I’ve done a ton of climbing and camping over the past several years, but believe it or not (or actually, just believe it, I’m not lying) my trip to Torres del Paine to do the W trek was actually my first weeklong backpacking trip as an adult. There are always ways to improve, so I figured I’d jot down some of the things I’ll do differently next time (because obviously there will be a next time). I also included tips for some things I thought our group did particularly well. So, with some loose organization, here’s a brain dump:
- Don’t bring giant puffy jacket. I had both a Patagonia brand nanopuff jacket and a Columbia brand thicker ski puffy jacket, and that was unnecessary. It would have been sufficient to have a warm base layer, plus a windbreaker/rain jacket on top of the nanopuff, and skip the ski jacket (which took up a bunch of precious room in my pack).
- Don’t bring a full cooking set. A sufficient list is a big pot with lid, a stove (pocket rocket size), a rigid metal or wood utensil for stirring and serving, a lightweight spoon/fork for eating, a collapsible bowl, and a lightweight mug.
- Don’t bring a roll of toilet paper; there are real and well-stocked bathrooms at every campsite. A travel-size pack or two of tissues is enough for trail things.
- There are hot showers at every campsite (a luxury after a day on the trail), but don’t bring shampoo and conditioner unless it’s really important to you. There are often bottles left in the showers, and bringing a small bottle or bar of soap is sufficient. Also means you don’t need baby wipes.
- Trekking poles aren’t necessary if you are accustomed to long hikes without poles and are comfortable scrambling on rocks. I would skip next time but my friend says they were absolutely necessary for her. To be fair, maybe my knees would have been happier using them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
- Bring a small collapsible backpack for day hikes when the big one can be left behind. Also useful for bringing your change of clothes to the showers, and for bringing food to the cooking area. I actually did this right and had a Cotopaxi 18L pack (the Luzon del Día), which was the perfect size.
- Bring an external battery! Charging plugs at the campsites are in high demand and not always available. If your phone is your camera, leave it in airplane mode to save battery.
- 40 liter pack was sufficient, and would have been better had I made some of the aforementioned changes.
On the trail
- The water situation is something I’m still thinking about. There’s a ton of water sources along the way, but I never drink enough from bottles and prefer a hydration bladder. I found that a having ~1.5 liters of water in my bladder to drink while actually walking plus a full 1-liter nalgene that I drank from on breaks and refilled frequently was a good compromise. A bladder that you can easily take out and refill and put back in would be clutch.
- Figure out a way to put your camera (or phone), sunscreen (ideally a small stick), and lip balm in an outer, reachable pocket of your pack when hiking.
- Hike intentionally slower than you might otherwise and enjoy the views. To be fair, we had amazing weather and were pretty comfortable at all times. I can imagine that lollygagging in freezing rain would be less fun.
- Do the kayak and glacier excursions in Camping Grey and stay two nights. Just do it.
- First aid and survival kit was super necessary (pain meds, bandaids, blister stuff, small multitool, etc) but the water filter I brought was not. Make sure the kit gets transferred to the smaller backpack and comes with you on those side-quest hikes.
- Train before the trip by hiking/walking long distances at least a few times with a fully loaded pack. Even if you’re in great shape, your feet will suffer from walking with so much extra weight. My muscles were fine but my feet were sore by day three. It didn’t end up being a problem but I can imagine that on a longer trip I’d have been pretty uncomfortable.
- Don’t over pack food (we did). There was always left-behind ingredients from previous campers in the cooking areas, and in the worst case you can buy some extra in the refugios. So, take just enough but not anything extra.
- Bring spices! Trail food gets boring without them. I found it helpful to organize the spices in little baggies, and actually made a different/dedicated mix for each day’s dinner.
- Use powdered soup packets to add flavor to a bunch of rice to make a risotto-esque meal.
- Spaghetti or small pasta takes up less space per gram (i.e. is denser) than something like spirals or bowties.
- You can throw away trash in three of the main campsites along the W trek route: Torre central, Paine grande, and Grey. Take advantage!
- Spend a few days before and after in Puerto Natales, it’s a fun spot!
- Don’t pack your tent in your carry-on or at least first put the stakes in your checked bag or they will take them away in the airport (this might or might not have happened to us).
- Sometimes the airline check-in desk agents will let you travel with a tent or sleeping bag/pad strapped to the outside of your pack and sometimes they won’t. Be prepared for the second kind.
- Go in shoulder season to avoid crowds. Or move to Chile and then wait for the next time borders close to foreigners, that’s what I did and it seemed to work fine.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about planning and such! I’m not an expert but maybe by the 5th or 6th time I do this I will be.