Prepping for the Torres del Paine ‘O’ Circuit and Patagonia, in general, is a big task! Surprisingly, shopping for gear in Chile is as much, if not more expensive than in the USA. The selection is not nearly as good and the import taxes are extremely high meaning a $200 tent in the USA cost $300 in Chile. (and even more in Argentina)
The most difficult part of preparing for trekking in Torres Del Paine is the weather. Any information I could find about the weather in Torres del Paine simply said, “It’s Patagonia, often there are 4 seasons in one day, prepare for anything”. And that is exactly what is necessary, plan for anything. Even in summer, snow is possible on the John Gardner Pass.
Seasons and Weather
Patagonia’s weather really is unpredictable. The high season for Torres del Paine and Patagonia is from December-February when the summer season in full swing. But don’t let the word summer fool you, the temperature can easily drop below freezing and start snowing at any time in the higher elevations. I started my hike at the end of March which is the shoulder season going into fall. The risk of rain was higher than the summer season but I was lucky and only saw a few minutes of rain one day. Although, I did wake up to ice on my tent more than once. Simply put, prepare for any type of weather in Patagonia so if the weather does turn, you can still enjoy the vast beauty of the park.
Backpack and Camping Gear
Like most of my hikes on my travels, I brought my main travel backpack, the Osprey Farpoint 55L. It’s not really meant for long hauls but performs
The winds in Patagonia are notorious and can regularly reach 60 MPH. A very sturdy tent built for these conditions is a must as you don’t want to be stuck in the wind, rain, and cold. Look for a tent with a low profile and streamlined profile such as this MSR tent.
A 20-15F rated sleeping bag should be the bare minimum that you bring for this hike. If there is one piece of equipment to spend your money on, this is it. The temperature drops off quickly at night and this is the only thing that will keep you warm. I bought mine from Zolkan in Santiago for 40,000 CLP, or about $60 USD. This was a cheap sleeping bag that weighed about 4 lbs. Expect to pay more than $100 USD for higher quality, and lighter weight.
Another item I recommend splurging on is a nice sleeping mat. It may sound simple but it keeps your body insulated from the cold ground which will make you a lot warmer while sleeping. ThermoRest makes the best camp mattresses available and I love my Pro Lite Series. If you need to buy one in Chile, there are thin foam pads available at camping stores for cheap. Even a thin pad is better than nothing!
The MSR Pocket Rocket is the classic camp stove that can be found in any outdoor store for about $40. They are lightweight, nearly indestructible and very easy to find fuel for.
There are many options for light weight and compact cookware for solo hikers or for groups. GSI Outdoors makes some really nice kits that are perfect for all size groups or solo hikers.
A good headlamp will make your life a lot easier when the sun sets over the high mountains. I used my Diamondback Headlamp every night on the Torres trek and really like the convenience of it being USB rechargeable.
A good, solid and waterproof boot is a must for the Torres del Paine hikes where you will often be in mud or crossing shallow water. I prefer the Keen Dry Waterproof Boot series and I am actually on my 3rd pair of the same design!
A good synthetic or woolen base layer is ideal. Do not take cotton, once it gets wet, cotton loses all insulating properties and on top of that, it takes forever to dry.
I find a cheap basic fleece to be the perfect mid layer. Its soft, warm and lightweight.
A nice compact down jacket will keep you warm without taking up half of your pack. I bought a small one in Santiago from Fallabella that I used almost daily.
A nice rain jacket is a must. Keeping your body dry and shielding yourself from the wind will make your hike much more enjoyable. I don’t bother buying Gortex or anything high end, just a nice waterproof and windproof shell.
Hat and gloves:
I used them every day and night.
Sony A6000 this lightweight and compact Mirrorless DSLR camera has incredible image quality without the hassle of traditional DSLR cameras. Save a ton of weight and space, you with thank yourself as you watch your friend lug around a massive old school DSLR. The 55mm-200mm zoom lens is also a great complement to the kit for zooming in on wildlife in the park, such as the Puma!
The Gorilla Pod Flexible Tripod is one handy little piece of gear that can be easily attached to random objects or adjusted to sit on uneven surfaces.
Food and Water
Lightweight, dry foods such as pasta and rice with powdered soups and sauces are the easiest to find in this area. I suggest shopping in Punta Arenas if possible as the selection is better and some of the stores Puerto Natales can sell out. (chocolate!) If not, in Puerto Natales there is a Unimark grocery store and local supermarkets that have a wide range of products including bulk dried fruit and nuts that are great for trekking.
Dehydrated soy protein, or soya carne, is a great light weight protein source that is widly avalable in Chile. I like to rehydrate the soy with broth made from a dried bollion cube. Then I add this to a rice or pasta dish to get a good nutritional balance.
A typical day for me looked like this:
Oats with dried fruit & Coffee
Trail Mix (Peanuts, Raisins, Chocolate)
Granola bar or Snickers
Pasta with assorted sauce and soy protein
The water in Patagonia does not need to be filtered or purified and is the best tasting water I have ever had. I only carried one Nalgene bottle and refilled it when I came across a stream or river which is every 30 minutes or so. This saved a lot of weight!
Rent, Buy or Bring From Home?
The cost of buying gear in Chile or Argentina is generally much more expensive than buying it at home and bringing it with.That being said, the cost of your trip will be greatly reduced by preparing for the Torres Del Paine treks at home via your favorite outdoor store or Amazon. Since I have been traveling for a long time and didn’t have any gear, I was lucky to meet up with my family and acquire my tent and cooking gear from home.
Where to stay in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales
Hostel Entre Vientos in Punta Arenas
Although the hostel is a little walk to the center of town, it is one of the best hostels that I have stayed in while traveling in Chile. Every morning I watched dolphins play in the water while enjoying a very generous free breakfast of cereals, bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and coffee. The kitchen and common area are super comfortable and have met many other satisfied guests while traveling north.
Yellow Plum Camping in Puerto Natales
This new camp option in Puerto Natales will be a very popular spot in the future. The brand new facilities were immaculate, the breakfast was great, wifi was quick and the nightly campfire topped anything else in town. Although some hostels might be close in price, you get what you pay for with this gem. How many other places serve homemade plum jam for breakfast?
The easiest way to get to Torres del Paine National Park is to fly into Punta Arenas and take a bus to Puerto Natales for 7,500 CLP. There are several per day and leave from the center of town or directly from the airport if you do not wish to spend a day in Punta Arenas. To leave directly from the airport, the bus ticket must be purchased online from the BUSSUR Website.
From Puerto Natales there are many buses (like 5 at a time) that go to Torres del Paine at twice per day. The first is a morning bus at 8am and the second is a 2pm bus. (check schedules as they tend to change) This bus cost 15,000 CLP for a return ticket.
Once in the park, you can take a minibus to central camping where the Torres trek begins for 3000 CLP. If you are heading to the Catamaran, stay on the bus and ride it to the second stop.
The bus that takes you to Torres Del Paine is a hop on, hop off style bus while you are in the park. If you would like to check out other areas, the schedules are on the back of the tickets and you can hop on and off as much as you would like. I took a ride down to Camp Pahoe for a night and was rewarded with incredible views of the park from a distance.
Circuit Routes: The W, O, and Q
When it comes to Torres del Paine, there are many routes you can take in the park. First, decide how long you would like to stay in Torres del Paine.
2-5 days: W Circuit or a variation
6+ days: O Circuit with variations
The W can be done in a few days while the O circuit can take 6-10 days on average. Hopping on the catamaran can offer even more flexibility. Because there are so many variations, I have written an additional post about routes specifically here!
Where to stay in the park?
There are a lot of options for accommodation in the park ranging from simple campsites to full-service lodges.
Refugios/Dome Tents operated by FantasticoSur: Los Cuernos, El Chileno, Torres (Central Camping) El Frances, Seron.
Refugios operated by Vertice Patagonia: Dickson, Paine Grande, Grey
Free Campamentos operated by CONAF: Campamento Torres, Campamento Paso, Campamento Italiano
Quick Tips For Hiking In Torres del Paine:
Before you set out, make sure you have good travel insurance in case something happens.
Store your gear at the hostel that you plan to stay at when you return from the hike. Most places do not charge for storage if you are returning and staying again.
There are mice and birds in some of the camps. Bring a waterproof bag to hang your food and make sure it is strong enough to keep birds out.
Bring cash. The park entry, bus, and the catamaran are cash only.
Some Refugio’s do take credit card but don’t rely on it.
There were a lot of partial fuel cans in Puerto Natales that are left behind by those who have finished their hike. This is because you can’t fly with fuel tanks. Erratic Rock and multiple hostels had a bin full of them for free as they cannot be recycled unless they are empty. Grab a couple half full ones and save some money!
Water is available every half hour or so and can be drunk directly from the source without purification. Not only is this super convenient, you only need to pack one water bottle and only carry what you need immediately. This saves tons of weight and space.
Get a free map from the tourist office in Puerto Natales. Their map is much better than the one provided in the park. Maps.me also have a very accurate map of the trail as well.
Reservations are 100% required for overnight stays on the W or O trek. They will not let you stay without it. (as of 2017) Unfortunately, the booking system is painful to use and requires visiting 3 websites to book as there are 3 operators that own the camps and refugios. On top of that, only a small percentage of spaces are available for online booking. If everything is full, you must book in Puerto Natales and hope for the best. Yes, the system sucks that much, hopefully, it will improve next season!