Find Your Perfect Pitch
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
From our perspective, although more spartan than some might like, camping is the best value for budget travellers, and if you are planning on a journey into Patagonia, camping equipment is not optional. Traveling for as long as we have, we haven’t had much consistency in our lives. Just knowing what our sleeping situation is going to be like, and not having to deal with searching for a decent hostel is a relief. Camping really isn’t any less comfortable than what our living arrangements have been on this trip so far, and once we put up the tent we have a small amount of our own space. That being said, for all but the most dedicated, camping is not an option outside of January, February, and March, due to weather. Many of our nights at altitude have been in the single digits (celsius). Just last night, January 19, 2019, there was a dusting of snow below the tree line, and 50 km/h winds, and this is mid-summer here. We were comfortable in our down sleeping bags, which are good to zero degrees celsius, but we have a small two man tent and good mats which helps retain some of our heat. No matter what month you travel here, you have to be prepared for rain. We have had several days that have been very rainy. Our first non-stop two day rain storm made me immediately grateful that we purchased a quality tent, which has kept us dry up to this point.
There are several outdoor equipment sellers in Chile, but I would be very skeptical of the off brand equipment, like Doite. If there is one thing that I have extensive experience with, it is hiking and outdoor equipment. When we were tent shopping, we ended up going with a reasonably priced, small, and fairly lightweight Kelty Grande Mesa 2 tent, from the Zolkan outdoor store in Santiago. Kelty is a brand I have some experience with in Canada, and they make quality, no frills outdoor gear. It is not the fanciest stuff, but it is reasonably priced and reliable, which met our needs. There were other cheaper tents, and the people in the outdoor stores will really push their house brand, but there is a reason “they” say “go with what you know”. After dealing with four faulty Doite sleeping mats, and then witnessing people struggle with staying dry in the rain in their Doite tents, I can confidently say that we made the right choice in tent.
Sticking to our budget in Chile while still enjoying the experiences that Chile has to offer, means finding creative alternatives to eating out all of the time. Because much of our time is spent hiking, we have limitations to what we can pack on multi-day treks. Ideally, you want delicious light weight meals, but this is much easier said than done. You will not find the freeze dried pre-packaged meals that you would get at MEC, in Canada, or REI, in the United States. Also, we don’t have the space in our bags to be packing a stove and pots, so we have had to find enjoyable food that can be eaten without cooking. Our food packing list is dominated by different salamis, which are cured and will last nearly indefinitely without refrigeration, cheese which is good for several days/weeks without being refrigerated because of the salt it contains, mustard, carrots, apples (green apples are basically indestructible and go great with peanut butter), granola, powdered milk/milk in tetra packs, flat bread, peanut butter, honey/jam, trail mix, apple sauces, canned salmon/tuna/mussels, peppers, CHOCOLATE (this is key for keeping everyone happy when things are challenging), and crackers. This is by no means the lightest packing list, but raw foods are delicious, and much cheaper than pre-packaged foods. That being said, if you’re going for more than 4-5 days, you will have to be more cognizant of packing high-calorie lightweight foods. We are not cooking, so we save lots of weight in fuel, stove, and pots, so that offsets the “penalty” of carrying heavier raw foods. You might think that this packing list doesn’t sound like something you’d want to live off of for multiple days, but trust me, when you are working hard and are really hungry even the simplest foods taste outstanding. Everything tastes better in the mountains!
As far as water, you are going to be hard pressed to find a water filter in Chile - they don’t use them here. Drinking directly from mountain streams is something I am not particularly comfortable with. I would rather not take the risk of becoming ill, when all you would need to mitigate the risk is a small inexpensive purifier. I would highly recommend that you bring a purifier (or better yet, purification tablets) on your travels. Don’t rely on it for purifying tap water in countries where the water is unsuitable for drinking - they do not remove heavy metals and small protozoa that can make you very sick. They are really only good for mountain streams where you are worried about things like Giardia. Get familiar with your purifier, they are not all created equal! That being said, we have managed to not get sick from the stream water, but we try and only fill up at the summit of hikes, so there is much less of a chance of contamination. As these backpacking trails increase in popularity it will become imperative that you carry a filter, as more people will be using these streams for washing. As far as water bottles go, don’t lug around a bottle through months of travel. They take up a ton of space in your bag, and will not be useful in many countries in Central America where you can’t drink the tap water. Just buy water every now and then and reuse the bottle. These bottles are durable and easily replaceable when you don’t want to find space in your bag for it any longer.
Pro Tips for Choosing a Quality Tent:
Does the box promise unrealistic performance? If you are looking to purchase a new tent, forget about reading the box with the product details. My experience is that the house brand tents claim to be far more waterproof than quality brand tents like North Face, which sets off alarm bells. This is all marketing hype drivel. Your best bet is to set up the tent and look at how it's constructed.
Are the seams taped? If you want to remain dry in heavy rain, make sure the seams are taped in the “tub” of the tent and the tent fly.
Are the zippers good quality? It’s 2019, zippers shouldn’t be breaking. If it is a heavy zinc zipper, the tent is not good quality - walk away from it.
Is it a conventional design? If not, say no. Tents that look unusual are garbage. Abide by KISS: Keep it Simple Stupid. This is a tent, you don’t need to make a creative statement with it.
Does the tent have ample ventilation? This is necessary so you don’t end up with condensation collecting on the inside. Make sure the fly sits off of the tent walls, the the stitching is good quality, and the fly is taught when it is staked out.
How much does it weigh and how much space will you have to give up in your bag to carry it? In a less expensive tent, a lot of the weight is in the pegs alone, because they will give you steel pegs instead of aluminum. If you care a lot about weight, replace the pegs with aluminum ones. This alone can shave off nearly a pound in weight of a lower cost tent!
Is the tent self standing? Buy a tent that is self-standing! I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have to peg out your tent for it to function, it is a terrible design (and I see these tents all of the time…). If you are are camping in high alpine areas, or areas with strong winds, these tents are a nightmare. Any tent manufacturer worth their salt will not make a tent with a design like this. Run from those who do!
How much space do you need? Make sure there is some vestibule space to keep your bags, shoes, and any wet/dirty gear you don’t want in the tent with you. The smallest tent, doesn’t mean the lightest. Having a little extra space in a two-man tent is a good thing. If it’s raining, you will be spending waking hours in it - make sure it is big enough for two people to sit up in.
How much does it stand out? If you think you will be doing some “incognito camping” (i.e. in urban areas), you don’t want a fluorescent orange tent… Honestly, if you are backpacking, like us, you are going to be leaving some valuables in the tent from time to time. A tent that doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME” is actually a selling feature.
I wouldn't trust a department store tent to keep you comfortable in the elements, but you don't need the very best equipment to reach these amazing places. Our tent has survived 70 km/hr wind bursts, that were hitting us throughout the night on Cerro Castillo, and multi day rainstorms. It is by no means the end-all-and-be-all of tents, but we have stayed warm and dry in it. My suggestion is to grab gear that works for you, and incorporate it into your adventure. Remember that your best memories are made in times of tribulation, not triumph, so embrace the moments that seem most frustrating. Necessity is the mother of invention, in a worst case scenario you will have more than enough in your bag to get you out of almost any pinch.