Inca Trail Update: Day -28

Things are getting exciting around here, as we count down to the start of our epic journey. We are now just four calendar weeks from the start of our Inca Trail hike, and we will be leaving to acclimate and do some last high altitude practice hikes in just over two weeks. Although I’ve been writing these updates for almost a year now, it was pointed out to me that I’ve neglected to do something that it seems everyone does when writing about an Inca Trail hike – I haven’t gone over “what to bring”.

While not actually a purposeful omission, I think I have not gone into much detail on this for the simple reason that we are not expert hikers. In fact, we barely know what we are doing. Much of the equipment and jargon is completely new to us. However, who am I to deny the will of the people? So let’s compromise: I can’t tell you “what to bring”, but I CAN tell you “what we are bringing”.

Here then, is my obligatory list of equipment, and the reasoning where appropriate.

Let’s start off with the things I would consider absolutely essential:

  • Good Hiking Boots – I think this deserves to be number #1. Your feet are going to get you there (or not), so they need to be pampered. Do not assume you can do this in sneakers, and don’t try to save money on this item. We spent about $230 for excellent, water-proof boots with ankle protection, that are not too heavy either. Of course, right along with the boots goes the next item,
  • Good Hiking Socks – At least six pairs of good quality, comfortable socks for hiking. One pair for each day, a couple of spares in case you get wet.
  • Set of Spare Laces for the Boots – No matter how good your boots, if a shoelace snaps, you’re screwed.
  • Hiking Backpack – Not a book bag, or a regular shoulder strap-only backpack. You need a good hiking pack, that distributes the weight evenly, and has a frame with hip belt to put some of the weight on your hips. You also need a rain cover for this, most will include it. It should also have the next item,
  • Hydration Pack – These are bags that go into your backpack and hold a reservoir of water. Mine holds 2 liters, Rita’s 2.5. There is a handy drinking tube that allows you quick access to water while you hike. This is extremely important at altitude, as dehydration can make you more susceptible to high altitude sickness. Carrying a water bottle or two will not cut it.
  • Water Bottle w/ LifeStraw – Although our expedition provides refills of the hydration packs in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening, we will also be carrying an extra water bottle that has a LifeStraw integrated. If we should drain our packs AND the spare bottle, the LifeStraw will allow us to refill the bottle from a stream without picking up bacteria.
  • Hiking Poles – I can’t say enough in favor of hiking poles. On our local hikes and in our practice high altitude hikes thus far, these have been lifesavers. They are extremely helpful going up and down stairs and inclines, and for keeping your balance on narrow trails. Do not scrimp on these either. They need to be very strong, and also very light. Ours cost about $150/pair, and they already have been worth every penny.
  • Sleeping Bag – Another item we did not try to save money on. We will be sleeping in tents for three nights, at a time of the year when it will almost certainly be in the 30’s, maybe even just below freezing. If we cannot not sleep in a warm, comfortable place, it will make hiking the next day even more difficult. Again, the hiker’s dilemma  – it must be as warm as possible while not adding much weight, and still crunch down to as small a bundle as possible. This can be done, but it takes $$$. Technically, we did not have to buy bags, as our expedition (indeed most of them) offers rental sleeping bags. However, not knowing how (or if) these bags are cleaned between users, the only word that comes to mind is “Eewww!” We did however rent insulated pads to lay our bags on, to provide some separation from the cold, cold, ground.
  • Headlamps and Flashlights – Several days our hikes will begin before the sun comes up, and there is the chance on the second day of not finishing before dark. Not to mention the joy of trying to find your way to the toilet in the middle of the night. We have one headlamp each, and are bringing a spare. We also have two small handheld lights. And extra batteries.
  • First Aid Kit – These are available for hikers, contains things like bandages, antiseptic cream, scissors, aspirin, etc.
  • Foot Care Kit – Moleskins, blister pads, etc.
  • Water Purification Tablets – Even though the water provided on the trip is boiled, that can be trickier at altitude, and you don’t want to make the hike in a perpetual squat.
  • 10′ Thin Rope – Might need to hang up clothes to dry, attach something to your pack, who knows? Just good to have, just in case.
  • Sunscreen & Bug Spray

Then there are some things not everyone would consider essential, but we are bringing nevertheless:

  • Digital Camera and Video Camera – Yes, we will have our iPhones, but this is a once in a lifetime trip. I want to have some good, quality photos and videos of as much as possible.
  • Battery Recharge Packs – I’m bringing two small packs I will charge fully in the hotel before the hike. They allow for quick recharge of the iPhones and cameras, so we don’t end up at Machu Picchu with zero power. Each pack will fully recharge an iPhone 4 times.
  • Unipod – I have a collapsable unipod for the video camera. It can double as a hiking pole, and will be very useful for getting steady video shots.
  • O2 Tester – This will let us quickly check our blood oxygen levels, in case we start to feel any of the symptoms of high altitude sickness.

The clothing is also important, again having to combine functionality with low weight:

  • 4 Pair of light shorts
  • 2 Pair of Rain Pants – These can be pulled on over the shorts, and have zippers and snaps in the legs so they can be removed without taking off your boots
  • 4 Pair Silk Underwear – Nobody wants chafing
  • 1 Pair Convertible Pants – These pants can be converted to shorts back by using zippers on the legs.
  • 4 Wicking/UV Tees
  • 4 Wicking Longsleeve Tees
  • 4 Long sleeve Shirts
  • 1 Fleece Vest
  • 1 Rain Jacket w/ hood
  • 1 Rain/UV Hat
  • 1 Baseball Cap
  • 1 Rain Pancho
  • Sandals – to give my feet a break around the campsite
  • Gloves, Scarf, Winter Hat – For cold weather. Also have a pair of fingerless gloves for the hiking sticks. I got suntanned on the backs of my hands during practice hikes without them.

Finally, a few odds and ends:

  • Toilet Paper & Kleenex
  • Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Deodorant
  • Ziplock Bags – for trash, but also to keep our passports, a credit card, and money in. We’ll also have some for our clothes to keep them dry.
  • Assorted Clips
  • Snacks
  • Chapstick
  • Plastic Spoon/Knife/Fork kit
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Baby Wipes – no showers or baths for four days
  • Spare Glasses, Sunglasses

I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, I just hope we haven’t left out something important. Fortunately, we don’t have to carry it all. We will have porters who will carry our sleeping bags, the rented pads, and about 8 pounds of personal items that we put in the duffel each day. Incidentally, they also carry the tents, dinner table and chairs, cooking equipment, food, water, and the portable toilets. All we should have in our bags is what we need that day – a set of dry clothes, bad weather gear, snacks, water, etc.

Still, that means we will be carrying somewhere between 12 and 15 pounds each.

So that’s the list – subject to change at the last minute. I’ll let you know how things worked out for us, what we didn’t really need, and what we really wish we had packed, after the hike.

One thing I’m glad I am NOT packing – is that extra 75 pounds of fat I was carrying this time last year …

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