Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of the world’s best hiking destinations. Thousands of adventurers head there every year to explore the jagged and magnificent massif at the bottom of South America.
We spent two weeks in Torres del Paine, trekking the famous 8-day O Circuit, and seeking out some of the best day hikes in the park, and if there’s one thing we learnt it’s that the weather in Patagonia is highly unpredictable!
It’s important to be ready for anything. To help you prepare for your next adventure, here’s our handy packing list for hiking.
Comfortable Hiking Boots
First and foremost, the most important piece of equipment to take with you to Torres del Paine is a pair of sturdy, comfortable hiking boots.
The terrain around the national park is quite rocky and steep, and even though the trails tend to be well-worn, it’s not the kind of place you can trek through in a pair of tennis shoes.
When picking out a pair of good hiking boots we recommend going into the store to try them on, rather than ordering a pair you’ve never tested online. This is because all boots have different fits, even if they’re the same size. The experienced store staff can help you with the fitting.
When narrowing down the features for what shoes to take to Torres del Paine, we recommend going for boots that go above the ankle for extra support, and have a waterproof exterior such as Gore-Tex.
Last tip about hiking boots – wear them in before you arrive! The absolute worst thing you can do is start a long, arduous trek in boots that are brand new. The stiffness is likely to give you severe blisters, which will ruin your hike (and your feet). It's also a good idea to learn a bit more about blister prevention before you go.
A Backpack with Proper Harness
Most of the treks in Torres del Paine require you to bring a substantial amount of gear — especially if you are planning on camping — so you’re going to need a solid backpack.
Look for a backpack with enough volume for all your gear, durability to handle the different weather conditions and that sits comfortably on your back, transferring the weight off your shoulders.
The key to this is having a good harness. You want a wide, padded hip belt that fits your body well so that all the weight sits on the waist. Then you need to make sure the pack is snug against your back, giving you better balance when climbing up or down steep trails.
Our best advice is to go into a store and try a bunch of different packs on, and then get the right one professionally adjusted to your body height and shape.
Waterproof Liner for Inside Your Bag
This is a secret travel and hiking hack we’ve been using for years — get a water resistant liner that goes on the inside of your bag!
Patagonia is a crazy place when it comes to weather. One minute it’ll be blue skies, the next you’ll find yourself in the middle of a torrential downpour or even snow. All of this can change in a matter of minutes, so it’s hard to make quick changes to your gear in a hurry.
Most travellers opt for a raincover that goes around the outside of your bag, but in a place as windy as Patagonia there’s a high probability it’ll blow off in a violent gust. This doesn’t just put your gear at risk, it also litters the gorgeous environment.
That’s where the water resistant liner saves the day. Your backpack can get wet and you’ll be stress-free knowing everything on the interior is dry and safe. Your backpack will dry as soon as the sun comes out again, and a good quality bag won’t deteriorate just because of water.
Another one of our tips - double wrap your important stuff such as sleeping bags in an extra plastic bag, and if you don’t have access to a proper backpack liner you can use a heavy duty garbage bag.
Waterproof Jacket and Pants
A waterproof jacket and pants should be in your pack at all times anyway, but when it comes to hiking in Torres del Paine having them is a necessity. Wet clothes will sap the body heat right out of you when the wind hits, and it’s sure to not just put a dampener on your skin but also your mood.
Pick yourself up a breathable, Gore-Tex shell to throw over your upper layers and a lightweight pair of waterproof pants to protect the bottom half. A lot of these fold into their own pockets so to make them as compact as possible.
Learning to layer is an essential part of hiking in Patagonia, and a lightweight but super warm fleece jumper the perfect layer to throw over your shirt when the temperature starts to drop.
We’ve been a bit obsessed with our Kathmandu down jackets ever since we got them, and they now go everywhere with us, including Torres del Paine. Perfect to wear in the evenings when you’re cooking dinner or hanging out around camp.
Zip-Off Hiking Pants
Whoever invented these pants is a genius. While they might not be the most fashionable thing around, there’s no denying that for pure functionality they’re hard to beat. When it get hot, you can simply unzip the bottom half and help regulate your body temperature.
Merino Socks and Sock Liners (Plus an Extra Pair for Night)
You’re asking for trouble if you wear your everyday cotton socks on a serious hike. You’re more likely to get blisters thanks to the damp, hot environment accumulating in your shoes. Instead, purchase some merino hiking socks and your feet will love you for it. Sock liners are also great if it’s very cold and for preventing blisters. At night have a pair of separate, warm socks that you only wear in camp so your feet have a chance to dry.
Synthetic Long-Sleeved Shirt
Trekking in Torres del Paine isn’t a fashion show, it’s an adventure, so leave the variety of different outfits at home and instead bring one good-quality, synthetic, long-sleeved shirt to wear each day when you’re hiking. Hang it up at night so it airs out and it’ll be good to go again the next morning.
Sandals or Flip Flops
You’ll need an extra pair of footwear for when you’re relaxing in camp at the end of your day’s hike. Sandals or flip flops are comfortable and allow your feet to dry out.
You won’t be using this during the day, but when you’re peeling out of your hiking clothes after a 22km mission you’ll be thankful for a microfibre towel to dry off your body and feet before putting on your evening clothes. Some of the camps in Torres del Paine also have showers, so you can clean up the sweat and mud off of you. You’ll find these at Refugio Grey, Refugio Paine Grande, Refugio Los Cuernos and Refugio Chileno.
You don’t want a full pharmacy with you, but essentials like bandages, band-aids, blister packs, antiseptic cream, etc, will do wonders in case you get banged up on your hike.
Bring hiking poles with you even if you don’t think you need them. They’ll help you keep your balance when crossing slippery rocks and streams, or when you’re feeling exhausted after trekking all the way to the base of Las Torres.
Reusable Water Bottle
The water in Patagonia is some of the cleanest in the world and you can drink straight from the rivers and streams. This makes hiking in Torres del Paine that much easier, because you don’t need to carry a lot of water with you.
Beanie and Gloves
Even in the middle of summer it can get below freezing in Torres del Paine, so make sure you have a beanie and gloves to keep yourself warm.
If you have these essential items with you, your next hiking adventure in Torres del Paine is going to go that much more smoothly.
Pack everything on the list before you head across to Patagonia, and then you can put all your focus on the epic scenery Torres del Paine is famous for!
Alesha and Jarryd are professional photographers, writers and the founders of Australia’s biggest adventure travel blog, NOMADasaurus. They’ve been exploring the world together since 2008, searching for culture and adventure in off the beaten path destinations.