If you’re hiking the Colca Canyon, you’re going to have to pack smart and pack light!
The popular multiday trek into one of the deepest canyons in the world, which can be done independently or with a tour over two to three days, requires you to carry nearly everything you’ll need in a single backpack as facilities are limited along these dusty trails.
We successfully did the three-day, two-night route without a guide on our second trip to Peru, and wanted to share with you what you definitely need to pack for the two types of weather you’ll face, what you can leave behind in Arequipa (and where), and some mistakes we made along the way so you don’t have to. The good news is that, if you’re already planning on doing lots of hikes in Peru, then you’ll already have the majority of the equipment packed for your trip.
We have written a bunch more guides and articles on how to prepare for the Colca Canyon (start here), but this post is all about what we think is the essential Colca Canyon packing list.
A WELL-FITTED 20-40L BACKPACK
If you are doing this hike without a tour, then you really do have to depend on yourself for most items and essentials; you simply can’t expect someone else to be the prepared person along the way.
For the Colca Canyon trek, you should only bring one backpack with you and, once it’s fully packed, we’d recommend that it doesn’t weigh more than 8-10 kgs. Obviously, the more stuff you put in there, the more strain on your shoulders each day of the hike.
However, we cannot stress enough how much easier this hike will be if you have a backpack that fits your back properly, has waist straps to bear the weight and is properly adjusted. We were doing this trek as part of a 4.5 month trip through South America, and our standard camera + tech day packs are great for our usual day-to-day travel style but really not suitable for multiday trekking - especially for Emily who suffers with a bad back at the best of times. Because of this, we decided that Andrew would take Emily’s main Lowe Alpine backpack and carry the majority of our shared equipment (like he did on the Inca Trail), whilst Emily would take our smallest daypack and try to keep it as light as possible.
We recommend that you stick with a bag capacity under 40L (if possible aim for 20-30L) as this will help prevent you from overpacking and physically limit how much you can carry. On our own advice, for our next hiking trip, we will be investing in one of the following for multiday hikes specifically:
A REFILLABLE/FILTER WATER BOTTLE
Staying hydrated on your Colca Canyon trek given the heat and high altitude is incredibly important. If you’re going independently however, you can’t rely on a group or many facilities along the way to provide safe drinking water.
Thankfully, there’s a solution.
As we were doing lots of hikes in South America and like to reduce our plastic footprint wherever possible, we took our two 75cl Water-to-Go filter bottles on the hike. This meant that we could fill up from various rivers and water sources along the way, as well as taps at the guesthouses, and always have safe drinking water with us. However, the issue on the Colca Canyon trek is that there are limited spots on certain sections where you can fill up, and you are going to be doing ridiculous switchback heavy ascents for anywhere from 4-8 hours on these. Our preference for avoiding unnecessary usage of single-use plastic did therefore leave us without nearly enough water for the last day of our trek route.
Therefore, we highly recommend that you always carry an additional filled-up 1.5 litre bottle of water per person (in addition to your regular water filter bottle) before setting off each morning - and factor this in as additional weight. There are also a handful of very small shops along the way too where you can top-up (our beer in the shade before we reached Llahuar was close to the best thing ever!).
Remember, staying hydrated is key to staving off the worst effects of the altitude and the heat!
This hike was the very first time we used hiking poles.
Like many travellers, we had dismissed them as something only for the old or the Austrians and so buying them was a big big step (after all, everyone would surely look at us and think we were that sort of hiker!?). However with so much of our Peru itinerary based around multiday treks, we felt that if hiking poles were going to be of any use at all to us, then this was the trip to find out.
And the result? Well, we are absolute converts. Although it’s possible to complete this and many other hikes without hiking poles, they do make a noticeable difference in terms of your speed, balance, stability, and weight distribution when lugging a backpack around dusty trails and steep descents and climbs for days. Our knees took less of a pounding, our recovery times were quicker, and we didn’t have any of those heavy achey leg sensations we used to get the morning after long hikes.
So, are hiking poles a good idea for the Colca Canyon Trek? Absolutely. Are the a good thing to take for the Inca Trail too? Absolutely.
We did a lot of research back in the UK before travelling, and opted for this travel set by Brasher - they’re lightweight, fold down to fit inside your backpack when not in use, and sturdy out on the trails too.
SWISS ARMY KNIFE
We never set off on a multiday or single day hike without our trusty Swiss Army knife. It’s essential for all the little moments that can crop up on the trails, like opening the can of tuna which has lost its ring pull, cutting duct tape for a bag tear, a beer bottle opener, or just acting like you’re bear Grylls etc.
This one by Victor Equinox is one of the best on the market for travellers, and has been getting us out of jams for the last 5 years.
The key to packing effectively for the Colca Canyon - whatever the season - is to appreciate that it can be roasting hot during the day and then quite chilly at night. So, you really do need to take suitable clothes for being sweaty and dusty out on the trails plus something cosy and comfortable for the evenings at high altitude. At some points, when you start early, you may also being the trail with an extra layer on top or on your legs before stripping down as the kms stack up and the Peruvian sun starts to shine.
Here’s what we packed for the hiking sections.
Invest in a pair of good quality, high-wicking, sports shorts. You will be wearing these shorts every day on the trails - they need to be breathable, light, quick-drying and in a material that won’t chafe (trust us, you do not want chafing!)
His | Running shorts by Baleaf
Hers | Nike running shorts
We’d also recommend taking a pair of hiking leggings (which are becoming a really popular choice amongst female hikers) or lightweight hiking trousers - which we wore to travel to / from Arequipa and on the trek too.
TWO HIGH-WICKING VESTS
Not only will you need vests that wick away all the sweat that this hike induces, they need to be quick-drying to allow you to rinse them out and/or dry them out for the next day. We took only two vests for our three days of hiking, but some of you may prefer to take a clean one for each day.
Experienced hiker tip? Don’t wear anything light coloured which you really love as it’s not uncommon for the sweat to build up and get engrained over the course of a few days and become a very very stubborn stain.
TWO SPORTS BRAS (GIRLS ONLY, OBVIOUSLY)
If you wash them out as and when required, two will be fine for the duration of the hike.
CLEAN PAIRS OF UNDERWEAR FOR EACH DAY
Of course, this is personal preference, but even when you’re filthy, putting on a new pair of pants makes all the difference! Andrew however is usually a ‘two days, one pair of pants sort of guy’ on multiday hikes, and so didn’t follow Emily’s lead…
A CLEAN PAIR OF HIKING SOCKS FOR EACH DAY
However, one essential piece of packing advice for the Colca Canyon Trek - and any other multiday trek - is to bring enough good quality hiking socks for each day on the trails (plus a spare pair to keep clean and dry in the evenings).
There is nothing, literally nothing, worse on a hike than having to put on the previous day’s wet or sweaty socks on in the early morning before setting off to cover several kilometres of tough terrain. Not only does it make you feel miserable, but it also massively increases the chances that you’ll develop blisters.
We bought several pairs these socks by Brasher and used them for the last six months - they’re perfect and affordable.
A SOLID PAIR OF HIKING BOOTS
This is not a hike to chuck on a pair of old trainers and hope for the best - you really, really do need a good pair of hiking boots (and if you’re heading to Peru, then you’ll likely be needing these hiking boots quite a lot on your trip).
Just be sure to wear them in first before going anywhere near the Colca Canyon.
A HAT AND SUNGLASSES
Whatever Colca Canyon Trek Route you choose, it’s best to get early-ish starts so that you can avoid the worst of the afternoon sun. However, you will inevitably be under the harsh, high-altitude UV rays for a number of hours, and so bringing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses is essential.
For the sweaty amongst you, you may prefer to opt for one of these multifunctional hike head wraps.
Preparing for a rainy spell is never a bad idea, and so we took our trusty waterproof North Face jackets; thankfully though we didn’t have to use them even though we were hiking at the beginning of the rainy season (November - April).
An alternative option is a packable rain poncho which folds up and fits nicely into any backpack - just make sure you get on that’s big enough to fit over you AND your backpack.
Bring a pair of swim shorts, bikini, or a swimsuit and go for a refreshing dunk in either the pools at the Sangalle oasis or the hot springs in Llahuar.
Once you’ve made it to the guesthouses in San Juan de Chuccho, Sangalle, or Llahuar, you will want to get out of your sweaty, smelly hike clothes and into something comfortable and warm for the evenings spent playing cards, enjoying the silence, and sipping on cold beers.
Before setting out on the Colca Canyon trek, you really need to appreciate that it pretty much all takes place at high altitude. This obviously presents risks for health and increases hike difficulty (see more in our How To Avoid Altitude Sickness in South America post or Colca Canyon Preparation Guide), but also means the evenings are usually much chillier than you may expect. In the popular dry season (May - November), the nights are at their coldest.
These can double up as your around the guesthouse trousers, as well as your sleepwear. Ideally these should cover your entire leg so as to protect you from any bugs and keep you warm. Emily went for her bog-standard loose travelling pants and Andrew simply used his lightweight hiking trousers.
CLEAN COTTON T-SHIRT
We both took a t-shirt which we kept dry and wore in the evenings. If you’ve got space, taking an extra one or two is a good idea.
An absolute essential, whether you’re hiking in dry or rainy season. We bought a couple which would be suitable for all our hikes and any chillier evenings in high-altitude cities in South America (spoiler: there’s a whole bunch of these), but wouldn’t take up too much room or weigh too much.
LONG-SLEEVED T-SHIRT / SHIRT
As with the trousers, bring something that’s warm enough and comfortable enough to sleep in as well as slouch around the guesthouse at night.
PYJAMAS / THERMALS
As we had them with us anyway, we just wore our thermal layers as pyjamas at night (plus most of our other night clothes).
Wooly Hat / Beanie
For those chilly nights, it makes all the difference (we may also have worn ours in bed).
Others did this, but we just stayed in our hiking boots thoughout (not in the shower of course, as that would be silly…but more on that later).
Lastly, a packing cube to keep your clean clothes away from the dirty ones (or vice versa), or your nighttime camp clothes away from your hiking ones (or vice versa!). We have used PRO packing cubes for years and had no complaints at all.
As much as we hate using plastic bags, bringing a couple (or something similar) with you to store really wet or dirty clothes isn’t a bad idea.
This is where you really want to be careful when it comes to your Colca Canyon packing, as too many liquid toiletries can add quite considerably to your weight. For every multiday hike, you either have to embrace the stink (whilst staying hygienic and relatively clean) or spend way too much time or effort trying to maintain city level standards of scent.
We are firmly in the stink camp, and only took one very short, very cold body shower during our three days on on the trails. Instead, the sink, deodorant, and facewash did the job pretty well. Note that we chose not to take shampoo or conditioner with us (and embraced the dirty hair look or cover it with a bandana).
Use a reusable plastic ziplock bag from the airport to stash it all in, or your usual toiletry case if you have room.
Toothpaste and toothbrush | Easy peasy.
Travel Towel | You should already have one with you for Peru - we use these towels by lifeventure.
Soap | We took one bar between the two of us.
Sunscreen | We took a SPF 30 for our body and SPF 50 for our face. A lip balm with SPF isn’t a bad idea due to the dry heat.
Bug Spray | On our hike we actually didn’t suffer at all with any bugs or bites. However, it’s sensible to carry a bottle of spray with you anyway, and we’re big fans of this one by Incognito which is deet-free, 100% natural, not tested on animals, and actually works.
Roll-on Deodorant | At least you can smell a little better throughout the day.
Micellar water and bamboo reusable face wipes | Quite possibly something that many of you may not consider essential but Emily now swears by these sustainable face cleaners on the road. An alternative would be a standard facewash.
Wet wipes / Facial wipes | Since realising how bad these are for the environment, we no longer use these and recommend that hikers don’t use them either. However, if you can’t do without, then please consider using these eco-friendly ones and do not discard them on the trail.
Toilet roll | Bring at least one roll per person.
Travel Hand Soap | Essential as you really don’t want to pick up a stomach bug on this trek.
Rehydration Sachets | If you are struggling with altitude and dehydration, these are essential to have with you.
Travel First Aid Kit | Here’s how to make your own one for adventures and hikes - read here.
Medication | You will be responsible for taking any of your own specific medication. It’s also a good idea to bring sanitary products, just in case.
And absolutely do not forget to ensure you have suitable travel insurance which specifically covers high altitude hiking (which the Colca Canyon Trek is).
This is a remote and relatively inaccessible hike, so it would be totally irresponsible to go without having everything in place. Both TrueTraveller and World Nomads are respected travel insurance providers who will provide coverage for high altitude hikes and other adventure activities.
It’s always a good idea when setting out on any adventure or trip to have your travel insurance details stored somewhere at home with family or friends, as well as on your person, so that you can access the policy number and claims telephone number in the event of an incident.
If you’re clueless about travel insurance, then these are the biggest mistakes to avoid when buying a policy.
FOOD + SNACKS + CASH
We don’t like to hike on very full stomachs, so we often take and eat less than some people on multiday hikes. Your breakfasts and evening meals will all be covered by your guesthouse, but you will be responsible for bringing your own fluids, snacks, and things for lunch (we think you can get lunch at guesthouses, but we didn’t want to plan our hiking route around lunch-stops).
We usually make tuna sandwiches for lunch on hikes like this, and we bought all the ingredients for this - as well as good ol’ nuts and raisins, energy bars, and sweeties for little boosts along the way - back in Arequipa at the supermarket in Plaza de Armas alongside our sporks and packable bowl. Those sweeties by the way are essential to keep the mood up, but just keep the wrappers in your bag to dispose of appropriately.
There are a handful of very small tiendas (shops) on the route if you need extra fluids or snacks, and the guesthouses also sell beers, drinks, and water. You should also make full use of having as much coca tea at the guesthouses as possible to help prevent altitude sickness.
There are no ATMs on the route and cash is king, so make sure to bring enough to cover your time on the route plus emergencies; it’s always best to take a third-more than you think you’ll need PLUS emergency - see our ‘What We Spent on The Colca Canyon’ post to plan your budget.
As travel bloggers and photographers, we are an absolute exception here as we carried way too much technology with us due to the very nature of our work. The two camera bodies, various lenses, and spare batteries added considerable weight to our bags and we would strongly advise considering how many photos you’ll actually take before chucking a large dSLR and multiple lenses into your bag for the Colca Canyon! You can see what’s in our travel camera bag here.
If you are going to be leaving a lot of technology back at the hostel in Arequipa, then we recommend storing them in the secure lockers available at World Backpackers hostel.
For everyone else, these are the essential pieces of technology to bring with you on the Colca Canyon Trek:
Our two guesthouses along the route did not have electricity in the evenings, and so we had to rely on our travel battery pack to charge our mobile phones (which also had our maps on them, so were absolutely essential). Some places may have charging points, but we wouldn’t rely on it.
Tip | Whilst hiking, put your phone on aeroplane mode and / or battery saver mode to conserve battery.
We bought local Peruvian SIM cards for our time in the country, but one of the best things about going on remote multiday hikes is to cut ourselves off from the internet. The lack of phone reception on the trek was wonderfully liberating and is something that should be fully embraced, but we know there’s definitely signal in Cabanaconde and Llahuar.
Phones do however have another use on the hike though, and with the exception of a couple of point and shoots, most people will use their phone as their main camera and to store handy maps and trek instructions (like this post!). They’re also necessary in the event of emergencies.
Once the sun went down, it was candlelight at both our guesthouses, so a head torch was absolutely essential. We’ve been taking two of these travel head torches by Petzl around the world with us for the last five years and will not be changing any time soon!
WHAT TO PACK FOR THE COLCA CANYON TREK
1 x 30l / 40l backpack
1 x refillable filter water bottle
1 x Swiss Army Knife
1 x Hat + Sunglasses
1 x sport shorts
2 x high-wicking vests
4-5 x pairs of underwear
4-5 x hiking socks
1 x hiking boots
1 x swim stuff
1 x packing cube
1 x rainponcho / jacket
1 x long-sleeved shirt / hoody
1 x camp slouch trousers
1 x cotton t-shirt
Snacks + Lunch Ingredients
1 x flip-flops
1 x travel towel
Various toiletries (including Incognito bug spray and suncream)
1 x first aid kit + meds +rehydration sachets
1 x head torch
1 x mobile phone
1 x power bank