The type of bag that you should bring really depends on how your support team is composed.
On the Inca Trail many people carry their own gear with porters employed to carry camping materials (i.e. tents, food etc.). It is possible to hire a personal porter who will carry between 7kg-14kg of your gear and some tour companies include porters as standard in their service.
On the alternative Machu Picchu treks it is common for trekking companies to use pack animals like mules or llamas to carry gear. In this case around 5-7kg of your gear can be carried by a mule or llama.
When you arrive in Cusco you should separate your non-trekking gear into a small storage bag that you can leave for safe keeping in your hotel for collection when you return from Machu Picchu. If you plan to travel to Peru with a suitcase then inside pack your empty backpack or duffel bag, and when you arrive leave your non-trekking gear in the suitcase and use your backpack for the trail.
We recommend taking no more than 15kg of gear on your Inca trail trek (this includes your sleeping bag and sleeping mat). If you have porters then it is best to give them gear that you don’t need during each days’ hike, like your sleeping bag, sleeping mat, trekking sandals, spare clothes, toiletries etc, as they typically rush ahead of you to setup camp and hence you will not have access to this gear until you arrive at camp each evening.
You will be wearing approximately 3-5kgs of gear each day (i.e. your trekking boots, daily trekking clothes, hat, trekking poles etc.).
This leaves a maximum 3kg of gear that you need to carry yourself (i.e. rain gear, gloves, your camera, valuables, fleece etc.). Make sure you factor in the weight of water and snacks which can amount to another 2-3kg. Most people can keep their daypack lighter than 10kg.
If you are trekking without porters (this is unusual on the Inca Trail) then you should try to keep your total gear weight below 15kg, 3-5kg of which you will be wearing and 10-12kg carrying.
For trekkers on alternative trails like the Salkantay, Choquequirao, Lares or Vilcabamba, you can afford to be a little heavier as you will have mules who can carry 5-7kg of your gear.
If you plan to trek independently / unsupported on one of the alternative trails, then try pack as light as possible, keeping your pack under 20kg. You will be carrying your own tent, food and cooking equipment so avoiding any bulky items is important. We have not provided specific recommendations on packs for unsupported treks, but you will need at least a 50L backpack.
For Inca Trail and alternative trail trekkers, you should look for the following characteristics in your backpack / daypack.
Backpack / Daypack
Good backpacks are designed to transfer load weight to your hips. The shoulder straps should carry no more than 30% of the weight. Here are the key features to look for in your rucksack:
- Size: The ideal size backpack for the Inca Trail is a 30-36L lightweight pack. These can easily carry a maximum load of 10kg. If you are trekking self-supported (no personal porter) then you might want to go up one level to a 40-50L pack. If you have managed to stay super light and have porter support then all you need is a small daypack for your bits and pieces (a 20L pack will be fine)
- Waterproof: Backpacks are generally not waterproof, but good ones should be weather resistant. Look for design materials like pack cloth for the bag and Condura for high friction areas (i.e. inside of the straps). A water-resistant urethane coating is also beneficial
- Design: For perfect fit the harness and suspension system should be multi-size and adjustable. The shoulder straps should be well padded and not restrict movement, and there should also be a hip belt that’s well padded. The best manufactures, like Osprey and North Face, design specific bags for women that have reshaped hip belts that are wider and more moulded; and narrower, but broader shoulder straps