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What to Pack for a Trekking Trip in South America

Of the many questions I’m asked by our travelers, the most frequent queries are about gear and packing, particularly in regards to preparing for a trekking trip to Peru or Patagonia.  In July of this year I’ll lead our Escorted Trek to Machu Picchu + Virgen del Carmen Festival trip and wanted to share some of the key pieces of gear and clothing I'll bring to Peru. This list is by no means exhaustive but will be useful for anyone wanting specific brand recommendations for clothes, shoes, packs, etc and an explanation of
why they were chosen. 
Footwear: Keeping your feet happy is essential on a trekking trip.  For any hike that is longer than a few  miles, I always wear my Asolo Stynger GTX hiking boots.  I like the over-the-ankle support, the relative light weight of the boot and the stiffness of the sole.  The GORE-TEX lining has held up well and they are still mostly waterproof and have good traction after several years and probably 1,000+ miles of trail through snow, mud and mountains.  For a lighter hiking shoe for easy day hikes, consider the Merrell Moab Waterproof or the Salomon X Ultra GTX, both light-weight waterproof or water resistant options.
Be sure to also bring a pair of ‘camp shoes’ for the evenings.  I like the Teva Bomber Sandal as they are comfy yet sturdy, can be worn with socks and have yet to develop the funky stink that my Keen Whisper Sandals adopted after just one backpacking trip to Spain. (Other friends who surely have nicer-smelling feet than mine have shared this issue as well so I am sure it isn't a personal problem!)
Socks: Wear whatever you like but make sure they aren't cotton.  I mix it up with medium weight hiking socks from REI, Smartwool and Wigwam in wool and synthetic fabrics. I also tend to favor higher, calf-length socks since they help deter the bugs, stinging nettles and thorny brush that you may encounter on or off the trail.
Packs: If you aren’t carrying your own gear, you don’t need a large pack.  For any trekking trip that is assisted by porters or pack animals, the Osprey Talon series is an excellent choice.  The packs range from 11 to 44 liters, are light weight and have comfortable padded shoulder straps and hip belts.  The mesh back panel enables greater breathability and the exterior-loading H2O compartment easily accommodates a variety of hydration bladder brands and sizes.  The only con I’ve found is that the pack fabric isn’t waterproof so you’ll need a pack cover if hiking in damp or rainy conditions. 
Trekking Poles:  Good for anyone who needs additional support or stability, particularly for your knees while hiking downhill.  Choose a shock-absorbing, adjustable pole that can collapse to fit inside of your checked luggage as TSA prohibits trekking poles in carry-on baggage. Black Diamondmakes several good models.
Clothing:  If I could only take two things to wear on a trekking trip, I would bring my Outdoor Research Women’s Treadway Pants and my Exofficcio Womens’s BugsAway Baja Long-Sleeve Shirt.  Both are lightweight, breathable, quick-dry for camp washing and offer water resistance and UV protection.  The shirt (which can be converted to short sleeves) contains Permethrin as well to help repel insects through 70 washings.   Obviously you’ll want more than just this and having some warm clothes, gloves, a hat and a waterproof layer on hand is essential, but these two are my go-to pieces.
Can’t Go Without:  Black Diamond Storm Headlamp; Tweezerman Tweezers; a Z-Pak of antibiotics; Nalgene Everyday 32 oz. Water Bottle and Steripen to treat water while traveling;  moleskin for blisters and hot spots ; OFF Deep Woods Towelette Wipes; Outdoor Research Lightweight Dry Sacks to compress all on my clothing and keep it dry and together. 
There are certainly other brands that manufacture similar items to those I mentioned above.  My advice is to try out a variety of products prior to your trip, read some gear reviews and find what works best for you. Just make sure you are prepared prior to departing for your adventure; certain brands and gear items we take for granted in their accessibility here are actually quite difficult to find or more expensive to purchase once overseas.
Kirsten Gardner is an avid hiker, climber, traveler and backpacker, sometimes tour leader and full-time South America Program Director for Wildland Adventures.  Contact her for more advice on trekking or adventure travel options in South America!
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