Packing for a hiking trip and have no idea how to begin? With years of experience under our belts, let us help you avoid the mistakes that we once made! Check out our ultimate packing list for hiking below…
Every year, flocks of travellers head to South America to check out some of the continent’s best treks. Home to jagged peaks, fascinating wildlife, mysterious ruins and wild jungles, visitors can’t wait to explore this diverse continent! However, as much of the most impressive scenery is quite remote, you’ll have to hike for the best views.
For newbie hikers and even more experienced adventurers, the thought of walking through the Andes or humid cloud forest feels a little out of their comfort zone. Knowing what to pack for trekking in these kinds of extreme environments can be a challenge so we’ve compiled this hiking packing list to help you plan for your trip.
Note: Many of South America’s most popular hikes, such as the treks to Cotopaxi or Laguna 69, are well serviced by tour operators and often, your guide will tell you exactly what to bring. For multi-day guided hikes, you’ll often be able to rent gear from the company but if you are doing a lot of hiking, it may be worth investing in buying your own kit.
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Our hiking packing list has been designed to be comprehensive. Depending on the type of hike you are doing, you may not need everything listed. Likewise, if you are travelling somewhere that isn’t South America, make sure you are clued up on what to expect from the climate so you can tailor this packing checklist to your trip.
Choosing a Hiking Backpack
When it comes to choosing a hiking pack, there is a lot to consider. Weather conditions, climate, body shape and length of trek all come into play. Arguably, the most important things to look for are that your pack is fit for purpose and comfortable. Everything should fall into place after that is sorted.
For day hikes, you shouldn’t need to carry too much stuff. Therefore, it is best to invest in a travel daypack. Preferences vary in regards to size but a good capacity to aim for is around 20 litres. This won’t be too bulky but will still provide the space needed to carry the essentials.
Read more: Recommended daypacks for travellers.
If you are embarking on some of the continent’s longer hikes independently, you’ll be responsible for carrying everything you need. This will include everything from your day to day necessities, as well as any camping and cooking equipment. Although hiking packs can be expensive, it is best to spend a little more money and get something durable that will last. A broken backpack has a way of ruining your trip halfway through a hike!
Tip – Before purchasing, look out for backpacks that have lifetime guarantees. One highly rated brand is Osprey who are celebrated for their ‘All Mighty Guarantee’.
Note: For many guided multi-day hikes in South America, the price you pay for the trek will often include porters. If this is the case, the only stuff you are likely to need to carry will be a daypack with essentials such as water, sun cream, extra layers etc. Bear in mind that porters have strict weight limits so even if you’re not carrying it yourself, don’t overpack your bag! It is also customary to tip any porters at the end of your hike.
When packing your bag, a good rule of thumb is to keep your pack to around 10% of your weight. Pack once and then repack with half the stuff. You probably don’t need as much as you think!
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The Ultimate Hiking Packing List For Travellers
Even when you’re hiking, you will need to keep the essential documents close to your body.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to take your passport with you when hiking, it is always best to keep something this valuable on your person at all times. If you are doing one of the bucket list Machu Picchu hikes, don’t forget to stamp your passport with a unique Machu Picchu stamp! If you’re worried about getting your passport wrecked on the road, why not invest in a neat protective cover.
Ideal for making small purchases, paying for toilets and tipping guides/porters when necessary. Keep your money in a safe place in your rucksack or get a travel money belt that you can wear comfortably under your clothes. Read our review of the best travel money belts here.
Many towns have ATMs and a travel card allows you to withdraw cash without having to pay a bank fee. (The ATM may still charge you a flat fee per transaction so it’s best to withdraw a large amount and hide it about your person instead of visiting many times.) Travel cards we recommend: Wise, Starling (only available to UK citizens), N26 (only available to EU citizens) and Revolut.
Here are just a few items to make sure that you don’t get lost in the mountains…
Map or guidebook
Even though we rely on our mobile phones so much these days, when you’re out in the wild, it’s always advisable to have a physical map or guidebook as a backup when you are embarking on a trek. (In case of battery or signal problems or if a llama eats your phone.) Having a visual cue is great if you get lost on the trail or need to take a detour. Make sure you store these in something waterproof. You don’t want it to get ruined in a downpour!
If you’ve got a phone which you can rely on, this probably isn’t necessary but if you are on a more remote mountain expedition, we highly recommend that you consider a GPS device! You can pick one up for around $100-200 USD.
Having the appropriate footwear on the trail is essential. It can mean the difference between painful feet and blisters and an enjoyable trekking experience. It’s worth paying more to get good quality footwear that will last a long time.
Hiking sandals or flip-flops
It is good to have some other shoes for activities that aren’t hiking. We recommend going with something light and comfortable as they’ll be easier to cram in your backpack!
Top tip: Buy your hiking boots around one size larger. This will allow for your feet to swell in the heat and give them room to move around in your shoes. This can be good for avoiding blisters.
Of course, the amount of clothing that you need to bring will depend on the length of your hike. You can tailor this list of essentials to suit the conditions you’ll be hiking in.
Leggings or hiking trousers
These will need to be comfortable and cool. If you’re travelling to a number of different climates, hiking trousers that zip off into shorts are a good option, although some may find leggings more comfortable.
Great for windy hilltops and high altitudes, the fleece is the trekker’s best friend. They are also pretty lightweight and pack down small (considering how warm they are).
Some backpacks will come with these but not all of them do. For example, backpacker favourite the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview doesn’t. If not, you can pick them up online cheap or from outdoor stores.
South America is home to some beautiful hot springs which you may fancy taking a dip in en-route! Unlike in other more conservative parts of the world, wearing a bikini in Latin America is unlikely to raise any eyebrows.
This a must-have item for trekking in cold climates. The wind at high altitudes can be fierce but a decent wooly hat should keep the wind chill out of your ears, preventing headaches.
Gloves are also necessary for cold temperatures. If you can, opt for something windproof as these will better protect your hands, especially if you are using trekking poles.
A buff is a great item that can easily be repurposed into a headband, face-covering or hat. Our favourites are by Turtle Fur (not actually made from turtles!). They’re sweat-wicking, offer great sun protection and keep you warm in cold climates!
Lip balm with SPF
Did you know that your lips can burn too? We didn’t either until it happened to us – don’t get caught out! Always make sure your lip balm has a decent SPF rating.
The higher the factor, the better! We don’t recommend using anything below factor 30 as it just isn’t worth it. Remember to apply this at regular intervals throughout the day. A suncream stick offers sun protection in the lightest and smallest package!
Invest in a good quality pair of sunglasses. You’ll need them when you’re up in the mountains! After all, there is nothing worse than finally reaching the peak to be blinded by the sun and miss the views.
No matter whether you are heading out on a short day hike or embarking on a multi-day trail, you’ll want to take an emergency kit. These kinds of conditions can be unforgiving and having a backup plan in an emergency may well save your life in the future.
If you’re embarking on a multi-day trek independently, you will need to consider what camping equipment you need to bring. If you’re on a guided trek, any tents and other camping equipment are usually provided by the tour company. In this instance, porters will carry all of this for you.
We recommend something like the Lanshan 2 which uses hiking poles for the frame, however, you may need to consider a four-season tent if you’re camping in particularly high altitudes or very cold temperatures.
A Jetboil is great but can be expensive. If one of these is not in your budget, go for something which uses universal gas canisters and is light to carry. Your belly will definitely thank you for a hot meal.
Sporks are great because they serve multiple purposes. Sporks made from stainless steel are a good option if they are likely to get used a lot and bamboo are great for the eco-conscious among you.
What grade of sleeping bag you need will depend on the conditions. A sleeping bag really can be the difference between life and death. Ensure yours is sufficient for the conditions.
Self-inflating mats are comfortable and easy to set up. The downside is that they’re bulky and heavier than either fully inflatable mats or closed-cell foam mats.
These are optional but very useful, especially on steep inclines! Studies have shown that hiking poles can take strain off of your knees, legs, ankles and back. Trust us, they’re worth the investment!
For washing pots, pans and yourself! Soap bars are great if you don’t want to contribute to your liquid allowance but bottles are easier to store. We love this pocket-sized one from Sea to Summit!
Trowel and poop kit
Pooping outside may seem a bit daunting at first but you’ll soon get used to it! If you’re looking for some tips on pooping while camping, this guide will tell you everything you need to know!
Ideal if you are doing remote hikes. Don’t fear if you are veggie either, plenty of brands now offer veggie meals using meat replacement products. These tend to be cheaper if bought in bulk.
Good for a pick-me-up along your journey. Snack bars are great for the trail because they boost your energy and won’t take up much room in your pack. Trail mix and nuts are also good snacks.
Collapsible water bottle
If you are in a hot climate or know water sources are few and far between for the next few hours of the hike, you can decant your filtered water into a collapsible bottle to carry more on your person.