The Ultimate Guide: Hiking The W Circuit In Chilean Patagonia
Updated: Mar 31
Everything travelers should know before embarking on the multi-day W Trek in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.
The W Circuit is easily one of the most famous multi-day hikes in South America and it's also a great starting point for travelers who have never done a trek of this scale before. Unlike Peru, Chilean Patagonia isn't at a high altitude, eliminating the need to worry about altitude sickness during the hike. The W Trek is a 4-5 day route in Torres del Paine National Park that can be completed from East to West or West to East.
Travelers heading to Chile for this exciting trek need to consider what they will pack, where they will stay, and how to get to the park to ensure everything goes smoothly upon arrival. In this guide, I've compiled all the necessary information based on our experience doing this circuit from East to West in January 2023.
Follow these suggestions and guidelines to have a successful trek in Chilean Patagonia.
Booking Accommodation In Torres Del Paine National Park
Before arriving in Chilean Patagonia, it's critical to have campsites for the trek booked well in advance. The high season for the W Circuit is December to February, and during these months the campgrounds along the route are almost entirely booked. Travelers are reserving these campsites as early as October. We made a last-minute decision to visit Patagonia, booking our trek only four weeks in advance. This meant that we had limited options for where to sleep each night of the trek. The available campsites were the reason we decided to do the trek from East to West (rather than the popular West to East). For the dates we wanted, we were able to reserve campsites in Chileno, Los Cuernos, Paine Grande, and Grey.
It's important to note that some websites for booking the campsites allow you to do this all in one place but will charge a premium for the convenience they're offering you. To get the best price, book the campsites separately. Chileno, Francis, and Los Cuernos can be booked by visiting Lastorres.com while Paine Grande and Grey campsites can be booked on vertice.travel.
After booking, consider the gear you'll need, what the route looks like for each day of the trek, and how you'll get to and from the national park.
Gear You'll Need: What To Pack For The W Circuit
The key pieces of gear necessary for the W Circuit (and most multi-day hikes) are a backpack, a lightweight tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. Also, having a well-broken-in pair of hiking boots that don't rub or cause blisters will greatly improve the trekking experience.
Although it can be costly to invest in high-quality gear for multi-day hikes, these items are the ones that you don't want to cheap out on or overlook. They will define your trekking experience based on how comfortable you are. A lightweight backpack with adequate support on the hips and shoulders is key. I opted for the Osprey Renn 50 L backpack which had a lovely support frame and breathable membrane. It did the job, but there are also much lighter backpacks on the market for travelers who have the budget to invest in them.
A lightweight tent and sleeping bag are also key pieces of gear for this trek. However, you can book premium campsites where the campground provides a tent. This is a great option for travelers who want to carry less weight along the route. When you arrive at camp, your comfortable tent is already set up for you. It's also possible to rent sleeping bags for those who don't want to bring one from home or carry one. However, for hygiene reasons, it's still a good idea to bring a sleeping bag liner if renting a sleeping bag. We used the Summer 250 Sleeping Bag from Mountain Warehouse. It was comfortable and warm, but is certainly not the most lightweight option on the market. In fact, it took up a lot of room in our backpacks. I would recommend spending more money on a lighter weight, more compact down sleeping bag if you can afford to do so. However, if, like me, you're trying to find a really budget-friendly sleeping bag, this is a really affordable option that does the job.
My hiking boots are on clouds and I love them, they're super comfortable and provide excellent ankle support which I desperately need on rocky terrain. However, it took several hikes to properly break them in and avoid rubbing, so be sure to do some hikes closer to home before embarking on a multi-day trek in new boots.
Other gear I'd recommend investing in for hiking in Chilean Patagonia includes:
A merino wool buff (to shelter your face from wind or your head from the sun)
A sun hat
A winter hat/knit hat
A packable down jacket
A windbreaker/waterproof shell
A rain cover for your backpack
Merino wool socks (quick drying, moisture wicking)
Wet wipes/wilderness wipes
A lightweight, quick-drying towel
Flip-flops for campground showers
A Jet Boil for quickly cooking meals
A reusable water bottle
Each campground along the W Circuit has hot water, showers, and bathroom facilities. Travelers can bring their own dehydrated meals to cook when they arrive at camp each night or, if they want to travel lighter, it's possible to purchase meals at the campsites. Book these in advance during the high season because the demand exceeds the supply.
Wi-Fi can be purchased as well by the hour at the campsites along the W Circuit. Be sure to have a credit card available in order to buy time online from the digital machine at the campground.
The Route: Distance And Expectations For Each Day
The W Circuit can be hiked in 3-5 days, but anyone attempting to do it in less than 5 days needs to be in peak physical condition because they're covering a lot of kilometers. 5 days and 4 nights is a comfortable amount of time that still provides a nice challenge.
With a 5 day itinerary, here's what the route looks like from East to West:
Day 1: Hike to Chileno and Mirador Las Torres (approximately 14 km)
Day 2: Chileno to Los Cuernos (approximately 11.5 km)
Day 3: Los Cuernos to Paine Grande via Britanico (approximately 21.5 km)
Day 4: Paine Grande to Grey (approximately 11.5 km)
Day 5: Grey to Paine Grande (approximately 11.5 km)
The benefit of hiking the W Circuit from East to West is there are fewer uphill sections than traveling from the other direction. This makes it slightly easier. We heard from people that on day 4 when going West to East is especially challenging because so much of the hike from Los Cuernos to Chileno is uphill.
Day 3 is the biggest day of the hike in either direction simply because it's so long and includes the ascent to Britanico. However, travelers can leave their bags at the base of this section and collect them on the way back down, which makes it slightly less strenuous. To further break up the trek, add a sixth day and break day 3 into two parts. Start day 3 by hiking from Los Cuernos to Britanico, then go back to Francis for the night and sleep there. Then on day 4, hike directly from Francis to Paine Grande. Complete the rest of the route as per usual.
Getting To And From Torres Del Paine National Park In Chile
There are a lot of logistical decisions that go into planning a visit to Torres del Paine National Park. Travelers who are arriving in Chile after exploring Argentinean Patagonia (El Chalten and El Calafate) will need to book seats on Bus Sur to travel from El Calafate, across the border into the Chilean town of Puerto Natales. Then, from Puerto Natales, it's around two hours by bus to Torres del Paine National Park. Upon arrival in the park, travelers must pay the entrance fee (~$49 USD) and also pay 3000 Chilean Pesos per person to take a shuttle to the trailhead.
Departure from the trail (when going East to West) requires travelers to have 25,000 Chilean Pesos or $30 USD to take the catamaran back to the mainland from Paine Grande. From Paine Grande, take another Bus Sur vehicle back to Puerto Natales, El Calafate, or Punta Arenas.
Have you hiked the W Circuit in Patagonia or are you planning a trip to this part of Chile? Let me know in the comments! Happy hiking :)