27 Things I Wish I Knew Before Doing The W Trek Self Guided Tour [2024]

If you plan on doing the W trek self guided, you’ve come to the right place!

While this multi-day hike in Torres Del Paine is one of the best hiking trails in the world, it’s also one that involves the most pre-planning – especially if you’re hiking the W without a tour.

If that’s the case, you’re probably wondering:

How do I book campsites? And what if there’s no availability?

What W Trek self guided itinerary should I follow?

Is it easier to book a tour instead?

I’ve answered all those questions (and a lot more) in this mega post on hiking the W Trek without a guide.

w trek self guided difficulty
Day 4 of the W Trek

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Self Guided W Trek Summary

  • Length: 80 km
  • Duration: 4 nights / 5 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Highlights: Grey Glacier, Mirador Britanico, Mirador Las Torres
  • National Park entrance fee: $49
  • Best time: October to April (the only time you can do the W Trek without a guide)

You cannot do the W Trek without a guide in Winter

May to September are the winter months in Patagonia. During this time, there is snow and ice along the trail. This makes it more difficult and also a lot more dangerous.

While Torres Del Paine National Park is open during these winter months, doing the W Trek without a guide is forbidden.

w trek self guided what I wish I knew
Enjoying the little sun we had during our self guided W Trek

Do the W Trek self guided

Most people prefer to do the W Trek without a tour as it’s easy enough to coordinate yourself.

But it does involve quite a bit of pre-planning. You can’t free camp in the park, so you need a planned route as well as all the food and gear to get you through the five days.

Remember, you can only go hiking in Torres Del Paine without a guide between October and April.

Pre Book your bus ticket from Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales

If you’re doing the W Trek self guided, this is the one thing you need to know.

I didn’t, and it’s my biggest regret!

You must take a 2-hour bus back to Puerto Natales after completing the W Trek.

There are buses that depart from Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales at 11 am, 1:30 pm, and 8 pm (exact times may differ slightly).

Bus tickets can be booked in advance or on the day. Do yourself and favor and book in advance here.

Here’s why…

w trek tips
My biggest regret for the W Trek was not booking my bus from Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales in advance

… availability on the earlier buses

The afternoon buses from Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales sell out fast, which I didn’t realize!

I’m a backpacker and don’t usually book logistics in advance.

I wasn’t sure of the exact time that I would be finishing the W Trek and didn’t want to risk buying a ticket that I wouldn’t use (if I didn’t make it back in time.)

So I decided to buy my bus ticket from the Information Center at the end of the W Trek.

When I reached the ticket booth at 11 am, I assumed I’d get a seat on one of the three buses that departed before 3 pm.

I was very wrong!

The afternoon buses were all sold out, and the next available one was at 8 pm. This is an 8-hour wait.

So, buy that afternoon bus ticket here before you start the W Trek.

W Trek campsite bookings

If you’re doing the W Trek without a guide, you’ll need to organize your own accommodation. You can choose mountain huts or campsites, but the prices between the two differ substantially.

Bookings open in July every year, and it’s a scramble to get a spot.

Two companies manage the accommodation along the W Trek: Vertice and Fantastico Sur (also known as Las Torres).

Below are the campsites along the trail, and which company to book with.

  • Paine Grande: Vertice
  • Refugio Grey: Vertice
  • Frances: Fantastico Sur
  • Los Cuernos: Fantastico Sur
  • Central Campsite: Fantastico Sur
  • Chileno: Fantastico Sur

If you’re doing a self guided trek, here’s a complete packing list with everything I packed for the W Trek (and what I wish I left behind).

w trek without a guide
Refugio Grey was our first campsite on the W Trek

Campsite availability

Booking your accommodation for the W Trek is a serious mission and highly time-consuming. But it’s the only downside of doing the W Trek independently.

I was able to book all my campsites after people canceled their reservations, and you can do the same.

Vertice offers 45 days free cancellation, and Fantastico Sur is 90 days.

As a result, when the bookings open in July, many people book more dates and campsites than needed. This is likely because they’re finalizing their trip and want to keep their options open.

They then cancel before the free cancellation deadline. This means that spaces in campsites and lodges open up all the time.

But you need to be on the ball and check availability daily to book your spot.

This is what I did. When I started searching for W Trek campsites in September, everything was booked out. I had my preferred dates and route and checked availability numerous times a day for cancellations.

After a few weeks, I found an opening for one of the four nights. I booked it immediately and continued checking for the rest. By the beginning of December, I had all campsites secured for my January trip.

Torres Del Paine W Trek without a guide
Trying not to be blown over by the gale-force winds on the W Trek

Book a site with a tent

You can do the W Trek without a guide the budget way. Or the luxurious way.

This means you can choose to carry everything from your tent, matt, and sleeping bag to your food and cooking equipment. Alternatively, you can arrive at the campsite with a tent already set up. Or better yet, you can book comfortable private rooms.

I chose the campsite option with a tent. This wasn’t my initial plan, as I wanted to carry all my own equipment. But it was the only choice I had due to availability.

In hindsight, I am so happy it worked out this way!

Because of the strenuous days and wild weather, I could not think of anything worse than setting up my tent in the rain, let alone carrying it in gale-force winds.

If you have the option, I recommend booking a campsite with a tent.

chileno campsite w trek
It was a real treat arriving at our campsite with the tent already set up. This was at Refugio Chileno.

Stay at Chileno Campsite (not Central)

Chileno is the closest campsite to Mirador Las Torres, otherwise known as The Towers. From Chileno, it’s a 2-hour trek to The Towers.

But you’re lucky if you manage to find accommodation here.

The alternative option is Central Campsite. This is at the base of the mountain range, close to the Information Center and Las Torres Hotel. If you’re doing the W Trek from West to East, Central Campsite is a detour to get to.

It’s a steep and strenuous climb from Central to Chileno. Getting to The Towers from here also takes five or more hours.

So if you have the choice, stay at Chileno instead.

I booked Central Campsite as a backup as there was no availability at Chileno. Luckily someone canceled, and I managed to secure a camping site at Chileno.

Las Torres W Trek
Its best to end your W Trek without a guide at Chileno so you can visit The Towers on the last day

The unpredictable weather

Every W Trek blog post emphasizes the unpredictable weather in Patagonia.

Gale force winds. Four seasons in one day. Heavy rain. That kinda stuff.

I carefully planned my trip for January (which is the best time to do the W Trek) and naively thought the weather “wouldn’t be that bad.”

Oh boy, was I wrong!

Expect the worse. Hope for the best.

During my self guided W Trek, I experienced the most intense weather conditions.

Day 1 started with sunny skies, but a few hours later, it was raining.

Day 2 was the same, and then it started snowing as we approached Grey Glacier. Yes, snowing in January.

Day 3 was the most hectic hiking conditions I have ever experienced in my life!

I was blown over numerous times while walking through French Valley and had to get down on my haunches to catch my breath. It rained heavily throughout the day, non-stop. It was a tough day that only got worse.

And day 4? The weather was perfect – sunny skies and all!

But despite not having the spectacular views that most people witness as they walk through French Valley, day three was one of my highlights.

I got to experience Patagonia at its finest – the raw and harsh conditions were unlike anything I’ve experienced.

hiking w trek self guided
You need to be prepared for all weather during the W Trek. The conditions were intense on day 3.

Bring cash for the ferry

Everyone doing the W Circuit must take a ferry at either the start or end of the trek, as there is no road access to Refugio Paine Grande.

It’s a stunning ferry ride and the perfect way to start your adventure.

The 30-minute journey costs 35 USD and doesn’t require any bookings in advance. You pay on arrival, and there is sufficient space for everyone.

W Trek self guided itinerary

The classic W Trek is from West to East. This is the route I followed, and I was very happy with my decision.

Here’s what the West to East itinerary looks like.

Day 1: Accommodation Refugio Grey. Take the ferry to Paine Grande and trek to Refugio Grey, your campsite for the night.

Day 2: Accommodation Paine Grande. Leave your bags at Refugio Grey and walk to Grey Glacier. Retrace your steps to Refugio Grey, collect your bags, and hike to Paine Grande.

Day 3: Accommodation Los Cuernos. Walk from Paine Grande to French Valley. Leave your bags at Refugio Italiano and hike to Mirador Britanico. Returning to Italiano, fetch your bags and continue to Los Cuernos.

Day 4: Accommodation Chileno. Trek from Los Cuernos to Chileno, which is the closest campsite to The Towers.

Day 5: Start your trek to Mirador Las Torres by 4:30 am. Head back to Chileno to fetch your bags and walk past Central campsite to the Information Center. Catch a bus back to Puerto Natales.

hiking torres del paine without a guide
Taking the ferry to Paine Grande Campsite

The W Trek route is clearly marked

Many people choose to do the W Trek with a guide because they’re worried about getting lost.

If you’re thinking the same, then there’s nothing to fear. The trail is well-marked with directional signage, making it extremely difficult to veer off the path.

Plus, it’s a busy trail; you’ll never be alone.

Stay in Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres Del Paine National Park. It lies on the Chilean side of Patagonia.

The town itself was my least favorite town on my Patagonia travel itinerary.

There’s little to do, and it lacked character compared to El Calafate, El Chalten, and Bariloche, which are all on the Argentinian Patagonia side.

I recommend spending the night before and after your trek in Puerto Natales and moving on to your next destination.

I stayed at El Patagonico Hostel which is an amazing hostel in the heart of Puerto Natales. They offer private and dorm rooms as well as a big kitchen and lounge area. The price is hard to beat and they’ll store your bags for free while you do the W Trek.

You can check availability here.

best time to do w trek
I did the W Trek in January and had brutal weather. This was at French Valley on day 3 and it rained non-stop the entire day.

You can’t use gas along the W Trek

If you’re hiking Torres Del Paine without a guide, you’re most likely carry your own cooking equipment and gas canister.

You are only permitted to use this gas at the designated areas at the campsites and refugios.

This means you cannot stop for lunch along the trail and make yourself a warm cup of tea or cook your instant noodles. You’ll have to wait until you reach the campsite.

Lunch preparation

Your lunch options will be limited as you can’t use gas on the trail. I recommend bringing slices of ham, salami, cheese, crackers, nuts, and fruits.

I started each morning with a big bowl of oats and snacked on the above at lunchtime. This was more than enough to get me through the day.

w trek food
Our lunch stop on day 4 of the W Trek, Patagonia

Book your Torres Del Paine National Park entry ticket online

To access Torres Del Paine National, you need to pay an entrance fee of 49 USD.

It’s best to book your ticket online before you arrive. You can purchase it here.

You will need to show this to the rangers when entering the park. Keep a downloaded version and the QR code on your phone, as there won’t be cell reception.

I read other blog posts that stated that this entrance ticket cannot be purchased at the park and needs to be done in advance. This was different from my experience in January 2023. People could pay in cash at the Torres Del Paine ticket office on the day of starting their trek.

However, to be safe, I recommend having your entry ticket sorted before arriving.

Bring a filter water bottle

The Grayl Geopress was the best purchase I made for the W Trek.

There are small rivers and streams throughout the trek, so getting water isn’t a problem. It’s getting clean, filtered water.

Instead of buying water every day and carrying 2l in my already heavy backpack, I would refill my bottle when needed.

The filter system on the Grayl is genius; it kills all bacteria and viruses and removes all sediments from the mountain water.

W Trek Packing List
One of our many water breaks along the W Trek

There are hot showers (for most people)

The campsites and refugios advertise that their bathroom facilities include hot showers. This luxury is not an additional cost.

I was lucky to have a hot shower every night. But people have mixed reviews on this one.

Some say the showers are lukewarm. Others say they had at least one cold shower over the five days.

Just like the weather, the temperature for the showers is unpredictable!

Rental gear can be heavy

If you’re doing a self guided W Trek, renting camping gear from Puerto Natales is easy. It’s the cheapest option, and many stores and hostels offer equipment rental at a reasonable price.

Unless you pay top dollar, do not expect this rental gear to be compact and lightweight.

My sleeping bag weighed over 2.5kg, and the cooking equipment, while light, took up a lot of space.

Keep this in mind when packing.

W Trek self guided Rental Gear
The weight of your camping gear and food all add up. And you’ll feel it on the uphill sections of the W Trek.

Consider doing the O Trek

The O Trek is one of the other hikes you can do in Torres Del Paine without a guide.

It’s the longer version of the W Circuit and covers parts of the national park that few tourists venture to.

I spoke to many people who had done the O Trek. They all agreed they preferred the O Trek section as it wasn’t as crowded.

While it’s more challenging than the W, doing the O Trek has a few pros that you should consider.

Because fewer hikers are doing the O Trek, people tend to make friends much easier. I noticed a strong bond between the O trekkers, who were often solo travelers.

So if you prefer hiking without the crowds and want a longer trek that still includes the W, consider the O Trek.

Bring some wine (but not too much)

Beer and wine are sold at the W Trek campsites but are expensive.
If you’re on a budget, bring a small box of wine (no more than 500ml) to enjoy on the first day.

But don’t make the mistake I did by bringing too much!

After a few hours of carrying a heavy backpack with all my gear, I quickly realized that the 2l of box wine was the one thing I could get rid of to lighten the load.

Hike Glacier Grey W Trek without a guide
Trekking to Glacier Grey is well worth the effort

Do the extra hikes (if you have the choice)

Glacier Grey and Mirador Britanico are not exactly on the W Trek route. However, getting to these iconic locations are detours that are well worth the effort.

I’m so happy I plucked up the courage to go to Grey Glacier despite the freezing cold temperatures, snow, and gale-force winds!

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Mirador Britanico. The trail was closed by rangers due to the severe weather conditions, which made it a safety concern.

Top tip: If you thought Grey Glacier was impressive, I highly recommend visiting Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate. It’s in Argentinian Patagonia and the most impressive glacier I’ve ever seen.

Bring trekking poles

If you’re hiking Torres Del Paine without a guide, I highly recommend using trekking poles.

These were absolute lifesavers for trekking and keeping me on my feet when the wind was blowing me over!

You can rent trekking poles from Puerto Natales.

w trek campsites
Making dinner at Paine Grande campsite on day 2 of the W Trek

Keep your PDI safe

When you enter Chile by land or air, you’ll be given a small piece of paper from immigration. This is called a PDI and acts as your tourist visa.

Do not lose this, as you will need to hand it in when you leave the country.

Line your backpacks with black bags

Bring one or two big plastic bags with you to the W Trek. This is my top tip for keeping your things dry.

A waterproof backpack cover only goes so far if there are torrential downpours!

If you’re expecting rain, pop all your things in a plastic bag and put that bag inside your backpack (which should also have a waterproof cover).

Other tips for doing the W trek self guided

  • Bring cash, as you can buy snacks, drinks, and food along the trail
  • Take the first bus from Puerto Natales to Torres Del Paine National Park so that you start the W Trek early
w trek self guided itinerary
The clouds came in just after sunrise at Las Torres Towers

My W Trek Self Guided Experience

I had high expectations because of all the hype about Torres Del Paine National Park.

But the stress of finding campsites for the W Trek put a damper on the lead-up to my trip. I spent hours checking for availability, arguing with Fantastico Sur for refunds, and trying to justify paying for a more expensive camping option.

But the moment I arrived in Torres Del Paine, I knew it was all worth it. The W Trek is a fantastic adventure, and doing it self-guided is by far the best option.

The spectacular sunrise from the base of Las Torres was only one of the many highlights of the W Trek.

From cooking over a small camp stove in the refugios to sharing war stories with new friends who experienced the same hectic weather as we did. The memories I have of hiking the W Trek will last forever!

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Torres Del Paine W Trek in Patagonia Chile

Do you have any questions about doing the W Trek self guided? Drop me a message in the comments section below!

Looking for more Patagonia travel inspiration? Check out my other posts!

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About Carryn

Hi, I'm Carryn. I’m an adventure travel blogger trying to figure out my way through life by traveling and exploring. Join me as I share my travel guides and tips for life abroad. Find out more about me here.

4 thoughts on “27 Things I Wish I Knew Before Doing The W Trek Self Guided Tour [2024]”

  1. Hi Carryn,

    Thanks for writing this up! So timely. We recently decided to plan a trip to Patagonia in late November and planning to do the W trek. Interested in self-guided but with camping gear setup for us.

    We’re a couple in our late 30s/early 40s. In good shape (runners, gym enthusiasts) but live at sea level so we won’t get a lot of pre-trip hiking in aside from hill intervals on the treadmill. I’ve previously hiked the Salkantay pass on a guided tour and was grateful to have the guide.

    All this to ask: would you recommend the self-guided option even for more moderate/novice hikers? And would the difficulty make sense you think?

    Thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    • Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for your comment. If you’ve done the Salkantay Trek, the W Trek will be a walk in the park (That was my experience having done both, and I did the Salkantay Trek with a guide). The W is still tough, but nothing compared to the Salkantay Trek.

      I really enjoyed doing the W Trek without a guide – it’s the option that most people choose. The trail is well marked and not very strenuous as it’s not a altitude hike. You’ll enjoy the freedom to walk at your own pace and stop where ever you wish. It’s also fun making your own food and meeting other people in the communal cooking and dining areas.

      What makes the W Trek tough is the weight of your backpack. But if you’re planning on having camping gear set up for you, your backpack will be much lighter anyway. The weather will also play a factor and the wind can make it difficult, but I still don’t believe a guide is necessary.

      The positives of booking with a tour operator is that they take care of all the campsite reservations. I found this to be the most tedious part of planning my trip as they are often sold out. But if you monitor the campsite availability daily, you should be
      able to find something. People often cancel before the free cancellation deadline and this is when sites open up.

      Enjoy your trek!

      Carryn

      Reply
  2. Hi Carryn,

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I’m currently trying to book campsites and you weren’t lying about it being a real 🤕. I’m on the Vertice website under booking and they ask were you want to start the trek (Refugio grey or Paine Grande) and then where you want to stay after the trek. It then asks how many days you want to stay in the accommodation (I want to start at Refugio grey) but I will only stay there the first night. I’m not sure how to book my accommodation the 2nd, 3rd, 4th nights? I’m not one to usually ask for help as I’m a fairly experienced traveler but is there any chance you could help me book this? I’m sure with your help we could do it in 30 minutes and I’d be happy to Venmo you for your time & help. Let me know!! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Josh,

      I totally get your struggle for booking campsites! It took me hours and hours to do. In my case, there was no availability, and so I had to monitor Vertice and Fantastico Sur daily to check if there were any cancellations that I could find. If you’re booking for December or January, you may have a hard time finding space.

      There are two companies that manage all the W Trek accommodation. Vertice and Fantastico Sur (Las Torres).

      On the Vertice website, you can book your first 2 nights accommodation for the W Trek. Select “Grey” for day 1 and “Paine Grande” for day 2. You then pay and leave the Vertice site.

      Next, go to the Fantastico Sur (Las Torres) website. Here you can book your accommodation for day 3 and 4.

      This is my recommend route and the websites to book through.

      Night 1: Refugio Grey (Vertice)
      Night 2: Refugio Paine Grande (Vertice)
      Night 3: Los Cuernos (Fantastico Sur). If there’s no availability, look at Frances which is nearby and also booked through Fantastico Sur.
      Night 4: Chileno (Fantastico Sur). If there’s no availability, look at Central Campsite which is nearby and also booked through Fantastico Sur.

      I hope that helps.

      Carryn

      Reply

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