Packing for any Torres del Paine hike is no walk in the park. One of the easiest ways to make hiking the Torres del Paine Circuit or the W trek feel long and uncomfortable is to overpack your food (and gear – a subject of this post about the right equipment for the O Circuit). On both occasions trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, I saw plenty of walkers whose rucksacks were overladen and horrible heavy thanks to their food choices.
What’s worse, a lot of what people were eating didn’t exactly look like the type of meal you’d want to consume after a hard day of hiking on the trail.
It doesn’t have to be this way: you can carry minimal food and still serve up a decent meal. Even better, I found how it’s possible to avoid expensive, and rarely tasty, boil-in-the-bag food when you’re camping in Torres del Paine.
Hiking the Torres del Paine O Circuit or W trek?
This menu relates to our eight-day hike around the Circuit, although it can easily be adapted to the shorter five-day W trek instead. What you’ll notice is that our meal plan was fairly basic but the quantities were sufficient to keep our energy levels high, and there was enough variety that we weren’t completely sick of eating by the end of the trip!
If you’re still not decided on which of the two hikes is best for you, check out my complete guide to hiking the W solo and the essential things to know before trekking the O Circuit to get you started. You can also find all the information you need for booking campsites in Torres del Paine and what to do if the accommodation in the park is fully booked on your dates.
Where to buy food for hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
Although most hikers stock up in Puerto Natales before jumping on the bus the next day to Torres del Paine National Park, the one UNIMARC supermarket in the town isn’t huge and definitely limits the amount and variety of food that you can buy.
If possible, I would instead recommend you approach the park from Punta Arenas (this is the regional hub for flights from Santiago or buses if you’re coming from Ushuaia) where there are a large number of supermarkets, all stocked with an excellent range foodstuffs – and at significantly cheaper prices.
It’s also important to bear in mind that if you’re arriving at the park from El Calafate in Argentina, all fresh food items will be taken off of you at the border, so don’t even bother trying to bring them across.
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Cooking equipment for hiking Torres del Paine solo
To help keep the weight of your rucksack down, I strongly recommend you invest in lightweight cooking gear. The following is what we packed:
You can buy standard gas canisters in some of the campsites along the Circuit (we saw some in Refugio Chileno but don’t count on finding them everywhere) but it’s worth making sure you have enough fuel to keep you going. We brought:
- MSR Dragonfly Stove (396g/14oz) – This tiny stove is both lightweight and extremely efficient. It uses unleaded petrol, which you can buy at fuel stations in Patagonia and which saved us from having to bring heavy gas canisters (you can buy standard gas canisters on some campsites along the Circuit, although it’s a better idea to bring enough fuel for the trip). It has a metal shield that goes around the stove, which is very useful in windy conditions – something you can expect on any Torres del Paine hike. You can also buy extra fuel bottles for the stove; we had two that lasted us eight days between four people. Find it on Amazon or REI
- MSR pans (733g/1lbs 10oz) – Also extremely efficient, these camping pans have a heat diffuser underneath allowing for them to cook food far quicker than normal pots – and save you fuel. This set includes a large pot for boiling water or cooking a meal and a frying pan that doubles as a lid. We also had a smaller pan for cooking pasta and rice and I would strongly recommend two pots, regardless of how many are in your group, as you can be cooking one part of the meal while the other is on the side heating through. Check them out on Amazon or REI
- Collapsible Bowl (181g/6oz) – This has flexible silicone walls and a thick nylon base, which allows it to pack down flat in your rucksack. Check it out on Amazon or REI
- Camping Mug (62g/2oz) – Any plastic or stainless steel mug that is durable. Check them out on Amazon or REI
- Spork (23g/0.8oz) – A long handled titanium spork is significantly sturdier than a plastic spork (i.e. you don’t break it by sitting on it), but it’s also useful for stirring food as it cooks. Check it out on Amazon or REI
Menu for hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
Seven breakfasts: Quick-prepare porridge. We also supplemented this with eggs that we bought at the shops in Campamento Serón and Paine Grande.
Seven lunches: Cheese sandwiches or cheese and biscuits, supplemented with a chocolate bar and fruit.
Days 1 and 2: Soup* to start, bacon and courgette rice, cake for pudding
Days 3 to 5: Soup to start, chorizo and tomato pasta or couscous, cake for pudding
Day 6: We ate a three-course dinner at Los Cuernos, had a large breakfast and a packed lunch, all of which was included in our full-board package.
Day 7: Soup to start, chorizo and tomato rice, cake for pudding
*soup is a great item to pack as not only is it very fast to cook, but it’s ideal if it’s a cold evening and you’re waiting around to cook. Chuck some water on to boil and voila, you’ve got a pre-dinner snack to keep you going! Remember you’re not allowed to use stoves anywhere outside of the specified areas in the campgrounds due to fires that have historically been caused by careless hikers, so wait until you get to camp before boiling water!
Shopping list For camping in Torres del Paine National Park
This following is a list of everything that we packed before we hiked the Torres del Paine Circuit.
24 x quick-cook porridge (a mixture of 20g quick oats, 10g ordinary oats, 10g powdered milk, 10g sugar) – idea is that this doesn’t need cooking; we had a small pot each which we added the porridge and water to and left to warm through for 1 minute each morning. This saved on fuel and cleaning.
2 x 500g sultanas (can be used for snacks as well)
1 x 120g of powdered milk
32 x tea bags (we are British after all…!)
1 x 50 g container of coffee (put in a plastic bag to save weight)
3 x packs of cheese (15 slices in each)
8 x bread rolls (enough for two lunches)
4 x apples
3 packs of whole-wheat biscuits
6 x Twix chocolate bars
2 x pack of 6 mini Milkyway bars
24 x cereal bars
24 x 16g sachets of soup
3 x 500g of rice (portioned into resealable bags)
7 x onions
2 x courgette
1 x clove of garlic
3 x stock cube
1 x 25g packet of ground black pepper
1 x 500g of couscous
2 x 400g of pasta
1 x pack of bacon (8 slices)
1 x 240g chorizo sausage
1 x 250 g of butter
8 x 215g sachets of tomato sauce
2 x cakes
Bacon and courgette rice
Bring water to the boil, add the rice and stock cube for flavour and leave to cook by itself with a lid on. Cook the bacon quickly in the pan to get fat in which to cook the courgette, garlic, onion until soft.
Chorizo and tomato pasta
Boil water and add the pasta or rice. Cook for a couple of minutes and then leave to continue cooking with a lid on. In the case of couscous, add water to the couscous according to the instructions, add a stock cube, stir well and leave for the recommended period of time for the couscous to absorb the water.
Fry the chorizo to produce fat, then add the garlic and onion. Fry until soft then add the tomato sauce and heat through.
Combine with the pasta on plates and sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.
How much did we spend?
We spent $52,420 CLP ($82 USD) between four people on the items listed above.
However, we also bought a few additional “luxury” items as we hiked, including:
- 4 x eggs ($1,000 CLP ($1.50 USD) each in Serón camping)
- 1 x pringles ($4,000 CLP ($6.30 USD) in Dickson Lodge and camping)
- 9 x eggs (300 pesos ($0.50 USD) each in Paine Grande Lodge and camping)
- Loaf of bread ($3,000 CLP ($4.70 USD) in Paine Grande Lodge and camping)
- Cake ($2,500 CLP ($4 USD) in Paine Grande Lodge and camping)
- 14 x beer ($4,000 CLP ($6.30 USD) or $3,500 CLP ($5.50 USD) depending on the location)
In total, we spent $68,620 ($107.80 USD) on essentials.
This equates to $17,155 CLP ($27 USD) each for the eight days.
We also spent $68,620 CLP ($107 USD) on beer – which probably says quite a lot about us!
However, if you include our night at Los Cuernos, we spent a total of $69,155 CLP ($109 USD).
Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park on a budget
I’ve written previously about how it’s easy to hike the W solo and this is the case for the Circuit too. One of the best ways of keeping costs down is to plan on camping in Torres del Paine and to self-cater; along the W, it’s possible to spend over $50 USD per night only on food – a cost that is easily avoided.
When we were preparing for hiking the O Circuit, we decided to have one night full-board at Los Cuernos at a price of $52,000 CLP ($113 USD pp), which included use of one platform per tent, a three-course dinner, large breakfast and a packed lunch (which included a sandwich, chocolate, nuts and fruit).
It was a nice change from cooking and also meant we could reduce the weight of our rucksacks by a full day’s worth of food – a significant weight saving.
However, it isn’t necessary to do this and by camping in Torres del Paine and self-catering each night means you can keep costs to a minimum. For more tips, head over to this post about hiking the W solo and find out information about each campsite/refugio on both the O Circuit and W trek in this guide to booking camping in Torres del Paine.