Clever Hiker blog features lightweight backpacking video guides and reviews of the best backpacking tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, stoves, and much more. Dave Collins loves outdoor adventure and he has been a backpacker his entire life.
If it’s your first time visiting Patagonia, a trip to Torres del Paine will most likely be on your itinerary, and with good reason. This spectacular Chilean region offers some of the best trekking in the world. With dramatic granite spires, immense glaciers, and glistening turquoise lakes, Torres del Paine has all the ingredients for an unforgettable and rugged adventure.
For all its beauty and grandeur, hiking in Torres del Paine can be a very accessible activity. Trekking tourism has been rapidly increasing in Patagonia over the past five years, so you should expect to be sharing the trails. Though many people hike with organized tour groups, hiking independently is very possible. While we were planning our 2018 trip, we found a scarcity of up-to-date, good information for this region. We created this guide to help people navigate all the details of trekking in Torres del Paine: which trek to choose, campsite information, hiking itineraries, what to pack, and more.
For more information, check out our additional resources on backpacking and hiking in Patagonia
SUMMER (December-February): The peak hiking season in Patagonia is during the summer months of December through February when the temperatures are the warmest and days the longest. Though hiking in 60-70 degree temperatures is quite nice, the crowds will be high and the wind can be quite fierce during the summer months, with gusts up to 75 mph at times. It’s common to receive some precipitation during the summer months, though with less intensity than in the fall.
FALL(March-April): Hiking in the spring months can be a nice alternative to summer. The temperatures will be slightly cooler, but the crowds will thin and the wind is often less intense during this time. However, precipitation can be highest during the months of April and May, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
SPRING (September-November): Hiking in the fall months will also bring cooler temperatures You can expect less crowds and wind during these months compared to summer. On average, this time of year also has low precipitation.
Weather (and wind!)
The weather in Patagonia is ever-changing and unpredictable. You can plan your trip (and gear) around the season, but we recommend to always be ready for any weather condition. You’ll often hear people talk about how you can experience all four seasons in one day, any day of the year. During your trip, you’ll most likely experience some rain, but what will stick with you are the winds. They will be like nothing you’ve experienced before. The strongest winds occur during the summer months of December to February, with calmer air in spring and fall, and the winds almost non-existent in winter. Be careful on exposed ledges, suspension bridges, or on pass days if winds are high. The best source for finding information on weather is at www.windguru.com, which will provide information on wind speed and gusts, precipitation, and cloud cover. If you stop by a ranger station in the area you'll be hiking, they will most likely have the Wind Guru forecast printed and can help you decipher the somewhat confusing grid of numbers.
HIKING ROUTES: THE W, O, OR Q
Map of torres del paine national park - image from torresdelpaine.com
W TREK: The most popular trek in the park, the W trek is roughly 80 km (50 miles) long and can be completed in 3-5 days. It covers some of the most iconic highlights in the park: Grey Glacier, Frances Valley, and the infamous Torres (towers). In high season, the route will be jam-packed with independent hikers, large tour groups, and day hikers. Though the route is busy, the sights are undeniably awe-inspiring.
O TREK - Also known as the Circuit, the O Trek covers the same trail as the W Trek, but circumnavigates the Cordillera del Paine over the course of 110 km (68 miles). Generally completed in 6-9 days, you’ll spend 2-3 nights camping on the less-traveled back side, which offers more solitude and opportunities to see the varied terrain of Torres del Paine. Traveling on the backside of park requires you to cross Paso John Gardner, which can be challenging (and sometimes closed) due to poor weather, high winds, and/or low visibility. The O trek is definitely a notch up in difficulty, but if you’re looking for more adventure, it’s truly a spectacular route away from the crowds. You can only complete the Circuit Trek in a counterclockwise direction.
Q TREK - Covering the most trail in Torres del Paine, the Q Trek travels the same route as the O, with an additional day of hiking south of Refugio Paine Grande along Lake Pehoe. Very few hikers cover this additional section so you’ll have some solitude and also earn one of the most spectacular views of the park, the Cordillera Paine rising above Lake Pehoe. You used to be able to begin your hike with the Q portion, leaving from the last bus stop, Administracion, and hiking towards Paine Grande. However, now CONAF only allows one-way travel from Paine Grande to Administracion, which requires you to end your Torres del Paine hiking there.
GETTING TO TORRES DEL PAINE
Most people begin their journey to Patagonia through either Santiago or Buenos Aires with a connecting flight to Punta Arenas. From Punta Arenas, you’ll take a roughly 3.5 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, which is the gateway town to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. There are many bus companies running this route and most buses are in good shape, comfortable, and punctual. We recommend buying your bus tickets ahead of time, especially during peak season. Purchasing your bus tickets online is easy and convenient with BusBud and Recorrido.cl.
From Puerto Natales, you'll need to take a 90 minute bus ride to Torres del Paine on the day you plan on beginning your hike. You can either buy these online as well, or buy them at the bus station in Puerto Natales.
There is a large UniMark grocery store in town as well as many small shops catering to hikers with dried fruits, nuts, and other trekking grub. You'll most likely need to pick up an isobutane-propane canister or two for your backpacking stove and can find this readily around town. Puerto Natales is also a great place to purchase or rent any backpacking gear.
Prior to your trek, we highly recommend stopping by Erratic Rock Hostel for their Torres del Paine info session. It's held everyday at 3:00 pm. and covers any and all details you'll need for your trek (weather, equipment, trail food, packing, refugios, trekking, climbing, transportation, the catamaran etc.) We found it incredibly helpful and the people leading the talk were awesome!
INDEPENDENT OR GUIDED HIKING
This is an important question for many planning a visit to Torres del Paine and the choice will likely come down to experience, personal preference, and your desire to put in the time to plan your own trip. If you’re an experienced backpacker, it is absolutely possible to hike independently. The trails are well-marked and maintained and if you stay on trail (and you absolutely should), it’s near impossible to get lost. If you plan to hike independently, you’ll need to have a good map, necessary campsites booked, and your own backpacking gear. There is also an option of renting gear in Puerto Natales or pre-arranging installed camping gear (tent, mattress, sleeping bag) with each campsite (more on that in the accommodations section below).
If you don’t want to sweat all the planning details or you can’t obtain the reservations you need independently, you have the option of going with a guide or tour. Guides can bring more to the table than just logistics management. Booking campsites in Torres del Paine can be confusing and hard to acquire. When you book with an agency, they take care of all the details (lodging, food, transportation, permits, etc). Furthermore, a good guide can also teach you about the local culture, flora, and fauna. You’ll most likely have a group consisting of hikers from all over the world, which can make for a fun and interactive trip. However, be expected to pay a high price for these services.
Though quality of service, lodging options, and prices can vary greatly by travel agency, below are some average costs of guided treks within Torres del Paine with full board (all meals and accommodation) included. Some agencies include all your transportation and lodging from Punta Arenas.
W Trek : $800-$3000 per person
O Trek: $1500-$4000 per person
GUIDED TREKKING PROS
All pre-trip details handled (permits, campsites,etc)
All transportation arranged
Little worry about any details while hiking (lodging, meals, route, schedule, etc.)
Local information on culture, food, etc.
INDEPENDENT TREKKING PROS
Can be much less expensive
Hike on your own schedule
No group dynamics to deal with, just you and the trail.
If you're hiking independently, you'll be required to book your own campsites. As of 2016, you must have reservations for all campsites or refugios prior to entering the park. Your proof of reservations will be checked at different control areas as well as all campsites and refugios, so don’t even attempt to enter the park without proof of reservation. Due to increasing popularity, you'll need to book your campsites months out. To further complicate the process, there are three different agencies you'll need to book through in order to complete the full circuit: CONAF, Vertice Patagonia, and Fantastico Sur.
In order to book your trip, you will need to organize your own itinerary with specific dates and desired campsites. Once you have an itinerary, you’ll need to ensure availability with all three agencies, which can take patience and a lot of perseverance. As of 2018, all three agencies are now set up for online reservations.
Map of campsites and reservation agency - map from www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl
CAMPSITES: Paso, Italiano, and Torres (Torres closed for 2018 season).
These campsites are free and provide basic services including a space for a tent, simple outhouse style bathrooms, and a three walled shelter to cook inside. Because they're free, they can be some of the most competitive campsites to obtain. You can make reservations online here.
CAMPSITES: Paine Grande, Gray, Dickson, Los Perros
REFUGIOS Paine Grande, Gray, and Dickson.
These campsites and refugios range in quality and offerings. You can check their website for what is available at each site. Many people book all-inclusive guided trips for the W and O treks through Vertice Patagonia. You can make reservations online here.
REFUGIOS: Torre Central and Torre Norte, Chileno, Cuernos
Fantastico Sur’s accommodation options can be somewhat confusing to decipher. There are some campsites (Chileno and Cuernos) where they don't provide a cooking area, which means you have no choice but to pay for full board. Although full board can be costly when you’re used to cooking your own meals, we found the meals at Chileno to be delicious and high-quality. Your two camping options at many of their sites are platform and platform premium. More on that below. You can make reservations online here.
REFUGIOS - The most expensive accommodation option, refugios are simple mountain lodges with bunk-bed style mixed dormitories. They often offer shared bathrooms with shower and hot water, a restaurant and bar, and living rooms that are generally heated with firewood, if need be. Although you'll be sleeping in a bed, we still recommend bringing a sleeping bag as you may only be offered a bottom sheet in some refugios. Refugios can range from small charming huts that sleep 27 (Refugio Dickson) to large, hotel style refugios that sleep 100 (Refugio Paine Grande).
CAMPING - At most sites, you'll set your tent up in a designated camping area, usually a field or a platform. If there’s also a refugio at the campsite, campers have access to the restaurant, bar, bathroom, showers (if available), and small store - which is awesome! There are designated cooking shelters at every campsite, which you'll be required to cook in. There will always be a bathroom, but the style ranges from a simple outhouse style with no showers (Paso and Italiano) to flush toilets and hot showers (almost everywhere else).
Regular Campsite: At many of the campsites along the way you'll just be pitching your own tent in a designated camping field.
Platform: You’ll be given an elevated wooden platform. You’ll use your own gear to set up camp. Full board consisting of three meals may or may not be included in the price. At Camp Chileno, this is the only option for camping.
Supported Camping: For an additional cost and with a pre-arranged reservation, you're able to rent an installed tent, mattress, and sleeping bag at certain campsites. This can be a good option for those who want to camp, but don't want to carry the weight of a full backpacking setup. This may or may not also have full board included.
W TREK ITINERARY
By far the most popular trek in the park, most people complete the W hike in 3-5 days. You can complete the W trek in either direction, either starting at Paine Grande/Glacier Grey or at the Torres. We recommend starting at Paine Grande and saving the best for last, but that is merely our opinion. Below is the itinerary for that route.
DAY 1: PUERTO NATALES TO PAINE GRANDE (DAY HIKE TO GLACIER GREY)
Distance: 22 km/13.5 miles roundtrip
Time: 6-8 hours
Your day will start early today and be a mix of travel and hiking. You'll start by taking the 7:00 am bus from Puerto Natales to the Laguna Armaga bus stop. Here everybody will get off the bus and pay their entrance fees. At this time, you'll get back on the bus and head to the Pudeto stop. From here, you'll take the Catamaran across Lago Pehoe to Refugio Paine Grande. Reservations are not taken in advance. You need to organize your crossing directly at Pudeto. The journey takes about 20 minutes. Current price for the cost is $40 USD per person one way. If all goes as planned you should be to Refugio Paine Grande by noon that same day.
After you disembark from the catamaran, you'll drop the majority of your gear at Paine Grande and pack a day pack for your hike up to breathtaking Glacier Grey. It will take roughly 6-8 hours roundtrip to head to Glacier Grey and make it back to Paine Grande for the night.
If you want to go at a more leisurely pace, you can also add an additional night to your itinerary and stay at GlaGrey on the first night of your trip.
DAY 2: PAINE GRANDE TO ITALIANO (AND OUT & BACK IN VALLE FRANCES)
Distance: 7 km/4.5 miles to Italiano where you'll set up camp. Then 11.5km/7 miles from Italiano up to Mirador Britanico and back.
Time: 7-8 hours
You’ll start the day with a relatively easy and short hike to Camp Italiano, where you can set up your camp and prepare a day pack for exploring the Valle de Frances. Because this hike is an out and back, you can hike as far as you want in the valley, though we recommend going all the way to Britanico- they views are unreal!
You’ll follow the Rio del Frances as you head up the valley..
Gorgeous alpine meadows and pitch-perfect backcountry camping make this area, especially at sunset, a wonderland. It gets its name from the red castle-like peaks that stand like a fortress above the basin. With the ability to visit three different lakes along the trail, you could easily spend three days here, though most complete the trip in two. The landscape here is unbelievably photogenic, so don't forget your camera. The Red Castle Peak downright glows at sunset.
Distance: 20 miles (32 km) round-trip
Days Needed: 2-3 days
Elevation Gain: 1,437 feet (438 m)
Peak Elevation: 10,824 feet (3,300 m)
Best Travel Time: Late June - October, depending on snow level
Wildlife, including owls, elk, moose, mule deer
Fantastic photo opps
Beautiful lakes and streams
Beautiful meadows and wildflowers
Nicely graded trail, never too steep
Great fishing opportunities
Dogs allowed (leashed)
Can be busy on weekends
Rough rock strewn landscape
Muddy, rocky trails
Cold lakes makes swimming tempting but challenging
Giardia and campylobacter are prevalent in the streams and lakes
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
July to September offer the best temperatures in the High Uinta Wilderness. Daytime highs are typically in the high 70s, while night temperatures during summer range between 30-40 degrees. Afternoon thunderstorms are fairly typical and lightening is always a serious threat above treeline.
August is the busiest month for backpacking in the high country, specifically in the basins. To avoid the crowds, we recommend visiting this area mid-week, if possible.
We rate most backpacking trips in this area as moderate due to rocky, sometimes muddy trails and the high elevation. As always, difficulty ratings depend on the route you choose, experience, physical fitness, pack weight, and weather conditions. Although most routes in Uintas are not technically demanding, you should always plan thoroughly, train properly, know your limitations, brush up on your skills, and dial in your gear. Doing so will make for a more safe and enjoyable adventure.
No permits required for backpacking Red Castle Lakes. Overnight parking at the trailhead is $3.00 per vehicle, per day and is self-issued.
You'll begin this hike at the China Meadows Trailhead. For those looking to get an early start the following day, there's also a fee campground at China Meadows.
To get to the trailhead, take Wyoming State Highway 410 South out of Mountain View for about 8 miles. The highway makes a sharp right turn to the west. Go straight on to Uinta County Road 283 (unpaved, gravel) and continue to Forest Service Road 072. Follow the signs past the Stateline Campground and past the China Meadows Campground to the China Meadows trailhead.
Campsites are first come, first serve and most abundant around Lower Red Castle Lake in forested areas. There are a few possible camps higher at Red Castle Lake, but this area is completely above treeline, fully exposed, and can get extremely windy.
Most people complete this backpacking trip in 2-3 days. There is an option to connect Henry Forks Lake Loop to Red Castle Lakes to make for a longer backpacking trip. That said, the connecting trails can be very hard to follow and non-existent at times. It'll require excellent navigation skills, following cairns/blazes, and using GPS as you hike past the Lake Hessie turnout. The view from the top of this pass is stunning, but we would only recommend this route for experienced backpackers.
Lower Red Castle Lake and Red Castle Lake are beautiful and fairly easy to access via well traveled trails. There is an option to continue even farther to Upper Red Castle Lake, but that will require a very challenging traverse over boulder fields and loose scree along the west slope of Red Castle Lake. There are a few cairns and signs from other hikers, but for the most part the route to Upper Red Castle Lake is completely off trail, and we really only recommend it to confident experts.
Day 1 - Hike to Lower Red Castle, Camp (day hike up to Red Castle) Day 2 - Hike back down E. Fork Smiths Fork to Junction with the Highline “A” North Slope (also called the Henrys Fork Junction). Go 2.5 miles east, then southeast on this trail to the Junction with Lake Hessie, go west for a ¼-mile and camp at the lake. Day 3 - Retrace back China Meadows Trailhead
TOTAL MILEAGE: 25.5 miles
MAPS & GUIDEBOOKS
Hiking Utah's High Uintas: A Guide to the Region's Greatest Hikes by Brett Prettyman, an outdoors editor for the Salt Lake City Tribune. This guide includes descriptions of 99 routes throughout the backcountry wilderness of Utah's Uinta Mountains and High Uintas Wilderness, including easy day hikes to great fishing spots, adventurous treks to remote campsites, and extended backpacking trips for intrepid wilderness travelers.
National Geographic High Uinta’s Wilderness Trails Illustrated Map This map covers the High Uintas Wilderness, as well as the Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests. It features key points of interest and is printed on "Backcountry Tough" waterproof, tear-resistant paper. A full UTM grid is printed on the map to aid with GPS navigation.
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Salt Lake City by Greg Witt. This book includes many of the best hikes in the Western Uintas with detailed trail descriptions that range from easy strolls to challenging backpacks. Extensive key-at-a-glance information makes it easier to choose a hike based on length, difficulty, or scenery.
High Uintas Backcountry by Jeffrey Probst This trail guide travels the length of the Uintas with descriptions on 99 hikes, 600 fishable lakes, and over 400 miles of streams. Each story includes a trip planner, photo, and map. The appendix includes full maps of all areas, a campground and trailhead directory with directions. There are over 200 photos and maps.
Water is plentiful along the trail to Red Castle Lakes and accessible from small streams and lakes. Though many sources look pure, Giardia and Campylobacter are present in this area so we recommend using a lightweight water filter (here's a list of our faves). We carried the MSR Trail Shot on our most recent trip and were happy with its performance. Two other good lightweight options are the SteriPen Ultra and Aquamira Drops. Check out our best water filters list for more excellent options.
For a full list of wilderness regulations in this area, visit this website. But in, general, the following apply:
Stay on designated trails and do not cut switchbacks.
Select a campsite 200 feet from trails or streams.
Wash yourself and dishes away from water sources and only use biodegradable soap when necessary.
Bury human waste and fish entrails 6-8" deep and 200 feet away from water sources.
Campfires are prohibited near most lakes in this area, so please be respectful of this. Rangers can and will ticket offenders. The following lakes prohibit campfires:
Lower Red Castle Lake
CRITTERS & FOOD STORAGE
Black bears are not a problem in this area so there are no food storage requirements. That said, you should always protect your food against rodents and small critters, which actually tend to cause many more problems than bears. We recommend packaging all your food and scented products in a food storage container such as an Ursack.
Mosquitoes are present along this route and can be pretty vicious, especially early in the season and near bogs and water sources. Hiking later in the season is often bug-free. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and bring a small bottle of DEET for exposed skin to provide full protection.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear makes some of our favorite ultralight backpacking gear and their Southwest 2400 and 3400 backpacks have been at the top of our Best Lightweight Backpacks list for almost three years running. The Southwest is super tough, ultralight, and nearly waterproof. We've used HMG packs to cover hundreds of miles on burly trails all over the world and they hold up great. So needless to say we’re pretty big fans. But HMG packs have had one key downside that’s always nagged us: small hip belt pockets.
Well, HMG listened to customer feedback and completely redesigned their hip belt pockets this year to make them much bigger and easier to access. This past week we’ve been backpacking around the High Uintas of Utah (check out @cleverhiker on instagram for updates) to test out the new pockets, and we’re sold. The new hip belt pockets are large enough to fit a smart phone (we use ours for GPS, photos, and video) or a point-and-shoot camera, snacks, and any essential gear you may want easily accessible on the trail (sunscreen, chapstick, pocket knife, hand sanitizer, lighter, etc.). They’re also made of durable materials and the zippers have a water resistant seal, which is a nice touch. Though the pockets are much larger, they don’t stick out or get in the way while hiking, which is also great.
HMG’s new hip belt pockets are a great improvement to an already stellar product. If you have any feedback, comments, or questions, hit us up in the comment section below and we’ll be happy to help out!
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a modest commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.
Few things can ruin a backpacking trip quicker than relentless swarms of buzzing mosquitoes. We've all been there - continuous swatting, itchy red welts, and early retreats to your tent.
Besides being annoying and irritating, mosquitoes can also be quite dangerous. Mosquito-borne illnesses kill more people worldwide — about a million a year — than any other predators combined. Scientists say that with continued disruptions in normal weather patterns, we can only expect this trend to get worse or more widespread.
That said, there's no reason to let mosquitoes prevent you from getting outside. If you're hiking during warm spring or summer nights, dealing with mosquitoes will most likely be inevitable, but there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and make your trip much more enjoyable.
The life cycle of a mosquito
life cycle of the mosquito- image: cdc.gov
Although there are some variations between the more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes, they all follow a similar lifecycle. Like many insects and spiders, adult males aren’t the biters or blood feeders. That’s the role of the adult females. Once females get their blood meal from a mammalian host (humans and animals), they look for a water source and lay their eggs.
Larvae hatch from the eggs and “wiggle-propel” themselves to the water surface, hanging upside down using a “siphon tube” to feed on oxygen for 7 to 14 days before they shed their skin and become pupae. They take an extended rest period to develop, and then emerge from the pupae case, taking their time to dry out their antennae and wings and take flight. Most mosquito species grow from egg to adult in about 2 weeks.
After only two days as an adult, a female mosquito will bite its first host. Most male mosquitoes only live for two weeks. Female live up to a month or more. Some species don’t bite. Some feed instead on plant nectar, reptiles, or birds.
mosquito larvae from culex species in standing water - image from cdc.gov
Species of Mosquitos
Although there are over 3,000 species of mosquitos worldwide, only three of them are responsible for making life miserable in our backyards and the backcountry.
AEDES - A species of Aedes (Aedes albopictus ) called the Asian Tiger mosquito hitched a ride into the U.S. in the 1980s in some imported automobile tires. Once inhabiting only the tropics, this mosquito is now found worldwide and is responsible for transmitting yellow fever, Dengue fever, chikungunya, canine heartworm, filariasis (elephantiasis) and West Nile virus. Aedes vexans is common throughout southern Canada and the U.S. (with the exception of Hawaii), mostly due to a wide range of habitats it utilizes. It’s has one of the meanest bites (fierce and painful) of all U.S. mosquitos.
ANOPHELES -Mostly found in temperate and tropical climates, this mosquito transmits the much-feared mosquito-borne disease malaria, which kills more than a million people worldwide each year. They typically incubate in clean water (instead of any water) and come out at dusk and stay active until dawn. They transmit diseases through saliva rather than just their bite.
CULEX PIPENS - Also known as the common house mosquito or Northern house mosquito, this species resides in urban and suburban areas across the globe, and transmit a number of viral infections, including Japanese encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Aggressive and persistence biters that leave a itchy and painful welt, they primarily bite early in the morning or later, from dusk until a few hours into the night.
image by orkin
Though many mosquito bites are innocuous, some can transmit a multitude of diseases to humans and animals, some extremely serious. Below is a list of associated diseases hikers will want to be concerned about here in the U.S.
WEST NILE VIRUS - The most common mosquito-borne illness in the U.S., more than 46,000 people have been infected since the disease first appeared here in 1999. Of them, 25,574 have experienced serious illness and more than 2,000 died, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Since many cases go unreported, the CDC estimates that more than 3 million people, in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, have actually been infected. The virus is spread by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds and then carry it to humans. It can causes fever, accompanied by body aches, disorientation, diarrhea, neck stiffness, headache, joint pain and tremors, and can also spread to the brain. Only about 1 percent develop potentially fatal encephalitis or meningitis.
CHIKUNGUNYA - Spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, this disease is still pretty rare in the U.S. It’s characterized by the sudden onset of fever and severe joint pain, usually 3-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash.
DENGUE FEVER - Recently spread to the U.S. from Latin America and Asia, dengue fever has been reported in Texas, Florida and Hawaii. Four strains of the virus produce symptoms such as severe head aches, high fevers, and eye, bone, muscle and/or joint pain. Getting this virus puts you at risk for a potentially fatal dengue hemorrhagic fever should you get infected a second time.
ARBOVIRAL ENCEPHALITIS - Culex mosquitos spread various forms of this disease including St. Louis, Western Equine, LaCrosse, and Eastern Equine (EEE). All are endemic to the U.S. and increasing in incidence. The most common symptoms of the disease are flu-like with head and muscle aches, fever and nausea. In young children, the disease can be far more serious, including fatal.
YELLOW FEVER - A viral infection, symptoms can appear from a few days to a week later and include headache, backache, muscle ache, fever and chills. Around 15 % of people who get yellow fever develop serious illness that can lead to shock, bleeding, organ failure and, rarely, death.
ZIKA - Not life threatening and often only mildly symptomatic, this viral infection typically causes fever, rash, headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis and/or muscle pain lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of it. That said, the CDC reports that Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.
THE BITE: HOW & WHY
Scientists at the CDC are eager to dispel the notion that blood type, foods we eat or the color of our clothing attract or repel mosquitos. Reports on those things have been refuted, apparently because of bad study statistics, or invalid methodology. What we do know, is that there are a variety of ways in which mosquitos do detect their hosts.
MOVEMENT - Mosquito's eyes are highly sensitive to movement and they’re more likely to detect people who are moving around. This explains why they’ll often swarm hikers and backpackers on the trail.
BODY HEAT - Mosquitos can also detect body heat. People with higher body temperatures are at risk of increased targeting. If possible, try to stay cool and dry while you hike.
BACTERIA ON SKIN- Scientists say we also advertise our presence to mosquitoes through scent signaling. Each of us carries an ecosystem of bacteria on the surface of our bodies, although it varies from human to human.
CHEMICAL SCENTS - Further, we all have a unique chemical makeup that may or may not attract mosquito. Researchers say that in addition to bacteria, our skin exudes hundreds of these different chemical scents, including body odor, secretions and lactic acid (sweat). Sweating releases high concentrations of several combinations of body chemicals. Because of this, hikers and their sweaty gear ring the skeeter dinner bell.
Other compounds we excrete include ammonia, carbon dioxide, carboxylic acid (a fatty acid), and octenol (similar to lactic acid but found in the breath and scent of most mammals). Most mosquito species are equipped with sensory mechanism that detects and attracts them to these odors. This explains how mosquitoes are able to find their blood meal hosts, even in complete darkness.
As we mentioned above, mosquito bites are not only irritating but also potentially dangerous. Preventing bites and the potential transmission of diseases is essential. Below are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
One of the best ways you can protect yourself against mosquitoes is to apply an EPA-registered insect repellent on your skin and clothing when you go out. Repellents primarily work by masking the chemicals your body emits to thwart mosquitos on the hunt. Reapply these repellents often as they lose their efficacy with sweat, wear and water exposure. They typically come in sprays, lotions and creams, and include one or a combination of the following four active ingredients:
DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide)- Available in a variety of strengths (effectiveness increases with concentration), studies show that concentrations of 30%-50% DEET are more than sufficient for most environments, and for teens and adults. DEET in 5 to 10% formulations are considered safe for children over 2 years of age. Spray is the safest way to apply DEET; avoid getting it on hands or wash thoroughly after using lotion. Also, DEET should only be used on exposed skin; applying it to clothing or gear can dissolve certain materials.
PERMETHRIN - Buy factory treated clothing with permethrin or treat the outside of your clothing and gear with a permethrin. Although technically an insecticide, this repellant kills mosquitoes. It won’t keep mosquitoes from landing on you (like DEET or Picaridin) but rather incapacitates and eventually kills mosquitos after they land on you. Avoid spraying on skin (human or pet) as it can have toxic effects and is hard on skin. Apply instead to your clothing and boots and make sure you use enough as too light a coating will wear off quickly.
PICARIDIN -Unlike DEET, Picaridin is fairly low on odor while still being equally effective. It won’t irritate skin or damage synthetic fabrics or plastics and claims to be effective for up to 8 hours.
IR-3535 - This ingredient has just recently been approved for use in the U.S. but has been widely used in Europe for years. IR-3535 helps repel mosquitos, ticks and biting flies with lower toxicity than DEET. It's safe to use on infants, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
image from cdc.gov
OTHER PREVENTION TIPS
THERMACELL MOSQUITO REPELLER- A more recent addition to the repellent game, the Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller has gotten rave reviews. Using heat generated from your stove fuel canister, it disperses a repellent to create a 15 foot protection zone. It doesn't emit an odor and does not contain DEET. We're excited to do further testing this summer.
AVOID FRAGRANT SOAPS AND TOILETRIES - Avoid using fragrance-infused soaps and toiletries. Use of these will leave microscopic scents on your skin, which will attract mosquitoes.
WEAR LONG SLEEVE SHIRTS AND PANTS - The more skin you expose, the more vulnerable you'll be to mosquito bites, so long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks will help protect you. Tight weaves of polyblend are a lot more effective than light weight cotton or even newer generation lightweight wool.
PROTECT YOURSELF AT PEAK TIMES - Peak feeding times for mosquitoes are at sunset and sunrise, so either avoid going out then or be extra careful to take precautions against being bitten.
WEAR A MOSQUITO NET HAT - Head nets with insect shields will keep skeeters, gnats, and deer flies away from your face and neck. The nets in mosquito hats contain holes small enough to let air through yet block mosquitos from entering. The key is to keep an air barrier between skin and the net. Don’t let it lay on your skin, as mosquitos can still bite through given time and opportunity.
CHOOSE REST SITES & CAMPSITES CAREFULLY - Avoid mosquitos by avoiding places where they breed and incubate, such as damp, low-lying places. Place tents at least 100 yards away from water sources. Mosquitos don’t do well in hot, dry and sunny locales so setting up your tent in a sunny area can also help.
A number of different all-natural substances are available that help repel mosquitos. They can be a good option for those looking to avoid harsh chemicals or for children. A wide variety of brands are available, but here’s the ingredients (usually in combination) you’ll want to consider:
CITRONELLA - Citronella is derived from a type of grass and is generally regarded as safe when used correctly. Citronella has a lemon-line-lemongrass scent to it and it comes in candles, lantern oils, sprays, lotions and bracelets.
OIL OF LEMON EUCALYPTUS - ( p-Mentane-3,8-diol) – Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has been deemed as effective as a 10% to 20% DEET solution (similar to citronella) and has been approved for children older than 3 and adults. It has a synthetically produced eucalyptus leaf scent (not to be confused with lemon eucalyptus essential oil).
CATNIP OIL - Most cat owners known the catnip herb (containing the chemical compound Nepetalactone) as “kitty cannabis.” But Catnip Oil is a potent mosquito and fly repellent. Researchers report that it’s about 10 times as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitos.
ESSENTIAL OILS - Lemon, thyme, peppermint, eucalyptus, basil, clove, lemongrass, geranium, tea tree and lavender, in a combination of three or four, definitely provide a fairly effective repellant. Make your own lotion or spray or ointment. Essential oil repellents are believed to be effective anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
It’s important to keep in mind that as much as we despise them, mosquitos, like ticks, are part of a complex food web. Many fish feed on mosquito larvae, while birds and spiders and other insects, like dragonflies and damselflies, feed on the adult mosquito. Frogs also are highly dependent on adult mosquitoes as a food source, while tadpoles eat the larvae.
Some prevention approaches have serious environmental impacts. There's some steps you can take to help protect the ecosystem. Never swim in a lake or stream with a coating of synthetic or natural repellants or insecticides on your body. Wet your pack towel and wipe your body down to remove as much residue as you can. You can also take a water bottle shower to wash off contaminants, making sure you are at least 200 feet from any water source. DEET, picaridin and permethrin are toxic to fish and other invertebrates that live in either salt water or fresh water.
this adorable bloodsucker is a flamboyantly-colored mosquito that's natural inhabitant is the Panamanian forest canopy - image from cdc.gov
Although mosquitos can be quite irritating in the backcountry, they should not prevent you from spending time outdoors. Equipping yourself with the strategies and tips listed above will make your trip far more enjoyable and safe.
We hope this guide helps prepare you for backpacking and hiking when mosquitoes are present. For more popular CleverHiker content, check out the following links:
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.
With spectacular fields of wildflowers well into summer, incredible mountain scenery, and cozy campsites nestled in beautiful meadows, backpacking in the Mount Adams Wilderness should definitely be on your radar. At 12,281 feet, Mount Adams is the second tallest peak in Washington, but with a location in South Central Washington far from large cities, the crowds remain relatively low, for PNW hiking standards.
Unlike some neighboring peaks, Mount Adams does not have a completed trail around the mountain. Instead, you have the option of combining three trails - Round the Mountain Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Highline Trail - to hike 3/4 of the way around the mountain on beautiful, straightforward, and safe trails.
There is an extremely difficult option to complete a full loop around the mountain by traversing the strenuous/dangerous 4.5 mile off-trail section on the east side referred to as "The Gap," however we don't recommend that option. The Gap is an experts-only, off-trail route that requires excellent navigation skills, steep glacier traverses, unstable scree field scrambles with large shifting boulders, and treacherous river crossings. Be brutally honest about your skills and experience before attempting The Gap, because it will be very intense and dangerous for the unprepared.
For the sake of this guide, we'll outline backpacking itineraries in the Mount Adams area that vary in length and difficulty, from quick one-night trips to the full circumnavigation of Mount Adams (again, only recommended for true experts).
Distance: Varies, depending on itinerary.
Days Needed: 2-5 days, depending on itinerary
Elevation Gain/Loss: 7,300 feet (2,225 meters), depending on itinerary
Best Travel Time: Late July - September
Permits: Required, more info below
Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult, more info below
Good portion of hike above tree line
Sweeping mountain views in all directions
Beautiful wildflowers throughout summer
Relative solitude for PNW hikes
Bird Creek Meadows and Avalanche Valley areas
Can require long car shuttles
Can be windy along ridges above tree line
Multiple permits required in some areas
Susceptible to quickly changing weather
Campfires not permitted above 6,000 feet (almost all camping locations)
Some unbridged stream crossings
Best Time to Travel
In general, July through September is the best time to hike around Mount Adams. Snowpack is a key factor for trip planning in this area, as snow can linger into late July and perennial snowfields exist in some areas. Rain and snow can fall at any time of year and freezing temperatures are possible, even in summer months. The bugs can be bad right after the seasonal melt, sometimes as late as mid-August. July and August have the lowest average rainfall and average temp highs of 82 degree for both months. In September and October the temps drop about 10 degrees each month and rain increase progressively by one to two inches.
As always, be prepared and diligent in monitoring current conditions before your hike. Weather can change quickly in this region. Before heading out, check the Mount Adams weather report for up-to-date conditions.
If you're completing the portion of this trail that does not include "The Gap", we rate this hike as moderate. Regardless of the beginning trailhead, reaching the Round the Mountain Trail will require a gradual steady climb. After that, most of the trail will pleasantly undulate up and down across many creeks, a lava field and, if you continue, across a major mudflow and rock fall.
If you are extremely experienced and up for the challenge, the full circumnavigation (crossing The Gap) is rated as highly strenuous and very difficult. Besides requiring a high level of fitness, off-trail experience and expert navigation skills, you'll also need to bring an ice axe and traction devices, to complete the full loop. Like we mentioned above, we would not recommend this route to about 99% of the hikers reading this guide.
As always, difficulty ratings depend on your experience, physical fitness, pack weight & weather conditions. Plan accordingly, train properly, know your limitations, brush up on your skills, and dial in your gear. Doing so will make for a safe and enjoyable adventure.
Wilderness Permit Required - Permits are free and self-issued at trailheads.
A seperate permit is required within the Yakama Indian Reservation. These are available for a small fee in the area of Bird Creek Meadows. Overnight stay permits are available. Camping is allowed only in the designated sites.
About one-half to two-thirds of Mount Adams is within the Mount Adams Wilderness of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The remaining area, roughly from Avalanche Valley to Bird Creek Meadows, is within the Mount Adams Recreation Area of the Yakima Nation.
You’ll need a Washington State Discovery Pass to park at trailheads, but you must also obtain a self-issued wilderness permit at the trailheads. Hikers very familiar with the area recommend getting official permission to cross the Yakima Nation land on the eastside. Officially, you can’t be on the Yakima section of the loop between Oct 1 and June 30, unless you receive permission from the tribe. The Yakama Reservation (referred to as Track D) is open to the general public between July 1 and September 30. Further, they do allow camping at Sunrise Camp and in Avalanche Valley in the old existing campsites only.
The overall consensus is that as long as you start at the official trailheads and follow the high route, you don’t need a permit to cross The Gap. If in doubt, check with the Trout Lake Ranger Station for updates.
Getting to the trailheads
For this guide, we start at Cold Springs Trailhead and end at the Muddy Meadows Trailhead. If you don't have time to complete the entire trail, there are several other trailheads which allow you to access portions of the trail. It's important to note that trails accessing the “Round the Mountain Trail” generally gain between 1,500 feet and 3,000 feet.
Because most people don't complete the full loop of Mt. Adams, transportation logistics can be a bit complicated. There are no official shuttle services offered in this area so your options are to either do an out-and-back hike or arrange your own car shuttle. The drive between the two trailheads is 38 miles and takes about 2 hours. Driving directions to both trailheads can be found below.
Below is the listed hiking mileage from the Cold Springs Trailhead to each campsite. Plan your route accordingly.
Lookingglass Lake - 7.2 miles (requires hiking one mile south of Round the Mountain Trail)
Horseshoe Meadows - 7.3 miles
Sheep Lake - 10.5 miles
Divide Camp 14.2 miles
Killen Creek- 15.6 miles
High Camp - 15.6 miles
Foggy Flats -18.6 miles
Avalanche Valley -24.7 miles (existing campsites only, just west of Goat Butte)
If you are planning on hiking all the way to Avalanche Valley rather than continuing north along the trail to the Muddy Meadows Trailhead, it's very important to follow the guidelines set forth by the Mount Adams Ranger District and the Yakama Tribe. The "trail" in this section is a very faint and pretty much nonexistent, so GPS and off-trail navigation skills are highly recommended. In Avalanche Valley head more or less north across Rush Creek to the camp near the spring on the old FS Trail. Crossing this creek can be difficult depending on time of day and season. The tribe does not permit dispersed camping, but it is allowed to camp near the spring in the old camping area.
The Round the Mountain Trail maintains an elevation between 5,900 feet and 6,300 ft. Most people complete the Round the Mountain Trail (minus the gap) in four days, but faster hikers can complete it in three. Those wishing to have slower days, explore the alpine area more thoroughly, or complete the full loop including the gap, may want to plan for a five-day trip.
ROAD CLOSURE NOTE: Forest Road 82 is gated and locked. Bird Creek Meadows remains closed due to the 2015 Cougar Creek Fire. This should not effect your itinerary if starting at Cold Springs Trailhead.
Day 1 - Hike north from the trailhead to Round the Mountain Trail, turn left at junction and hike on to Lookingglass Lake campsite (.9 miles south of the trail to the lake)
Day 2 - Hike from Lookingglass Lake to Round the Mountain Trail to Divide Camp or go another 2.5 miles to High Camp
Day 3 - Hike from High Camp to the Highline Trail to Avalanche Valley
Day 4 - From Avalanche Valley to Muddy Meadows Trailhead
TOTAL MILEAGE: 39 miles or 40.1 miles (High Camp Option)
Five Day Itinerary
WARNING: : Traversing "the gap" (more info below) is only recommended for highly experienced backpacking experts with excellent off-trail navigation, glacier travel, and river fording skills. Because this route is a true loop, you can travel in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. We suggest heading counter clockwise so that if conditions do not allow you to cross "The Gap", you can easily retrace your steps back to the Round the Mountain Trail.
Day 1 - "The Gap" Day. Hike north from the trail to meet up with Round the Mountain Trail. Turn right and head towards Bird Meadow. Follow signs towards Hellroaring Viewpoint, where the trail starts fading out. Continue off trail towards Sunrise Camp (multiple unstable scree fields and glacier travel required). There'll be rock shelters signaling you're at Sunrise Camp. Continue your hike off-trail over Klickitat Glacier and eventually across Big Muddy River (Be very cautious and assess the situation before crossing, as this river can be very dangerous, or deadly). After crossing, you'll have to climb up and over a very unstable scree field on your way to Avalanche Valley. Be prepared to cross a series of swift streams along this route. This day will be long, arduous, and possibly dangerous. We can't emphasize enough how this is for highly experienced backpackers only.
Day 2 - Hike from Avalanche Valley to Foggy Flats. There may be some difficult river crossings, depending on time of year. Always use caution.
Day 3 - Hike from Foggy Flats to Divide Camp or High Camp.
Day 4 - Hike from Divide Camp/Foggy Flats to Horseshoe Meadow or Lookingglass Lake
Day 5 - Hike from Horseshoe Meadow/Lookingglass Lake back to Cold Springs Trailhead.
NOTE: Campsites at Sunrise Camp are very exposed and can be incredibly windy, so always assess the conditions. If you're crossing "The Gap", we recommend doing it in one day.
TOTAL MILEAGE: 35 miles
"The Gap" Section
As tempting as it is to complete the full loop around Mount Adams, we only recommend traversing the eastern off-trail section called "The Gap" if you are highly experienced and have exceptional confidence in your off-trail navigation, glacier travel, and river fording skills.
This section may seem short, but do not underestimate the difficulty and time it will require to cross. You will also need to bring an ice axe and traction devices to safely navigate the glaciers. The route will involve many obstacles that can be dangerous, and if ill-prepared, life-threatening. Trekkers must negotiate treacherous creek crossings, 1,000-foot deep canyons and valleys, traversing up and over steep and unstable scree fields, and a traverse across the Klickitat Glacier.
A highly challenging river crossing through the Big Muddy may require wading. It is a fast and dangerous river, depending on the time of year. If it's early season, you may be able to traverse the glacier above the Big Muddy, but we recommend seriously considering conditions before attempting to cross.
A photo of "the gap" - treacherous, off-trail, & experts only (USFS photo)
Maps & Guidebooks
Below is a list of guidebooks, maps, and GPS tools we found helpful in planning our trip in the Mount Adams Wilderness area.
Backpacking Washington - This route is covered in depth in the Backpacking Washington book, minus "The Gap". We use this excellent resource to plan many of our backpacking trips throughout Washington.
Trekking Washington by Mike Woodmansee – This knowledgeable, easy-to-read book includes excellent details about the Round-the-Mountain Trail (particular water availability, trail obstacles and campsites) and full-color photographs. He provides lengthy descriptions of trees, flowers and animals interspersed with trail descriptions.
Few things in the outdoors make people squirm as much as ticks, and for good reason. Besides being carriers of some awful diseases, they’re pretty disgusting to look at and remove, particularly when they're attached and engorged.
Experts are predicting a tick population explosion this year, so it's time to get up to speed on ticks. Recent irregular winter weather has meant greater survival of larva and adult ticks, which leads to a population boom in the spring.
Most hikers are aware of ticks, however there's a lot of misinformation out there surrounding ticks, especially when it comes to risks and how to deal with the ones found crawling or implanted in you. In this article we'll cover general information on ticks, prevention, removal, and how to best protect yourself.
species of common ticks
Different species live in different regions of the country, carrying and transmitting species-specific diseases. Only a few select species, however, bite and transmit disease to people, and much of it seasonally dependent. Some populations of ticks may be found general areas listed below. The CDC has very informative diagrams of geographical distributions of each tick species.
American Dog Tick – (also called Wood Tick) Widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains. Also occurs in limited areas on the Pacific Coast.
Blacklegged tick – Mostly found in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The greatest risk of being bitten by one is in the spring, summer, and fall. Biters include adult females and nymphs, however, adults may bite any time winter temperatures are above freezing.
Brown dog tick – Found throughout the US and Hawaii. Dogs are the primary victims, although opportunistically they may also bite other mammals and humans. Adult females spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Gulf Coast tick – Found primarily along coastal areas of the U.S. along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. While larvae and nymphs feed on birds and small rodents, and adult ticks feed on deer and other wildlife, adult ticks have been associated with transmission of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to humans.
Lone star tick – The CDC calls this a “very aggressive tick.” It’s widely distributed throughout the southeastern states, with some cases showing up in the upper Midwest, and the Northeast. The nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans and transmit disease, including Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii (which cause human ehrlichiosis), Heartland virus, tularemia, and STARI. It can also cause an allergy called Alpha-gal.
Rocky Mountain wood tick – Found in the Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada from elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet. Adult ticks feed primarily on large mammals.
Western blacklegged tick – These are perhaps the least ticks to worry about; less than 1% of adults feed on humans. They are largely found along the Pacific coast of the U.S., especially Northern California.
image from cdc.gov
common Tick-Borne Diseases
According to Dr. Daniel Cameron, MD, MPH, a nationally recognized expert on ticks, there are many tick-borne infections that pose a threat to humans and dogs. Below are some of the well known and recently surfaced tick-borne illnesses.
Lyme Disease – (Borrelia burgdorferi ) Spread by the deer tick, this is the most feared outcome of a tick bite. It can be very hard to diagnose once you have it for a while, and can cause lifelong chronic illness, if left untreated. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotic. According to the CDC, typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. In most regions, 1 of every 2 female deer ticks is infected with the Lyme disease spirochete, so be sure to get the tick off safely. The first 48 hours are crucial.
Alpha-gal – Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal) is a carbohydrate found in the cells of many mammals that humans eat, such as cows, sheep and pigs. The Lone Star Tick contains alpha-gal, and their bite can trigger the immune system to go on defense and over-react to it. It can make you allergic to meat — for life.
Ehrlichia – (humans and dogs) Lone star ticks are the primary source of Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii. Typical symptoms include: fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches, which typically occurs within 1-2 weeks following a tick bite.
Babesia – Also called a “piroplasm,” this tick introduced pathogen can cause malaria-like symptoms and is very much malaria-like in action that infects red blood cells.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – (Rickettsia rickettsii) Infections occur mainly east of the Rocky Mountains, but have also been found in limited areas on the Pacific Coast. If you don't get treated for it by the fifth day after a bite, the disease is highly fatal.
Pacific Coast tick fever - (Rickettsia philipii) Both dogs and human can suffer from this painful and debilitating tick-borne disease.
Tularemia - Also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever, this rare infectious disease typically attacks the skin, eyes, lymph nodes and lungs; caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis.
STARI – (Southern tick-associated rash illness). Some Lone Star Tick bites produce a circular rash similar to the rash of early Lyme disease, but is less consequential.
STAGES of tick DEVELOPMENT
Ticks typically go through three stages of development before becoming an adult: egg, larva and nymph. In general, May is the most active month across the country of for ticks.
tick development stages - image from cdc.gov
Newly-hatched larva are only about the size of a dot or a period at the end of a sentence, and feed on the blood of mice and birds. Lone star ticks are an exception; they sometimes bite humans in the larval stage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Once they become nymphs, they grown to the size of a pinhead. Once engorged, nymphs detach from their host and molt into adults. Fully-grown females are more like the size of a apple seed. Only infected ticks in either of these two stages pose a risk to humans.
The males are a bit smaller and only “blood” feed briefly. They don’t become distended with blood like the females. And once they’re done they look for a female to mate with.
Adults prefer to feed on large mammals - like deer and humans. But they also like birds, mice, chipmunks, and even the family dog. After the females find a host to feed on, they mate with an adult male, lay up to 1,500 eggs (some even 4,000), and then die.
How to Protect Yourself
INSPECT DAILY - Be sure to check yourself daily (or several times a day if hiking in a tick-infested area) when backpacking or hiking in forests and brush-covered landscapes. Generally, people cannot feel a tick bite, but after a day or two, they feel a mild itch.
Despite the rumors, ticks don’t jump, fly or fall from trees. What they do, instead, is use a built in carbon dioxide sensor to help them detect mammals. They’ll wait for a host to come into their vicinity and then, using outstretched front legs latch onto a host and began hitching up to a warm spot to begin their feast, usually near the buttocks, pants line or waist or armpits.
Below is a diagram from the Center of Disease Control which outlines hotspots on your body that ticks gravitate toward. Check these areas thoroughly.
image from cdc.gov
WEAR INSECT REPELLANT - A good way to keep ticks off you is to wear insect repellant. The CDC approved list includes DEET, Piacridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or (PMD).
SPRAY PERMETHRIN - Before heading outdoors, spray your clothing, gear, and hiking boots with permethrin, which is a pesticide that kills mosquitos, black flies, and ticks, with no harm to humans. Permethrin is effective on clothing and gear for multiple washing cycles.
EDUCATE YOURSELF - Do your research and have an understanding of tick prevalence in the region you're hiking. Read trip reports on your intended hiking route to check current conditions. Understand the risks and ways you can protect yourself. That said, you're already here reading this, so you're ahead of the curve :)
MINIMIZE CONTACT WITH TICKS - Avoid hiking in tall grass, brushy areas, or heavily wooded areas. If taking breaks, try to avoid sitting directly on the ground if ticks are aggressive. Always hike in the center of the trail to reduce contact with ticks.
WEAR LIGHT COLORED CLOTHING AND TUCK - Wear light colored clothing so you can easily detect a tick crawling on you. If you know you're hiking in tick country, do not wear shorts. Instead, wear long pants and tuck them into your socks to keep ticks from crawling up your legs. Also, tuck your shirt into your pants to keep ticks from entering near your waistband hotspot.
CARRY A TWEEZER OR TICK REMOVER - Several tick removal tools are available for purchase, but a simple fine-tipped tweezer is easy to carry and does the job. We recommend carrying your tool in a ziplock bag, which can double as a receptacle for a removed tick, if needed.
WHEN YOU RETURN HOME:
Thoroughly check your pets and gear. Ticks have been known to attach to gear or pets and unknowingly be carried into your home, to later attach to a human. By checking for ticks before entering your home, you'll reduce the likelihood of off-trail latching.
De-tick clothing by throwing everything into a hot dryer for 10 minutes, before washing. The ticks will desiccate in the dryer, whereas they can actually survive a trip through a washer.
Showering immediately after being outdoors can reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases. It's also a good opportunity to check for ticks.
Removal of Ticks
If you find a tick on you, don’t panic. Follow these steps from the Center of Disease Control to ensure proper removal and follow-up procedures.
Tick removal diagram - www.cdc.gov
Grasp the tick with a tool as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, with even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick. You don’t want the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
If you still see any bits of the tick, try to remove them with the tweezers. If you can’t get them out, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
NEVER CRUSH A TICK WITH YOUR FINGERS - Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing the alcohol-drowned tick down the toilet, if at home.
DON'T TRY "PAINTING" THE TICK - Some people have heard of the strategy of “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Instead, remove the tick as quickly as possible– do not wait for it to detach.
FOLLOWING A BITE, MONITOR SYMPTOMS - If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see a doctor pronto. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Dogs & Ticks
Many people bring their dogs with them in the outdoors and and they can be very susceptible to ticks. To prevent your pet from contracting a tick-borne disease or carrying ticks or larvae into your home after a trip, it's imperative that you take preventive measures with your pets. Below are several tips on protecting your pets.
TREAT THEM IN ADVANCE - If you hike with your dog, treat them with a monthly preventative medication. We recommend checking with your veterinarian for specific product recommendations for your pet.
DAILY INSPECTIONS - Just as you check yourself daily, it's important to do the same with your pets. Give them a quick brush at the trailhead and run your fingers across their chests, belly and legs. If a tick is found, remove it immediately using the similar steps to a human. Some people even keep a Tick Key on their dog's collar so you always have a tool handy.
CHECK THOROUGHLY BEFORE GETTING INTO YOUR CAR - If you're heading off the trail, check them before you get into your car. If they carry them into the house, you increase the likelihood of having them latch on to you.
USE DUCT TAPE FOR LARVAE - To get a lot of crawling larvae off of you or your dog before they bite, try using duct tape as soon as you notice them.
image from CDC/ Dr. Christopher Paddock
Although the thought of ticks can be quite horrifying, with a little bit of education, proper protection, and vigilance, hiking in tick country can be enjoyable and safe. In general, wearing tick repellent clothing is the easiest and best way for people to prevent tick bites when they’re in the outdoors. But inspecting yourself before you crawl into your tent at night or return to your car is the best defense against a tick that has crawled on you and one that has bitten you. Vigilance is key.
We hope this guide equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to hike and backpack in tick country. For more popular CleverHiker content, check out the following links:
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.
When it comes to backcountry stoves, it's tough to beat the convenience of an integrated stove system. Integrated canister stoves connect a pot and burner together securely, which maximizes fuel efficiency, wind performance, stability, ease of use, and leads to very fast boil times. Integrated stoves are also designed to be highly portable, with all components and a fuel canister fitting snuggly inside the pot together.
The main downside with integrated stoves is they tend to be heavier than the combination of an ultralight stove and pot (our faves are the BRS + Mini Solo), but depending on your needs, the added convenience, fuel efficiency, wind performance, and super fast boil times of an integrated stove may make them a better fit for your adventures.
In the world of integrated stoves, two models stand apart in our opinion: the Jetboil MiniMo and MSR WindBurner. While both stoves perform very well and are worth recommending, we wanted to put the two systems up against each other to see which one wins out in a range of performance categories.
In general, integrated stove systems tend to be on the expensive side. There are more affordable backpacking stove options, but remember that these systems are a combination of stove, pot, and bowl, not just a stove. Also, it's tough to beat the convenience and performance of integrated stoves, so for many they're worth the investment, especially if you plan to put them to good use over many years. The MSRP of both these stoves is close, but the MiniMo wins out by a hair.
Both stove systems are heavier than the average ultralight stove and pot combination, but their speed, convenience, and stability make them exceptional for backcountry travel. If you're looking to travel light, we recommend checking out the BRS Stove and Mini Solo Cookset (total weight: 7.5 oz), but you will sacrifice a bit on fuel efficiency, wind performance, cook time and overall stability. As far as these two integrated stoves are concerned, the Jetboil MiniMo wins out by a small margin.
The MiniMo and Windburner both have incredibly quick boil times, which is a nice convenience after a long day on the trail or when you're making a hot cup of java on a chilly morning. We tested both these systems in a range of different conditions and recorded the boil times as we cooked. Below are the average boil times we found when using each system in the same conditions.
Both stove systems offer good simmer control, allowing you to go beyond just boiling water. With simmer control, you can cook meals that require low heat and longer cook times, and also keep the contents of your pot from boiling over. This was a close one, but we thought the MiniMo's simmer control was slightly easier to adjust.
WINNER: Jetboil MiniMo
Stove to Pot Attachment
Having a secure stove to pot attachment is essential for stability. While both these systems are secure, the MSR WindBurner has more pot locking notches, which makes it easier to quickly fit the pot to the stove and lock it securely into place. The Jetboil MiniMo has only two notches, so you need to line it up at the proper attachment spot. We also found that the MiniMo has a slightly less secure feeling attachment with a little wobble, compared to the solid connection of the WindBurner.
WINNER: MSR WindBurner
Pot and Lid
The MiniMo has a wide, stout pot, which is easier to eat out of and also makes for slightly faster boiling times. In comparison, the Windburner's pot is tall and slender, which makes it a bit easier to fit in a backpack, but harder to spoon out a meal. Both pots are good, but we generally prefer the shape of the wider MiniMo.
The lids on both the MiniMo and WindBurner are fairly secure. That said, after boiling, we found it easier to remove the lid from the MiniMo without risking hot steam hitting our fingers. More importantly, we found the pour spouts on the MiniMo worked far better than the spouts on the Windburner lid. The MiniMo did not leak, but the Windburner did, and leaking boiling water while trying to make a controlled pour is a pretty big downside in our books.
WINNER: Jetboil MiniMo
The large metal swinging handles on the MiniMo feel much more secure to us than the plastic and nylon strap handle on the Windburner. This one isn’t really even close.
WINNER: Jetboil MiniMo
Both these integrated stove systems will work far better in windy conditions than a typical stove and pot combination. Overall this is one of their key strengths. That said, the WindBurner is an absolute beast in nasty weather and we found it works better in fierce winds than the MiniMo.
WINNER: MSR WindBurner
Both these systems are very high quality, and if treated with care, they should last for many years of backcountry use. This was a close one, but the WindBurner does feel more secure and stable to us than the MiniMo, which has a slight wobble between the stove and pot. We also really believe in the quality craftsmanship, product testing, and warranty behind MSR products, which we've been using for many years.
WINNER: MSR WindBurner
The MiniMo has a push button igniter, while the Windburner requires the use of a small lighter for ignition. This is another key win in convenience for the MiniMo. In the long run, push button igniters tend to eventually fail, but, they’re also a really nice convenience for the first 1,000+ uses.
WINNER: Jetboil MiniMo
While both of these cooking systems are excellent performers and definitely worth recommending, if we had to choose only one, we’d go with the Jetboil MiniMo. The key differentiators of the MiniMo for us are its sturdy handles, far better functioning lid and pour spouts, wide pot shape, push button ignitor, and slightly faster boil times. It also doesn't hurt that it costs and weighs a bit less. While the MiniMo doesn't perform quite as well in heavy winds as the MSR Windburner and was slightly less fuel efficient in our testing, those downsides weren't quite enough to swing the scales for us.
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The Goat Rocks Wilderness drapes over the crest of the Cascade Range in South-Central Washington, offering endless views of iconic Cascade peaks and volcanoes. Numerous snowfields flank its craggy ridges and peaks, while steep drainages open into basins filled with alpine meadows and glacial lakes. Pacific Crest Trail hikers frequently say that Goat Rocks has the best scenery along the northern half of the 2,650-mile PCT. And, if you're quiet and lucky, you may see mountain goats.
Embraced by both the Gifford Pinchot and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests, and located just south of Mt. Rainier and just north of Mt Adams, much of Goat Rock’s 120-mile trail system stays on the ridges at or above timberline. Alpinists are drawn to the wilderness area’s highest point — 8,184-foot Gilbert Peak, which can be summited via a challenging but nontechnical ascent. But the window on these higher elevation adventures is tight; the snow often doesn’t melt until August and can reappear as early as late September.
Distance: Varies, depending on route
Days Needed: 2-6 days
Peak Elevation: 8184 ft. / 2494 m
Elevation Gain/Loss: up to 5,200 feet
Best Travel Time: August to October, depending on snow levels
Permits: Required (see below)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Mostly forested hike with occasional meadows and distance views
Cool when it’s hot elsewhere
Relative solitude, but expect to see day hikers around trailheads
Variety of day hikes you can add-on
Wildlife and bird sightings
Campfires allowed in some areas
You can bring your dog
Mountain goats, elk, marmots, and pikas
Steep trails in many places
Snow well into August at high elevations
Early snow in the fall
Mosquitos, gnats and black flies
Crowded camping areas
Ice lakes means no swimming
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
In general, end of July through October is the best time to hike in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. July and August are usually great for wildflowers, but that’s also the time when mosquitoes will be the worst. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and a small amount of 30% DEET on exposed skin for full protection. Mid-August through September can also be a good time to visit this area because crowds and bugs will thin out.
Snowpack is a key factor for trip planning in the Pacific Northwest. Some years a heavy winter snowpack will keep trails covered into July. On warmer years with lighter snowpack, June backcountry trips are quite feasible. The same is true for autumn hiking, some years early snowstorms make this area inaccessible and other years it’s stable into October.
As always, be prepared and diligent in monitoring current conditions as weather can change quickly in the mountains. Before heading out, check the National Weather Service for current conditions.
We rate most backpacking trips in this region as moderate to difficult due to its many steep ascents and descents. As always, difficulty ratings depend on the route you choose, experience, physical fitness, pack weight, and weather conditions. Although most routes in Goat Rocks are not technically demanding, you should always plan thoroughly, train properly, know your limitations, brush up on your skills, and dial in your gear. Doing so will make for a more safe and enjoyable adventure.
Wilderness permits are required for entry into Goat Rocks Wilderness within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Agency. The self-issuing permits are free and available at all trailheads leading into the wilderness areas. You can also attain them at the Forest Service Ranger Station in Randle, Washington.
The Packwood Lake and Berry Patch Trailheads require, in addition to a wilderness permit, a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass to park at the trailhead. A fee tube is located at the motorized trailhead below the parking lot. Call the local Ranger District office for up-to-date information, as requirements can change.
There are more than 30 interconnected trails in the Goat Rocks Wilderness totaling about 120 miles. The most popular trails are the Snowgrass Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which intersect in Snowgrass Flat.
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest Website is a great resource for trail information, including current snow levels, conditions, driving directions, and closures - which are frequent and ever changing.
map provided by www.fs.usda.gov - click to enlarge
Because there is such a wide range of trails in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, the backpacking itinerary options are endless. You can access the beauty of Goat Rocks in a 2-3 day weekend trip, or plan an epic 4-6 day trip, allowing you to fully explore the region. Below we outline several itineraries to meet your group's needs.
Camp 2 - Lily Basin, day hike next day to Old Snowy or Goat Lake
Camp 3 - Cispus Pass
Camp 4 - Sheep Lake
Ending Trailhead - PCT Trail #2000 to Trail #101 to Lake Walput OR Nannie Ridge #98 to Walupt Lake
When backpacking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, you should only camp in pre-existing sites. This helps to reduce resource damage and minimize human impact in high elevation/high use areas by concentrating visitor use to a few often-used sites rather than scattered sites throughout an area. In some areas, you’ll see a designated campsite marker on 3-foot high posts engraved with a tent symbol.
One big issue we've encountered in the Lily Basin/Snowgrass Flat area is people failing to pack out human waste and even leaving behind toilet paper. Please do your duty to preserve this fragile environment by following Leave No Trace practices and pack out all your trash. Heck, gain a little trail karma and pick up some trash you encounter along the way.
MAPS & GUIDEBOOKS
Green Trails Map 303s - We love Green Trails Maps. They offer all the necessary backpacking details in the Goat Rocks Wilderness including trail mileage, campsites, water sources, etc.
National Geographic Trails Map #823 Goat Rocks, Norse Peak & William O. Douglas Wilderness Area - This map is a great resource filled with landmarks, roads, trail mileage, contour lines, and all the details you'll need to complete your trip.
There are plenty of streams and lakes throughout the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It’s rarely a problem to find water, but we still recommend consulting your map to plan your water sources throughout each day. Water from backcountry sources in Goat Rocks must be treated. We carried the SteriPEN Ultra and we were happy with its performance. A lightweight water filter or chlorine dioxide drops or pills would be a good choice as well. Check out our best water purifiers’ list for our top recommendations.
It's always a good idea to check with the Forest Service Ranger Station in Randle for the most current information on water quality and availability.
When visiting the Goat Rocks Wilderness, we ask that you review and follow the Wilderness Regulations put forth by Gifford Pinchot National Forest Department to keep this region pristine and wild.
Camping prohibited within 100 feet of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and within 100 feet of lakes.
Group size is limited to no more than 12 per party, in any combination of people and pack or saddle stock. Groups larger than 12 must split into two or more smaller groups and remain least at least 1 mile or 1 hour travel distance apart at all times.
Shoe Lake basin and Snow Grass Flats are closed to camping and campfires; camping is available at Hidden Springs (about 1 mile west of Shoe Lake).
The Yakama Indian Reservation, bordering the Goat Rocks Wilderness on the southeast, is closed to the public except for the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail route.
Waste must be carried out or dig 6- to 8-inches (15 cm) deep “catholes” at least 100 feet (30 m) away from water, trails and campsites to bury human waste.
Pack out all trash and any you see left by others.
Wash dishes, bathe and camp at least 100 feet (30 m) from water sources, trails and campsites. Collect and bag food scraps and pack out as trash.
Dogs can be in the wilderness, but be aware of impact on wildlife and potential conflicts.
There are few reports of animal or bird encounters in this area. That said, many people visiting this area set up a base camp, leaving gear and food items behind during day hikes. Please consider using a safe food storage container, such as an Ursack. Place your food and scented items inside of it when you are away from your camp or at night. Always follow proper storage techniques to ensure your food is safe and you're doing your job to keep wildlife wild.
July and August is a great time to visit Goat Rocks, but you should be prepared for the possibility of mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and a small amount of 30% DEET on exposed skin for full protection. Mid-August through September can also be a good time to visit this area because crowds and bugs will be diminished.
We prefer lightweight backpacking because it’s more comfortable and it allows us to cover more ground with less effort. For recommendations on our favorite lightweight backpacking equipment, check out the CleverHiker Gear Guide and Top Picks page.
WATER PURIFIER: We used the SteriPEN Ultra as our main purification method on this trip. It's lightweight, works fast, and doesn't require any pumping, squeezing or chemicals. Check out our best water purifiers list for our other top recommendations.
FOOD STORAGE: For this trip, we brought an Ursack to keep the critters out of our food. There are no food storage requirements for this area, but you should always store your food properly in the backcountry. Bear canisters and Ursacks are the most effective storage methods and the easiest to use.
Here are some of our favorite hiking/backpacking clothing items from our Top Gear list.
The sale we wait for all year is finally here - REI's Anniversary Sale. Running from May 18th-28th, their biggest sale of the year includes some of our favorite backpacking, camping, and hiking gear. In addition to deep discounts, REI members also receive 20% off one full-price item and an extra 20% off one REI Outlet item with coupon code: ANNIV18.
Here's the gear we're most excited about in this year's big sale. Hope you enjoy!
The Big Agnes Copper Spur Tents have an exceptional blend of weight, interior space, and functionality. They have great features for maximizing comfort - freestanding, double-wall, near-vertical sidewalls, two large doors/vestibules, interior pockets - and remains at the top of our Best Backpacking Tents list. The Copper Spur Tents are offered in 1P, 2P, 3P & 4P models.
The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 are incredibly popular trail runners in the backpacking and thru-hiking community, and with good reason. They're lightweight, comfortable, and feature a very roomy toe box. They also have great traction for rugged mountain terrain and are a top pick on our Best Hiking Shoes list.
We love the lightweight, stretchy, and comfortable Stretch Rainshadow jacket (men's and women's). Patagonia uses their breathable H2No Performance Standard shell fabric to create a jacket that moves with you and can also be stuffed into it's own pocket for compact storage.
TheJetboil MicroMo is one of the most convenient and efficient integrated stove systems on the market. Similar to the MiniMo, but with a slightly smaller pot size (.8 L vs. 1L) and less weight, the MicroMo has a convenient push button ignitor, simmer control, fast boil times, and is a great stove option for 1-2 backpackers.
The Osprey Talon 22 for men and Tempest 20 for women are CleverHiker top picks on our Best Hiking Daypacks list. They both provide an exceptional balance of comfort, convenience, and functionality. These packs have plenty of room for a full day adventure and convenient storage compartments to keep our gear organized nicely.
The MSR PocketRocket 2 is a lightweight, dependable, and effective backcountry stove. It has great simmer control to make backcountry cooking easier and it pairs well most lightweight cookpots. It also makes our list of the Best Backpacking Stoves.
The Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket , offered in both men's and women's versions, is a fantastic shoulder-season jacket. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and highly compressible. What sets this jacket apart is the synthetic PrimaLoft Insulation, which helps retain heat better than down in wet conditions.
Although all Petzl lighting is on sale, our go-to is the Petzl Actik headlamp. It's a comfortable, lightweight, and affordable option that can pump out a lot of light. Offering 300 lumens and multiple modes, this reliable headlamp is stashed in our pack for almost all our adventures.
No squeezing, pumping, or chemicals required. The Platypus GravityWorks filtration system is about as convenient as backcountry water purification gets. This system is an excellent choice, especially for group trips. The GravityWorks is a bit heavier than we prefer for lightweight backpacking trips, but it's convenience earns it a prime spot on our Best Backpacking Water Filters list.
We don't often take chairs on backpacking trips (with the exception of the Z Seat), but we do love using them while car camping or on base camp trips with friends. The Flexlite Chair is comfortable, sturdy, and packs down very small, making it an excellent choice for those on the go.
REI’s Co-op Flash Insulated Pad is a standout piece of gear that competes with industry leaders at a more affordable price. The Flash Insulated Sleeping Pad is warm (r-value of 3.7), lightweight, and has a comfortable feel that mimics a home mattress. It's not our top pad pick, but it's great value earns it a spot on our Best Sleeping Pads list.
Merrell Moab footwear has been a favorite in the hiking community for a long time. They're durable, comfortable right out of the box, and they last a long time. We generally prefer hiking in lighter trail runners, but many in the hiking community want more durable support. Both the Merrell Moab 2 Vent Low and Moab 2 Mid Ventilator models make our list of the Best Hiking Shoes and Boots.
The REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus is a tent that maximizes interior space and minimizes cost. Its generous dimensions, comfy interior space, and durable materials make it a great option for those who do a mix of car camping and short backcountry trips. The main downside with the Half Dome 2 Plus comes in the form of weight, but if that's not a big concern, this is an excellent choice.
REI offers solid value in their Men's Igneo and Women's Joule sleeping bags. These three-season, down bags are great for those who want a budget friendly, yet high quality bag to accompany them on almost any trip. Both models come in two different temperature ratings, depending on your needs. Check out of Best Sleeping Bags list for more info.
The Sawyer Squeeze is a lightweight, affordable, and convenient backcountry water filter. It's simple to use and compact enough to easily stash in your pack for almost any trip. It's among the lightest water treatment methods, which earns it a spot on our Best Backpacking Water Filters list.
The REI Camp Roll Table is a great choice for car camping adventures. It packs down surprisingly small, can hold up to 100 lbs, and is pretty darn tough too. All REI camp furniture is on sale, so now's a great time to upgrade your car camping setup.
If you hike as much as we do, you know how important it is to have quality socks. Smartwool socks are warm, well-made, durable, and have padding in all the right places to keep your feet happy. If you're looking for a budget friendly option, all REI Co-Op socks are on sale as well.
Although this pillow is a bit heavy to pack on lightweight backpacking trips, the NEMO Fillo is one of the most comfortable camping pillows we’ve used. If this pillow isn't your jam, there's good news: all pillows are on sale!
The vast and pristine beauty of Patagonia has been beckoning intrepid hikers for years and for good reason. It's a truly remarkable place where guanacos roam free below towering granite peaks and immense glaciers. Whether you're preparing for the W Trek in Torres del Paine or chasing sunrises on Fitz Roy, packing the right gear to ensure you're safe and comfortable is essential.
First things first, we always recommend hiking light. You’ll pass backpackers on the trail with gear strapped to their already bulging packs. Don’t be that person. Dial in your gear before your trip, minimize unnecessary items, and focus on keeping your weight down. Not only will your trip will be far more enjoyable, you’ll also decrease the chance of sustaining injuries while hauling a large load through the mountains.
Camping Vs. Refugios
What you pack will greatly depend on what type of hiking you’ll be doing. If you're joining a guided trip where you'll be sleeping in refugios (mountain huts with dorm-style sleeping and meals generally included), your pack list will look quite different from those who are independently backpacking. For the sake of comprehensive information, the list below contains the gear you’ll need if you are independently backpacking. If you're staying in refugios , you can eliminate the unnecessary camping equipment (tent, sleeping pad, stove, etc) when preparing your pack.
For more information on hiking in Patagonia, check out our other resources:
TENT - Packing a lightweight, but durable tent that can withstand the fierce Patagonia weather is critical. We used the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent on this trip and it stood up to the weather wonderfully. Its relative low weight, spacious interior, and durable construction made it a great choice for backpacking in Patagonia. With any tent you bring, you'll want to make sure you have strong tent stakes and adequate guy lines to ensure your tent is secure. For more of our suggested lightweight options, check out our Best Lightweight Backpacking Tents list.
BACKPACK - What size backpack you bring will depend on how well your gear is dialed in. We hiked with the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 and they offered adequate capacity at a minimum trail weight. If you are a casual backpacker, you may find that you need a backpack with more capacity (possibly 50-60 liters). For more of our recommendations on lightweight backpacks, check out our Best Lightweight Backpacks list.
SLEEPING PAD - When backpacking in Patagonia you'll want to make sure you have a sleeping pad with a high enough r-value to keep you warm at night. We brought the NEMO Tensor Insulated and REI Co-op Flash Insulated Pad and they kept us plenty warm. These pads aren't the lightest pads on the market so we suggest looking through our Best Sleeping Pads list to look over our top picks for lightweight backpacking.
SLEEPING BAG - Whether you are camping or staying in refugios, you'll want to bring a warm sleeping bag. We recommend a bag with a comfort rating down to 20° just in case you have an unseasonably cold night. The quality and cleanliness of rented bags at sites along the way can vary significantly, so it's best to bring your own, if possible. We used the Feathered Friends Egret UL 20 and the Katabatic Flex 22 Quilt. While trekking in February, the nights never dipped below 40° Fahrenheit, so our sleeping bags were plenty warm. Here’s a list of some of our other favorite lightweight sleeping bags.
SHOES OR BOOTS - The trails in Patagonia are well-maintained and well-traveled, though at times you’ll encounter rocky and rooted trail. Unless you're hiking in winter or have ankle issues, most people will be just fine hiking in trail runners. We hiked in Saucony Peregrine 8's in the Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy regions and we’d make the same choice again. Here’s why we prefer to hike in trail running shoes: 5 Reasons to Ditch Your Hiking Boots. If you prefer boots (or plan to encounter lots of snow), make sure they’re lightweight and break them in before your trip. For more recommendations on hiking footwear, check out our Best Hiking Shoes and Boots list.
STOVE - If you’re camping, you’ll most likely be preparing your own meals rather than buying meals from refugios. If this is the case, you’ll need to bring a backpacking stove. We brought the MSR WindBurner and it worked great. Some of our other favorites include the Jetboil MiniMo and the MSR PocketRocket 2. For a full list of our stove recommendations, check out our Best Backpacking Stoves list. Always make sure you are aware of the regulations in the area you are hiking. For example, you are only able to use stoves in designated cooking areas in Torres del Paine.
STOVE FUEL - In order to operate one of the backpacking stoves listed above, you’ll need to purchase isobutane-propane canister fuel. You aren't able to fly with the fuel canisters, but they are readily available in Puerto Natales, El Chalten, and even in some refugios along the backpacking routes in Torres del Paine.
LIGHTER - Unless your stove has a push button igniter (like the Jetboil MiniMo), you’ll need a lighter to ignite your stove. As always, please be careful when using the lighter and only do so in designated cooking areas.
MAP, COMPASS & GUIDEBOOK - We always hike with a topographical map. We bought a Torres del Paine topo map and an El Chalten topo map (Fitz Roy region) prior to our trip, which helped us plan our routes. That said, you can also find maps in the hiking regions, but they can be quite pricey. For a guidebook, we found the recently updated Moon Patagonia guidebook to be quite helpful in the planning phase.In addition to a map, we always hike with a compass, though the trails were easy to follow and we didn’t end up needing it.
FIRST AID KIT - Always bring a small personalized first aid kit. We use the Ultralight .7 Kit and add extras, like painkillers and personal medications. Adding extra bandaids to your kit is always a good idea.
GEAR REPAIR TAPE - Tenacious Tape is a fantastic tool that should accompany any backpacking trip you take. It can quickly fix a popped sleeping pad, a tear in your gear, or even a busted tent pole.
SUN PROTECTION - Remember that “hole in the ozone layer” talk? Well, in Patagonia you’re right under it, so sun protection is absolutely crucial. We brought along several tubes of travel sunscreen, which were compact, lightweight, and used everyday. Even on cloudy days, make sure you are wearing sunglasses (Ray Ban Polarized New Wayfarer are our faves!), sunscreen, and spf lip balm.
POCKET KNIFE - We brought along a small Swiss Army Knife which came in handy on a daily basis. This should be considered optional, but it's always a good idea to have one with you.
WATER PROTECTION - Keeping your gear dry should be an important consideration when preparing for your trip. Many backpacks come with a rain cover, but don’t even bother bringing it to Patagonia. Rain covers don't work effectively in serious rain conditions and the fierce Patagonia winds will blow the cover right off your pack. Instead, bring several large garbage bags to line your backpack when conditions are wet. In addition, we recommend bringing dry bags, such as HMG Waterproof Stuff Sacks or S2S eVAC Dry Sacks to pack your gear in. Think of it as waterproofing your bag from the inside out.
WATER PURIFIER - As long as conditions stay as they are in Patagonia, the water is safe to drink straight from the source and you don’t need to bring a water purifier. Just dip your bottle in streams and rivers that appear to be flowing well and clear of debris and you should be good. We were skeptical and brought Aquamira chlorine dioxide tablets, but never had to use them.
HEADLAMP: A small headlamp like the Petzl Actik is an affordable, bright, and lightweight option. Bringing along extra batteries is always a good decision.
CAMP PILLOW - Finding the right camping pillow can make all the difference in getting good trail sleep. After years of wobbling around on inflatable pillows, we’ve found our favorite - HMG Large Stuff Sack Pillow. It’s comfortable with a soft fleece layer against your face and, after inserting your down jacket into the stuff sack, gives a perfect amount of fluff for a good night’s sleep.
TREKKING POLES (optional) - We don’t usually hike with trekking poles, but many hikers in Patagonia do. If you have bad knees or ankles, they can help reduce strain on big ascents and descents. Here's a list of our favorite trekking poles.
SMALL TOWEL - The Nano pack towel is great for cleaning up after a day on the trail. Proper hygiene will not only keep your tentmate or bunkmate happy, but you’ll feel better and more refreshed as well. At many of the campsites and refugios, you’ll be able to take hot showers (trail luxury!) Remember, never wash directly in water sources.
HAND SANITIZER -We always hike with a small 1 oz. container of hand sanitizer. Use it before every snack or meal, as well as after going to the bathroom and you’ll have a better chance of avoiding illness.
INSECT REPELLANT - In most areas in Patagonia, mosquitos and insects aren't a concern. That said, there were mosquitos on the backside of the O Trek, most notably at campsites Seron and Dickson. Mosquitos there were quite fierce, but a little bit of 30% DEET did the trick. We would recommend bringing a small container, just in case.
TOILET PAPER AND TROWEL - All campsites and refugios have bathrooms, however they're not always stocked with toilet paper. We recommend bringing toilet paper in a ziplock bag to make sure it stays dry. Also, if you must go #2 while on the trail, always use a trowel and dig a cathole at least 6-8 inches deep. Remember to do your duty 200 feet from a water source.
If hiking along the W Trek, you'll see widespread remnants of a devastating wildfire caused by a trekker burning their toilet paper several years back. So please, don't burn your toilet paper. Always pack it out.
POWER BANK - Although you're able to charge your devices at some refugios along routes in Torres del Paine, you shouldn't rely on this. Competition for outlets can be high and paying guests get first dibs. We kept all our electronic devices charged with a Jackery Mini Power Bank, which was lightweight and compact.
CAMERA - You’re in Patagonia- there’s no sense in capturing such breathtaking beauty with only your camera phone. We were happy we brought our Sony RX100, a fantastic and lightweight point-and-shoot camera and our Canon Rebel T6 DSLR. Though heavier than we usually hike with, the extra ounces were worth it.
PERMITS - If you are independently hiking in Torres del Paine, you'll need to have proof of all your reserved campsites. You’ll be asked to show these at every campsite and rangers may ask to see them randomly along your route. We had printed reservations, but the rangers were also fine with screenshots of your email confirmations. There are no permits needed for the Fitz Roy region.
PASSPORT, CASH, & CREDIT CARD - You'll need to carry your passport for hiking in Torres del Paine, but we recommend carrying it with you when hiking in any region in Patagonia. Also, it’s always a good idea to bring a credit card and some cash, as you never know when you’ll want to splurge on an overpriced Snickers or bottle of wine while on the trail.