The 15-18 things you need to hike
Each morning on the trail I cast a sidelong glance at yesterday’s SmartWool socks, which were festooned with a frieze of sweat and blood. I inched them on with the alacrity of a new dad changing his first explosive diaper. Clever though hiking footwear may be – some brands even claiming to last 3 days without need for a wash – no sock is a match for the Trail.
As you fill your pack, consider carefully whether you want an extra candy bar or extra socks in addition to the following items.
Every ounce that counts:
1. Hiking boots
- Ubiquitous recommendation from REI, guides and Trail Know-It-All’s is to buy a half-size too big to avoid jamming your toes on the downhill segments. This is sound advice.
- Break the boots in well before you hit the trail.
2. Thick but breathable quick-dry socks (2-3 pairs) – There are socks meant to last days without needing a wash. Per my preamble, this seems more conversation starter than fact.
3. Breathable, waterproof, convertible hiking pants (1 pair)
4. Quick-dry short-sleeve shirts (1-2)
- Ladies, it’s good to have one with a built-in bra. I was well-served by Athleta’s aptly named and seemingly magical “Equator” Tank, which wicked moisture away even quicker than I could sweat and seemed impervious to odor.
- I did realize that short sleeves are better if you’re carrying a pack; the Yama Tee would probably do the trick.
- Athleta: If you would like to send a selection of workout clothes in appreciation for this unsolicited endorsement, let the record show that I accept.
5. Sporty rain jacket ideally with a hood and armpits that zip open to breathe. Tried and loved Marmot’s version.
6. Warm sweater – Temperatures in peak season drop from 70º in the day to 30º at night. Follow the llama and pick up alpaca wool in Cusco.
7. Warm pajama pant or jeans (1) for night. Leggings you can layer are ideal. I’m obsessed with these light cashmere ones.
8. Hat for sun and light rain. If you opt for a less nerdy baseball hat just remember to cover your neck (lots of hikers brought bandannas for this).
9. Underwear (4 pairs) and (1-2) sports bras if applicable.
10. Waterbottle – Hikers with water reservoirs were particularly happy and hydrated because they could drink without pausing. If you enjoy taking breaks, like we do, bring water bottles.
- Toilet paper – Roll it off the cardboard to save space.
- First Aid – Indigestion tablets, band-aids, ibuprofen for muscles, cocoa leaves for altitude trouble. We used all of these.
- Toothbrush & paste
- Body wipes (even Dave appreciated them)
12. Camera – You’re going to want a camera of some sort. Many bring high-quality equipment, which can fill a whole daypack; 2 other hikers in our group were kind enough to share their high-res pictures with us.
13. Snacks – Nuts, dried fruit, candy bars. You can restock from locals who sell for reasonable prices on the trail.
14. Money – About $100. You’ll spend $35-$40 on tips, pick up water and snacks along the way, and it never hurts to have a little extra on hand.
15. The Backpack
- Capacity: Dave and I shared a 45 liter pack, which was ample, as porters carry everything except what you need during the day. (Porters carry up to 20kg in addition to your camp gear and sleeping bag and charge about $45 for the trip. Worth it.)
- Key Features: We love the packs engineered to suspend off your back (reducing the sweat factor), like this one from Deuter. It’s important to have convenient apertures for your water reservoir or bottles (this won’t be hard to find), and it’s nice to have an alternative opening so you’re not forced to unload from the top down.
- Fit: If you have time, it’s best to go in store to try the backpacks on. Any major outdoor sporting store (like REI or EMS) will spend time fitting you. This is particularly important if you’re not an average size – many brands design backs just for women and a couple models even have a swiveling hip piece that’s meant to move with you.
- Lightweight Trick: We HIGHLY recommend sharing one pack with a partner. Dave and I took turns carrying our single pack and quickly became the envy of everyone else on the trail. Woot woot!
Optional but recommended
16. Walking stick – Key for downhill; the 3rd day includes over 3000 feet of decline. You can buy metal or wooden ones at the foot of the trail for a few bucks.
17. Poncho that covers your pack. Great when it pours and you’ll definitely want one if you bring a fancy camera.
18. Iodine – For water purification. This was the one thing we packed and didn’t use, but it’s an emergency item so that’s a good thing.
Do not pack:
- Guide books – They’re weighty and unnecessary if you are with a human trail guide.
- Things you brought for the rest of your trip – Most if not all Cusco hotels will check your luggage for the duration of your hike.
Please write if you have any questions. Happy trekking!