A Story of Patagonia, as told by Gear

    betsy-patagonia-1
    Photography from Betsy Dionne

    In December of 2016, my husband and I visited Patagonia. Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America. It spans two countries, Argentina and Chile and is over 400 thousand square miles. Our plan for the trip was to spend three weeks exploring the area. Included in our plan was a trek of “The W” in Torres Del Paine National Park, an overnight kayak trip down the Rio Serrano, and backpacking in El Chalten.

    Patagonia has some of the most variable weather in the world. One minute it’s sunny and hot, the next a snow storm blows in. Don’t even get me started on the wind — it’s insane, trust me. Many visitors to this region will be backpacking; traveling light is the name of the game.
    Even the best gear can fail when put in extreme conditions and in terms of Patagonia, your gear itself can be the start of a good story.

    The following are my honest reviews of some of the gear I took on the my trip to Patagonia.

    Outdoor Research Helium

    Betsy in OR Helium
    The OR Helium

    When in Patagonia, the weather can change on a dime. One of the unlikely benefits of this is something I like to call the Patagonian washing machine. It goes like this:

    • The trail is muddy so you are muddy.
    • The weather changes and a storm rolls in.
    • You get soaked and the mud washes off.
    • The rain stops and the wind picks up.
    • The wind almost knocks you over but is strong enough that your clothing dries as if you just went through a spin dry cycle of a washing machine.

    Which brings me to rain gear. I did not bring rain pants, some people do. Because of the Patagonia washing machine, I never hiked in wet pants for long and my boots stayed dry the whole time. I do recommend a good rain jacket, because keeping your core dry is important to having a safe and enjoyable hike. I chose the OR Helium due to its light weight and packability. Patagonia was not having any of it. The Helium works great in light rain and as a windbreaker but fell short in serious weather conditions. When backpacking the W in Torres Del Paine National Park, a storm with high winds rolled in and the Helium soaked through at the zipper and seams. It was the wettest and wildest six miles of my life. It did not help my nerves that the majority of the hike was perched along steep terrain. A slip would make for a long slide down the hill into a glacial lake. Luckily for the last two miles, the Patagonia washing machine was in full effect. The sun came out and I was mostly dry before the end of the hike.

    Icebreaker T-shirt

    When traveling, one may ask oneself, “how long can I get away with wearing this shirt?”. If it’s merino wool, the answer is three weeks, give or take a day. Despite bringing two spare shirts, I literally only wore one t-shirt during our trip. Merino wool is wicking; it stays warm when wet, and it is soft and comfy. Most importantly, it’s naturally antimicrobial and can take a lot of abuse before it gets stinky. Merino wool is a travel must-have and if you are going to splurge on anything, this should be it. Merino wool is the king of base layers. Is merino wool expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

    LOWA Renegade Boots

    For Patagonia, I knew I would need a light and travel friendly boot. After much reviews, I chose the Lowa Renegades. The Renegades got me through muddy trails, a snow squall, sideways rain, and many miles but finally met their match in the form of a rental tent. I don’t want to exaggerate but I swear this tent weighed 20 pounds. After a few hours of backpacking in El Chalten my heels had the uncomfortable sensation of being crushed and burned at the same time. The Renegades are comfy and light but did not hold up for me when tasked with carrying a heavy pack. For long day hikes or lightweight backpacking trips, the Renegades would work great but if you are planning on logging a lot of hours hiking with a heavy pack I would recommend something with more arch support.

    Betsy in LOWA Renegade boots
    LOWA Renegade Boots

    Gregory Zulu 55L

    I chose this pack for two reasons. It was barely small enough to take as carry-on and it was a cheaper option than most other backpack brands. I was a little worried about comfort but the Zulu moved with my body and I never felt off balance. It also comes with a removable hydration sleeve which doubles as a day pack. This came in handy on The W where branches of the hike can be done by dropping your heavy pack off and hiking to the view points. On one of these hikes, the weather cleared just long enough to have 360 degree views of the mountains before a wall of white clouds moved in and it started snowing.

    Prana Halle Pants

    Halle pants are the best choice for hiking in Patagonia. I find them to be a little warm for Southern California but in the Southern Hemisphere, they are the perfect weight. Halle pants dry fast, are tough, and are water resistant. I have found, unlike other women’s hiking pants that don’t seem to account for the fact that some ladies have hips and butts, the Halle pants fit perfect. The Halle pants comes in fun colors so you can wear them around town without looking like you just went on a nature walk. Unless that’s the look you’re going for, in which case they work for that too.

    Betsy wearing Prana Halle Pants
    Prana Halle Pants

    Patagonia duckbill hat

    AKA the hat that cannot be crushed. This hat got squashed in my bag, I sat on it, and stuffed it in pockets yet it always came back to life as soon as I put it on my head. When it’s not raining in Patagonia, the sun can be intense so having a good hat is key to protecting your skin. On a sunny day in Patagonia, it’s beautiful to watch clouds play over the tips of the mountains. Within minutes, the wind will change and the same clouds will engulf the whole area bringing rain and wind. Just as quickly, the clouds will retreat back up the mountain slopes. It’s important to be prepared for any weather and the duckbill hat makes quick “costume” changes easy. Not to mention they look so cool with their funky vintage vibe.

    Betsy wearing Patagonia Duckbill hat
    Patagonia duckbill hat

    Packing for Patagonia

    Depending on where your journey to Patagonia brings you, you will need different gear. Hopefully this bare bones packing list can help you get started. Buying new fancy gear may make things more comfortable but it is not necessary. Try to make what you have work. Worst case scenario, you will come home knowing what gear you need to invest in next.

    PACKS

    Betsy wearing the Gregory Zulu 55L
    Gregory Zulu 55L

    55L pack
    Small lightweight day pack
    Small bag for toiletries and electronics (expert tip: heavy duty ziplock bags work great.)

    CLOTHES

    Insulated jacket
    Rain coat
    Merino wool T shirt
    Merino wool long sleeve
    Sunshirt*
    Yoga tights or long Johns
    Quick dry shorts
    Long hiking pants

    FEET

    Hiking boots
    Smartwool socks
    Lightweight sandals (Teva, or cheap plastic flip flops work great)

    CAMP**

    Lightweight sleeping bag
    Lightweight sleeping pad
    Backpacking tent
    Cookware and stove

    MISC

    Headlamp
    Field notebook
    Bandana
    sunglasses
    Water bottle***

    *No need to spend a lot of money on a technical sun shirt; mine came from Goodwill.
    **Optional depending on your accommodations. Renting is an option but can be pricey.
    I packed a sleeping bag and pad for the refugios along The W and rented a tent for El Chalten.
    ***They say you don’t need to filter water in Patagonia.
    I did not filter and I lived. Bring a filter if you fear for your Gastrointestinal tract.
    I recommend the Sawyer Filter.
    Betsy lives and works in Southern California. In her free time you can find her on the trail or as far into the middle of nowhere she can get. You can follow Betsy's adventures on bitofbetsy.com or Instagram @bitofbetsy
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