Just got back from a 9 day / 8 night 70 mile trek with Lee in Torres Del Paine National Park down in southern Chile.
This was the longest hike I’ve done, both in duration and distance. Temps were mostly in the 50s during the day and dipped down to the low 30s at night. The wind was constant and heavy. Lots of scattered showers, one day of heavy rain, and we ran into snow and hail and sleet going over the John Gardner Pass at 4,000 ft. Daily hikes were usually 4–6 hours with a max day of 12.5 hours going over the Pass. Starting pack weights were 22 lbs for Lee and 30 lbs for me. By the end we were probably down to 16 & 22, respectively. We had the lightest packs by far on the trail and saw lots of other relatively unprepared people with way too much shit. Listening to Dave H.‘s sage counsel on all things ultra-light weight was super helpful.
For food we each brought 11 dehydrated meals and supplemented that with eating 5 dinners and 3 or 4 breakfasts at the various refugios/huts along the way. Also ate Halvah bars (my fave trail food) and salami/cheese/crackers/crushed up pringles/cookies that we bought either at the supermarket in town before we started or at various refugios along the way.
We were lucky enough to have excellent recommendations and borrowed gear from friends like Brad B and Greg C. Brad especially was helpful. He recommended a book called “Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpacking Book” which, despite it’s silly title was worth twice it’s weight in gold for the good solid advice inside. Highly recommend this read to any backpacker. Brad also lent us a tent, kettle, poles, sleeping bags and pads. Having his years of outdoor living in our backpacks was incredibly helpful and probably made the difference between a highly enjoyable trip and one that would have been downright fucking miserable. Lesson one: Have good friends with expertise help you.
On to lessons learned (written down on the trail):
-better, more organized med kit. Nice that it was in a little red nylon pouch, would like to see it a little easier to sort through. Not sure yet how to do that. Things we definitely will add include: arnicare/traumed (soft tissue injuries/overuse stuff), more ibuprofen, ace bandage
-earplugs and eyecovers worked really well in crowded campgrounds and were also useful getting to sleep at night with so much daylight (4:30 am — 11:00 pm)
-Patagonia brand R1 hoody and Nanopuff combo were the fucking heat. T‑shirt on bottom followed by those two layers and a raincoat up top kept us warm in everything but the freezing temps of the Pass, and I think if we’d just had better gloves and I’d have had rainproof bottoms with thermal underwear we would have been good to go.
-Lee’s backpack, a Gossamer Gear Mariposa, worked really well with all the mesh pouches on the outside for easy access. Her time to get anything was 1/5 of mine as I had an old (and bombproof) Arc’teryx Bora 40. 40 liter pack is just enough to carry gear and food for one, but had we not had easy and continuous access to water I would have had to bump up a size.
-we lined our packs with trash compactor bags, folded over at the top and then covered with another (backup) folded TC bag as a cap. That seemed to be totally waterproof and neither of us had wet anything inside our bag despite a full day of Patagonia rain.
-use of glacial melt as ice baths saved the day for both of us coming off the Pass. Although very uncomfortable I went from hobbling to striding in a matter of minutes. Should have done them again the next day but didn’t, trading short-term avoidance for slightly longer term pain.
-I ordered the wrong size rain pants before we left and delayed in returning them, resulting in not having them in time for my trip. I took the light weight Patagonia brand Guide pant which flat-out wasn’t enough for the rain. Soaked right through, and I learned my lesson the best way, which is the hard way: Always bring full rain gear.
-Lee wrote down a bandanna for face/head covering, more streamlined leggings (she wore regular cotton pants from the Gap,which left her super cold coming down from the Pass) and some kind of open-air camp/shower shoes for the various nasty bathing facilities. I won’t bring any of that shit, but that’s just me.
-We didn’t prepare enough and should have rested on day 3 instead of charging. 2–3 days of hiking and 1 day of rest is bombproof for injury prevention, but you don’t always have the time. We did have the time but didn’t stop until forced to by injury. Should have been more disciplined about stopping before it got bad. Again, learned the hard way. Solid.
-Need to figure out a better way to carry/organize socks. It’s a little thing but knowing which socks are fresh and/or used only once would be helpful. Not essential, just helpful.
-Slamming 2 liters of water at the start of the day worked phenomenally well to avoid dehydration and carrying excess water in the ruck. Lots of piss stops, but those were good mini rest stops as well. I will follow the morning 2‑liter H2O slam protocol from here on out.
-our tent (a BD single wall hiLight borrowed from Brad) was awesome for weatherproof-ness. Shed water well, let in a little wind but we had NO problems with condensation. It is billed as a cozy 2 person assault style tent, and that’s what it is. Will look for a slightly larger tent with a vestibule as we ended up just chucking all our extra shit into the trash compactor bags and leaving them outside the tent. Not as secure as I’d like, but it worked well. Also, a vestibule for cooking in inclement weather seems like a good call. Didn’t have to use ours but thought about it.
-hydropel worked well for any hot spots on our feet, and taping toes worked well too. Neither of us had any real foot problems due to being super pro-active about foot care.
-Dave H. recommended I take a hard case for sunglasses and like a fool I blew him off. Will bring a small hard case next time.
-the small primus kettle and cat can stove worked really well, need to build a better windscreen then the white trash aluminum foil that I used. The windscreen worked, but it’s a little too lightweight, and I think I could get better performance out of something slightly beefier.
-cat can stove: good to go. I brought way too much fuel, that thing is a sipper, not a gulper. Filling it up to the bottom holes with fuel was enough to get the water bubbling but not boiling, which was all I needed. Some issues: it’s got a hot bottom so can’t use it inside tent without some kind of stand, which I didn’t have. I think vestibule cooking would be fine if you’re careful. Excellent hobo skill.
-Brought a windjacket which worked well but was unnecessary because I had my light shell rain jacket (Patagonia Torrentshell)
-need to get warmer and more waterproof gloves. Once your hands are soaked you can get fuct quickly.
-Down bags were good to go. We used sea-to-summit eVent compression sacks and those kept our bags dry and compressed. Will continue to use this system. Am SUPER impressed with the Big Agnes sleep system, was very warm and comfortable at night. Thanks again, Brad.
-natural bug spray was useless. Better off with a headnet and long clothes.
-the spyderco and benchmade knives were heavy and I don’t remember using them. Could probably carry a light utility knife or just a few razor blades for same effect.
-should have carried more tea, instant soups (miso) and ramen. Nothing like a fast hot meal to make a cold wet day a whole lot better.
-need lighter tent stakes. The beefy plastic orange ones I had from high school were too much weight and not enough strength, esp. in cold. Cracked one on day 2 from pounding.
-Lee says more soap and hair ties. Absence of both did not bother me.
Most of these are little issues, minor tweaks in an effort at perfection. Overall it was a very comfortable and enjoyable trip despite some incredibly inclement weather. Having top-level gear really made a difference in our ability to enjoy the surroundings vs. battling environmentals. Layering up and down worked really well, and being proactive about not sweating kept us warm and stoked pretty much the whole time.
‑heavy prana t‑shirt
‑surf trunks (I don’t get cold easily when moving)
‑inov8 FlyRoc 310 shoes
Arcteryx Bora 40
‑grey/silver groundcloth, cut to size
‑grey windbreaker (unnecessary)
‑cooking kit in kettle (2 pair socks, liquid soap, stormproof matches and striker (could have brought a lighter) therm-a-rest repair kit, sil-fix for tent, cat can stove, tin foil windshield for stove)
‑long underwear sleep gear, top & bottom
‑3 x socks
‑food (11 x organic Mary Janes Farm Outpost dehydrated food packs, just add boiling water. Worked really well.)
‑sleeping bag in sea-to-summit eVent compression sack
‑therm a rest sleeping pad as a tube for everything to fit into, then…
‑trash compactor bag as waterproof inner lining
Outside Side Pockets, lower
‑trash bags for trail trash
‑1 liter platypus, usually 1/4 filled
‑potable aqua (did not need)
‑HEED and Perpetuem (Hammer Nutrition)
Top Inside Pocket:
‑toothbrush & paste, integrated into one neat little system
‑spoon, long handled Ti
‑more HEED, Recoverite, and Perpetuem
Outside Long Pocket
‑rain jacket & pants
‑tent poles & stakes
‑fuel bottles, 2 x 8 oz and 1 x 4 oz. Only used 8 oz
‑40′ of 550. Used as a clothesline.
If you’re going on this trek or have any questions, hit me up. Thanks to CR for prodding me to write this all up.