A Non-Camper's Guide to Food for a 5 Day Torres Del Paine W Trek
It's like taking the last bite of your ice cream cone, I can't believe our 2 weeks in Argentina and Chile has come to an end. The highlight of our trip was definitely a 5-day hike on the W trek at the Torres Del Paine National Park. For 5 days 4 nights, we stayed at the park's designated refugios - camp style lodges that have basic bunk beds and shared bathrooms.
Although all our meals are provided as a part of the "full room and board" package, I believe we all deserve a little something extravagant after a long day's hike. The W trek is not an easy feat, so of course you shouldn't overpack on unnecessary items, unless you want to carry them on a 20+ km hike everyday. Here's a breakdown of all the meals provided and how you can customize add-ons with your own twist.
Day 1: 6am bus from Puerto Natales to Park entrance > pay entrance fee and watch welcoming video > catamaran to Refugio Paine Grande > hike to Refugio Grey with self packed lunch > dinner at Refugio Grey
Day 2: Breakfast at Refugio Grey > hike towards Campamento Paso and back to Refugio Grey > pick up lunch box > continue hike to Refugio Paine Grande > dinner at Refugio Paine Grande
Day 3: Breakfast at Refugio Paine Grande > pick up lunch box > drop off bags at Campamento Italiano > hike to Francés Glacier Lookout and/or Británico Lookout > continue hike to Refugio Cuernos > dinner at Refugio Cuernos
Day 4: Breakfast at Refugio Cuernos > pick up lunch box > hike to Refugio Chileno > dinner at Refugio Chileno
Day 5: Breakfast at Refugio Chileno > 4am sunrise hike to Torres > hike back to Refugio Chileno > pick up lunch box > hike to park welcoming center > bus to park entrance > bus back to Puerto Natales or El Calafate
Where to buy food in Puerto Natales
It is important to know that if you’re arriving at the park from El Calafate in Argentina, all fresh fruits and vegetables will be confiscated at the Chilean border. Everything in Puerto Natales was expensive (even for NYC standards!), and the town's largest supermarkets UNIMARC is no exception. We bought most of our supplies there, plus a few extra items from local stores and vendors.
On top of snacks and fruits, you will likely have to prepare your own lunch for the first day. UNIMARC is well stocked with deli meats that don’t require refrigeration, for example a 4-slice prosciutto pack and an 8-slice cheese pack we bought to assemble a hearty sandwich.
What to Expect:
The one-liner: Standard South American breakfast.
The details: Toast, scrambled eggs, cheese and ham. The eggs are always perfectly scrambled, but for the amount they are making, it’s not uncommon to hear of complaints about egg shells. One of the refugios served boiled eggs. Most refugios also have a self serving station for oatmeal, cereal, milk, yogurt, coffee and tea.
Insider's tips: If you are not a big fan of eggs, bring a few avocados for toast. Choose ones that are just under, as they will ripen in your backpack. Try to find smaller avocados that you can finish within one meal, or share with a new friend at the communal tables.
The one-liner: Lunches too big even for a 20km trek.
The details: If you have full room and board, the refugios will prepare a packed lunch which you can pick up during breakfast or after a morning hike. Packed lunch generally includes a gigantic sandwich, a chocolate bar, mixed nuts, cereal bar, maybe a fruit and a bottle of water or juice box.
Insider's tips: The packed lunch will fill up the biggest of eaters generously, the sandwiches are literally bigger than my face. One of the refugios gave us a tuna sandwich, so make sure to notify the reception if you have any serious aversions.
The one-liner: Hearty three course meals designed with all the parts of the food pyramid to fill you up before another day of trekking.
The details: Dinners always include salad, soup with bread, generous plates of meat and carbs, and a dessert to end. We’ve noticed that the food quality at Patagonia Sur’s refugios are much better than the ones managed by Vertice. At our last night at Refugio Chileno, there was even an expeditor who cleaned the plates before serving dinner!
Our only complaint was desserts. Over the four nights we had a tough “roasted milk” flan, a flavourless semolina pudding, an extremely artificial orange mousse and an ice cream that tasted more like frozen cool whip.
Insider's tips: Save your chocolate from lunch, or pack a bar of chocolate. Also, bring along some fresh fruits for extra fibre.
The one-liner: Bring snacks, but not too much.
The details: You will most likely eat snacks on the hike and after you’ve arrived at the refugios waiting for dinner. All the refugios we stayed at has a minimart or counter that sells cookies, chips and candies. However, they are ridiculously overpriced. Unless your shoulders really can’t handle another pound, I’d recommend buying a small stash of snacks at Puerto Natales.
Insider's tips: The packed lunches most likely have a cereal bar in it, but you may want to pack a few more in case you are extra hungry one day. Bring your favourite granola bar or jerky in ziplock bags, around 1 portion per day is more than enough
My favourite sweet treats on the hike are the Arcor brand almond & honey cookies (photo: second from left) and Sahn-nuss almond chocolate bar (not shown). They are a great energy boost and can also double as dessert. If you are not keen on carrying fresh fruits, these Kind fruit bites are a great alternative for some fibre. We also found some cheap dried fruits and nuts packet at a street vendor outside UNIMARC.
The one-liner: You can refill your water bottles every 30-40 minutes on most sections of the W-trek, don’t carry too much water at a time.
The details: Tea, coffee and hot water are available at breakfast. Chileans seem to be quite obsessed with pineapple juice. The ultra sweet nectar is ubiquitous at the breakfast bar and sometimes in your lunch pack.
Insider's tips: An optional but great addition to your snack bag is Ener-C packets. The extra boost of vitamin C really helps with the fluctuating temperatures and daily exertions. The only thing I’ll dish out money on the trek is probably a cold beer. You deserve to splurge a little after a long day's hike!
Last but not least, most of the refugios are not easily accessible and relies on horses (and sometimes humans) to transport supplies and trash. Local supermarkets don’t use plastic bags but provide boxes to hold your purchases, so bring enough plastic bags from home to collect your trash. Also, be mindful about separating wastes as some refugios use organic waste to generate gas for energy.
1. Don’t fully trust what anyone says. Pretty much any information we received on the trail, including weather, accommodation and food was not accurate. It's part of the experience, just go with it.
2. Don’t pack as much food as you think you’ll need. The hikes are not as demanding as we thought, and the packed lunches are more often than not too big for our appetite. You may also be offered snacks from new friends on the trail.