The gateway town to the 'W' is Puerto Natales which is easily reached by bus from southern Argentina or from Chile. Its a great place to pick up supplies and meet fellow trekkers. You can hire camping equipment for the trail and purchase whatever you need. The town is totally geared up for visitors so finding information about the trek is easy. Regular buses run from Puerto Natales to the Torres Del Paine National Park which is the start of the trail, and unless you have your own transport, this is the best way to get to the start of your trek. Information about the trail is readily available online, so we won’t bore you with all the detail, but here are our top tips on hiking this epic world class trail.
1. The best time to hike the W is in the Patagonian summer months between November and February. We hiked the trail in mid January and while certain parts were quite busy, there were still sections where you felt you were the only one for kilometres.
2. No matter what time of year you attempt the trail the weather is very temperamental. Over the course of the trek you will be hot, wet, cold and wind swept. The wind here is strong enough to knock you off your feet! You need to be prepared for all types of weather conditions on the trail so pack appropriately, remembering that you have to carry it!
3. Don’t be a Gortex Ninja - waterproofing yourself head to toe is not the answer. While you think covering up keeps you dry, it only makes you more wet......sweating like crazy on the inside! Our tip ? Have one pair of trekking clothes (AKA wet,smelly clothes that you wear while hiking during the day), and one pair of dry clothes to change into at night. If you get wet and feel cold, just walk faster to stay warm. Believe us, you’ll be warmer and dryer than those Gortex Ninjas!
4. Ensure you waterproof your pack, and that doesn’t mean using a pack cover. Use individual waterproof stuff sacks, or a large garbage bag (make sure you continue to reuse it) inside your pack to keep everything - especially your night time clothing dry. Pack covers are useless in such extreme weather conditions. They either fly straight off in the Patagonian wind, or bug the crap out of your fellow hikers as they flicker uncontrollably! Having your pack properly waterproofed also means you can throw it in a puddle and use it as a seat at lunch without all your stuff getting wet!
5. Keep moving. Don’t stop for too long as you will get cold.
6. Take the trail all the way up the Valle de Frances to Britannica. Many people miss this section as it’s a long day and is quite steep, it is however spectacular and a highlight of the trail. Leave your pack at the Italiano rangers station to lighten your load.
7. Make sure you book. Regardless of if you’re staying inside a Refugio or camping, parks personnel will not allow you into the park without a confirmed booking. Refugios and camping sites can be booked through Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia. These two seperate companies operate various refugios in the park so it’s necessary to book with both depending on the direction and route you choose to take. Both have websites with easy online booking facilities. www.verticepatagonia.cl. www.fantasticosur.com/en/
8. You don’t need to join a tour group. This is easily a self guided hike and even if you just do it on your own the refugios guarantee you’ll meet a diverse range of people from all over the world.
9. Drink from the glacial streams. The water here is pristine and there is water available everywhere. Fill up your water bottle and drink away.
10. Enjoy the moment. Have fun, breathe in the immense natural beauty of the landscape and talk to people. You’ll make life long memories and friendships.
11. Take lots of photographs but leave only footprints. The environment here is pristine so respect it.