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6 Skills for Hiking in Torres del Paine

If you’re heading down to the local park for a casual afternoon stroll, walking is probably as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But when you’re heading to the very bottom of the world, far from the nearest town, on mixed terrain and through a delicate eco-system, there are all sorts of skills that you’ll need to bring into play. Find out what you’ll need to tackle Torres del Paine National Park in comfort and in style, with our top six skills!


hiking in torres del paine1. Finding your pace

If you’re used to taking day-hikes nearer to home, there can be a temptation to hit the trails of Torres del Paine all guns blazing and try to tick off as many of the big-money viewpoints and landmarks as possible on your first day. You might be able to keep up this frenetic pace for a day, but don’t forget that most trekkers take five to seven days to complete the full Torres del Paine W Trek, and up to nine days to cover the whole Paine Circuit Trek. You don’t want to expend so much effort on days one and two that you’re too tired to enjoy (or even finish) the rest of your hike. Take care to develop your own rhythm, which will vary depending on the terrain. After hiking at a steady pace for five minutes, stop and check your breathing. If you’re breathing at a completely normal rate, you can probably afford to up the pace slightly. Whereas if you’re sweating and breathing very heavily you need to take things a little slower. Aim for a pace that slightly raises your breathing without causing you to sweat and you should be able to go further for longer!

torres del paine map2. Navigation

One of the attractions of Torres del Paine National Park as one of Patagonia’s prime hiking locations is that the trails are well maintained and well marked. That said, people do occasionally wander off the trails by mistake and it’s always a good idea to hike with a detailed topographical map and a compass. If nothing else, this will give you more information on the geological features and outlandish natural monuments that you pass by on your trek. However, diligently packing a map in your rucksack before you set off isn’t much use if you don’t know how to read it once you’re out in the park. So take some time to ensure you’re familiar with the basic principles surrounding contour lines, symbols and scales in case you should have to make use of your map.

trash on the trail3. Treading lightly

In the pristine wilderness of Torres del Paine National Park, every single hiker has a responsibility to minimise the impact of their hike. Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek may be a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for many people who visit that park, but that still totals thousands of pairs of feet each season, and if care isn’t taken, that can really give the land a pounding. Remember that it’s important to stick to trails at all times, without stepping off to hurry past slower hikers, and to take all of your trash (including organic waste like fruit peel) with you for recycling. You should avoid removing any stones or plants as mementos and be sure to steer clear of lakes and rivers when disposing of dish-washing water or answering a call of nature. Most of all, don’t forget that lighting open fires and smoking are completely forbidden within the park, while camping stoves are only allowed in designated areas to protect against the very real threat of forest fires. Check out our Ten Commandments of Trekking Etiquette for more tips for reducing your hiking footprint.

river crossing4. Crossing rivers

When hiking the W Trek or the Paine Circuit there are some rivers to be crossed and you might be called on to do a spot of rock hopping to get from one side to the other. If you’re travelling on a guided trek, your guide will know the best places to cross and will be able to instruct you on crossing safely. However, if you’re hiking independently, here are some safety pointers to bear in mind:
- Never try to cross a river in flood. If the river is swollen and fast-moving wait for the flooding to subside or turn back, it’s not worth the risk.
- If the river seems too wide, walk upstream to find an area where it is narrower.
- Keep your boots on to protect your feet against the rocks, although you can take off your socks if you think they might get wet.
- Hiking poles will help you keep your balance on slippery rocks.
- If it all goes wrong and you end up standing in the river, face upstream and spread your legs to aid balance.

torres del paine rest5. Taking breaks

Learning when to stop and take time out is important for all kinds of reasons and its harder to judge than you might think. If you get to the point where your boots are rubbing, your mouth is parched and your legs are starting to wobble, you’re probably already a good way past the point where you should have made a stop for a little R&R. Taking regular breaks gives you time to examine your feet, shoulders and hips for rubbing hot spots and to take action before you develop full-blown blisters. It’s also a chance to take on a big gulp of water (although you should sip consistently as you hike) and do some hardcore snacking to keep your energy levels and morale high. The key here is to take breaks before you need them, not when you’re on your last legs, and sitting down with a view of the hills and the mountains isn’t much of a hardship anyway!

torres del paine fauna6. Spotting animals

This might not be a life-saving essential skill when hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, but you’ll certainly get more out of your hike if you know what to look out for. Spotting fauna will be easier if you keep noise to a minimum and keep a lookout for the signs that animals leave behind as well as the animals themselves. Areas of flattened grass could be a sign of a nearby pudu (the smallest deer in the world) or the larger huemul (an endangered Andean deer), as could signs of bark-stripping or rubbing on trees. Animal droppings and prints are also great reminders that Patagonia’s sometimes eccentric-looking fauna is never too far away. And don’t forget to look to the skies as well as on the ground. Chile’s iconic condors are often seen wheeling on air currents around the jagged mountain tops. Take a look at our Animal Tracker’s Guide to Hiking in Patagonia for more top tips and insider information!

Now book your hiking trip in Torres del Paine National Park with Cascada Expediciones.