How to Prepare for the 5 Day W Trek
Disclaimer: I’m a total city girl. I’ve never been camping, I’m 5’2”, and my goal was to visit Patagonia before I turned 40 (accomplished, but just barely!). I work out often, but I’m not an athlete. My weekly workouts pre-Patagonia was mostly yoga, pilates. and the occasional jogging and interval running on a treadmill (I’m slow, I generally run between 5.5 mph and 6.0 and sprint between 7.0 and 8.0 mph). Once I signed on for this trip though, I definitely changed up my workout routine.
For the average person with a desk job, no, you can’t show just show up and do the hike, especially if you’re carrying weight on your back. You could, but I think you’d regret it. Some parts of the trail are steep and requires a bit of leg strength and arm strength if you’re a shorter person like me who needs to pull herself up with trekking poles! If you’re not in a rush and you’re not in great shape, you can still do the hike. You just will have to take it slower. For my trip, I was on a tour group and most people in my group were seasoned hikers/outdoorsy people or taller (there was one guy who was 6’5”—for every step he took I probably took 10 steps!) so I felt the urge to keep up but no one rushed me.
For me, about 2-3 months before the trip, I started to increase my cardio/endurance workouts. This included taking HIIT Barry Bootcamp classes, running more, and increasing my strength with squats. I also tried to go hiking once every weekend and carried around a 20-25 lb. backpack whenever I went hiking or did stair climbing in my 18-floor apartment building. For stair climbing, I tried to do this at least 3x a week, walking up and down my building about 4x (this equated to about a mile). This took me about 40-45 minutes if my backpack was heavy; it takes me about 30 minutes without no backpack. The first time I climbed my apartment building up and down I only did it twice and my entire legs (thighs and calves) were sore for 5 days! It took me about a couple of weeks to no longer be sore in my legs. And since I’ve been home I’ve continued the workout as I think it’s great, easy and an efficient way to exercise without having to go to a gym. I didn’t really lose any weight (I unfortunately love to eat) but I did find my body shape more toned and changed in that regard.
Living in NYC I love to walk everywhere and I would aim to walk at least 8-10 miles one day a weekend as well. In general, I think it’s important to be in decent shape to tackle this trek as the hikes are long. I never found any hikes in the U.S. when I was hiking that were as long as the ones we did in Torres del Paine as I just didn’t have the time to hike 8-9 hours in one day. The longest hike I did before this trip was about 7-8 miles in Los Angeles and a 7 mile one in upstate NY. I even hiked once in the rain (which sucked) but I wanted to be as prepared as possible in case we had bad weather. Carrying a heavy backpack around really helped too and I ended up carrying less than what I practiced with.
REI Is My New Best Friend
I never set foot into an REI store until this past year. It is the Amazon of outdoor gear and clothing, I love it! They have everything you could possibly need and the people who work there are so friendly. And if you plan correctly, you can score big ticket items on sale (like around Labor Day Weekend). Everything I needed I bought from mainly REI. They also have an outlet with even bigger discounts.
Gear/Packing List for Patagonia
Below is a list of all the items I packed and what was helpful/what was not:
Woman’s Ruckpack 40: The more I visited REI last year, the more I learned about how much all the employees love it. The main takeaway I came away with though is that REI’s own manufactured products are amazing and on par with other brand names. This woman’s ruckpack holds 40 liters and was perfect for trekking. The straps are padded and comfortable and helped distribute the weight of my bag pretty evenly. It also came with a rainproof cover and you can even zip the straps in so it kind of turns into a duffel bag. This bag was ‘heavier’ (4 lbs.) than what my friends brought but I think mine was more functional. I also love how you can unzip the bag in a shape of the way of a suitcase and all the many compartments and hidden pockets were helpful. The shape is also wider than most bags (which are more narrow and taller) so I personally liked everything about this bag. I got it in green but doesn’t look like that's available anymore! I also got it for sale, under $100 during the Labor Day weekend sale.
Lock for locker: This was only helpful at one of the refugios. A small lock would do; I had one of those old school high school locker locks.
Lock for my backpack: Helpful when we had to leave our backpack behind and carry just a daypack. This gave me peace of mind but I never really left anything valuable in my backpack.
Quick Dry Towel: I got this microfiber towel from REI. I initially got a large, but it barely covered me and I am not a tall/big person! I switched it up to XL which was a lot better (and twice the size of L). This was helpful to have since not all the refugios give you a towel. It did stink after a while though because drying conditions weren’t great (too cold in the rooms to dry well) but it’s just for a few days that you’re using this.
Face Wipes: As a girly girl, I like to feel clean and though the water in the park is pretty clean, I felt better having moisturized wet wipes for my face.
Hand Wipes: Wet Ones—always great for travel, especially when there are no sinks or soaps around!
Shampoo, body wash, tooth paste, mouth wash: All travel-sized and needed, since the refugios may not offer anything.
Sunscreen: Primarily for the face and hands; it was not warm enough that more skin was exposed. Sunscreen is very important there!
Sunglasses: Also important!
Ear plugs: There was a loud snorer in our group and this was super helpful to drown him out. Mack’s worked for me, I brought a few pairs on the trip.
Cap: To keep your head warm and the sun out of your eyes (and rain!). I brought two caps—one baseball one and one wool one (made by Tilley—no longer on REI but maybe next season it’ll come out again. I got it on sale at the outlet. Looks similar to this little kid’s one).
Advil/sleeping pills: I almost brought Imodium with me as well but honestly when you have to carry everything every ounce matters! So pick and choose what you think you might really need in terms of medication. Never needed the Advil but sleeping pills were helpful to lull me to sleep.
Nuum Hydration Tablets: Great to help hydrate you and all the flavors were great! I would continue using this in my every day life. Available at Whole Food’s too.
Band Aids and Blister Band Aids: I am SO glad I brought two different types of blister band aids as I ended up using ALL of them! I thought I would only use one but nope. Went through the pack. I really liked Second Skin, especially for this bunion I have on the side of my foot. There was another one I had that was more of a bandaid I had to cut down. Either way, bring more than you think you’ll need.
Knee Brace: I don’t have terrible knees but they do get sore after walking/hiking so much. These were helpful for the trek and I noticed the difference one day when I was hiking in El Chalten and didn’t have them.
Travel Adapter & Extra Battery Pack: My travel charger converter which is old didn’t work in Torres del Paine (different plugs). My friend had an extra universal one that worked though. Anker is great as an extra battery pack—lasts for days.
Foneleash: I was paranoid about losing my phone to the wind or dropping it somehow so I got this foneleash to wear it on my wrist if I wanted (which I never really did). It was helpful though if I took a picture from somewhere I was afraid to drop my phone.
Dry Bags: I got my dry bags (to waterproof your gear if it rains) from a Columbia outlet. They worked great but are no longer sold anywhere else.
Zip-lock bags: Used for holding and organizing misc. items like wallet, passport, etc. Bring a few clean/empty ones as you may need them during the hike to hold garbage or stay organized.
Biodegradable toilet paper: Yes I bought this!!! I used it only once, at an outhouse at a park in El Chalten that had a hole in the ground and nothing else. I actually NEVER went to the bathroom during the trekking portion of the 5 day trek. Any water I drank I sweated it out, But I also tried not to drink too much water either so I didn’t have to ‘go.’
Gear/Packing List Continued:
21. Water bottle: I didn’t love mine (if I didn’t screw it well enough water leaked from the top) but the design was nice. I can’t remember the brand name of it but all you need is a water bottle that you’re comfortable with size-wise. The water was really clean in the park and I didn’t think a filter was necessary. Mine had a built in carbon filter but that doesn’t purify the water. I think mine was less than 1.5L big and that was fine for me. I filled up on the streams multiple times.
22. Bug spray: I didn’t end up bringing any and we didn’t need it in November (not warm enough). It was helpful in Mendoza though!
23. Sleeping bag liner: Didn’t really need one but was helpful to have. We slept in a sleeping bag once, and it seemed clean but I used the liner anyway.
24. Heat Tech clothes: Uniqlo is great. The ultra heat tech and normal heat tech wear kept me warm. In fact they were too warm to wear as layers since we had good weather! My initial intent was to wear them hiking but I ended up wearing them as pjs to sleep in.
25. Great hiking boots: Mine were from Ahnu and were waterproof and comfy (I have wide feet). They no longer sell the ones I bought two years ago at REI but I would use the Ahnu brand again.
26. Extra pair of comfy sneakers: I brought a very lightweight pair of sneaker from Skechers. You are going to want another pair of shoes to wear after hiking!
27. Flip flops for the shower
Gear/Packing List Continued:
28.Fleece. I almost ditched the fleece because the fleece and rain jacket took up the most space. I ended up wearing my rain jacket most of the time as my outer layer. The fleece came in handy when we were at the top of the mountains though.
29. Rain jacket. I got mine from Northface and loved it. Kept me dry.
30. My day to day outfit was a pair of windproof Northface pants. I would wear one of my heat tech pants underneath as a layer. I also had another lightweight pair of yoga/workout pants on the days I didn’t need the windproof pants. On top I had a quick drying top, a UV protective hoodie from Uniqlo (I love these and own like so many versions), and had an extra top as well.
31. Buff: I borrowed a friend’s but a buff is a multi use item that is great as a scarf or for headgear
32. Carabiner: I did not have one and had to borrow a friend and now I would buy one! This was great for clipping my water bottle to my bag for easy access as well as the lunches if I could. Sometimes the bagged lunch came in a pouch with a string on it, which is why I could clip to the outside of my backpack.
33. Trekking Poles: You will need these! I loved these foldable/carry on size one from Black Diamond. I got the shortest length based on my height (under 110 cm) and it was great. Easy to use and adjust. Held up well. Will continue using as long as possible!
34. Swim bikini bottoms: Not used to go swimming but to wear and wash and hang dry after every hike instead of bringing undergarments. I brought two and it was comfortable to wear on hikes and easy to maintain cleaning while hiking rather than cotton or other material.
35. Compression sack: I got this right before I left cuz I needed a way to downsize all my clothes! This was helpful.
36. Misc Items: Hair ties, Apple Watch, Kleenex, Q Tips, Comb, Neosporin, socks (for hiking and for sleeping/relaxing in refugios in). The Apple Watch was great because I would set my morning alarm on it and it vibrates, not causing any sound to anyone around me. I primarily got it though to track the miles we walked and calories spent. As I mentioned in a prior post, I spent 2000 active calories on the Blue Tower hike and 1500 resting calories. I don’t think I’ve hit that high in calories on any day since then.
Other Words of Advice
Monitor the weather forecast before you leave. As I mentioned in a prior post, this website was great for forecasting the weather. I checked every day from a week before we left and it was fairly spot on (and in fact, we had a little bit nicer weather than predicted). Just be sure to change the altitude to the lowest level.
Exchange some Chilean pesos before arriving. I was able to obtain it from my U.S. bank at a decent currency rate (it’s so cheap there compared to the U.S.). You won’t need much though as most places take credit cards, but you would need it for the taxi/tipping if needed. You could probably also use Argentinian pesos but Chilean money was preferred.
Research the route you’re going to take and have an idea of how long it takes to get from one point to another! Luckily we had Chile Nativo organizing all our routes for us but depending on the time of the year you’re going, you should pay attention to sunrise/sunset times and make sure you allocated enough time to make it to your evening destination before it gets too dark.
Don’t overpack. Try to be as light as possible. I definitely overpacked and repacked twice before I left.
Bring an extra battery pack in the event the refugio you’re staying out loses power or there are not enough electrical outlets to go around.
Is Going to Patagonia/Torres del Paine worth it?
If you love adventure, unpredictability, and nature, YES! And if you’re from an area where you don’t get to see beautiful mountain ranges or clear teal lakes as often, DOUBLE YES. As I mentioned in a prior post, I think people who are already from gorgeous natural environments or have constant access to them may not find it as appealing (especially if the weather is terrible). Beauty is subjective and in the eye of the beholder. I thought Torres del Paine was unique in its landscape, terrain, and colors. Being so remotely caught off from the world was also wonderful. I can’t remember the last time I had zero access to the news/internet/communication for 5 days (some WiFi access is available in the refugios but really expensive and may not always be working). It was great to be present and in the moment with the soul of the earth.