Walking and trekking

Walking and trekking

This is a highly practical section, aimed at those of you who have chosen to include a walking or trekking component to your travel in Perú. It contains the following sections. There are no illustrations as you may wish to print this out and take it with you. (And a relevant picture, perhaps of a sock, is hardly going to make your day!)

Making arrangements

Packing and containers
Clothing (low and high altitude)
Sleeping equipment
Support hardware
Washing and hygiene
Medical and health care
Photographic equipment

Everything which you take with you will be carried by someone or, more probably, by some animal, normally a mule or - rarely - a llama. You can take whatever you pay for if you travel under your own organisation, but most commercial treks allow no more than 10-12 kgs, or half a suitcase full of goods. (This is an individual llama's absolute upper limit, for those romantically inclined to use this less than practical animal.)

Your choice will be governed by where you are going and when you are going there. High treks need to focus on heavyweight sleeping bags and down jackets. Lower level treks may wish to consider frequent changes of clothing in their place. The list that we describe here is a 'consensus' general purpose selection.

It is advisable to buy as much as you can in your home country, both for reasons of time and those of confidence. Perú does have trekking shops, but you may nevertheless have to spend considerable time buying your goods locally. Foreigners tend to be larger than Perúvians, and as a consequence it may be hard to find items of clothing (and boots) that fit large people.

Here, then is a generic list of what a single trekker needs to take with them. We recommend that you buy all of this in your home country and bring it with you.

Containers:

Daypack, which should be made of nylon. Lightweight Velcro-sealed knife and flashlight containers can easily be stitched onto this. You need a quality lined aluminium water-bottle to fit firmly into a pocket on the day pack: see our note under 'hardware'.

Your sun hat should fit into a pocket on the day pack. Inside the day pack, you will carry a light jacket, preferable Gore Tex or related breathing fabric. It is helpful to have a stow-away or removable hood for this jacket. Do not use a waxed material, as it will either melt in the sun or crack in the cold. Waterproof over-trousers should also be a standard component in the day pack, also made of a breathing fabric. Trousers with zipped bell-bottoms (which allow them to be drawn over a boot, and then sealed down) are ideal.

Please note that you will almost certainly wear the jacket over your pullover, and the windproof trousers over your walking clothes (or under a walking skirt!) so buy a size with this in mind. All of these need to fit into the day pack together, so it is advisable to size this with these items to hand. It will also need to take other items, such as your camera, potential packed lunches and your pullover.

Main container(s) are used to carry the bulk of your belongings. These should have zippered flap-tops, rather than a zipped slit, which makes access difficult. You can use one large cylinder bag, but it is better to use to intermediate sized ones. Overfilling leads to zip failure, and it is better to use two partially-filled bags rather than one, packed tight as a sausage.

Containers will become heavily soiled and will be probably be discarded at the end of the trek. It is unnecessary to use heavy duty or water-proof products. Instead, one can solve both leakage and organisation by using several heavy duty plastic garbage bags to compartmentalise and waterproof them. Tupperware 'bacon boxes' 2" x 4" x 12", held together with rubber bands, make ideal containers for medicines, assorted hardware and crushable items. Porters will rope the bags together very hard, potentially crushing anything remotely fragile.

Clothing:

Low level trekking clothes:

The most critical item of clothing is, without doubt, your footwear. Low altitude trekkers can use trainers, walking shoes or even trekking sandals. A pair of flipflops are sensible for the camp site, for crossing streams and for washing in rivers.

Turning to clothing, natural fibres are preferable, although cotton-polyester blends are good. However, wool - save in the jumper which we recommend - is to be avoided. Male and female dress can be roughly the same, skirts accepted. However, this is not true of walking shorts. Andean mores do not accept women in very short pants, or very tight trousers. ("Even prostitutes would be shamed.") Trekkers are, of course, strange beings, and male trekkers are exempted from these norms. However, this is not true for women and we have to recommend differentiated dress for male and female trekkers in this regard.

Many women walk in below-the-knee skirts. Short-shorts and ski pants are likely to generate hard looks in villages, and will not earn you respect from the trekking team. Longer shorts are, however, now acceptable in the more intensely-trekked areas. However, these can drag on your knees when climbing, and it is advisable to try an example in a hill walk before committing yourself. (Take two of whichever you choose.)

Men should wear walking shorts that allow deep knee bends without constriction. These will take a lot of wear as you sit on and slide across rocks. The author uses (British) cotton rugby shorts, which are ideal for the task. (Take 2 pairs.)

Lightweight cotton shirts, preferably buttoned and short sleeved. T-shirts are not open to adjustment, but many use them. (Ideally, take one for each two days of the trek's laundry cycle. That is, if you are going to stop to allow washing to be done every four days, then you need three shirts.)

Underwear, cotton ankle socks. (Number as above, depending on your capacity to tolerate sweaty underwear.)

Long lightweight pants are useful for evenings in camp, and traveling. You will only need one pair.

A sun hat is essential. The best shade the eyes but do not blow off or get in the way of a camera. British army folding cotton hats ("hats, silly") are ideal, as they can be washed, stowed easily and even wetted for hot climbs. White hats look awkward in photographs. Waxed fabrics are disastrous in the tropical sun.

A scarf or bandanna can be helpful if are taking a dusty route, or if your face tends to sweat heavily.

High level trekking clothes

All of the 'low altitude' clothes are still required, as one will get hot climbing. The trick to managing one's comfort at altitude is to add and remove layers, as the need arises. For purposes of walking, the jacket and over-trousers specified with the back pack, above, are ideal. A stowable hood is a helpful feature of many such coat. A lightweight jumper acts as an under-layer to the wind-proof coat. Cashmere is perfect, if costly; Polarfleece is affordable but disinclined to roll up tight.

A down jacket is essential if one is going over 3500mand sleeping out of doors. Invest in a good quality down coat with a hood. It is seldom necessary to buy a water-proofed one, which can add considerably to the cost and weight. You will almost certainly wear the jacket over your pullover, so buy an appropriate over-size. Down leggings are almost never used, save on mountaineering expeditions.

You will need dark glasses if you are going to walk on snow. Snow glasses are much darker than conventional sun glasses, and can be bought in ski shops. You may want a second pair for lower altitude wear. Try to get glasses with neutral tints if you are a photographer, as it is possible to make major errors if what you see - and what the camera sees- are quite different.

It is not advisable to walk in trainers at high altitude. If they get wet, you may get frost bite. Walking shoes or boots, whether made of leather, synthetics or and amalgam of these, are much better. Some find that high sided boots offer ankle support, whilst others (including the authors) find them irritating. If you are going to walk on snow for protracted periods, however, both high boots and walking shoes need gaiters to keep the snow out. Modern designs have reduced these to ankle-hugging items, rather than the clumsy calf-length products of a decade ago. These tie in well with the light trousers which you will have brought for lowland evenings. Long socks and woolly socks do not usually help either in this regard or to keep you warm. They require a larger size in boot than do conventional cotton socks. They are also hard to wash and dry quickly.

You will need a pair of long, thick trousers, as the evenings may involve long periods of sitting in sub-zero temperatures. Alternatively, long light trousers can be combined with over-trousers to achieve the same effect. If you are going to do this, note that you will need a larger size of over-trouser.

Sleeping:

Mosquito nets are essential in the lowlands, used either against mosquitoes or sand flies. They also ward off Chagas bugs in villages. You may wish to take a powdered or aerosol insecticide (Permethrin or Pyrethrum powder, available as a dog flea powder) if you are going to use second-hand bedding in which bed bugs, fleas and the like may have set up house.

Sleeping bags can be obtained on rental from at least some trekking companies. If you are going to do this, ensure that you are traveling with a reputable organisation or you may end up scratching. If you are tall - over six foot - then rental bags and jackets may be too small for you. It is advisable to acquire your own.

If you are going over 3000m, then you must have a suitable sleeping bag. Down-filled bags weighing over 1.5 kg are appropriate. Ensure that they have a hood. This weight will be hot in the lowlands and you will want to use it as a quilt. If you are taking a lowland trek, then you can use a lighter bag. There are fleece bag liners which are intended for extreme treks, but which make fine tropical quilts when used on their own.

Mattress rolls are extremely important if you are sleeping high, or on rough ground. Much of your body heat is lost to the soil without insulation. Rough ground can make sleeping hard without padding. Mattresses come in two basic forms, the inflatable and the fixed. The former are somewhat heavier to carry and much more costly, but are extremely nice to use. (Do not forget a puncture repair kit.) Others vary from collections of rods to foam sheets of varying thicknesses. You can buy mattresses which are body length or torso-only, one person or two.

If you are going on an extended walk, then it is sensible to take two cotton sleeping bag liners, which can be washed as the need arises. If you are sharing a tent with a stranger, these also offer vestiges of modesty to those who feel the need. Nightwear is not something which most veteran trekkers bother. However, naked twosomes can be embarrassing with strangers, and individuals will need to make their own choices. Note that you may have to leave the tent at night and that naked wanderings can be chilly. If you are sleeping in villages, modesty counts.

A separate bag for items that are useful at night can itself be packed into one of the carrying bags, and deployed in the tent in the evening. This is a fine place to put flashlights, glasses, a watch and other small items that may be needed and which may get lost at night.

Hardware:

You will need:

A water-bottle that will fit into a pocket on your day pack (and not fall out!) This should be at least a half litre in capacity. Aluminium bottles are robust and usually resin lined. Plastic bottle change shape when filled with hot water. The crack in the day pack and will discolour or worse if iodine is used as a water purifier.

Two flashlights (mini-Maglites are ideal.) Mount one of these on your day pack, keep the other with your toiletries. Large flashlights are not helpful. Some treks provide candles for the tent. You may wish to bring your own (or nightlights.)

Batteries for each of the appliances that you are taking. It is wise to settle on - for example - AA batteries and buy only appliances which use these.

Take a notebook and something to write with. Some like to record each photograph, others their impressions of the day. A decade later, these can make interesting reading, but only  if you have put your best efforts into them.

A small short wave radio, or other source of entertainment. Take at least one 'solid' book, particularly if you are walking half days.

A battery shaver, if you need one. (Saves cold water shaving in the morning!)

A waterproof watch. An altimeter is fun to have, as it allows you to see how much you have (or have not) climbed. Some people like to take a compass.

Binoculars make an enormous difference to the enjoyment of a trek. One can see details, botanise or bird-watch whilst having lunch, look ahead for camp sites, scrutinise the local mountains for their secrets. There are very high quality lightweight glasses available from Nikon, Leitz and other manufacturers. This is one area where quality really pays. Keep them in your day pack.

There are many 'sundries' hat can be very helpful. Here are some examples: Needle and thread. Spare buttons. Stout rubber bands and a few safety pins, fulfil a host of needs. A pair of medical-quality scissors are universally useful, as is a folding knife (best kept in the day pack.) A small roll of cloth-reinforced duct tape is often useful  - for example, in making a handle on a walking stick, repairing a leaking tent base and so forth. A gas cigarette lighter has many uses: for example, in assisting in leech removal. Keep it in your day pack. Spare laces for each kind of shoe that you take. Boot wax if you have leather boots. (Screw top container needed.)

Camera equipment and film. See a note, below.

Hygiene:

You will need:

Mini-packs of strong tissues (e.g. extra strength Kleenex.) Excellent for those breaks in the bushes. However, do not buy mentholated ones unless you seek a fundamental glow after use. You will need one of these per day. They are usually sold in packs of eight or twelve.

Impregnated tissues, such as Wet Ones. These are sold in self-sealing soft packs, as well as the less useful rigid containers. Four soft packs are ideal for a 20 day trek.

Paper washing up cloths, such as the "J Cloth" brand. These serve as towels and face flannels for washing, as well as a host of other mopping tasks. You can easily afford the weight to carry one for each day of the trek.

Liquid soap, in a burst-proof screw top container. Shower gels are not a good idea, as they do not wash off in cold water. A product called "Travelwash", aimed at clothing, is actually ideal when used in small quantities to wash yourself. It can also be used for laundry.

Skin care is important at altitude. The best general purpose skin treatment is Vaseline, which can also loosen jammed zippers and perform a host of other useful duties. Traditional cosmetics can become encrusted in sleeping bags and other surfaces. You will also need a tube of lip salve, for cracking, which it is as well to carry in your day pack. Sun block is sold in similar 'lipstick' form and is useful as a top up. You also need a general sun screen and a total block, for extremes and the aftermath of sunburn. If the containers are not screw top, then transfer to a bottle which is.

You will need the usual hair care and other equipment. Tooth brushing requires boiled water, which is easy come by in an organised trek, but not always when you want it. Many carry tooth picks as a simpler and more immediate form of oral hygiene.

Feet and boots can become malodorous, and suitable powders work wonders. A container of this allows a sprinkle every morning before setting out.

Contact lenses are a nuisance on trek. They are, as users know, highly sensitive to dust. If the tent freezes, then so does the lens container and liquids. Worst of all, however, if the fact that contacts reduce the oxygen getting to the cornea, which needs to 'breathe'. At low altitudes, this does not seem to matter. However, when one is high up, the matter can become acute and the user may experience severe eye pains. Contacts also chill easily in the intense cold and this, to, may cause pain.

Medical:

We discuss the health problems which people may encounter elsewhere. This section also includes a suggested kit which you should take with you, and hints as to the medical preparations which you need to take before you leave and after you get back home. It is pointless to repeat this here. It may, however, be worth pointing out that all list of potential medical problems read like horror stories. Perú is largely an easy place in which to stay health if you follow elementary guidelines about hygiene and prophylaxis.

One factor that it is worth mentioning is that it is the budget traveler who is most exposed to hazards, from poor sanitation to malarial mosquitoes. A happy-go-lucky approach, which otherwise fits so well with this style of travel, nevertheless sets you up for an unhappy time. Further, if you get ill and continue to push yourself on a strenuous schedule, then you will probably get even more ill. This is particularly so in the case of Hepatitis infections and chronic diarrhea, where you not only get worse but give the problem to your fellow travellers. If you get sick, stop and get well. Spend money on health - it is an asset without which you will enjoy absolutely nothing of your trip.

Photographic:

The type of camera that you take matters a great deal. We will confine these remarks to still photography, but much of what is said applies to video. We exist in a peculiar time for photographers: video and still cameras are merging together, and film is giving way to electronic media.

Electronic cameras have much to commend them. You can store huge numbers of pictures on a single memory card - up to ten conventional films, at reasonable resolution. They are generally light and versatile. At the same time, the cheaper ones are intensely fragile, are unhappy in extreme conditions and are useless once their battery is flat.

In general, many cameras use proprietary or unusual rechargeable batteries. Some, however, use AA and related sizes which can be bought easily in local shops. Many locations which you may visit will not have electricity. Some batteries can be charged from 12v car batteries, using the cigar lighter plug. Others cannot. It is even possible to buy inexpensive solar charges for lithium AA (LiMH) batteries but not, as yet, for the specialist batteries used in many cameras and in video recorders.

One needs to think about three basic issues when considering trek photography: weight, versatility and reliability. There is usually a direct pay-off between these, and particularly between weight and reliability. Light cameras break. Versatility often implies complexity, and with it, risk. Optical versatility translates into kilogrammes of lenses which need to be carried around. Our recommendation is that you seek a compromise solution which is both simple and above all robust. It is helpful to know what kind of picture you want to take - close-up wildlife or distant birds, sweeping panoramas or human groups, and select you equipment accordingly. It is better to have one lens and a heavy, reliable camera than two lenses and a light camera that has stopped working.

Price is important in determining reliability. The typical low-cost camera has been optimised for the typical photograph: the family group in the garden, the dog on the lawn, the Christmas lunch. It is not designed to be either very robust or very versatile. Consumer digital cameras regard a beach party as rough stuff. A cheap conventional camera often has a fixed 35mm lens which will reduce a mountain to a pimple, whilst firing off its flash to perfectly expose the bush in the foreground. When bounced around in a dusty pack, it is likely to turn its face to the wall and die.

The so-called "prosumer" end of the integrated digital camera market offers some fine products. Most are light, versatile and effective. They are, however, almost all fairly fragile and utterly dependent on their batteries. Digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras currently cost much more than their conventional equivalents. They give striking performance, and offer adequate battery life if one plans ahead. Some use batteries which can easily be bought locally, whilst others offer grips which contain such batteries as a back-up. offer This guide was taken with a mix of conventional film (Leicas) and digital SLRs (Nikon). Judge the result for yourselves. If you want printed photographs, use film. If you want to put your pictures onto your computer, or the Internet, consider digital cameras. If you are going to fire off vast numbers of images - in action sport photography, for example - then digital is for you.

At the time of writing, however, it is plainly the case that SLRs that use conventional film offer relatively cheap versatility, coupled with proven reliability. However, the mid-price models which are laden with features are always crucially dependent on their batteries, and are often fragile. It is better to stick to the more basic models of well-established brands if you are going to use conventional film whilst trekking. The lens quality is the same, and they will give limited service even without a battery.

If you have chosen a single lens reflex camera which can accept a range of lenses, then you will want to decide on the ones that you want to carry. The standard 50-60mm lens reproduces the geometry perceived by the eye. It is also usually the lightest lens on offer. You do not need a really fast lens in the Andes unless you want to photograph inside houses and or at night. It is advisable to supplement this with at most one other lens, or you will be carrying kilos of glass. You will also tend miss the shot as you fumble around. A popular focal length is 35mm, but this requires an intimacy with the human subject which you are unlikely to get very often, and which reduces the drama of many landscapes. The 90mm lens is fine for picking detail in landscape and for posed portraiture; whilst the 135mm is good for details in village scenes. Zoom lenses have overcome the problems of quality and weight which they once represents and are now offered as the basic standard lens by some manufacturers. You pay a weight penalty, but gain greatly in versatility. Bear in mind that digital SLRs multiply lens focal lengths by a factor 1.5, so that a 50mm lens acquires a new length of 75mm.

If you are a keen photographer and are going to use film, then you should take one 36 exposure reel for each day of the walking trek. Mark containers with a sticker that you can peel off when the film inside has been exposed. Keep a spare reel in your day pack, and make the switching of this, tissues and so forth a daily ritual. ASA200 film seems to offer the latitude required on trek, although some may want to keep some slower film for snow scenes and a roll of fast film for the dark. Note that without multiple camera bodies, you are doomed to use these rolls only once. The brand of film to use is something for individual taste, not least as the colour quality on offer varies between nations in order to meet local preference. One should buy in one's home base if one is to be certain of continuity.

Perú offers hundreds of shops that develop film (revelar peliculas.) The chemicals used are seldom fresh and you are advised to wait until you get home. If you want fast feedback, use digital cameras.

Digital cameras use a range of storage media, with the compact flash card as the current storage of choice. It is probably better to take two 256 megabyte cards in place of one 512 megabyte one, as you have not put all your eggs in one basket. That will give you over 1000 images at reasonable levels of quality, and you can of course edit these during the trip. Some cameras allow you to transfer images to a separate card, so you keep the one in the camera empty and have an editing session each night. Beware of the power drain associated with such activities if you are relying on batteries. One can easily spend a happy hour shuffling images, and then find that one has no power left!