Hiking the Quilotoa Loop over the course of three to five days means liberating yourself of your big backpack and carrying all your essentials in a small daypack.
So, what do you need to bring?
Given the elevation (up to 3,800m / 12,500ft) and distances (around 25 miles) you'll be walking over the course of the hike, it's important to be not be weighed down by unnecessary items whilst still ensuring you still have enough to protect against the cold.
Those who have been following our journey - see our packing post - will be aware that we're not exactly minimalist when it comes to packing. However, we both made a real effort to only pack important and necessary items for our hike and, after four nights and five days on the Loop, we're pretty confident that we did a good job. Apart from bras, we each packed the exact same items and shared useful equipment, like cameras and chargers, between us. There's nothing in this list that we didn't use or felt was unnecessary and nothing that we wished we would have taken in addition, so we hope you find it useful!
It felt fantastic to just carry one small rucksack each for this period of time. These are our companions to our big rucksacks and they were able to adequately hold everything we needed. Something around 20 litres should be ideal for you.
1 x 25 litre daypack / 1 x 20 litre daypack
In doing our research for the hike, we were advised to prepare for some very cold temperatures. The set of thermals we carry sometimes feel like deadweight given how little we use them, but we were both very happy to have them during the hike. If you don't have any, substitute in one long-sleeved shirt and an extra t-shirt. For the girls, a thin pair of leggings would work well under hiking trousers.
During the days, we were actually blessed with sunshine, no rain and little wind, meaning that we would often strip off a few layers whilst walking. However that is not to say you won't feel chilly at points during the day and absolutely freezing after the sun goes down. The most important thing to remember is this: it's always better to have layers to strip off when it's warm rather than not enough to put on when it's cold. So, above all else, ensure you bring enough with you.
In terms of footwear for the Loop, you will require at least a decent pair of sturdy trainers; we both used our hiking shoes which served us well for the journey. Terrain underfoot can sometimes be slippy and unstable but for the most part it poses no problems. Do be aware however, that if it rains, parts of the trail will become very very muddy.
1 set of thermals / 1 pair hiking boots / hiking socks / 2 t-shirts / 1 pair hiking trousers / 1 waterproof jacket / 1 wooly hat / 1 scarf / 1 hoody
After a day's hiking, it's refreshing to have some cleaner, fresher clothes to change into at the hostel. Essentially, we rotated our t-shirts between 'hostel clothes' and 'hiking clothes' - a t-shirt may be worn in the hostel for a couple of nights and then became our hiking shirt on the third day. In some hostels, you are able to hand-wash and dry your clothes, but don't bank on this.
Additionally, even if you score a cosy hostel like Llullu Llama, you're likely to be bloody cold in the evening. We mixed and matched our hiking clothes, like the hoodies and scarves, with our other items in order to stay warm. We had considered buying gloves before we set off from Latacunga but decided against it; if you have a pair with you already then definitely pack them just in case.
Therefore, in terms of clothes to bring, the most important thing is to make sure you bring enough warm items and layers which can be used interchangeably on both the hike and in hostels. You and they may stink a little at the end, but this is the best way to minimise bulk and excess weight in your rucksack.
2 t-shirts / 1 jumper / 1 pair trousers / 4 pants / 2 sports-bras / 3 pairs of socks
The Quilotoa Loop is extremely remote so a basic first-aid kit is absolutely essential to bring as well as a sheet with emergency contact numbers. If it all goes horribly wrong when you're there, you're going to need an evacuation team.
We both decided to embrace being without 24/7 technology and wi-fi for five days (probably the longest stretch either of us has gone cold turkey) and left our laptops in Latacunga. Most of the hostels along the route don't have wi-fi, so it makes sense to bring some old-school entertainment like a book, playing cards or a phone loaded with games etc. Or, you know, do something radical and chat to people.
Sun-cream is also very important. Despite lathering it on each morning, we still got burnt on our faces, so make sure to bring a decent supply.
Lastly, there are NO ATMs along the route, so bring plenty cash with you for the duration of your stay and to cover emergencies or delays.
sun-cream / first aid kit / head torches / camera + lenses / camera charger / refillable water bottle / vaseline or lip balm / phone charger / watch / swiss-army knife / small toiletries set / small travel towel / whistle / playing cards /emergency numbers list / pens and paper / two novels / phone
Here's our guide to what to put in your basic travel first-aid kit.
Want to know the best place to store your bags in Latacunga and NINE other useful tips before hiking the Loop? Check out this post.