Most Americans who travel to the national parks of Patagonia do so as part of a tour. Spectacular sites, such as those to be found in Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares (with the amazing Fitz-Roy), and the Perito Moreno Glacier, can be visited with many reputable tour operators.
However, many visitors to the parks prefer to travel independently — in part because they want to explore places within the parks that are not generally offered by tour. There are two popular multi-day treks in Torres del Paine — the W route and the circuit. The W route — so named because of its three arms (trails) climbing into the mountains — is approximately 50 miles (many variations and side trips can be taken). Trekkers can travel lighter by staying in refugios (hostels) or by renting a tent a various sites, but carrying your own tent offers more flexibility.
Backpackers who want to see the backcountry of Torres del Paine National Park usually opt for the circuit around the Paine massif and must be prepared for 8-10 days of hiking the 65-mile circuit. The circuit offers extraordinary scenic beauty, but it usually requires hard work, sometimes with brutal weather, to see it.
There are two major factors to preparing for the hike itself: training/conditioning and gear.
Training & Conditioning for Backpacking:
The official campgrounds and shelters of the circuit (some with food and beds) range from about 6 – 12 miles (9 K – 20 K) apart. For many backpackers, that would not be considered a great distance, however, when considering the weather, the terrain, and the condition of the trail (sometimes rough, often wet and muddy), it would be best to figure it will take most of a day to hike from one campground to the next.
Training should begin several weeks before the hike (the number of weeks required will depend on your starting fitness level). The best training for hiking is hiking, so figure out where you are and then each week increase the number of miles you walk each training day, walk on increasingly steep terrain, and carry a backpack. (Alternately, you can improve your cardio-vascular system by using equipment such as a treadmill or stairstepper.)
However you enter into a training program, make increases gradually in order to reduce the risk of injury and setbacks. In general, the distance you hike and the weight you carry should increase 5-10% each week until you reach the desired amount. If you are already an experienced backpacker, you may have taken some some long-distance hikes where you found that you can get away with allowing a few weeks on the trail to get up to speed. In this case, you’d be wise to go prepared!
The following is an example of a training program — all of which can be carried out in the San Francisco Bay Area (suggested links above, left):
Week 1, Day 1: Hike 90+ minutes, carrying 12 pounds, on hilly terrain.
Day 2: Gym session with weights, stretches for upper body strength
Day 3: Hike (see Day 1)
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Gym (see Day 2)
Day 6: Long Hike 3-4 hours (6-8 miles) carrying 12 pounds, on hilly terrain.
Day 7: Pilates (core strengthening).
Week 2 until the week before trip: Increase weight carried in backpack by 1-2 pounds per week to goal of 20+ pounds; increase length of “Day 6: Long Hike” gradually to 10-12 miles.
This training should continue rain or shine, after all, you will have both in Patagonia.
Although the example given here was written with Patagonia trekking in mind, the general rules of training regularly, and gradually increasing the weight carried, the distance traveled, and the steepness of terrain apply to any long-distance backpacking trip.
The first in this series, Hiking in Chile’s Patagonia — Torres del Paine, part 1, introduces you to Torres del Paine.
In Hiking Chile’s Patagonia — Torres del Paine, part 3, you’ll learn what clothing and gear you’ll need for treks in this region of South America.