So you’ve booked an adventure of a lifetime, trekking through the Andes to Machu Picchu in Peru…now what?
Just throw your old gym clothes and shoes in a bag and go? No! Bringing the right personal gear, clothing, gadgets, medication, etc., is just as important as choosing the right trek for your fitness level and travel preferences as well as booking with a reputable company. Why you ask? Well because when you’re hiking and camping for multiple days at high altitude you need to be comfortable, warm, and sleeping well to get the most enjoyment out of your trip. Sir Rannulph Fiennes once said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” and I couldn’t agree more! You don’t want to get to the end and think “Man I barely survived that!” You want to think “Wow, I rocked that!” Here, in Part 1, I discuss the necessities to pack for your high altitude Peru Trek: sleep gear (sleeping bags, mattress pads), shoes and socks, clothing (layers, pants, jackets, underwear and sports bras), gloves and warm hats, rain gear (rain jackets and pants), sun protection (head coverings, sunglasses, sunscreen), backpacks and trekking poles! Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will go over gadgets, accessories, and other miscellaneous must-haves.
Sleep Gear: Ensuring a Great Night’s Sleep on the Trail
Sleeping Bag: A good quality sleeping bag is absolutely essential. Sleep is so important on a trek and highly individual. It can be difficult to sleep at high altitude and you need all the rest you can get so you can summit those high passes like a boss. You’ll need a mummy style bag rated for sub-zero temperatures and one that has good all around insulation and a draft collar. My personal favorite is the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20F/-7C down sleeping bag. I get super cold so this plus a silk liner does the trick. These last the long haul if you take care of them (mine is 10 years old and looks brand new). My husband uses his Western Mountaineering bag as well as his Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame Sleeping Bag, a synthetic one rated to 21F/-6C. Yes, it’s a bit heavier and larger when packed but since you won’t be carrying it yourself (at least not if you travel with us), it hardly matters. Weight becomes a concern if you plan on using your sleeping bag for other backpacking trips sans porters/horses to do the heavy lifting. If you’re not looking to invest in a sleeping bag or don’t plan on using it again you could look at renting a similar quality down sleeping bag from your local camping store. Just check it out for wear and tear first.
Mattress pad: Bring what is tried and true for you. I always pack my Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm – it’s super lightweight, comfy and uses patent-pending, reflective ThermaCapture™ technology to trap radiant heat and Triangular Core Matrix™ construction to minimize convective heat loss. What this means in layman’s terms: it is the warmest mattress on the market! If you don’t need something as light or uber-warm, any of Thermarests mattresses for Trekking/Travel/Ultralight Backpacking will do the trick. My husband uses the Thermarest NeoAir Trekker. The key is to keep your body off the cold ground, which sucks heat away (conduction) from you very rapidly. Again, sleep is so individual that it’s best to bring items you know will help get you a good night’s sleep. There is nothing worse than being too cold or uncomfortable to sleep on a trek.
For Your Feet: Keeping Those Tired Dogs Happy
Hiking Boots/Shoes: Imagine driving a car without wheels…yeah that’s how important this one is. You’ll be hiking an average of 8 hours, sometimes up to 10 hours, a day over multiple days, up steep passes, over rocky terrain and up and down steps. It is imperative you bring good quality hiking boots or shoes that have been fitted to your foot shape and gait and MUST be properly broken in. DON’T buy a new pair and think you can break them in on the trail. You will have insane blisters. Do not bring regular tennis shoes/runners because they don’t have good traction and are slippery on rocky screed and in wet conditions. My go to boots are Lowa Renegade GTX Mid but I must admit that I prefer trail running shoes and almost always hike in my Salomon Speedcross 3. I think I own about 5 different pairs now. And the colors are AMAZING! Finally, a company who doesn’t assume that women prefer subdued colors. Actually, you can’t really go wrong with any of the Salomon hiking/trail running shoes in my opinion. The Salomon Speedcross line has Climashield and Gore-Tex versions that are more weather proof. My husband loves Salomon too and hikes in them often but also wears the Keen Targhee II Mid Boots for burlier hikes and when his ankles are playing up. For people that prefer a synthetic or vegan option instead of leather there’s the Arc’teryx Bora2 Mid Hiking Boot, which is amazing because of its removable Gore-Tex liner that can be used on its own as a campsite slip-on boot. It is super important to get out there and try on a bunch of them. And I mean really try them on…run up and down that store. Find a place that has a ramp and try going up and down that bad boy. Try them on with good socks and think about your foot size, shape, gait, and ankle strength. Just because Salomon’s fit my feet like a glove doesn’t mean they’ll be amazing for yours – try out all the various brands to see what works for you.
Merino Wool Socks: You could have the best boots in the world and still have issues when hiking if you wear the wrong socks. Seems silly but your feet move in your shoes a bit and reducing friction is paramount. You also want ample coverage over the top of the shoe or boot as well as socks that aren’t too thin or too warm. This is another one that comes down to personal preference. I have friends who hike in super thick wool socks but they drive me crazy because my feet get too hot and all I can think about is how I want to rip my shoes off. I wear low profile (because I wear Trail Running shoes and not boots) SmartWool socks. My husband wears SmartWool hiking socks and Darn Tough. Icebreaker also makes awesome wool socks. For those cold nights bring a pair of thick wool socks – your toes will thank you!
Clothes: It’s All About Comfort, Freedom of Movement, and Weather Preparation
Layer Up! – Choosing the Right Materials and Layers for High Altitude Hiking Merino Wool
Layers: Have I mentioned how much I love Merino Wool? A few times already? Well, here it is once more. When I first started getting really into hiking and multi-day trekking (over 20 years ago now – eek!), I was out there in cotton. Switching to Merino wool layers seriously changed my life, both my hiking and regular old life. Merino wool regulates temperatures better so it’s warm in cool weather and keeps you cool in hot weather too. It wicks moisture away whereas cotton absorbs and retains it leaving you a sticky, sweaty and ultimately cold mess. Amazingly it repels stink – I can hike multiple days in the same shirt and not be a nasty mess at the end, which is amazing. Wool holds up well over time if you take care of them (I still have the same set of shirts I got 12 years ago). And they come in various weights for all types of weather and for layering (base, mid, insulation): some of the Icebreaker weights are 150 for warmer temps, 200 for more of a breeze and 260 for cooler weather. There’s even a heavy duty 320 for more warmth. I tend to buy and wear short and long sleeved 200 weight shirts mostly and bring a couple of 260 layers and one nice warm 360 sweater for good measure. I have a few 150 tanks for warm weather hiking and cool weather layering. They layer perfectly together and when you layer properly (not skin tight, allowing some space between them for air to warm up) you will be toasty warm when it’s cold but can shed quickly when the sun breaks through the clouds. My personal favorites are all Icebreaker products – I wear their clothes all the time and not just for hiking. My husband loves them too but also wears SmartWool (like their lightweight crew) and Patagonia Merino (like their lightweight t-shirt). There are other highly rated brands but these are our personal, tried and true, go-to brands. In a future post I’ll go in depth into layering: why it’s important, how to do it, and how to choose layers to best suit your trek or tour of choice. For now, I just want to touch on the fact that layers are important because you get cold in the mountains due to evaporation, radiation, conduction and convection (more on that another time.)
Mid-layers: It gets pretty cold in the Andes and you will definitely want some mid-layers (think Fleece or heavy weight wool (260+), and lightweight packable down jacket). Some important considerations will be how your mid layer will fit with your other clothing. You want to be sure it’s not skin tight on top of a few shirts or sweater because you need the space between layers to trap air in order to warm up and stay warm – mid layers capture warmth through trapped air. You also want to pick a weight you like, be able to move freely and comfortably and they should be breathable to prevent excess sweating which will leave you cold and clammy. Your non-breathable layer will be your shell jacket. For mid-layers it’s nice to have a zip neck or full zip (hoods are a plus for me too) for easy heat regulation. Some brands label mid-layers by weight, which can be a handy guide (Patagonia R1-R4 and Icebreaker 260 for examples). I love my Mountain Hardwear Desna Grid Hooded Jacket, Sherpa Adventure Gear Tharkey Zip Tee, and Icebreaker 260 and 300 layers. They are comfy, stretchy, breathable, and quick drying. My husband swears by his Icebreaker 260 and 300 layers, Patagonia R2 jacket, and his Western Mountaineering packable Flash down jacket. We both use down jackets for base camp when we’re not moving around much though I wear the warmer Rab Neutrino. A note about power grid fleece technology which is used in several of the above products: it improves moisture wicking, maximizes warmth and minimizes weight,
Outer Layers & Insulation: Staying Warm and Dry
Outer Shell: This is the last item in the layering system and is another essential when backpacking in the mountains. Outer shells are to protect you from inclement weather, should any arise. There are soft shells and hard shells: soft shells are breathable, flexible and water resistant while hard shells are waterproof, stiffer and not as breathable. Generally for multi-day trekking at high altitude, I prefer a hard shell or taking a soft shell and a lightweight rain jacket (see number 7). Some brands make systems that combine the two. If you get serious rain then a hard shell is the best and a good one will have taped seams, waterproof zipper systems, and materials that offer some level of breathability even though they are waterproof. Everyone has his or her own preferences when it comes to which combination to use. I like using lots of layers and having a dedicated hard shell like my Sherpa Adventure Gear Lithang Jacket and Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket (Mountain Hardwear makes fantastic ones too) but my husband also loves his Sherpa Adventure Gear Lithang Jacket but also often uses a soft shell like Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody and then switches to a rain jacket over his other layers (removing the soft shell) when it rains. I find that too cumbersome personally and since I tend to get cold easily I don’t mind the hard shell being less breathable because I like the extra warmth. If you’ve never had any of these types of jackets before I suggest borrowing some from friends if you can and taking them out on a day hike. You may not be able to try them out in similar conditions to a trek in the Andes but at least you’ll get a bit of a feel for the various options. When I do end up using a soft shell it’s always my Arc’teryx Gamma MX hoody. A good feature to look for in your shell is armpit zips to help both temperature and moisture if you’re sweating without having to remove the shell.
Gloves: Your hands will get cold on these treks, particularly in the early morning or late evening and on the high passes too. Depends on your body makeup too. I get cold easily and very quickly so I always have a pair of fleece liner gloves like the North Face TKA 100 Glacier Gloves and a warmer pair of gloves like the Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Outdry Gloves. The Plasmic Outdry gloves are pretty stellar – warm, light, easy to move around in, touchscreen compatible, and waterproof! My husband uses Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Outdry gloves and will also sometimes use his Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch gloves. There are also great Merino Wool liner gloves from all the same brands I mentioned earlier in the base-layer section which are awesome!
Warm Hat: Here comes the ever-present plug for wool again…or fleece/synthetic fibers will also do. Just say no to cotton when hiking! There are so many choices for warm hats – thick ones, thin ones, ones with a poof at the top, ones with ear flaps, and so on and so forth. My favorite is the Icebreaker Apex beanie and my husband wears the Marmot Summit beanie, but you can also pick up an amazing hand knit llama or alpaca wool one in Peru before your trek. They are sold all over Cusco by local artisans and are really stunning. Every time I go I get at least a dozen more to give to friends, and end up keeping several because I love the different designs so much.
Rain Gear: Come Prepared for Unpredictable Mountain Weather
Rain Jacket/Pants: Mountain weather can be very unpredictable and depending on when you’re backpacking in the Andes you may get some rain, hail, or even snowfall (which is pretty magical). Having raingear means a little inclement weather won’t stop you in your tracks and you won’t be a soggy, miserable mess. I have summitted some very high passes in the rain with no rain gear and let me tell you it is ZERO fun. I don’t mean a little warm summer sprinkle…rain in the mountains is COLD at this altitude. It can also be dangerous because you can quickly lose heat if you get wet and it’s cold outside, especially with wind chill. You can buy a cheap poncho at a local shop in Peru but having a dedicated lightweight packable rain jacket is going to keep you dry, warm, and happy (though I have been in sideways downpours that pushed rain down my hood and sleeves which was delightful). I also always bring rain pants because you never know when it will turn into a full-blown downpour. This is where Gore-Tex shoes can work against you if not maintained properly. Gore-Tex is applied to the lining of the shoe but over time the outside of the shoe can become saturated in wet weather leaving your feet feeling cold and damp. If you have Gore-Tex shoes you plan to bring, consider sprucing up the outside with a coat of DWR. It’s not a bad idea to do this to an older hardshell jacket too. I wear the Outdoor Research Helium 2 rain jacket which is crazy light and North Face Resolve rain pants. My husband wears his Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Ion or Patagonia Torrentshell and Marmot PreCip pants.
On the Bottom: Don’t Forget Your Legs – They’re Doing All the Work!
Trekking Pants/Shorts: The no cotton rule applies to pants and shorts too. I’ve seen people go on treks in jeans and it always ends in disaster. They are hot, heavy, cumbersome, have little to no give, and once wet…you’ll be wet the entire trek. Wet trekkers are not happy campers! Some people like trekking pants that roll or snap up to become ¾ pants, others prefer zip off ones that convert into shorts, while other still prefer dedicated pants without bells and whistles. Zip off ones drive me nuts so I get the roll up/snap ones every time. The key here is true hiking pants that are quick drying and moisture wicking. My favorites are Mountain Hardwear and North face. My husband has multiple pairs of Prana Stretch Zion pants – these bad boys are amazing and he wears them for “fancy dress” in addition to hiking because, yes, they look that good. His other favorites are Arc’teryx Gamma LT and Gamma AR pants (AR ones are better for colder weather). You can also go for shorts though weather can change fast so personally I like convertible pants so I don’t have to worry about changing mid-trail with no tree cover. For the cold nights it’s a good idea to bring a pair of mid-layer pants/leggings. I wear the Mountain Hardwear Snowchill fleece pants and if I’m super cold (which is often), I throw those over my Icebreaker Oasis Leggings (heavenly!). My husband wears the Patagonia R1 pants and thinks I’m crazy for needing another layer!
Trekking Poles: These treks have a lot of rolling hills, steep passes, grueling switchbacks, and rocky descents. This can be tough on knees, ankles, and hips. Trekking poles take some of the stress off your body, provide stability/balance, and tend to become more and more welcome as you get into the second, third and fourth days of trekking (depends on the trek of course). For use in the Andes, particularly on the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu you must have intact rubber bottoms. This is to prevent damage to original Inca stonework. We have a big collection of poles but my favorite pair is the Leki Micro Vario Carbon – awesome grip, incredibly light and packs down super small but they aren’t for everyone and those with bigger builds will need something beefier. My husband loves his Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Go try out a few, maybe even rent some or borrow a friends to see which grip, weight, and so on work best for your frame and walking style. There are also aluminum poles that do the trick and are slightly cheaper (most brands make both aluminum and carbon). You can also rent poles at many camping stores just be sure to check them out for wear and tear, rubber bottoms, and comfort when walking up and down hills.
The Bare Necessities: The Right Undergarments Can Make All the Difference in the World
Exofficio Underwear: I’m not even going to mention another brand because these are the best. The no cotton rule applies to undies too. It’s extremely unpleasant to be stuck hiking in sweaty, wet, cold cotton underwear. ExOfficio underwear is light, breathable, odor repellent, moisture wicking and quick drying. They are awesome for travel too because you can wash them anywhere you have water and soap and they’ll be dry in no time. I have a ton of the Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Briefs and my husband swears by their Give-N-Go Briefs for men.
Sports bras: Girls, this one’s for you. Again, cotton sports bras are going to be miserable when hiking. There are so many great brands out there and since we are all different shapes and sizes this is one where you really need to go try on a bunch and jump up and down to test them out. Without getting too specific, I am fairly large chested and really like the Moving Comfort Jubralee bra if I plan on trail running and the Icebreaker Rush Bra if it’s a less strenuous day. There are so many to choose from – Nike, Under Armour, Patagonia and many more companies carry good sports bra options. For trekking, finding one that dries quickly is important if you plan to be out for a while and want to wash and dry it quickly along the trail.
Backpacks: Gotta Put Your Stuff Somewhere…Make Sure it’s Comfortable!
Daypack with Rain Cover: A total must! Some die hard trekkers like to push themselves and carry all their own gear but for us mere mortals it’s nice to have overnight gear carried by horses or porters, allowing you to enjoy the hike as unencumbered as possible. You will be surprised how heavy even a daypack feels while ascending a 17,000ft pass. I adore all Osprey packs and at last count own 7 different ones. Some girls buy purses…I buy Osprey packs. I even have one of their baby carriers, which my son is crazy about. But I digress. My hands down favorite daypack of theirs is the Osprey Talon 22. Just the right size for all the stuff you need during the day on the trail. Tons of pockets, including some hidden ones for best daypack for high altitude trekking hiking backpacking in peru, osprey talon 22cash and other important items (passports) and good size bottle pockets on the side. Osprey, I heart you! My husband has his own Osprey collection in addition to an Arc’teryx Velaro 35. Go to a camping store and get fitted properly for a daypack by getting your back measured. It’ll be your best friend and you’ll be glad you spent the time trying a few out. If you’re into sustainability and eco-travel then Gregory works with goal zero – using solar panels, which is pretty cool. If you’re really a die-hard through hiker and want to carry all your own gear then you probably already own and love your own overnight backpack but just in case my favorite is the Osprey Aura 50 AG and my husband has the Osprey Atmos 65 AG as well as the Arc’teryx Altra 65. Don’t forget to grab a rain cover for inclement weather. Most pack companies carry their own but Sea to Summit also have some great generic pack covers!
For the Sun: Protect Yourself from the Harsh Andean Rays
Sunglasses: The sun can be very bright out on the trail and if you happen to get random snowfall it can be blinding. Sunglasses are an absolute must and polarized is best for clarity in variable lighting conditions and protect the eye better. I adore my Kaenon Georgia Polarized Sunglasses and have several pairs in different colors but I also love Oakley’s. My husband wears Kaenon Hard Kore sunglasses as well as Arnette La Pistola sunglasses. Obviously, everyone’s face and head shapes are different so some brands and styles will suit one person and not another. Some great sports brands out there are Julbo, Spy, and Smith to name a few. Things to consider when choosing sunnies for hiking: are they sport sunglasses (grippy nose pads and temple ends to keep them in place when sweating), are they polarized, what VLT rating do they have (visible light transmission: 20-40% is best for all purpose use), and lens colors (brown/gray/green are good for everyday use and outdoor activities to reduce glare and eyestrain). Gray and green don’t distort colors but brown lenses might distort a bit. You can even get into things like lens materials, coatings, and frame materials too but that’s enough for a whole blog post on its own. For our purposes here – find one that suits your face, the activity, and the light levels, and makes you feel like a rockstar!
Sun Hat: That Andean sun is strong…you’re going to need a hat at some point. You might like a ball cap or you may prefer a full coverage brim hiking hat. I always wear the ubiquitous trucker hat by Patagonia or something similar. My husband wears the hilariously awesome Goorin Brothers Squirrel Baseball Hat (they have a ton of great ones). Hats with more sun coverage are made by most major brands but Outdoor Research carries some great ones such as the Sombriolet Sun Hat. It’s a good idea to make sure the hat you get is rated as UPF 50+.
Sunscreen: The sun is very strong when up at high altitude and there will be times when it’s warm enough for you to be in shirtsleeves and shorts. You’ll need sunscreen and can pick up a bottle down in Cusco or bring your own. Personally, I find the chemicals in most store bought brands a little terrifying so I use Kabana Skincare Sunscreen products because they use organic ingredients, non-nano zinc, are less harmful for your body and for the environment, and are made in the USA! I especially love the Green Screen D Organic Sunscreen SPF 35 because I know it’s the safest of all and I can also slather it on my son and give him a sweaty sunscreen covered cuddle without worrying. They also have amazing tinted sunscreen that I use every day on my face, avoiding the need for chemical laden makeup. Mix and match colors to find your perfect shade. Their products are effective, incredible, safe for babies and the environment, all ingredients are disclosed on product packaging and online, they publish all their SPF testing results online (no other companies do this!) and they ship worldwide! Can’t get much better than that!
Buff: Buffs…oh how I love thee. So versatile and so awesome looking. Use it as a scarf, a nose/mouth cover, a beanie, a hair tie, a hair band, etc. It’s a great little handy dandy accessory for any hike. We have tons of these because they keep coming out with even more amazing prints and colors. Our 18-month-old son asks for his (read: daddy’s) when we take him out for walks now. They have the Buff UV collection and the Original Buff’s. Stay tuned for our Killa Expeditions Buffs!
Mindset: Travel is All About Broadening One’s Perspective While Exploring New and Wondrous Places
Respect for the Environment & Other Cultures, as well as a Sense of Adventure and Child-Like Wonder: Don’t ever leave home without these! A must for any world traveler and especially important when traveling to a developing country like Peru. Things are different there – life is slower paced, there are different cultural traditions and values and things we take for granted in our own countries may not be available there. If you consider yourself a student of the world and love our beautiful earth then you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Peru is a spectacular place, filled with wondrous history, archaeological sites, colorful culture and arts, and warm friendly people. It helps if you view differences with interest rather than with judgment.
Please note, the information provided in this article is the opinion of the writer and she has received no sponsorship, monetary or any other form of compensation for writing this post. If you found this information helpful, please refer to our future blog post (Trekking in Peru: What to Bring Part 2) that will be coming soon as well as our posts about the best time to visit Machu Picchu and how to star in our very first video treks this September!. Killa Expeditions is passionate about providing exceptional & sustainable adventure eco-travel experiences, encouraging people to explore off the beaten path, and inspiring others to give back. To book an adventure of a lifetime, contact us today!