W Circuit in 5 days. Backpacking in Patagonia

Torres del Paine W Circuit hike

Hola! I hiked in Torres del Paine as part of my 2 1/2 weeks solo trip to Patagonia and although the entire trip was a massive highlight, the W circuit in 5 days at Torres del Paine was plain awesome! full on hiking and pure majestic nature which is the combination that I like the most!

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I’d recommend to read on if you’re normally a fast walker and like to push it every day, as we’re talking of +30km per day.

If not, you can keep reading and decide on some areas to skip (such as the extra push on the second day)

W Circuit in 5 Days Hiking Itinerary:

Day 1 Paine Grande – Grey Glacier – Paine Grande
Day 2 Paine Grande – Camp Paso – Paine Grande
Day 3 Paine Grande – Camping Frances
Day 4 Camping Frances – Camping Las Torres
Day 5 Camping Las Torres – Torres del Paine and back to Puerto Natales

If you’re very short of time you can definitely skip a leg and make it in 4 days but I’d advise against that as every day you will see things to remember for the rest of your life when hiking the W Circuit.

I first arrived to Puerto Natales, found a room at Zaltaxar B&B which was great in price and even better in service! Sorted a rental tent, bought a bus ticket to the park, had a small walk around town, bought a bottle of Pisco (pro tip: get one!) and spent the night there before starting the hike on the following morning.

Booking.com

I don’t know if it’s always like that, but it seems that I went on a chaotic week as it was simply impossible to book any camping spaces with the people from Vertice (for the nights at Paine Grande and Refugio Grey), so I had to go to the park and hope for the best.

Day one of hiking the W Circuit in 5 Days

When arriving to the park, the park rangers were on strike, which meant that there were no controls and I saved about $30 for the entrance fee 🙂

The buses will leave you at the entrance of the park and then you take an scenic boat that will leave you by the Refugio Paine Grande, here it was the only place where I could finally find out if I could spent the night either there or at Refugio Grey.

It turned out Grey was fully booked so we decided to stay at Paine Grande for 2 nights as we had previously booked nights at Camping Frances and Camping Central for nights 3 and 4.

I’m very happy that we stay for two nights as we managed to squeeze two awesome hikes without carrying our tents.

MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS

After sorting the camping booking with Vertice, and setting up our tents, we made our way towards Refugio Grey/Grey Glacier which is about 11Km. The views are simply magnificent, and the first glimpse of the Glacier was very exciting, on the distance it already looks massive.

The terrain is not flat but not too technical either. Probably if you’re carrying your rucksack you may have find it much harder. One good thing at the park (as pretty much everywhere I went in the Patagonia) is that there are plenty of streams with the purest water so you don’t need to be carrying many bottles.

After arriving to Refugio Grey there’s a short walk, about 15min, towards a viewpoint for the glacier. At this point we decided to make our way back to Paine Grande.

Day two

This was a serious hike, re-tracing our steps from the previous day and adding about 6km more each way. Was it worth it to repeat? Hell Yeah!! after passing the viewpoint you start walking parallel to the glacier, you get a great view of its formations and can start trying to imagine its real magnitude and size.

There are also a couple of cool hanging bridges for the ever necessary adventure pics! it’s also a less transited path and that’s always great!

Day three

This was just a bit shorter in distance but as we started the day with our full rucksacks on it felt as long as the previous one.

We took off early from Paine Grande towards Camping Frances, you’ll find it just about 20min or so after passing Campamento Italiano, which is an OK site but you need to book a bit in advance.

This section is relatively flat and you start getting some very nice views of Lake Nordenskjold. We set up camp quickly at Frances, took our small daypacks with some food and water and headed straight to Camp Britanico.

On this section you get a bit of inclination so you finally feel in a mountain, but it’s not really a climb, when you get to Britanico there is a small climb towards a magnificent viewpoint which is a perfect site for a nice rest.

The weather was constantly changing and although mostly sunny, at times there was a cold wind and we even got a bit of rain, so make sure to grab your waterproofs even on good days!

At the viewpoint we got a fantastic contrast in the mountains due to the changing weather, as the east side of the valley was super bright and the west side a bit tenebrous,it seemed like two rocky armies prepared for the battle, the dark side against the rebellion!

The way back to Frances is mostly a gentle downhill so you can definitely stay at Britanico for a while and take it easy as the return is going to be about 8.5km of easy walk.

Day four

It was supposed to be a long one for me as we planned to go to Camping Las Torres and then climb to Torres del Paine, but I started the day with a couple of blisters and decided to take it easy and relax.

I had been hiking full on for over a week in Argentina now so it felt right to had a chilled day. On the way from Frances to Torres you don’t get to see much of the mountains as you’re walking close to them, but instead you get magnificent views of the lake and constantly changing landscapes.

I enjoyed this part of the W Circuit a lot even that in Puerto Natales I was told it was not the best part.

From Camping Torres you get a good view (clouds allowing!) of the Torres del Paine and I was only looking forward to get up close on the following day!

Day five

Finally the reward of seeing the crown jewels of the Torres del Paine!

We started hiking at about 4am, completely pitch black and a bit cold, so make sure to grab good thermal layers and a good head torch.

The start of the hike can be felt as confusing with the darkness and because there are about 10 parallel paths, but they will all get to the same point and eventually unify.

This was a bit of a race against the sun to see the sunrise right at the top so you better be prepared and well awake! I was surprised that not many people woke up as early as we did, so don’t expect to follow someone in the dark if your orientation skills are not great.

After about 2 hours, we arrived to Camping Chileno and you cannot feel but jealousy for the people that managed to book a place so conveniently closed to the Torres! good luck for you if you try!!!

We were still 1.5 hours away from the top and we had to keep rushing it as the minutes were ticking. This is the only day that you do climb on the entire circuit so prepare to push it a bit at the end.

To get to the top on time was a reward, sadly the day started with clouds and the sunrise effect never appeared, but having said that, we got this magnificent place to ourselves and literally a handful of other hikers so it felt very personal.

The day started to get really cold, when I say really cold I mean shockingly cold even with good base layers, mid layers, hat and gloves!

My friend and I were shaking from the sudden low temperatures, everyone left and it was only the two of us, even so, we couldn’t stop enjoying the peace, energy and mystic of this rock formation and stayed on the freezing cold trying to capture as much as we could of this place.

After a good while we had to go back down to catch up the bus that was going to take us back to Puerto Natales.

It felt even better to wake up so early as there were lots and lots of people going up, surely they slept a bit more than us but we got a private look at this magical place!

Apart from the nature wonders, one of the things that I enjoyed the most was the nature of this circuit as at the end of the third, fourth, fifth day you will start recognising the same faces and a bit of a sense of a community was organically created with only one thing in common, the sense of adventure and discovery that we all get in on these gifts of nature!

What I packed to hike in Torres del Paine:

As always, I go as lightweight as possible. To do the W circuit in 5 days you don’t need to overpack!

For sleeping:
Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat

For eating:
x5 hot meal packs (a thousand times better than carrying stoves, you save weight, cooking time when you’re tired and cleaning time!)
Nuts, dried fruits
A couple of Snickers per day (or any energy bar that you like)
For breakfasts, I bought in Puerto Natales:
A 6-pack of eggs and boiled them at the hostel, I used them for my breakfasts and two lunches.
A pack of cherry tomatoes
A pack of hamburger bread (which takes a bit longer to get stale than regular bread)
A pack of chorizo and cheese
I normally survive on these trips with little food but you could certainly throw in a couple more of the hot meal packs just in case.

For drinking:
A bottle of Pisco! share a glass every night and it will feel glorious! I never bought a bottle of Pisco before, but the Pisco Mistral was really good! every day tasted even better!

Clothing:
This is always very personal, but I normally travel with the bare minimum of just 3 t-shirts, base layer top and bottom, mid layer, 3 boxers, waterproof top and bottom layer, hat, gloves, 3 pairs of socks, a pair of hiking pants/shorts a good pair of boots and flip flops.

Accessories:
Walking poles (not mandatory but always a nice addition to multi-day hikes), head torch, small daypack for when you leave your rucksack at camp. water bottle or reservoir.

Equipment:
Full on energy on a daily basis! embrace this incredible part of the world!

The W Circuit in 5 Days is one of my favourite hikes ever. Feel free to drop any comments if you’re planning to go backpacking in Patagonia.

Looking for inspiration on your next trip? check out the rest of my hiking adventures around the world!

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