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  • Writer's pictureBecca Jackson

W Trek Vs O Circuit, Torres del Paine National Park | Patagonia

Updated: Jun 9

So, you’ve read all about Torres del Paine National Park and you are sold! Now you need to decide the best itinerary for you. There are a few options depending on how adventurous you want to be, how much time you have and how much you enjoy hiking. In this blog we’ll compare the popular W Trek to the more adventurous O circuit (sometimes referred to as the Paine Circuit) so you can make an informed decision to then move onto planning your trip. The W and the O are both multi day hikes; realistically 4 days plus; so, if this isn’t your thing or you are short of time, don’t worry, you can just dip your toes in and visit the park on a single day trip, or it is possible to experience a slice of the action over only 2 or 3 days.


Glacier Grey as seen from the O Circuit, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
Glacier Grey as seen from the O Circuit
 

Table of contents


1 - A few things to note about both the O Circuit & the W Trek

2 - Park Orientation

3 - The routes

3.1 - The O circuit

3.2 - The W Trek

4 - Accommodation – Refugio lodges and camping

5 - When to visit – seasons in the park

6 - Equipment list & packing

7 - Summary

 

1 - A few things to note about both the O Circuit & the W Trek


If you are on a backpack budget, as we were, before you even start trying to decide between the O circuit and the W Trek it is worth noting a few things:

  • The most budget friendly accommodation choice for both routes is to camp, so you will be sleeping in sleeping bag and tent for 4-9 days.

  • Again, if you are protecting your back pocket the cheapest option is to carry all your own food and cook for yourself each night at camp so get ready for lots of rehydrated meals, pasta and cuppa soups!

  • You will need to carry your clothes, camping equipment & food for your entire trek, so a good level of fitness, walking clothes and a decent backpack are essential.


A couple of other observations:

  • The camps on both the W and O circuit are similar in terms of the facilities they offer. We thought as the back side is more remote, the camps would be lower standard and very basic, but we were pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case.

  • Toilets and hot showers are available at all camps on both the O circuit and W Trek (except Los Perros on the O circuit that only has cold water).

  • Snacks, drinks and some basic food items & toiletries, such as instant noodles and toothpaste were available at nearly all camps on both routes. Although at the camps of the W side there is a wider array of products, even fresh eggs at some camps!

  • Paid for Wi-Fi is available in the camps on the W Trek and in the first camp on the O circuit, camp Serron, but it is not available at the other two camps on the O circuit route. To be honest, unless you need a connection to stay in touch with someone outside the park, it is lovely to disconnect for once and enjoy the wilderness and nature.


2 - Park Orientation


Torres del Paine, in Chilian Patagonia, spans a whopping 181,000 + hectares which is about 700 square miles! It is the most popular national park in this region, receiving over 250,000 visitors a year, the majority of which are from overseas. People travel from all over the world to get a glimpse of some of the most famed views. The most iconic of which are ‘The Towers’, three granite peaks named Torres d'Agostini, Torres Central and Torres Monzino, that reach up to 2,500m above sea level. Lucky hikers who reach the base of these majestic towers on a clear day can stand by the glacier lake and look up in awe at the looming peaks with their very own eyes! The Towers are located in the east and are usually experienced right at the beginning or right at the end of most trekker’s journey as the trail head is located approximately 5.6km from the welcome centre for the park (if you enter the park by bus, this is where you will be dropped off). Read more here on how to get to and from the park. This also makes it possible to experience The Towers on a single day trip into the park. In the west you will find the sprawling Grey glacier covering 270 square kilometres and stretching 28 kilometres in length (or so NASA says, we didn’t measure it!). The full magnitude of which is best experienced on the O circuit. Also in the west, sits the infamous John Gardner Pass at 1,176m, a challenging mountain pass that gives O circuit trekkers a run for their money. In the south of the park both O and W trekkers alike can marvel at the Frances and Britanico viewpoints; again, a tough hike but once seen, never forgotten!



3 - The routes


The W Trek is more popular than the O circuit. There are probably a few reasons for this, the main one being that it is only 80km (50 miles) & can be completed over 4 - 5 days compared to the O circuit which is 136km (85 miles) and is completed over 7 – 9 days (longer if you want rest days to take in any of the other activities in the park outside of hiking). The W therefore is accessible to a wider group of people; those who either don’t have enough time to spare to do the O circuit, or are daunted by it’s longer length. The O circuit has a reputation for being much harder than the W Trek, which arguably it is due to being 3 or 4 days longer but don’t be fooled, the W Trek has some tough days too and you still need to be a keen hiker to enjoy it.


On both treks however you are rewarded for every step you take with the most stunning scenery, breath-taking views and a real sense of gratitude and joy at being able to experience something so magical.



The W Trek, so called as the route looks like a W, gives you the opportunity to visit some of the major attractions in the park. You can hike your way up to the Frances & Britanico viewpoints, The Towers & get a glimpse of Glacier Grey.














The O circuit effectively follows the same route as the W, allowing you to experience the sights mentioned above, but also spend 4 days extra days hiking on ‘the back side’ of the park, a quieter, less disturbed wilderness.








3.1 - The O circuit


The O circuit is a one-way route that can be started in a couple of places, either from the welcome centre at the park entrance heading towards camp Seron for your first night, completing the 4 days on the O circuit only route first and then joining the W Trek at camp Grey. This route also finishes back up at the visitors centre. Although this is the route that most people do & the route we took, a lot of blogs will incorrectly tell you this is the only option. However, you can also start and finish your O circuit trek at camp Paine Grande, heading off towards camp Frances or camp Cuernos (depending on which you choose to stay at), completing the W Trek first and finishing off with the 4 day O circuit only section. Don’t worry, we cover off lots all this information in more detail in our preparation for the O circuit blog.


The O circuit hike, being a one-way route & receiving less visitors means the trails are quieter and as you are all walking in the same direction means you don’t need to negotiate passing each other on narrow paths with big backpacks on! Don’t worry though, if you are visiting the national park on your own and worried about hiking alone it is easy to meet other walkers at the camps each night. You are all doing the same route with the same stops so you quickly get to know each other and can make walking buddies very easily.


The route will take you across lush meadow, along hillside paths with stunning lake views, over an epic mountain pass, alongside the biggest, most impressive glacier you have ever seen, and challenge you with steep climbs up to the most rewarding miradors. The O circuit is not for the faint hearted or novice walker but if you are up for the challenge, my goodness it is worth it!


When you reach the top of the infamous John Gardner Pass on day 4, you will get the most incredible views of Glacier Grey. Whilst you can walk to a viewpoint to see the glacier on the W Trek, you will not experience anything like the jaw dropping sights you get on the O circuit. No picture or description can do it justice, you just have to see it with your own eyes.


The John Gardner Pass gets a lot of coverage as being ‘the hardest day on the O circuit’, some of the descriptions I have read are enough to deter you from doing it but don’t let them! Yes, it is a challenging, very long day but totally do-able and absolutely worth it. Equally I would argue the days you hike to the Frances & Britanico miradors and The Towers are a tough challenge too!


3.2 - The W Trek


The W Trek can be walked in either direction, and as it is more popular you will pass lots of other people whilst walking. If you are visiting the park alone and are worried about hiking solo, you need not be as you will never be far from another walker. The ‘business’ of the W Trek does not detract from the stunning scenery you will experience and whilst the trails are not quiet they can be just as epic as the trails on the O circuit back side.


Whilst the W Trek is shorter and can be completed in 4 or 5 days, it is still no walk in the park (‘except it is’, I hear you exclaim! 🙄). It is not an easy hike by any stretch of the imagination and still takes a good level of fitness and determination to complete.


Beautiful lake views between camp Grey & Paine Grande, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
Beautiful lake views between camp Grey & Paine Grande

4 - Accommodation – Refugio lodges and camping


As I have mentioned, if you are on a budget, bringing your own camping equipment and pitching your tent each night at camp yourself is by far the cheapest option. All the camps along both the O & the W route allow you to book a self-service camp pitch and included in the price are use of the toilets and showers and communal cooking areas. At some camps on both the O & the W these are in purpose built buildings under cover, in others it is simply picnic benches outside.


If you have the budget there are other accommodation options. At all camps across both trails, rather than carry your own camping equipment you can have a pre-erected tent ready for you at camp. At some of the other camps it is also possible to stay in the refugios, either in a shared dorm style room or some have private rooms available too.


Booking your accommodation needs to be done months in advance as the O circuit camps in particular sell out fast. The camps are owned by two different companies and the booking system can be a little confusing at first but we’ve provided some guidance for this on our O Circuit and W Trek blogs.


5 - When to visit – seasons in the park


The Torres del Paine has a relatively short hiking window, with the park completely closed for the O Circuit side of the park during the winter months. If may be possible to complete the W Trek during the winter, but only on a fully guided tour as the trails are closed to independent hikers. For the O Circuit, the' back side' of the park is only open between the beginning of November & the end of March. The W Trek opens a little earlier with some campsites starting to open from September and staying open until the end of April.


The summer is from December - February, has the highest temperatures, longest daylight hours to enjoy the scenery & lowest rainfall. The main drawback of visiting in summer is that is correlates with the time of year with the most wind. The summer offers the best hiking conditions so as you can imagine attracts the most visitors, this means the trails will be at their busiest & camp sites book up quicker so it's best to book early!!

Whether you visit in peak season or the shoulders be prepared for everything, Patagonia is known for throwing 4 seasons in a day at you & we can testify to this!

Below is a graph showing the weather trends at different times of year in the Torres del Paine national park.


Torres del Paine weather graph

For those of you who prefer raw data, see below.

Precipitation monthly average (mm)

Average tempurature max (°c)

Average temperature min (°c)

Daylight hours

Wind speed ave Km/h

January

6

20

9

16

18

February

4

19

8

13

14

March

8

17

7

12

11

April

14

12

2

11

7

May

19

9

0

10

7

June

18

5

-3

9

4

July

16

5

-2

10

4

August

16

8

-1

11

7

September

6

10

0

12

11

October

9

14

3

15

14

November

3

17

5

16

18

December

4

18

8

17

18

6 - Equipment list & packing


The obvious difference here is the fact that the W Trek is shorter than the O Circuit therefore you don’t need to carry as much gear. Your camping equipment will weigh the same regardless of the length of your trek but you can carry less clothes and food if you are doing the W resulting in a lighter backpack. To be honest packing for either walk is tricky as you will not thank yourself for a unnecessarily heavy pack but if you focus on high calorie, light-weight food and get on board with the fact you will be wearing the same clothes for multiple days you can successfully pack a manageable backpack with everything you need. We’ve covered the ideal packing lists in our O Circuit and W Trek blogs.


7 - Summary


The O Circuit ensures you see the whole of the park and if you are up for the physical challenge of it and happy camping for that many nights it is definitely the way to go. Experiencing the John Gardner Mountain Pass and the full magnificence of the Grey Glacier on the O Circuit could be alone a winning argument for doing the O over the W.


However, not everyone is up for an 8 day hike or can afford to spend that much of their Patagonia Itinerary in the park, and that’s where the beauty that is the W Trek comes in. You will still have the most amazing experience on the W Trek, seeing some of the most stunning scenery in the park and celebrating the incredible achievement of completing one of Patagonia’s top hikes.



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