base Layers – I also brought a light long sleeve Nike Dry Fit and a thick Under Armour ColdGear Mock Neck long sleeve to wear as warm base layers.
- 3x Exercise Tanks- Under my long sleeve exercise shirts, I wore a tight exercise tank to further conserve heat and also to have on in case I wanted to strip down when I got hot hiking. I wore the same tank on Days 1 & 2 and then wore a fresh one on Day 3 and Day 4.
- 3x Sports Bras- I wore the same sports bra on Days 1-2, Days 3-4 and saved a fresh one for Machu Picchu on Day 5. This moisture-wicking 3 pack of sports bras would be perfect.
- 1x Water Resistant Hiking Pants- I brought along one pair of water resistant hiking pants to wear as an extra layer over my leggings on cold mornings and to throw on in case we got caught in the rain. I bought mine on sale in Chile, but I also really like these by Outdoor Research.
- 2x Leggings (1 long, 1 cropped)- I wore a pair of leggings every day on the trek as a bottom base layer. I wore the long leggings Days 1 & 2 and the cropped leggings Days 3 & 4.
- 1x Shorts- Days 3 & 4 can get pretty hot down in the jungle climate and many people were changing into shorts. I ziplined on Day 4, so I started out in my cropped leggings to wear in the harness and then changed later on.
- 1x Sweatpants- I also packed one pair of sweatpants to wear for extra warmth and comfortability around the campsites.
- Fleece-lined Thermal Underwear– I didn’t have any thermal underwear with me (& am on a tight budget) so instead I packed fleece lined leggings and a second fleece lined Under Armour Cold Gear long sleeve to wear in my sleeping bag. The first cold night I also wore a pair of wool socks, my beanie hat and my gloves to bed. Don’t bring too many clothes to wear to bed as cold weather sleeping bags are designed to trap your body’s natural heat and prevent it from escaping. For this reason, you don’t want to wear too much clothing in your bag or the insulation will not work properly.
- 3x Light Socks– I packed a few light pairs of socks for layering, sleeping, wearing in my tent and to wear with sandals around the campsites.
- 5x Wool Hiking Socks– I packed 2 pairs of thick warm wool socks for the colder days and nights and 3 medium wool pairs for the warmer days. The wool socks created a lot of cushion for my feet and were very comfortable. I recommend buying high socks to prevent your hiking boots from rubbing against your legs.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots– Before doing a 5-day trek, I really suggest that you invest in some sturdy hiking boots. Hiking boots offer more support than sneakers and you will have less of a chance to hurt yourself or roll an ankle. Make sure they are worn in before you leave, lightweight and waterproof. Your footwear may just be the most important thing to think about considering you are going to be on your feet, walking for days. Check out these.
- Plastic Flip flops– You’ll most likely want to air out your feet and give them a break from your boots after hours of hiking each day. Plastic flip-flops are great for walking around the campsites and for bathrooms, showers and to wear to the hot springs. Grab a cheap pair at Old Navy or try some Havaianas.
- 10x Underwear– I always pack underwear for “2 x ‘number of days,'” just in case. After a particularly long sweaty day, changing into a new pair of underwear has a magic way of making you feel that much cleaner.
- 1 Swimsuit (optional)– If you plan on visiting the hot springs on Day 3, you’ll need to pack a bathing suit.
- 2x Hat– I’d suggest bringing a warm beanie to wear in the cold and a sun hat or baseball cap to wear when hiking in direct sun. I forgot the later and on the first two days, even in the cold, my scalp got scorched.
- Gloves & Scarf or Neck Warmer- You’ll want these for the cold nights and frigid early mornings.
- 1 Clean Outfit for Machu Picchu- The night before Machu Picchu, in Aguas Calientes, you will finally have access to a clean bathroom and warm shower. I don’t know about you, but after finally ridding myself of all the sweat, dust and dirt, the last thing I wanted to do was put dirty clothes back on. Bring something fresh and clean to put on after your shower. Keep in mind that you’ll want to be comfortable as you’ll be on your feet all day and this is also the day for your well-deserved Machu Picchu photos. I wore black leggings, a fresh sports bra, tank, sweater and my trusty hiking boots.
*For the above clothing, I tried to stay as close to all of the products that I actually used as I could. I used mostly Amazon, so that the pictures would look uniform in the graphic, but most of my clothing was purchased at outlets or secondhand. Brand names are expensive and this chick ain’t got no dough.
**When it comes to clothing for the Salkantay Trek, the key is LAYERS! Within just a few hours of hiking, you will go from sweating to freezing to comfortable and back again. Every day I started with a tank under a long sleeve under a jacket. This left me free to shed it off and pack it on as we went along.**
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste– You may be forced to go without a shower for a while, but you definitely don’t want to go five days without brushing your teeth.
- Baby Wipes– Baby wipes are a nice way to quickly freshen up when there aren’t showers available.
- Face Wipes– It felt nice at the end of the day to wipe all the sweat and dirt from my face before bed.
- Mini Baby Powder– Baby powder is great to prevent blisters and for girls can also double as dry shampoo!
- Toilet Paper– All along the trail, even at the campsites, there will be no toilet paper available, so it’s best to bring a roll of your own and keep it close.
- Hand Sanitizer- Right there along with toilet paper, access to soap will be almost nonexistent. Bring a packable purell.
- Tissues- In the cold and wind noses tend to run and run, you’d be surprised how many tissues you’ll go through. Bring a few packs as they also double as napkins and toilet paper if you run out.
- Sunscreen & SPF Lip Protector– You’re going to be out in the direct sun for most of the day with little shade or protection. Bring some SPF lip balm and sunscreen to prevent turning into a lobster.
- Deodorant– I know I said you’re “supposed to be smelly” earlier in this post, but I mean if you can avoid it ….
- Insect repellent with at least 30% DEET– Once you get down into the jungle climate the bugs are relentless. Unfortunately, even with a spray, you’re likely going to get bit a few times by these annoying little buggers; they don’t seem to respond very well to repellent. But, hey it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Comb- I brought a small comb along to get the knots out of my hair at the end of each day.
- Passport- Please, please, please don’t forget your passport! You won’t get too far without it and that would really be a bummer …
- Receipt of Payment for Trek– It’s a good idea to bring this along just in case, to prove what you’ve already paid for.
- Confirmation/ Receipt for purchase of Zipline- If you pay for the zipline ahead of time, bring along your receipt. We forgot to do this and had to wait while they called to confirm with our agency. It was a bit nerve-racking considering the zipline was pretty pricey and we didn’t bring much money along.
- Backpack or Day back– Bring a small backpack for daily use to keep water, snacks, cameras, etc. easily accessible. A few of my friends use Osprey Backpacks and swear by them. I’ll be buying one as soon as I get back to the States!
- Spending money (cash)- Most companies will usually suggest bringing around 500 Peruvian Soles (~150USD) for extras and in case of emergencies. You’ll also want some extra cash for things like water, snacks and the entrance to the hot springs. You will not be able to use a credit card or withdraw money anywhere until Aguas Calientes (where there will be a hefty fee).
- Refillable Water Bottle- I bought big water bottles at the campsites each night and refilled my plastic bottle.
- Headlamp or Flashlight- At night and in the wee morning hours, in the middle of the wilderness, it’s DARK. You’ll definitely want a headlamp or a flashlight for inside your tent and late night trips to the bathroom.
- Sunglasses- You’ll want to protect your eyes on the trail in direct sunlight.
- Waterproof bags/ Ziploc Bags- I used these for organizing my snacks, toiletries, dirty clothes, etc.
- Travel Towel- Some campsites will have showers available and you will need a towel for the hot springs if you choose to go.
- Mini Pillow (optional)- Bringing a pillow is totally optional but will make for a more comfortable sleeping situation. I actually brought one that I may or may not have taken with me from my flight to Cusco….. shhh
- Hand Warmers- Hand Warmers weren’t completely necessary, but I was really happy to have them in the cold the first night and second morning.
- Earplugs– I’m a really light sleeper and so I ALWAYS travel with earplugs. Yes, you can hear loud snorers through plastic tents.
- Snacks– You will be provided with all your meals along the trek, but you’ll also be burning more calories than normal and therefore more hungry than usual. You will make rest stops often along the trail, so it’s a good idea to have some snacks along. I packed a Ziplock bag full of trail mix, a few granola bars, a chocolate bar and some apples and oranges.
Health & Medical
- Mini First Aid Kit including the following:
- Band-aids, Aquaphor or Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Imodium, Pepto, Motion Sickness Medicine (optional), Diamox (optional for altitude sickness, may need a prescription)
- **You can pack mini sizes of these in a toiletry bag or Ziplock bag. I HIGHLY suggest bringing all of these items. You never know when you’ll need one of these and trust me you’d rather have it and not use it that need it and not have it.
- Feminine Products– If it’s that time of the month, or even close, bring along some of your usual feminine products. You definitely don’t want to be stranded out in the middle of nowhere without these!
- Personal Medications- Same goes for personal meds such as inhalers or birth control.
- Cell Phone- you won’t have service, but your phone can be a good way to document with pictures, take notes, exchange contact info, etc.
- Camera & Extra Batteries- If you’re going to bring a camera, I’d suggest bringing some extra batteries. Batteries run out quicker in the cold and you won’t have access to electricity.
- GoPro & Extra Batteries
- SD cards– Bring a few SD cards along if your an avid picture taker. Trust me, there will be plenty of material and you’ll fill up those memory cards fast!
- Charging Cords– self-explanatory.
- External chargers/Battery Pack– You will not have access to electrical outlets for the first few days, so if you’d like to recharge your electronics be sure to bring along an external battery pack.
- Peruvian Power Adapter- This can be purchased for fairly cheap once you arrive in Cusco. I wouldn’t waste money on a universal adapter at home as they are usually much more expensive.
- Headphones (optional)- If you’re someone who can’t stand the silence or likes to listen to music along the trail, bring along some headphones.
Most trekking companies will either include these in the price of your trek or allow you to rent them, but you’ll also need:
- A Tent
- Sleeping bag– equipped for -10 degrees Celsius
- Sleep mat (was included with our tour)
- Walking Sticks– these are optional but highly recommended. They will help you a lot when descending, crossing rivers, etc.
What I’m so glad I brought along:
- Headlamp- I almost didn’t pack a headlamp, but it gets fricken dark out there in the middle of nowhere! I would’ve seriously struggled without this.
- Band-aids & Neosporin- After the second day’s descent, I had a few pesky blisters that needed tending to.
What I wish I had
- I actually think I did pretty well with the packing and didn’t miss much, but I do wish I packed some New Skin (for blisters) and a baseball cap for the sun.
Phew, alright. Got all of the above? Now you’re ready to take on the Salkantay! I know the above list may seem like A LOT, but most of the items are small and easily packable. Also, if you happen to be traveling with someone like I was, you can pack less of each thing and share. For example, you won’t need two packs of 25 baby wipes for only 5 days.
Have you ever gone on an overnight trek? What are your must-haves when camping?
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