The Incas were highly-organised and created many paths throughout the Andes, which network they named Qhapaq Ñan. The most famous stretch is Camino Inca – the Inca Trail. The vast majority of people accomplish this trek in four days, walking for between six and nine hours a day for the first three days and around two hours on the final day. After passing sparse alpine meadows, dense, damp tropical jungle and freezing mountain passes, the trek ends at the magnificent Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. You could alternate from perspiring in a jungle to getting caught in a shower of rain to braving a freak snowstorm. If you were to ever undertake this most memorable journey, what clothes should you bring?
The key is to have clothes for all the conditions you may encounter, ranging from the intensely hot equatorial sun to cold mountain nights, while minimising weight. Hence you should make like an onion and dress in layers rather than one thick woolly pully. An example configuration is zip-off trousers, a fleece jacket and a T-shirt. Warm clothing for nights is essential. Most clothes can be purchased in most Peruvian cities that see many tourists, including fine and cheap alpaca jumpers. Warm and inexpensive locally-made hand-woven mitts can be bought in Cuzco.
You will want a hat not only to protect you from the sun during the day but also for when you sleep, to preserve your precious bodily heat. Ideally, it should cover your neck. Thermal underwear is a must-have. You will need six T-shirts – one for each day and two in case you get wet. You should have two pairs of lightweight long trousers, one short- and one long-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts. If you intend to swim at the hot pools of the town of Aguas Calientes, pack a swimsuit. Towels can be hired. Let us not forget the underwear.
Walking so much, footwear is critical. It should be sufficiently sturdy to withstand the trek – you do not want it to fall apart. Boots should be comfortable and lightweight and provide good ankle support. Do not rush out to buy new boots, because worn-in boots are more comfortable. Given the near-inevitability of rain, waterproofing may be worthwhile. Somehow, porters get by with old shoes with holes that appear to offer little in the way of support or grip, but you are not likely to exhibit so much endurance.
Cotton is to be avoided as it absorbs perspiration, hindering evaporation and so remaining damp. Cotton socks for one are to be shunned rudely. If socks contain the Coolmax brand of polyester, nylon or Merino wool, they will have wicking properties, aiding evaporation. Liner socks are an option.
There is usually some rain on the trail throughout the year, and you do not want to be hiking for hours in wet clothing. If you can ignore the fact that you think you look silly, a poncho is ideal. A cagoule will keep you dry – but not your daypack. Cheap, throwaway ponchos that cover everything including your daypack can be acquired in Cuzco for about one dollar. Some people go so far as to take waterproof trousers, but a poncho covers most of your legs.
It is best to not wear clothes that are brightly coloured or sport logos, as this marks you out as a tourist. Cuzco and the Inca Trail are tourist-friendly, but you would still prefer not to attract that sort of attention.
You will sustain karmic benefit if you bring clothing that is used to the point of being worn out, as it can be donated to the guides and porters. Examples include outerwear, gloves and mittens, socks, pile clothing, tops and bottoms, long underwear and even gaiters.
And finally, do not forget the shades.
Click here for a complete Packing List for the Inca Trail