Hiking Guide for Beginners in Patagonia

No matter how fit you think you are, if you are not used to going up and down mountains, you will get tired, and by tired I mean exhausted. The uneven terrain, rocks to climb and streams to jump make any trail in Patagonia a natural obstacle race of endless kilometers.
Still a lot of people like me, with little experience in hiking or trekking, choose to go on all-day hikes and stay overnight at a mountain refuge or camp just to be able to keep walking the next day again, even when our bodies aches every where, as those same trails are surrounded by the most beautiful landscapes you can see. The nature is worth it, and the only way of seeing the heart of the place and find yourself lost in it, is by putting your shoes on and climbing up the mountains (although Marko’s pictures do a really good job of taking you there).
So if you ever find yourself going on a all-day hike, this is the knowledge I’ve been collecting during these last past weeks:
  • Carry as little as possible, this will make a huge difference in your endurance. While packing try to bring only the very essentials and remember that you will hate every gram that you carry for longer than 2hs.
    • Essentials for a all-day hike (between 20 – 25km or 8 to 12hs both ways) in Patagonia:
      • Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, I’ve resisted to the last one and suffered the consequence badly, even if its cold the sun burns.
      • Food/snacks such as sandwiches, cereal bars and maybe some fruit, but keep it small as all of this is extra weight. Think compact and caloric but avoid junk food.
      • Bottle of water, ask before starting if you will be able to refill your bottle in the streams, if not bring at least 1.5 liters per person.
      • Warm clothes such as a fleece hoodie and a long sleeves shirt even if it’s 25 degrees when you start. On the mountains, when it’s windy or when the sun is down, even during summer, it gets really cold.
      • Wind proof jacket, the Patagonian wind is famous for being strong and cold and you don’t want to be 5hs away from your coat when it hits you.
  • Wear comfortable, waterproof (preferably hiking) shoes, if you don’t want to find yourself 5KM away from your destination unable to walk any longer due to bad shoes. We met a German girl at Fitz Roy who was trying to walk without shoes, because she couldn’t stand her sneakers any longer, and had to give up at the first viewpoint even when she wasn’t tired.
  • Take breaks when you need them and pace yourself, in all of these trails you’ll see people training, running up and down the mountains, trying to beat their own personal records, but if you are not one of them, then there’s no shame in stopping and enjoying the view. Some people find it nicer to go slowly all the way up and never taking a break, others prefer taking short breaks every hour or two. I like taking a break, get a snack and a bit of water every 2hs, and it really makes the walk nicer.
  • Stretch before and after the hike, it only takes 10 minutes and it does make a difference, especially the day after. Another lesson learned the hard way for me.
  • Pay attention to the ascent more than the distance. The ascent is the degree of inclination to climb up during a specific trail and you need to keep in mind that the faster the trail gets higher, the harder it is, the longer it will take. For example, in the trail to Laguna de los Tres, in Fitz Roy, the first 9KM with a 300m ascent are a walk in the park compared to the last KM where the ascent is 400m and you have to use your hands to help yourself go up.
Spending the night at the mountains:
If you are feeling adventurous and have time, consider spending a night at a mountain shelter (refugio). It makes the hike easier as you only have to walk half of it per day and it allows you to spend more time on destination to explore the area instead of rushing to go back before sundown. Also they are interesting places to be and meet new people, but don’t expect any luxuries, they usually are small cottages with a huge dorm where 20-40 people sleep next to each on mattresses or bunk beds.
  • Essentials to spend the night at a “Refugio”:
    • Sleeping bag, consider that the temperature can drop to 0-7°C.
    • Warm clothes, these places don’t have heating, unless you consider the corporal warmth of 40 people sleeping as a heating system.
    • Earplugs, to not hear the other tired hikers snore.
    • Dinner and breakfast, usually they provide with some options for food, so you will have to chose between carrying your own food or paying extra and not carry the weight.
    • Cash to pay for accommodation, they work the same way an average hostel works by charging you per bed used. You can check the prices of each shelter before going up.

You can also camp up the mountains if the weather is nice enough, but that means that you will need to carry all of your camping equipment with you, and when temperatures are around 0°C, that’s a lot of extra weight.

What other tips you think are important or can make a hike easier? Comment below if you have any!


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