Packing for multi-day hikes is a stressful experience. Trying to envisage every scenario you might end up in, whether rain, snow, or sunny weather, and making sure you have the necessary items can frazzle your brain. With the erratic and ever-changing weather in the Andes mountains, you essentially need to pack twice as much – one set of clothes for warm weather, and one set for cold and rain.
However, forgetting to pack just one essential item can still throw a spanner in the works and ruin your trip. Below is our complete packing guide for the Salkantay trek along with 5 essential items and recommendations that will make the trek that much easier.
5 ESSENTIAL ITEMS TO TAKE ON THE SALKANTAY TREK
1. Rain Poncho
If you are doing the trek during the rainy season, then a decent rain poncho is an absolute necessity. We aren’t talking the standard ponchos you buy at theme parks that stop you getting wet on the water ride – we’re talking military grade here.
We did the trek at the start of January, and for 2 of the 5 days it rained. One day, a light drizzle that was enough for our waterproofs to deal with, however on our 2nd day heading down to camp from the Salkantay pass, it rained for 5 hours straight.
Before we left, we invested in some cheap rain ponchos in Cusco and got it horribly wrong.
They were thin and flimsy, and we would have done better cutting a hole in a decent bin bag and using that instead. They aren’t large enough to cover down to your legs or go over your backpack, and when we first attempted to do this, we basically ripped a hole in it.
One of our friends on the trek had invested in a branded poncho, and we eyed him with envy the entire time. Not only did it cover him all the way down to the knees and sit nicely over his backpack, but he also looked the part as well, while Koum and I had our pink and purple plastic bags wrapped around our necks.
If you aren’t going in the rainy season, then you could probably get away without buying one.
An alternative to a poncho is buying a high-quality waterproof jacket. However, these usually don’t cover your legs or bags.
2. Merino Wool Socks, Underwear and Shirts
5 days trekking means 5 lots of clothing for each day. Whether the weather is hot or cold, 1 hour into the day’s hike and your clothes will be soaked in sweat.
Therefore, it’s better to invest in some Merino wool items that last over a couple of days without starting to smell.
We took two pairs of merino wool socks which lasted over 5 days. At the time, however, we didn’t have underwear or t-shirts so took 5 of these each. If we were to go back and do it again, we would go with 3x merino wool undies, and 3x t-shirts to reduce the packing load as well as the admin.
Or if 5 days is too much for you then you can consider a 3 or 4 day Salkantay trek, and then you need to bring even less stuff.
3. Hiking Boots
This is a no brainer, and they may not even let you do the trek if you don’t have them —you’re walking 75km over 5 days and hiking through mud, rocks and all types of terrain.
We would suggest getting a pair with ankle support for extra protection. Some of the downhill sections of the trek are tough on the knees and with lots of loose rock – our ankles nearly went a few, times but the support of our boots kept our ankles safe.
Having a waterproof pair is also ideal for the rainy season. At specific points along the trek, you may have to go over or through rivers, and knowing you can accidentally dip your foot in the water and have it come out dry is always a relief.
Our complete guide covers the 5-day itinerary and some of the different terrains in more detail if you need more information
4. Lightweight Thermal Jacket/Jumper
The changes from hot to cold on the Salkantay trek are constant. One minute you will be drenched in sweat and the next you will be freezing cold.
Your body temperature will keep you warm while on the move, but when you stop off and sit still at Humantay Lake or Salkantay Mountain, the cold will creep in quickly.
Here’s where you want a lightweight thermal layer that you can chuck on quickly over your t-shirt and under your waterproof to stay warm.
We didn’t have one of these at the time, so we used our hoodies which weren’t helpful in the slightest. Hoodies weigh more, take up more space and don’t keep you warm.
A lightweight thermal sits in your bag, folds up neatly without taking up any room and keeps you much warmer. These are also great for the wearing in the evenings when it’s colder.
5. Insulated Water Bottle/Flask
Every day on the Salkantay trek, you will be drinking fresh water directly from the mountain streams.
You will also be given freshly brewed coca tea every morning to help you with altitude.
Having an insulated water bottle is ideal for both of these. If you want to take a flask of coca tea with you for the day that will stay warm, or if you want to keep your mountain water ice-cold, then you’re set.
We use Hydroflask bottles. This is a bottle for life that you will only ever need to replace if you lose it, with the added benefit of moving away from plastic bottles which are still widely used across South America.
SALKANTAY TREK FULL PACKING LIST
If you’re doing a guided Salkantay trek, one of the advantages is you are given a duffel bag to transport most of your gear in.
This duffel bag is given to a separate guide with horses who then take it to your new camp each night.
This is super helpful because you don’t have to worry about carrying everything. So, you can overpack a bit, especially if you are unsure of what to bring.
The duffel bag is big enough to carry your sleeping bag, which takes up about a quarter of the space. You then have ¾ for the rest of your gear, and then obviously your day backpack on top of that. Here’s the complete list of everything you need to bring:
- Hiking boots
- Hiking socks x 2 (merino wool, so they last a couple of days)
- Separate pair of shoes – for the final day. It feels great to kick off the smelly hiking boots and wear some comfy shoes on the way back to Cusco
- Pair of normal socks – to go with your change of shoes
- Hiking trousers or shorts – we took base layer leggings but didn’t end up wearing them. We feel more comfortable trekking in shorts, but many people were wearing trousers
- T-shirts – preferably trekking t-shirts made from merino wool so you can wear them for more than one day. We trekked in a t-shirt and shorts every day as your body warms up quickly while hiking. We then just kept our waterproof jacket around our waist for when it started to rain or when it got colder at the top of the mountains.
- Waterproof jacket/windbreaker – perfect for when you reach some of higher altitudes to keep the wind out and stay warm, or when there is a light drizzle.
- Hoody / Jumper/ lightweight thermal jacket – the evenings get cold, and you will want to have some alternative warm clothing to chuck on in case your waterproof or clothes from the day are soaked through
- Hat/Snood – both useful for keeping your ears/head warm when you reach those colder and windier places
- Cap – to keep the sun off you if you’re having good weather
- Sunglasses – the weather can be beautiful if there isn’t too much cloud cover
- Swimwear – for the third day trip to the hot baths!
- Travel towel
- Flip flops – for showering and for the third day at the hot baths. You can also wear them home on the last day if you don’t want to wear trainers
- Poncho – this is an essential piece of kit, even if you are visiting in the winter (non-rainy season), the weather in the mountains is unpredictable
- Toilet roll – better to be safe than sorry
- Sunscreen – high altitude means the sun is stronger
- Insect repellent – not an issue for most of the trek until the third day when you head down into the valley with more jungle, and on the last day at Machu Picchu
- Standard items – toothbrush, deodorant etc
- Blister plasters – hopefully, your hiking shoes are worn in before the trek but even so, 75km over 5 days will undoubtedly lead to one or two blisters
- Medical kit and medicine – you never know what can happen on the trip, be prepared
- Water bottle – you can fill your bottle up each day at camp with fresh mountain spring water
- Portable charger – you won’t get access to many sockets on this trip so bring a portable charger to keep your phone charged. One fully charged battery should last the 5 days.
- Camera – obviously
- Small headlamp – useful if you need to get out of the tent during the night and on the last morning when you get up at 4:30 to climb up to Machu Picchu. Although a phone light will suffice.
Returning to Cusco for a few days after the trek? If you haven’t planned Cusco yet then our city guide will help you get started.
And you’ll want to make sure you’re staying in a nice hostel when you get back for a day or two of rest and recovery!