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The Inca Trail: a gear guide

We´re currently backpacking around Peru and as outdoor enthusiasts the classic Inca Trail was a must do on our itinerary. We booked our trip back in March for June so we´ve had plenty of time to prepare for the 3 night/4 day trek.

First of all, a quick round-up of the trek. The whole trail was amazing. There were plenty of Incan ruins to see on the way as well as copious amounts of steps going up and going down – a trip not for the faint hearted! The first day was supposed to be the easiest but there was still a fair bit of incline to get through. The second day was dubbed the hardest, it was merely steps, steps and more steps, going up as well as going down, pretty hard on the knees! We reached the highest point of the trail on this day. The third day was the most interesting day. We stopped off at 3 ruins throughout the day and hiked through the rainforest where the colours of the flowers were just beautiful. To end the third day we had to walk down more than 3,000 steps down, also known as the gringo killer! The final day we walked a total of around 1.5 hours to reach Machu Picchu!
Gear guide
Walking boots – Make sure you´ve got a decent pair of boots on. We prefer the boots which provide ankle support as the terrain is very uneven and it is not uncommon for ankles to roll over. Other properties to lookout for is a high level of grip, especially if its been raining as the steps can be slippy. This brings us on to another essential property, water resistance. The weather in the mountains is highly unpredictable and you need to be prepared for all weathers. Another tip is to ensure that your boots are worn in as you don´t want any rubbing or blisters after the first day.

Walking socks – A good pair of walking socks are a must on this hike. Thicker socks will provide more comfort, and as it gets pretty cold at night, you will be thankful for a warm pair of socks to wear to sleep. A good excample is the Brasher Dual Trail Sock which are two layered and also provide thermoregulating properties.

Walking trousers/Shorts – It can get pretty hot during the walk so some zip off short/trousers are ideal. It also means that you can pack a pair of shorts as well as trousers in one item saving space in your bag.

Waterproof Jacket – As mentioned, the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains so a lightweight waterproof jacket is a must. One which is small to pack would be ideal as you will have to carry everything in your rucksack unless you have hired a porter. A good example would be the Craghoppers Endurance Jacket.

Warm fleece/Jumper – At night the mountains can be very cold and at such a high altitude, you will need some decent items of warm clothing. A warm jumper/hoody/fleece is a must as once you get to camp, your body temperature cools almost instantly. I took the Icebreaker Powder Hood as its thermoregulating properties which means that it can keep you warm at when cold and relatively cool when its hot.

Thermals – It is best to bring some thermals with you to sleep in at night to ensure that you are warm. Sleeping in tents in the mountains can be very cold but some of the best thermals for this are Icebreaker garments. We slept in Icebreaker leggings and a long sleeved Icebreaker top. Considering how thin the items were, they provided much warmth and didn´t take up much space in my bag.

Rucksack – If you are not hiring a porter, you will need as a minimum a medium sized bag – maybe around 40 litres. It will need to fit 4 days worth of clothes, toiletries, sleeping bag and a sleeping mat as well as snacks. A side pocket to hold a bottle of water also comes useful.

Sleeping bag – a decent sleeping bag is a must. Down sleeping bags are highly recommended as they can pack up prety small and provide a lot of warmth.

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Lifesystems Release Slow Release Insect Repellent

If your planning a trip away and looking over insect repellent options then new to the market is a slow release DETT based repellent from Lifesystems. Marketed as the the longest lasting repellent available it’s been developed with 3M.

The cream is specially formulated cream to slow the evaporation of the DEET from your skin, so you stay protected for longer. Protection lasts for up to 12 hours and repels all sorts of bugs from mosquitoes, midges, horseflies, sandflies, gnats, fleas and ticks.

 

Expedition Endurance Insect Repellent

 

The bottle comes in 60ml tube which means it’s allowed in your hand luggage on a plane. You pick up the new Expedition Endurance insect repellent from Cotsworld Outdoor for £9.00

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Benefits of Travel Bags

If your planning a long trip you might want to think about taking a travel bag rather than a standard ruck sack. Travel bags have several features that ease travelling and help you on your way.

  • Attached day back
    You don’t want to be using the big bag during the day, so a day pack is great for day trips. It attaches to the back of the main pack so when your travelling you don’t have to carry a day pack on your front.
  • Travel zips
    Travel zips feature feature lockable loops and are heavy duty. This allows your to lock up when your backs in transit.
  • Compression straps
    Around the side of the back compression straps reduce the size of the bag and keep your belongings fixed.
  • Hidden pockets
    For tickets, passports etc can all be hidden.
  • Wheels
    Not great all the time put in a airport it’s great to be able to wheel about.
  • Base compartments
    For boots, dirty washing you can keep then in a separate department.
  • Adjustable back straps
    You can carry the back on your back, straps adjust for a better fit.
  • Back straps cover
    When not using the straps you can cover them up with a fabric flap that zips up. This stops the straps being ripped or caught when in transit.
  • Full opening main pocket
    You can open the main pocked fully so you don’t have to get everything out to get items from the bottom of the bag.
  • Top and side handles
    Pick it up either way

So plenty of reasons for using a travel pack. We’ll be adding reviews of travel bags over the next few weeks.

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Take a laptop backpacking?

dsc00879
Image by dasnake via Flickr

There seems to be an increasing trend for people taking laptops with on backpacking holidays. It seems a bizarre thing to do, after a little investigation here’s some point about why you should and shouldn’t take a laptop backpacking.

Advantages

  • It could be cheaper in the long run as you won’t need to pay for internet cafe usage, that’s providing you can get free wifi.
  • Staying in touch with people back home is easier. If your suffering from home sickness a call or Skype home can really help. Skype also works out cheaper than paying for phone cars and pay phones.
  • Work, you don’t want to be working while on holiday but you can keep earning from article writing or other online schemes.  Having your laptop means you can keep bringing in cash as you travel which can extend your travels.
  • Back up, it’s another pace to backup your data from your camera or video camera. As well as having the files on the laptop you can then send back home or upload to sites such as Flickr or Facebook.
  • Preparation, you can surf the net easily to find our about your next destination for places to stay or things to do in the local area.
  • Entertainment, you can fit a lot more songs on a hard dive than a laptop. It’s also better for watching TV or films than using a iPod. You can even play solitaire!

Disadvantages

  • It’s heavy, you’ll have to carry it about, including the power lead. Even if you take a small notebook laptop it’s still going to be heavy to carry, you may need a bigger bag too.
  • Breaking, your bag will get bashed about when traveling so without protection a laptop going to get smashed into bits. Adding protection does the trick but adds weight to your pack
  • If you lose it or have the laptop stolen your going to have to foot a bill to buy a new one, or pay the excess to claim on your travel insurance. Check your travel insurance covers it, some only cover a couple of hundred of pounds for theft of items which won’t buy you a new laptop.
  • Travelling for some is about getting away from technology and not being connected 24/7, so taking your laptop isn’t really getting away from it all.

Overall there does seem more advantages to taking a laptop, for me getting into the outdoors and travelling is about getting away from TV, laptops and computer games, so best to leave the laptop at home!

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What Size Bag for Backpacking?

Camping Equipment
Image by wetwebwork via Flickr

If your thinking about backpacking for a while e.g. over 2 months your decision about a backpack is a big one. Too small backpack and you have to carry another bag or throw away gear. Too big and you’ve wasted space and you’ll carry extra items you may not need. A great way to decide on what type of bag you need and what size is to do a sample pack.

A sample pack is basically packing your gear into an existing bag, friends bag or even down at your local store. This then gives you a benchmark before your buy your bag, or reaffirms you can use your current backpack.

Get a list of items you’ll be taking and pack them into your current bag. If you pack into 40 litre backpack and you fill it with still more gear to pack you’ll need a bigger bag. Alternatively if you finish packing and you have lots of room to spare you might want consider a smaller bag.

Remember, you want to have a little space for items you pick on your way and any food you need to carry. Often keeping to a small bag is a good if you have no packing discipline, e.g. you want to take everything including the kitchen sink. Having a small bag ensures you keep to the minimal items.

If you don’t have a sample bag to pack into then head down to your local camping / outdoors store with your gear and start packing! Best ask the staff before but that’s what the display models on the hangers are there for. In Manchester’s camping shops along Deansgate most of the staff are more than happy to help!

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Cooking Equipment for Backpacking

photograph of a hand holding a titanium spork
Image via Wikipedia

We had an email recently from a reader about taking cooking equipment for backpacking in Europe. After a little research here are some tips and ideas.

Lightweight

Lightweight equipment is key, plastic plates and cups help, including foldable ones such as Orikaso Solo Set. Take a small burner that runs off liquid or gas, take a spork which is a spoon and a fork all in one. For a sharp knife use a pen knife, you should have one if your kit already.

Durable

Your bag will take some bashing, from dropping on the floor after a long walk, being thrown about by baggage handlers so your equipment needs to be tough to take the punishment. Packing items in clothes and towels can help to protect but if your equipment is tough you need to worry where it’s placed in your backpack. There’s a middle ground between weight and toughness, often the lighter the product the more likely it is to break. A happy medium seems to be titanium plates, sforks and pans, which maintain toughness but won’t weigh you down.

Washing

You’ll need to wash your kit, take a small bottle of washing up liquid (check out the ecover washing up liquid) and some sort of sloth / scrubbing brush. If your outside they should dry off quickly so no need for a tea towel.

Do you really need it?

If your planning on staying in hostels many have cooking facilities for you to use. Research on the internet or call ahead to work out what they have. There’s nothing worse than carrying a piece of kit and not using it at all.

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Need a Pillow When Travelling?

Travel Pillow
Image by brunomiranda via Flickr

If your planning on going backpacking then one item you maybe considering taking is a pillow. With space at a premium in your backpack a pillow could be seen as a luxury item. Here are a few options that you could consider instead of lugging a large pillow around.

1. Travel pillow with compression sack

You can pick one up for a couple of quid and a compression sack allows you to make the pillow really small when carrying it around. It’s going to just enough to fit your head on.

2. Inflatable pillow

A small inflatable pillow it a great option. A few puffs and its up, best of all it should only take up a little space in your pack once deflated.

3. Clothes

Use the clothes your not wearing in the day and stack them up to make a pillow.  The only problem is you might not have enough clothes to make a decent pillow and often your clothes are drying at night.

4. Clothes and hooded sleeping bag

Some hooded / mummy sleeping bags have a pocket in the hood allowing you to stuff clothes in. This helps keep your clothes in place allowing for a comfortable night’s sleep.