Torres Del Paine “O” Circuit Trek Tips
It’s worth getting up at 3AM and hiking up to Las Torres on (most likely) the final day of your “O” circuit trek, so you can get this view right at sunrise.
After our own 9-day trek in the Chilean part of Patagonia, we wanted to share a few of our Torres del Paine “O” circuit trek tips.
One of the many beautiful glaciers you’ll see if you do the “O” (or “Q”) trek versus the “W”. This one is just about a km from Campamento Los Perros.
Horses in fields and snow-capped mountains in the distance welcome you to the beginning of the “O” circuit trek on Day 1.
Taking you 110 kilometers in a circular loop around Torres del Paine National Park, the “O” circuit trek is the ultimate way to experience this spectacular part of Patagonia. It traverses stunning landscapes, carved by immense glaciers and dotted with turquoise lakes, and is capped by the iconic Las Torres peaks.
In January 2015 we flew into Chile to start our own 9-day “O” circuit trek. Rather than going with a trekking tour company, we booked and hiked independently, carrying all our camping supplies and food with us. It was an incredible adventure being out in the wild for such a long time and we wanted to share some of our top tips for trekking Torres del Paine’s “O” circuit for others planning to do the same.
1. Trek independently, no need for a guide or tour company.
We were hesitant to do the trek independently, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions we made, allowing us to go at our pace and have a lot of alone time.
For someone that pretty much only travels with a private (tour guide), if I’m suggesting this, then you know it’s straight-forward – save some money by booking and trekking the “O” circuit independently. You really don’t need to go with a tour company, as it’s possible to book everything from bus rides to refugios and even meals online. There’s so much great info available on the web to help you plan your “O” circuit trek (including our guide on “How To Get To Torres Del Paine”) and the campamentos and refugios (campsites) are all setup to cater to independent trekkers.
Allow yourself at least 9 full days to really have time to enjoy the trek (including transport from Puerto Natales) and make sure you pack enough food to keep you going (unless you plan to splash out eating at the refugios). So all that’s left to do is get in trekking shape and head for Chile!
2. Escape the crowd and go during the shoulder season.
The drawback of going during the summer time is virtually every campsite is quite busy, like this one here at Refugio Paine Grande (arguably the best one).
As one of Patagonia’s most outstanding trekking destinations, Torres del Paine does get incredibly busy during the height of summer when the days are at their longest. We trekked towards the end of January, and many of the campsites were very crowded, although we still had moments of complete solitude and quiet on the trails. But if you want to avoid the majority of the crowds, opt to trek in October/November or March/April when the temperatures are still relatively warm and the days long.
3. Book your campsites with Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur.
We booked all our campsites and refugios (minus the first come, first serve ones) online with Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur.
Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur are the two companies that run all the refugios and campsites in Torres del Paine, and bookings can be done online before you leave. It’s all very easy, with options to purchase their meal plans and hire tents if you wish, and you just need to carry the paperwork to prove your booking with you. The best thing is, they both have great websites in English!
Although most of the campsites can be reserved in advance, there are a couple of basic ones (such as Campamento Los Perros and Campamento Paso) that are on a first come/first serve basis.
4. Splurge on the refugio hot meal packages.
A fried steak, rice, and tasty sauce in the middle of the wilderness? Yes please! But only at refugios like Dickson, Paine Grande, and Chileno, with reservations well ahead of time (online).
While being out in the wild and self-sufficient is one of the draws of trekking in Torres del Paine, indulging in hot, home cooked meals on a few nights is a welcome treat. We did it three times during our “O” circuit trek: at Refugio Dickson, Paine Grande, and Refugio Chileno, and we can honestly say that the meal packages were worth the ~$50USD/person price tag!
You get a hot three-course dinner, breakfast (coffee, eggs, cereal, pancakes), and to-go lunch box, and a warm cabin to enjoy it in. While it may sound pricey reading this in the comfort of your own home, after multiple days of dehydrated food and crackers on the “O” circuit trek, it didn’t feel like such a stretch! It’s a great way to refuel your body and definitely lifts your spirits after long days of trekking in all kinds of conditions. Make sure you pre-book meal packages online, as getting them last minute is not recommended!
5. From sunny to rainy days, embrace the unpredictable weather.
On Day 2 of the trek from Campamento Seron to Refugio Dickson, we faced the wrath of the Patagonian wind, just a few hours before it started to rain.
Patagonia is renowned for its unpredictable weather, with bright, sunny skies one minute and rain pouring down the next, not to mention the windy conditions going over the passes! Be prepared for this when trekking, and dressing in layers is the best solution. Always have your waterproof gear accessible near the top of your pack, and bring plenty of sunscreen for when the clouds break up.
6. Waterproof absolutely everything, especially your boots!
We highly recommend wearing waterproof boots, for reasons like this when we had to trek in near ankle-deep mud on the morning of Day 4.
Even if you’re trekking in the height of summer, you should expect some rain during your “O” circuit trek, and the only way to prepare for this is by waterproofing absolutely everything. Make sure you have a rain cover for your backpack, as well as a waterproof jacket and pants, and invest in some waterproof boots as there is nothing worse than wet and cold feet! We also recommend sealing any electronics and camera gear in plastic bags, just to be extra sure!
7. Test out all your gear before you leave home.
You want to make sure everything is working properly well before you leave your hometown airport, ESPECIALLY the backpack you’ll be wearing to avoid any discomfort.
There’s nothing worse that purchasing new trekking gear and not finding out until you’re in the middle of nowhere that something is not quite right. I had exactly this problem on the “O” circuit trek with the straps on my brand new backpack, although thankfully things (miraculously!) sorted themselves out.
Always test out your gear before you head off, preferably by taking it out on a day trekking trip to see how it holds up. Make sure there are no holes in your shoes or clothing, and that the screws are tight on your trekking poles. And it’s a good idea to make sure that your “waterproofs” are actually…waterproof!
8. Refill your water bottles straight from the source.
Yes, you can literally drink water straight from the source. There’s no need to purify it, but just make sure it”s running water and not too close to the trail/ground.
One of the great things about trekking in Torres del Paine is that you never need to worry about running out of water. Fresh water is available at regular intervals from the rivers and at all campsites, with no purification needed! Although we didn’t need to purify our water at all during the trek, it doesn’t hurt to bring a Steripen, just to be on the safe side!
9. Take it slow, there’s no rush to get to the next campsite.
Since we did the trek right in the middle of the summer, the days were extra long, with light from about 5AM all the way to 11PM. That allowed us to take our time and enjoy the scenery.
Presuming you are trekking during the summer or shoulder seasons, there’s going to be plenty of light each day and no need to rush between campamentos or refugios. If you get an early start, you might just be the first ones on the trails. Then take your time, soaking up the spectacular scenery along the way.
If you’ve got bookings at the campsites then your spot is secure, and the only time you may need to pick up the pace is on the days you are approaching Campamento Los Perros and Campamento Paso, with a first come, first serve arrangement. But be mindful of other trekkers on the trail, and if they are going faster than you, step aside and let them by.
10. Secure your Campamento Torres permit at Campamento Italiano.
As you can see written on the brown sign, you must reserve your Campamento Torres permit (Day 8) at Campamento Italiano (Day 6) or at the entrance Laguna Amarga. You can’t do this head of time (online).
You don’t need permits for most of the campsites along the “O” circuit trek except for one – Campamento Torres. This is the closest campsite to the famed Las Torres peaks and is quite small, so they have imposed strict regulations to ensure that people don’t trek up there, only to find there are no spaces available.
You need to get a permit at Campamento Italiano two days before you plan on arriving at Campamento Torres, and you are only permitted to stay one night, although that is enough time to visit the Las Torres peaks at sunset and sunrise. Rangers will check your permit on arrival and if you don’t have one, you will have to trek back down to Refugio Chileno (you can’t reserve a spot online either).
11. Bring your favorite snacks to munch on.
We put our favorite snacks and lunch items in a large Ziploc bag, labeled with the day it was for. This made it easy for us to portion what to eat everyday.
Treating yourself to a few of your favorite snacks along the way is a great way to motivate yourself during those tough stretches on the “O” circuit trek. Knowing you have a chocolate bar or bag of chips waiting for you if you “just get over that pass” is a fantastic incentive, and they don’t take up a lot of weight in your pack.
Although you can buy some snacks at the campamentos and refugios, they have a limited choice and can be a bit pricey. So stock up in Puerto Natales or a bring a few of your favorites from home (make sure they will clear customs though!). We decided to allot ourselves three snacks a day, and it’s always a good idea to store them in airtight, ziplock bags, which will help preserve them and avoid any leaks.
12. There’s only one trail so it’s impossible to get lost!
Although you’re trekking over 100km and for 9 days, it’s nearly impossible to get lost in Torres del Paine, with the trail well-marked and signs every few kilometers.
Even if your sense of direction is not the greatest, it’s almost impossible to get lost on the “O” circuit trek because there really is only one trail. You can hike it in either direction (though counter-clockwise is the more popular way), so you will pass people at frequent intervals, and even if you get stumped help is only a few minutes away. There are well-marked signposts throughout Torres del Paine, letting you know where you are, your elevation, and how far you have to go. And if you’d like to be extra safe, carry a water/tear-resistant map.
13. Don’t worry about going alone, you’ll be making friends along the way.
If you want to do this trek but don’t want to feel like you’re going alone, never fear, you’ll meet many wonderful trekkers every single day, especially at the campsites.
One of the great things about trekking is the like-minded people you meet, and the refugios and campamentos are sociable places filled with people from across the world. Even if you’re planning on doing the “O” circuit trek by yourself, you’ll never be alone, with plenty of opportunity to chat with other trekkers along the trail, in the dining and cooking areas of the campsites, and not to mention your tent neighbors! Everyone we met was really courteous and respectful. Be sure to get other people’s details so we could keep in touch in the future.
14. Take only photos and leave only footprints (along the trail) behind.
A sign along the trail letting you know to NOT pass it and step on the vegetation. More than anything, be respectful of the park rules.
This really is a trekking mantra and goes without saying, but whatever you take into the outdoors, you need to take out with you. This includes trash, cigarette butts, fuel canisters, and even TP (toilet paper). You can recycle these at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales to help reduce the waste that results from the thousands of trekkers who enter Torres del Paine every year!
Also make sure you stick to the main trails, as trekkers trampling “off road” destroys the natural vegetation. You will see the results of this at numerous revegetation areas that are blocked off with signs.
15. Travel photography tips while trekking.
The camera equipment I brought along the “O” circuit trek, minus the flash and camera holster bag (left those at the hostel in Puerto Natales).
To finish off our list of top tips for trekking the “O” circuit in Torres del Paine, I’d like to share a few photography tips to help you come away with the most impressive images possible:
- Bring a lightweight portable tripod to capture long exposure and nighttime photos.
- Keep your extra batteries warm so they don’t drain overnight.
- Make sure you bring extra 16-32GB memory cards.
Bringing a quality, durable, all-purpose lens like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L allowed me to capture a wide variety of images at various focal lengths.
- Bring a high quality DSLR (if you don’t mind the weight) that is durable and water resistant.
- If you’re only going to bring one lens, a wide-zoom angle (24-70mm) is your best option.
Yes you’ll have to lug your camera equipment in the freezing cold night, but it’s all worth it once you get an image like this (Las Torres peaks at sunrise).
- Wake up early (around 5AM) and stay out past sunset for the best lighting conditions.
- Change your memory cards on alternate days and store them safely in your backpack, just in case you lose or break your camera!
- Take breaks at the scenic spots so that you have plenty of time to take photos and aren’t holding up your trekking companions.
Although we’ve done a few multi-day treks before on the Inca Trail and Everest Base Camp trek, the “O” circuit trek in Torres del Paine was the first time we booked everything ourselves and trekked independently.
With so much information available online and bookings possible through Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur, it really was easily manageable and we would recommend for others to do the same, even if you don’t have much trekking experience.
Thank you for visiting our site and reading this article! We hope these tips will help you have an even more amazing time on the Torres del Paine “O” circuit trek.
If you have any further questions about how to book, plan or trek along the “O” circuit in Torres del Paine National Park that these tips didn’t cover, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us directly!