I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I decided to trek in Torres del Paine. I looked at a group of girls with wide, doe eyes as they told me how difficult their experience was. Learning everything I needed to know just days before the trek was not the best way to prepare. Here are 10 pieces of key information and pro tips for trekking in Torres del Paine you need to know that I wish I knew earlier.
The Difference Between the “O”, “W”, and “Q” Circuits
The shortest trek is the 4-night/5-day W circuit. Starting from either Paine Grande or the Las Torres Hotel, you’ll trek right through some of the most beautiful trails in Torres del Paine National Park. Check out this post for more information about what to expect on the W trek.
The 7-night/8-day O trek includes the full W trek and encompasses the northern side of Torres del Paine National Park.
The “full circuit” Q trek starts from near the Las Carretas camp and is the W an O combined for 9-nights/10-days.
I was really happy with the W trek last April, but I also didn’t have the option to do either of the longer treks in full because different parts of the park were already closed for the season. Some did the tail of the Q, but the northern part of the part was already closed. Choose your circuit depending on what you want to see and your hiking ability. You can’t go wrong!
Direction: West to East or East to West?
When it comes to the treks (specifically the O and W), the options are to either hike from East to West or West to East. Everyone has varying schools of thought on this. Some say you’ll have better views trekking in one direction versus another (to which I say you should look around in all directions while hiking to see the views), while others argue that one direction is easier than the other. I opted to trek West to East. Here’s why:
- The weather had been unpredictable in the days leading up to my trek. Friends were unable to see Las Torres when they hiked from the east the day before so I wanted to leave some time for the weather to improve.
- Seeing Las Torres at the end of my trek would have been the best way to end it. It said to be one of the most magnificent sights and I wanted to save the best for last.
- I’d heard that some of the trails on the eastern part of the trek were difficult. By starting from the west, I was allowing time for me to acclimate to hiking and carrying my pack. I’d be carrying less food (meaning less weight) in the latter days of the trek, so the more difficult parts wouldn’t be as challenging.
Where to Find Information about the Trek and Rent Equipment
Plan to stay in Puerto Natales, Chile for at least two nights before beginning your trek. Attend the information session at Base Camp, the bar next to Erratic Rock Hostel. You will learn everything you need to know and more about the trek at the information session from packing tips to what to expect with the weather. You might even find a trekking partner at the information session if you’re looking for one. As a girl who really didn’t know anything about camping beforehand, the information session was invaluable to me and I took note of many suggestions.
Renting Trekking and Camping Equipment:
Base Camp is also your go-to place to rent trekking and camping gear. There are lots of other shops in town, but Base Camp has everything you’ll need and even has a free bin with items trekkers had left over after returning from the park.
Weather: Expect the Unexpected
Depending on the time of year, the weather in Torres del Paine is unpredictable. I got lucky and experienced sunshine every day with only a few hours of rain one day on the W, but just a few days earlier other friends were trekking through snow and rain. The weather can also change in an instant. Prepare to face all the elements. You can experience all four seasons in one day when in Torres del Paine.
Refugios vs. Camping
Refugios are the hostels or refuges on site in Torres del Paine. There are multiple refugios along the way but depending on the season, some might be closed. All of the refugios have campsites, but if the refugio is closed the campsite probably is, too. Keep this in mind as you map out how much you’ll be walking every day.
Staying in the refugio doesn’t come cheap. You could either book just a bed and bring your own sleeping bag or pay more for full board. Depending on the season, rates are as low as around $50 per night for just a bed to upwards of $350 for full cabins for two people.
Reserving campsites was not an issue when I trekked in Torres del Paine, but I was recently told this season all trekkers must reserve their campsites in advance. If you’re camping on site at the refugio, you’ll be able to use kitchen facilities (a sink, bring your own stove) and the bathrooms. When camping at the regular campsites, sometimes you won’t even have access to a bathroom. Plan accordingly!
You can check rates for the campsites and refugios here:
Packing Lists and Tips
It’s really important to pack well for this trek, especially if you’re venturing out solo. This is not The Hunger Games; items that you’ll need will not float down from the sky when you need them. You might be able to buy some items at the refugios, but everything is extremely overpriced in the park. This means packing only what you need and leaving the rest at your accommodation in Puerto Natales.
This is was my packing list excluding food and clothes (to be discussed later):
- Backpack: I rented a backpack from Base Camp because I was leaving almost all my belongings in Puerto Natales. A few friends returned with their backpacked chewed through from the mice, so I didn’t want to risk that happening to my own backpack. The pack I rented was a Mammut 60L pack, but any pack large enough to fit a sleeping bag and tent will work. But make sure it fits comfortably!
- Trekking poles: I thought trekking poles looked really dorky at first. From the get-go, I realized that I’d never have been able to get through the trek without them. Trekking poles took so much of the pressure off my already-strained knees and made the trek so much more manageable. Although I pinched a nerve in my shoulder from the combination of the repetitive motion of using the trekking pole and the weight of my pack, the poles were so helpful.
- Cooking utensils: stove, gas, pot, fork, spoon, lighter (I just ate out of the pot, so I didn’t bring a bowl)
- Baby wipes: I used these to clean up instead of showering and as toilet paper. Don’t judge. You’ll thank me later for bringing them.
- 12 ounce water bottle: You can refill your bottle in the streams so there’s no point bringing a huge water bottle.
- Tent: All the tents at Base Camp were two-person tents. I can’t imagine how two people could comfortably sleep in one, but it was great for just me! The key is to bring a lightweight tent.
- Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag liner: The ground is cold. Don’t forget the sleeping pad. Also, you really should rent or have a sleeping bag suitable for -9C (~15F). You won’t regret it.
- Headlamp: I always have a headlamp with me when traveling and it was especially useful when navigating the camps after dark (read: finding a spot to pee).
- Toiletries: toothbrush, glasses, and contact lenses
- Optional: duct tape – it could come in handy but you definitely won’t need a whole roll.
- Line all of your bags with trash bags. Meaning, line your backpack with a trash bag to keep it dry if it rains. This also will decrease the likelihood of mice sniffing out your food. Line the bag you pack your sleeping bag in with a trash bag to keep it dry, too. Keep your bags of food in a trash bag and when you sleep, keep it closed in the bag for the sleeping bag (which would also be lined) for extra protection against any mice. This sounds ridiculous but it will help!
- You don’t need to worry about packing water. The water from the streams in Torres del Paine is potable. There was a time in which there were so many trekkers that the water was not suitable to drink due to bacteria from people washing items directly in the streams, but at the time I went it was drinkable. Bring a SteriPEN if you’re concerned, but I think you’ll be in the clear.
Food to Pack
I wasn’t really a stickler about food on the trek. Some people brought different items for variety, but I was fine eating oatmeal for breakfast, tortilla wraps for lunch, and pasta for dinner every day. And chocolate, of course! The important thing for me was to not carry too much weight in my pack.
- 1 bag of oatmeal: It was leftover at the hostel and free, so I took the large Ziploc bag of it and didn’t even use it all.
- 1 packet cinnamon
- 1 bag trail mix
- Salami and cheese wraps: Best. Decision. Ever. I looked forward to my two lunches/snacks every day. I ate two wraps a day, which I pre-made when in Puerto Natales. The weather was cold enough that they didn’t go bad despite not having any refrigeration. All you need is:
- Cheese spread and cheese
- 2 bags of bowtie pasta: This was too much; in the end I left some at a refugio
- 1 small packet dried mushrooms
- 1 small packet of chili powder
- 2 cans tuna: I only ate one and left one at a refugio, also keep in mind you have to keep your trash unless at a refugio.
- 4 soup packets of varying types: Instead of pouring out the water from cooking the pasta, I mixed these in and made a sauce. Surprisingly tasty!
You HAVE to bring treats that you look forward to eating every day. Trekking is the best excuse to eat a bar of chocolate every day.
- 4 bars of chocolate
- 1 box of Nescafé: A hot, sweet, drink really lifted my spirits every day and I brought enough to share with others. It sounds silly but drinking Nescafé was the best treat every morning and night.
- Don’t bring too much food! If you think you don’t need something, you can leave it at a refugio. Carrying too much food will literally weigh you down.
- Consider sharing food and condiments with others. Example: You don’t need an entire salt shaker – share the wealth! Camaraderie at camp is one of the best parts, and it could also result in you carrying fewer items if you share the weight of these items with others. Some people shared gas and pots, too.
What Type of Clothing to Wear and Pack
I didn’t go overboard with the clothing options, either, and was perfectly fine with wearing the same clothes every day for 5 days (except for undies). I recommend bringing two outfits: 1 hiking outfit and 1 sleeping outfit.
- Athletic tank top
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Windbreaker jacket
- One pair athletic socks
- One pair long, warm socks
- Trail-running shoes
Most days I ended up removing my hat, scarf, and gloves. Some days I didn’t even need my windbreaker (which was not warm at all) and sweatshirt. You’ll generate body heat from carrying your pack anyway.
I basically wore the same base layers and changed my sweatshirt and pants every day.
- Change of both pairs of socks (athletic and long socks)
- Different sweatshirt
- Coat: A traveler friend gifted me her coat in Mendoza which was really helpful at night when it was very cold. I didn’t need it during the day.
I also brought my flip-flops and wore them sometimes at camp with my socks on, although most of the time it was much too cold for that. Luckily, my trail-running shoes didn’t get very wet so I didn’t have to worry about letting them dry.
Information While on the Trails
You’ll never need a map. Trails are clearly noted with markings on trees and every few kilometers you’ll find signs explaining elevation gains and kilometers. Take these signs with a grain of salt; they didn’t always seem very accurate in terms of how many kilometers I had left to walk. I only got lost when hiking to the French Valley, but that’s because I overlooked one of the orange tree markings and everything was orange because it was fall. You will not get lost.
Most Importantly, You Have to be Self-Reliant.
Unless you have hiking partners, no one is going to take care of you except for you. Even if you do have partners, everyone wants to make the most out of the hike and you probably won’t be together at all times. You have to be responsible for pitching your own tent, waking up on time, knowing your pace and making sure you arrive at camp before dark, etc. Unless you’re on a tour, there is no one telling you the “right” way to do things.
I was lucky enough to meet some incredible people on my trek who helped me if I really needed it, but I learned so much about how to take care of myself. I wouldn’t have traded that for a trekking partner.
If I could do it all over again, I would have done a little more research for tips on trekking in Torres del Paine instead of relying solely on word of mouth. I hope these tips will help you be prepared for hiking through one of the most beautiful parks in the world!
What are your top tips for trekking?
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