The Best Gear for Hiking in Patagonia
by Kraig Becker
May 16, 2019 Pro Tips
May 16, 2019 Pro Tips
Sprawling across the southernmost tip of Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a paradise for adventure travelers, hikers, and backpackers alike. Known for its sweeping and dramatic landscapes, this is a place where the Andes Mountains meet sprawling grasslands and arid deserts, creating one of the most unique landscapes on the planet. Visitors to the region will discover towering snowcapped peaks, glacially-fed lakes and streams, seemingly-endless miles of amazing trekking routes to explore.
But Patagonia’s unusual location also brings unpredictable weather too. Because it is bounded by three oceans—the Atlantic to the east, the Pacific to the west, and the Southern Ocean to the south—the conditions there can change quickly. Rainy skies in the morning can give way to bright, warm sunshine in the afternoon and calm breezes can turn into strong winds at a moments notice. This can sometimes make it difficult to know what to pack and how to dress when hitting the trail.
If a visit to Patagonia is in your future the gear you bring along should be versatile, comfortable, and designed to work well in layers. Here’s what I recommend you take with you.
For the most part, Patagonia is a relatively dry climate with infrequent rainfall. That said however, there are certain areas where storms are quite common and sudden downpours can sometimes catch you off guard. By bringing a shell jacket and pants along you can prevent a little rain from ruining your entire day. Made from both wind and waterproof materials, a shell will keep you warm and dry when conditions take a turn for the worse.
When packing your daypack or backpack before hitting the trail, be sure to place your rain jacket and pants near the top. That way they are easy to find if you need to gear up quickly.
A good down jacket should be a staple in every adventure traveler’s closet. Because down is so lightweight and compressible, it won’t take up much room in your luggage while still providing plenty of warmth when needed. Because temperatures in Patagonia can vary significantly from day to day and region to region, a down jacket can serve as a good insulating layer on the trail, at the campsite, or around the lodge. Just be sure to bring one that uses hydrophobic down, which allows it to maintain its insulating properties even if it gets wet.
Before setting off on your trip make sure that your down jacket fits comfortably under your shell. Those two jackets work closely with one another to keep you well protected from the elements.
Even if you don’t plan to do a lot of hiking while in Patagonia, packing a pair of trekking pants and shorts (temperatures permitting) is always a good idea. Modern hiking pants are usually comfortable and durable enough to wear on the trail all day, yet stylish enough for dinner at the lodge at night. That means that just a pair or two can get you through a long trip, eliminating the need to pack extra clothing and allowing you to travel lighter and faster too. Versatility is an important element to consider when choosing your travel clothes, as the right items allow you to bring fewer garments but still remain comfortable at all times.
Some hiking pants have the ability to zip off the lower portion of the leg, essentially converting them into shorts at a moment’s notice. While not always the most fashionable option, this is a handy feature to have in a fast-changing environment like Patagonia.
Merino wool base layers just might be a travelers best friend. Not only are they incredibly comfortable to wear, they perform well in both warm and cold environments. With its quick drying and naturally-wicking properties, merino will help keep moisture away from the skin, which is instrumental in maintaining temperature control. Better yet, the fabric’s antimicrobial properties prevent it from absorbing odors, keeping wool clothing smelling fresh and clean even on a week-long hike through Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park or Jeinimeni National Reserve.
These days merino wool is used in just about every type of garment imaginable. You’ll find shirts, socks, hoodies, underwear, and a wide variety of other items that employ the material, and for good reason. When it comes to performance while traveling and in the outdoors, it’s tough to top everything that merino brings to the table.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but picking the right pair of hiking boots can make all of the difference between a fantastic trip and one that turns painful and uncomfortable quickly. Keeping your feet happy is one of the most important aspects of adventure travel, which is why it is crucial that you bring the right shoes. If your Patagonia hiking itinerary includes short, relatively easy walks on well-marked trails you can probably get away with light hiking or even trail running shoes. If you plan to backpack through some of the more remote and wild areas of the region however, it is best to invest in a more rugged pair of boots designed for use on rougher terrain.
No matter what type of shoes you bring be sure to break them in long before you ever get on the plane to South America. Wear them on local trails a few times to help loosen them up and to get sense of how they feel on your feet. The last thing you want to do is spend the first few days of your trip breaking in new shoes.
While you’re at it, be sure to bring merino wool hiking socks on your trip too. Many travelers put a lot of thought and effort into selecting the right footwear, but they don’t always consider the socks they put on underneath. Avoid cotton socks at all costs, as merino is more comfortable, dries faster, and will keep your feet well protected in a variety of environments.
For more hiking boots built to take on the gnarliest of terrain, Lowa and Scarpa have hikers and backpackers well covered. For something a bit lighter and less intense, Keen and Merrell make great options. When it comes to socks, Wigwam is your one-stop shop.
A backpack is an essential piece of gear that every adventure traveler should own. But which one you bring with you on your trip to Patagonia completely depends on what you plan to do while there. If your itinerary consists of short hikes and jeep tours, then a daypack will suffice. You’ll want a bag that is large enough to carry an extra layer or two, as well as some snacks, water bottles, camera equipment, and whatever other items you may need for a day out on the trail. A packs with a 30 to 35-liter capacity should be more than adequate for those short jaunts. If possible, find one with a built-in rain cover to help keep moisture at bay.
Naturally, a longer trek will require a larger pack to accommodate more gear. If you’re backpacking through Patagonia you’re going to need to be able to comfortably carry more things with you out on the trail. A backpack with a capacity between 50 and 60 liters typically works best, providing enough space for all of your clothing and equipment, without becoming too large or bulky. Look for a bag that is hydration-ready and has a rain cover as well, as both are major conveniences to have on the trail.
The natural tendency for many travelers is to bring a larger backpack than they actually need. It is best to resist that temptation however as we naturally tend to fill up any excess space we might have with things that aren’t really needed. By keeping our pack size to a minimum, we’ll be forced to bring fewer items, reducing weight and allowing us to travel faster and more comfortably. The best thing about taking one of MT Sobek’s Patagonia trips is that porters carry your main backpack for you.
Even experienced hikers can benefit from using trekking poles on the trails in Patagonia. Not only do they help to maintain balance, they make it easier to navigate muddy or slick terrain and moving up and down rocky slopes too. Over the course of a long hike a set of trekking poles can save a lot of wear and tear on the body, helping our legs to remain fresh and strong even after days of walking difficult, sometimes icy, trails.
As already mentioned, the weather in Patagonia can be fickle at times, which is why it is a good idea to pack a few extra accessories to help keep you comfortable. A wide-brimmed hat is perfect for keeping the sun off your skin on those bright clear days, while a stocking cap comes in handy when temperatures take a plunge. A pair of lightweight gloves will provide some extra warmth on cool, windy days, while warmer insulated ones are useful during colder seasons or when trekking at higher altitude. A scarf or balaclava can prove useful for keeping the wind off of your face too, adding a bit of extra protection when you need it most.
Many of the apparel brands already listed also make very good hats and gloves that are perfectly suitable for use in Patagonia.
In addition to the items listed above there are a number of other things that you’ll want to bring with you too. For example, take a well-stocked toiletries bag containing sunscreen, chapstick, wet wipes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and other items you’ll need for your daily hygiene needs. Insect repellent is a must no matter what time of year you go, and bring a roll of toilet paper too. Perhaps most importantly, be sure to pack some extra snacks because you’re likely to be hungry after hiking for extended periods of time.
Other accessories to bring include sunglasses, headlamp, a camera, and a USB battery pack for recharging your devices while on the go. Dry bags are useful for keeping important items such as your passport and smartphone dry, so don’t forget to pack one or two of those as well. You’ll also find plenty of uses for a multi-tool both at camp and on the trail, making it an essential item to have at your disposal.
Looking over this list it may seem like there is a lot you’ll need to bring with you on your Patagonian adventure. The truth is, when you start collecting it all you’ll likely find it isn’t as much as you first thought. Besides, when setting out for such an iconic destination you want to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. In the end, it’ll make the whole experience much more enjoyable, keeping you comfortable and safe throughout the journey.
Interested in going? Check out this fantastic video from MT Sobek’s expert guiding team in Patagonia: