Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Inca Trail - Packing And Preparation

This blog is for people considering doing the Inca Trail, who are beginner hikers.
 Like I was.

I have had the Inca Trail on my bucket list for many, many years. After actually booking it in, I had ten months to get myself organised for my big adventure. I researched everything I would need to know in great detail, and not actually being a hiker, I spent more time than I needed to researching everything.

For people who have found this blog only recently, I am a thirty something year old mother of three. I live in a far flung area of Queensland, Australia, on a sheep and cattle farm. Training for the Inca Trail was hard, because where we live is incredibly flat. Like no hills at all. Flat and HOT. Training was done in our warmest months, and I wasn't sure how that would pan out on the actual hike. I'm also not especially athletic. Prior to this, I walked only occasionally and that is about it.
Yep, this is home. Flat and hot. Training ground for ten months.

Our training consisted of walking between 5-10km at least 3 days a week, and an occasional 20km walk. I also headed to Mt Warning (in Northern NSW) every 3 months to do a walk up and back just for stair practice. Two months before we left for Peru, my friend Leesa and I headed to Mt Warning to do a three day hike.

Some of the scenery where we trained at Mt Warning.

Mt Warning in NSW. We walked here three days in a row, and once every 3 months before that.

So many stairs = good training.

Leesa trained with me and came to do the Inca Trail with me.

Such beautiful scenery at Mt Warning.

After feeling like our body would fall apart at the end of the first day, we thought this boded well for our real hike. In spite of that initial pain, we went on to complete the three days with significantly more ease.

And that's it.

For beginner hikers out there, you will actually need some level of fitness, just so that you enjoy the Inca Trail more. You don't need to worry about stairs etc because we did it without too much stair training, but of course, the more you do, the better the walk will be. My knees aren't great at the best of times, and I was quite worried. My back is pretty ordinary too. I still did it without any pain at all (everyone gets niggling knees at some point) but my overall condition was good.

So don't freak out. Just do your best beforehand.

We were also completely clueless about what to pack. My hot tip is think about that well in advance because good hiking gear isn't cheap. Thankfully my mother and sister are fairly outdoorsy. They lent me most of what I took over, so I didn't have to buy to much. I'm also a crazy, over the top packer, so I have learned a few valuable lessons about packing after this trip. If you are nervous about packing to much, take it from me, the list below is more than enough. Seriously. Some people on our hike packed way less, and were still fine, but I'm a 'pack for all occasions' kind of girl.

We headed to Peru in their winter. Their winter is quite mild. Much like our weather in western QLD, but even more so. It can get cold at night however, and if you are someone who feels the cold, you might want to take that into account. While we were walking around during the day in shirts and jeans, the Peruvians were all feeling the cold. Altitude on the hike (and the howling winds in the passes) can also make you cold, but mostly you won't be cool on the hike at all.

Don't forget the Porters will only be able to carry 6kg of your gear - so the less you pack the better. You can carry as much as you like, but I carried close to 7kg and it was pushing it. I would have liked to carry less.

I packed: (and this is only for the 4 day classic Inca Trail hike)

  • 3 x pants (mine were long, which was handy at night too. Wear whatever you would train in. Mine were also water proof).
  • 3 x shirts - I had long sleeved shirts that I could fold up, but having a mixture of short and long would be good. Day 1 of the walk is quite warm. Day 2 is the coolest.
    This was my day 4 outfit.
    Day 3 outfit (and day 1)

    Day 2 outfit. Except I swapped the shirts for one long sleeved shirt.

  •  (I packed 4, but it isn't necessary. You can double up on days 1 and 2 or 3. Save clean clothes for the last day when you are around masses of strangers).
  • 3 x sports bras (you could even get away with 2).
  • 4 x undies (one for each day - or 5 if you really need to. Panty liners won't help).
  • 4 pairs of socks (you will want clean socks every day - even a spare if you want to).
  • Good hiking shoes or boots (make sure you walk in them before you leave).
  • A second pair of shoes (I packed Sketchers, but thongs or slip ons would be fine too) to wear at the end of the day.
  • A good fleece jacket (you will only need it occasionally, so make room for it in your day pack).
  • A wind/rain proof jacket (again - you won't need it much, but pack it in case). I also packed a poncho, but unless you head over in the wet season, you shouldn't need the poncho as well.
  • Gloves (only used at high altitude and at night).
  • A hat. Some people packed a beanie too. A beanie would also be nice on cold nights).
  • Thermals. I slept in these, and put clean socks on every night. If it was cold, I put my dirty socks on over the top.
  • A GOOD sleeping bag. Don't skimp here. Everyone who hired one, regretted it. I wasn't cold at all. I used my jackets as pillows tucked into the sleeping bag cover.
  • Walking poles. I also packed spare plastic tips (which I used). Anyone who doesn't take poles is crazy! You can hire these over there though.
In my pack
  • My day pack was small. The bigger it is, the more you'll squeeze into it. Mine weighed about 6-7kg which was about as much as you'd want to carry. Next time I'd do it, it will weigh much less. It also has lots of pockets which is very handy.
This isn't far from the highest peak. This is an idea of what you carry and wear even at altitude. I may have put gloves and a fleece on just after this!

  • A bladder for water - at least 2 litres but not more. If you pack this, you won't need a drink bottle. Seriously. Also you won't need water purification tablets. Seriously. Or take a small bottle and use it for water to wash your teeth and hands in.
  • Snacks - don't over pack here. On the first two days of the hike you can BUY stuff on the trail (like Powerade, chocolates, sugary sweets, water etc.) It costs more than anywhere else in Peru, but saves you packing it in advance.
  • A waterproof cover for your day pack in case it rains.
  • A small camera and my iPhone. I was travelling with three other women, and I ended up taking all my pics on my phone, and we combined all of our pictures later. You want to be able to access these quickly and frequently, so I kept them in my pockets.
  • Sunscreen - it will be hot and sunny!
  • Hand sanitizer - once you see the toilets you will know what I am talking about. You won't get sick if you apply this several times a day.
  • Lip gloss.
Other items
  • A battery pack and spare batteries. I found that even though I used my phone for photos constantly, the battery didn't go down much. I still recharged it every night, but It probably only used 1 1/2 full charges over the four days. Spare batteries for cameras and head lamps is handy too.
  • Head lamp or torch. You might need it on day three or at nights. I didn't. I even used my phone for my night light in the tents.
  • One small pack of wet wipes - this will be your shower equivalent. A few people in our group braved the cold water (in the winter!) to clean off, but they were freezing, and I felt nice and clean after a wet wipe 'bath'.
  • Tissues - you won't need that many. There are toilets on every day of the walk, but they are pretty revolting. You can use cleaner 'pay' toilets on the first two days of the walk. Tissues will be all you need. Every track off the Inca Trail ends in toilet paper. You won't be keen on going to the toilet for four days, but the good news is that you will survive, and the toilets at Machu Picchu are great.
  • A face washer (to 'wash' with at the end of a day).
  • A few plastic bags - don't be revolting and leave paper up there on the trail. You can dispose of rubbish properly in your camp. Bags will be your tent friend.
  • Hair brush, toothbrush and toothpaste. I didn't take makeup. A few girls did for the fourth day, but I couldn't be bothered.
  • Ear plugs - a must!
  • MONEY - use it for toilets, food and drink along the way and then for tipping at the end. Discuss it with your group before the third night so that you don't all fight over it at the end. We had decided what to tip before we even started, which really helped.
First Aid
  • Bandaids (didn't use them)
  • I had medicine for every conceivable occasion. All I ended up using was Nurofen (active ingredient is Ibuprofen). I took Nurofen twice a day and that helped thin my blood for altitude, helped with mild headaches, and helped with any joint swelling and inflammation. Honestly, I didn't use anything else. Panadol and Nurofen are fine. I took Nurofen with codeine for the nights to help with sleep.
  • Diamox - altitude medicine. Some people on our tour took it as a precaution and the side effects were pretty ordinary. I am glad we didn't do it. One girl on our walk suffered from altitude sickness, so it's handy to pack just in case. Luckily my friends and I were all fine.
  • Malarone - malaria medication - completely unnecessary for the areas we were travelling to.
  • General antibiotic - glad we had it packed, but also unnecessary.
  • Diarrhoea medication - also didn't need it, but handy to have. Some on our tour needed it.
  •  Anti-nausea medication - also didn't need it, but handy to have.
  • Sleeping pills - (antihistamine) - only used on the plane, not the hike.
  • Strapping tape (I didn't end up using).
  • Knee brace (one I had used in training and I wore it every day on the trail).
  • Hydralite tablets - didn't use. Too much Powerade was available on the trail. I ended up buying a big bottle of that to help me out when I needed an energy hit.
My medical kit.

I had read that only the fittest of the fit could complete the Inca Trail, and I'd also read that anyone could do it with a little training. The truth is that ANYONE can do it. (Our group was aged 24-67). You DO need to have some fitness. My fitness was walking a few times 5-10km. You should attempt some hill and stair training also, but it's not necessary. The more you do, the more you WILL enjoy it. Who wants to complete the Inca Trail if you haven't enjoyed yourself in the process?

My next piece on the Inca Trail will be an actual recap of how the walk went after all the preparation. You can read about it here.

Feel free to ask me questions at:

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