Trekking Torres del Paine & Learning To Pack Light
Right after Christmas, I am jumping on a plane to one of my favorite places in the world, Chile. I’m spending a month down there working my way south to north. Most of the time I will be working remotely, but for the first 8-9 days I will be trekking the ‘O’ circuit around Torres del Paine. There are a few alternate routes for visiting Torres del Paine, with most people completing the classic ‘W’ trek. I like to escape the crowds and hit the backside for some truly epic hiking. Last time I went I was pretty loaded. My pack probably weighed a good 50-60lbs. I had too much food and way too much camera gear. This year I set myself a goal of keeping everything to under 30lbs for a 9 day itinerary. Now to begin the organizing phase:
Last year, I brought rice, eggs, mash potatoes and dried meat. This meant additional cooking gear. I ditched that for 9 x Mountain House dehydrated meals. Mountain House meals are by far the best dehydrated meals I’ve tried – and I’ve tried a lot over the years! Just steer clear of the breakfast meals. I’ve never found good dehydrated breakfast meals from anyone. I always stick to ramen with tuna or other dried meat. I’m bringing 15x ramen and 8xtuna packs. These are great for both breakfast and a warm lunch, although I will probably grab some cheese, dried meat, and nuts when in Punta Natales. Chile is very strict about bringing any nuts, non-packaged meat, or cheese into the country. Coming from Australia, I get it. It’s a delicate ecosystem, and I am happy to do my part. Along with the main meals, I’m bringing a bunch of cliff bars, some tea for the mornings, and my evening treat of rich dark hot chocolate. There is nothing better than sipping a warm cup of hot chocolate as you watch the stars overhead in total silence.
I’m a bit of a fanatic on watching my camping gear weight. If you are not careful, you can add pounds simply by choosing an off-the-shelf backpack from REI. I use a ULA Circuit pack which weighs in at about 41 ounces. Compare this to a roughly equivalent pack like the 50l Osprey Atmos which weighs in a 64 ounces. Switching packs alone saves me about 1.5lbs! I also switch out my Marmot EOS 1 person tent for a Marmot Starlight, further reducing my weight out the door by another pound. And, perhaps more importantly, a lot of space. As much as I love the EOS, there is a lot of fabric and pole lengths that I don’t need. The starlight isn’t as claustrophobic as a bivey, but gives you plenty of space to lie down and read a book with your pack safe under the tent fly. When you use the included stuff sack, the Starlight packs down to not much bigger than a jacket. All that was left was my Mont Brindabella sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and GSI minimalist stove set. I’ve put both the GSI stove and Mont sleeping back through hell. They just keep kicking! I could have saved a little weight on the sleeping bag, but I know what the nights are like in Patagonia. When there is no wind, a lighter weight sleeping back is fine, but if the wind kicks up you will be wishing you packed the Brindabella. Save weight where you can, but be smart about it.
The reason I am perhaps a little fanatical about shaving ounces where I can is that I’ve tried to do the same on cameras in the past and been really disappointed. A few years back I climbed Mt. Roraima in Venezuela with a Sony A7R mirrorless camera. I camped atop Roraima for 3 days and have never seen so many stars in my life. I could almost reach out and touch them. But every photo I took turned out blurry. I’ll sacrifice weight elsewhere to bring my D810. Yes, it’s a heavy camera, but it is often the lens that really add up. Last time I went to Patagonia I brought two lens, 24-70mm and 14-24mm Nikkor. These are heavy lens! This year, I’m bringing a single lens, the astonishingly good Nikkor 35mm 1.8f prime lens. Prime lens take some time get proficient with. You need to spend more time in composition, but once you get it – oh my god they are good. I took this lens to Mont Blanc earlier in the year. I think the photos speak for themselves. Throw in my Gitzo backpacker tripod and a set of Lee filters and my entire kit is about 5lbs. I’m planning on hitting up Easter Island and Uyuni during my trip too. I’m ok with 5lb of quality gear.
The final tally.
I packed everything up, locked the compression straps, and called it a day. I’ve got a packable day pack for my laptop (I’m working remote most of the time in Chile) and a few other things that I won’t be taking on the trail, but leaving at a refugio. I put those aside and took my pack to the scale. It topped in at 26.6lbs! This included my tripod, but not the camera as that will be in my carry on luggage. Factoring water, camera, and a little more food, I’ll be lucky to break 35lbs. That’s an easy load, and should make the trek that much more enjoyable. By the time I hit the hardest part of the trek, paso John Garner on day 4, I’ll be closer to 25lbs, and somewhere like 20lbs for my long day (28km) on day 6. Let’s do it!