When Bastianna, United By Blue’s Production Manager, first decided to go backpacking in Patagonia, she didn’t even own hiking boots. Actually, she didn’t own sneakers. But when she saw a flight deal to Santiago, she jumped at the chance to cross Chile off her bucket list. Five months, three planes, two buses, and a boat later, she stepped onto Torres del Paine’s W trek with four days’ worth of supplies strapped to her back. “I knew I would face discomfort,” she remembers. “The question was how I’d get through it.”
Right after Bastianna and her boyfriend, Matt, booked their flights, Bastianna made a quick to-do list: buy sneakers, join a gym, and become an REI co-op member. She began working out four days a week, wearing a stuffed, newly purchased pack on the StairMaster so she’d get used to hauling the weight.
When Bastianna and Matt weren’t researching gear, mileage, and hostels, they were training — and testing their gear — on local trails (they now swear by their All Trails and Map My Hike apps). They hauled their packs on all five training trips, slowly adding weight and mileage as their Torres del Paine trip crept closer.
While it was hard to mimic Chile’s conditions in the Mid Atlantic, their training trips were invaluable (and not just for A/B testing trail socks). Bastianna not-so-fondly remembers a 13 mile hike through Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park: The gear she purchased for Patagonia’s cold, temperate climate was way too hot for the 80 degree weather. “It sucked. But it helped me learn that backpacking is mental, physical, and super, super rewarding,” she explained. She got through it. And she kept going — next to Shenandoah National Park for a final trial run on Old Rag Mountain, then onto Torres del Paine.
After five months of training and over two days of travel, Bastianna and Matt set off on the west end of Torres del Paines’ W circuit. They'd spent the day before prepping in Puerto Natales, taking in as many tips as they could at local hostel Erratic Rock. The site's known as a starting point for all Torres del Paines trekkers, and hosts daily info sessions on the park’s conditions, campsites, predators (thankfully there aren’t many), and what you should and shouldn’t bring. Even though Basti and Matt left Philadelphia with carefully packed backpacks, the weight calculated down to the ounce, they were quickly convinced to leave more behind at base camp. “It was really good, really candid advice,” says Bastianna. “They reminded you that you were there to tough it out, to walk through the puddle instead of disrupting the land outside the trail.”
The couple had opted to stay in hostels instead of setting up camp, but it wasn’t exactly the easy way out. Some nights they had heat, hot food, and hot showers, but most were spent huddled under a single sheet on a thin mattress. Their diet mainly consisted of fruit, nuts, and 6-10 Chewy bars a day (note to all those who want to take on Patagonia trails: the campsites don’t have Clif bars). Bastianna made it through tough terrain, a bout of food poisoning, and high mileage days by singing Beyonce to herself. She loved it. “You work really hard to get the best possible experience,” she explained.
On the last night of their trip, Bastianna and Matt set their alarms for 3 a.m. for a sunrise trek to Las Torres, the most iconic view in the park. When they woke up, it was raining. It downpoured for all four-and-a-half hours of their hike. They couldn’t see the peaks — there was too much cloud coverage. “And that’s backpacking,” says Bastianna. “You have to take everything how it is.” Despite Patagonia’s unpredictable weather (it can rain, snow, or hail at any given minute), Bastianna and Matt still got to see so much throughout each 8-15 mile leg of the W: clear lakes, moody peaks, changing fall leaves.
As soon as Bastianna got home, she cleaned out her apartment and planned her next trip. “It feels so good to carry everything you need. It makes you so mindful of what’s essential and what’s not,” she explained. She’s holding onto her new hiking boots (and sneakers) for an upcoming adventure in Cinque Terre — and whatever opportunity arises next. Her advice for all those who don’t own hiking boots but do have a long bucket list: “Be smart. Do your research. But just try it.”