How to Prepare & Pack for a Trek in Patagonia

The platforms at Chileno Campground
The platforms at Chileno Campground

I went with my husband and friends to trek in Patagonia – with the goal to hike the “O” Circuit in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park and to do a few day hikes in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. I spent in excess of 30 hours researching, planning and preparing for this trek in Patagonia. From experience, here’s what to pack and how to prepare for a trek in Patagonia.

Me in Torres del Paine Nattional Park
Me in Torres del Paine Nattional Park

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Weather in Patagonia in their summer

You need to be prepared for anything Mother Nature wants to throw your way. That includes sun, showers, heavy rain and knock-you-to-the-ground wind, especially on the day you cross the John Gardner Pass on the O Circuit.

Looking at the AccuWeather forecast for the coming weeks on my January trip, it looks like most days have a high in the range of 15 – 17 °C and lows are almost always around 7°C, hypothermia type of weather, especially when you factor in the rain.

What should you pack for clothing for a trek in Patagonia?

A lot of consideration has to go into what to pack on a trek in Patagonia. With heat zapping wind and rain, layering is going to be key. We’re always going to want a set of dry clothes to be able to change into at the end of the day. Here’s what I’m bringing.

  • 4 pairs of quick-dry underwear (with the hope we can wash a pair every few days)
  • 4 pairs of merino-wool socks 
  • 1 pair of hiking boots (Read: How to Break in New Hiking Boots – and make sure that’s done beforehand)
  • 1 pair super lightweight camp sandals (I’m taking light-weight Birkenstocks) which will work well on the plane too with a warm pair of socks though they may not be very fashionable.
  • One pair lightweight running shoes for in camp or running around town
How to Prepare for Trekking in Patagonia
I’m taking my beat up but comfortable hiking boots, Birkenstocks that can be clipped on the outside of the pack and lightweight running shoes
Clothes I'm taking on the trek
Long sleeved shirts on the left, short on the right including one for Buenos Aires at the end
Clothing for the lower half including rain pants,travel pants, fleecy and zip-off pants
Clothing for the lower half including rain pants (light -coloured),travel pants, fleecy and zip-off pants
A fleece and jacket should keep me cozy
Houdini fleece and jacket should keep me cozy on the trek in Patagonia
  • One waterproof breathable shell jacket.
  • One quick-dry ball cap that can be worn in a rain storm to keep water off my face.
  • One buff
  • One warm hat like this one
  • Warm mitts and one pair windproof gloves.
How to Prepare for Trekking in Patagonia
My raincoat, hat, buff, sunglasses and mitts

Gear to pack for a trek in Patagonia

Our packs are ready to go. We’ve been taking things out – trying to get the weight down. We want to go as lightly as possible but we have had to add in a few clothes for the three to four days of hot weather we’re expecting at the end of the trip in the Buenos Aires area.

Here are my suggestions.

  • A 70 litre pack (I have an Osprey) with a waterproof cover + a stretchy clothesline that can be tied around  the pack on windy days
  • One sleeping bag rated to at least 0°C
  • One sleeping mat (we bought the lightweight (1 lb. 7 oz.), less bulky Thermarest Prolite™Plus R) with an R value of 3.4
  • One silk sleeping bag liner 
  • One three season tent plus extra rope to tie it down in strong wind
  • One pair hiking poles.
How to Prepare for Trekking in Patagonia
More of the miscellaneous stuff I’ll be bringing on the trek in Patagonia including a mini tri-pod
  • One – 1L water bottle as I’ve read you can literally drink from the streams
  • Water purification tablets – to be on the safe side
  • One kit containing a mug, bowl and knife/fork and spoon
  • One stove, fuel and one pot for the four of us; lighter will be bought in Chile
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, toiletries
  • Small quick-dry towel and wash cloth
  • Books or e-reader, camera, batteries, recharger, fully waterproof dry bag for camera
  • Energy bars; the rest of food (1 dinner, 2 breakfasts and 5 lunches) will be picked up in Puerto Natales
  • Toilet paper (has to be packed out), Ziploc bags, green garbage bags for packing clothes, sleeping bag
  • Compression sacks, packing cubes for organization 
  • Plug adaptors, USB charger, phone
  • Sunglasses plus at least one spare pair between the four of us
How to Prepare for Trekking in Patagonia
Toiletries, first aid kit (I include KT tape for strains), headlamp and other necessities (white circular things are towels that need just a few drops of water to grow and great for cleaning up) needed for the trek in Patagonia

There are three companies that look after campsites on the O Circuit – CONAF, Vertice and Fantástico Sur I’d suggest sticking with Vertice and Fantastico Sur because at least someone answers emails in a prompt fashion. The CONAF campsites are free but good luck booking.

You can choose between campsites and refugios. We have elected to have more privacy with camping on a platform but we still get access most days to hot showers and cooked meals. Prices for four of us with 6 dinners, 3 lunches and 5 or 6 breakfasts is $US1872 or $US468 each.

We’ll take the bus at 7 AM from Puerto Natales into Torres del Paine National Park – a two hour drive away for a cost of somewhere between $US 8 -11 per person one way, $US 15 round-trip. In the park we’ll get a proper map and pay for our camping permit and entrance fee.

Torres del Paine scenery on our Patagonia trek
Torres del Paine scenery on our Patagonia trek

Our trek in Patagonia on the O Circuit in Torres del Paine

Here’s a breakdown of our route avoiding the CONAF campsites. There are loads of hiking options but we didn’t want to risk not having a campsite after the pass and hence the long day to Grey. We have also opted for either half-board (B, D) or full board (B,L, D) where indicated. Note that some food can be purchased at campsites (more on that in a later blog) as well as alcoholic drinks (yeah!).

Day 1: Laguna Amarga park office – Serón (booked with Fantastico Sur) – 4 – 6 hours of hiking. Full board. WiFi available for a fee – and supposedly available in a few other spots. Will update in February.

Day 2: Serón – Dickson (booked with Vertice Patagonia) – about 6 hours of hiking. Half board.

Day 3: Dickson – Los Perros (booked with Vertice Patagonia)No meals here hence the stove; 4-5 hours of hiking time

Day 4: Los Perros over the John Gardner Pass to Grey (booked with Vertice Patagonia) – long, hard day – 10 hours of hiking; pass notorious for terrible wind – half board. Pisco sours available at Grey.

Day 5: Grey – Frances (Fantastico Sur) X 2 nights – full board – 5 – 6 hours of hiking

Day 6: Hike up the Vallee del Frances leaving main pack behind – back to Frances for the night – full board – 7 – 8 hours of hiking

Day 7: Frances – to Chileno (book with Fantastico Sur) – 7 – 8 hours of hiking – full board

Day 8: Early start to catch sunrise at the Mirador base de las Torres and then hike all the way out to catch a shuttle with Patagonia Extrema at 4:30 PM to El Calafate in Argentina (5 hour drive) – probably 10 hours of hiking. Shuttle is $US 300 for four of us.

Hiking the O Circuit
Hiking the O Circuit

Further reading on South America

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How to prepare and pack for a Patagonia trek



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