What I Learned About Packing for a Boundary Waters Trip from Backpacking in Peru

Second campsite on the Lares Trek near Chupani Incan ruins

Lares Trek campsite

I recently returned from Peru, which, among other things, included a three day, two night backpacking trek through the Andes. With a weight limit for our personal items, we had to think strategically about our packing and weigh the importance of each item I packed. What I learned during the packing process is applicable to any camping trip and might help you pack your personal items for a canoe trip in Superior/Quetico country.

Dress like an onion: The saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes, it’ll change,” rings as true in the rural areas of Peru as it does in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In both places, it’s not unheard of to experience all four seasons in a 24 hour (or less!) period of time, so dressing in layers is key. Because I was only on trail for 3 days, I packed just one outfit to see me through all weather: lightweight nylon pants (not zip-off, but ideally they should have been), tank top, long sleeve tech shirt, wool turtleneck sweater, Primaloft packable vest. I also packed a pair of wool long underwear to use as pajamas or as an extra layer if it got really cold. We hiked mostly in 50+ degree weather, so I only wore the tank top and long sleeve shirt, but I sure wanted the sweater and vest in camp at night when temps dipped into the low 30s.  At the end of the hike, the clothing remained fresh enough that I could have worn it for a couple more days.

(Another “pack light” tip for ladies: if you have a tank top with a shelf bra, use that as your base layer and leave the bra in the apres shower/clean laundry bag for the end of the trip.)

Wool is king: Cotton just isn’t the fabric of our camping lives.  Although wool gets a bad rap as bulky and itchy, recent advances in merino wool/nylon blends have created a plethora of lightweight socks (some “smarter” than others) and undergarments perfect for camping. Wool wicks moisture, is breathable and warm, and feels clean for much longer than cotton. Personally, I’d rather spend more and enjoy dry feet all day, rather than having my feet rotting away in a pair of cheap cotton socks.

Other things you won’t be sad you spent a little more on: rain gear, hiking boots, a sunhat with a chin strap, and a reliable and easy to use headlamp.

Lares Trek trail, second day hiking to Sicllaccasa Pass.

Headed uphill on the second day to the 15,500 ft pass

Repack your pills: When you’re out in the woods, you want to nip any medical issues in the bud, so I basically lugged around an entire pharmacy: ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, Diamox (high altitude/motion sickness pills), Benadryl, Immodium, Gas-X, Ny-Quil, etc. etc.  Our physician told us to keep the medications in their original bottles for the plane trips, but before the hike, I should have spent two minutes repacking six of each pill (or the daily maximum of pills x the number of days on the trail) into a small pill organizer case. I appreciated having all of the medications along; I just didn’t full bottles rattling around my backpack, since you only need one or two of each pill during your trip, if you need them at all.

Children on the Lares Trek in Cusco, Peru region

Children from the nearby farms we hiked beside.

Be comfortable: I like to pack light, but within reason. To me, it was worth the extra weight to throw in a couple items to make evenings in camp a little cozier. I knew I wanted to change out of my hiking boots and I wanted to slip into something warmer than a pair of lightweight flip-flops, especially with night temps close to freezing. I settled on wool clogs with rubber soles which felt warm, sturdy, and secure as I navigated the campsite after dark. On a similar note, throw in a small towel or washcloth and heat up a little extra water when you’re starting dinner so you can do a quick sponge bath each evening.

Backpackers on the Lares Trek looking towards the Sacred Valley

On the downhill descent towards the Sacred Valley

You need far less “goop” than you think you do: I needed far less personal hygiene items than I predicted. My mom gave me a 1 oz. tube of 70 SPF sunscreen for the trip, which seemed pretty darn pithy. Yet, despite frequent liberal sunscreen applications, at the end of the trip, I’d only used half the tube. I packed 4 oz of Purell, but used about an ounce. While it’s better safe than sorry, you probably need less than half of what you think necessary.

One thing that worked out perfectly were the OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent wipes. We didn’t visit at a buggy time of year and wore long sleeves almost exclusively, so having these towelettes available was way better than lugging along a big spray can of basically untouched bug spray, even though the towelettes meant a little more trash to pack out.

Llamas carrying backpacking gear on the Lares Trek in the Peruvian Andes

A crew of llamas relieved us of most “portaging” duties.

What have your travels taught you about the “bare necessities?”

Update: We’ve developed this Boundary Waters personal gear packing list based on the packing list I used for Peru.

3 Responses

  1. Great entry! I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Andes as well on the trail to Macchu Picchu. What a beautiful area. I’m sharing this blog post with my paddling friends

  2. Matthew Risley says:

    Awesome Photos! Thanks for sharing your adventure. I always look forward to hearing about BWCA or stuff like this. Keep em coming.

  3. thomas rettler says:

    In another lifetime, 1985, I made a 3 week trek through The Towers of Paine National Park in Patagonia in southern Chile with Mountain Travel. The trek itself was 150 miles in 10 days. Ten of us with three Chilean guides. My 25 years of canoe camping in the BWCA (at that time) put me in good stead with the camping part but was a challenge for the legs. Know what you mean with the backpacking and clothing issues. Trip of a lifetime. So nice you got to see Peru and had someone to leave behind for phone watch. .