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Torres del Paine Travel Guide

Torres del Paine is an absolutely breathtaking place

Torres del Paine is an extremely natural location, so make sure you’ve got batteries for your camera, your cell phone charger, etc. Try to be provided with this sort of thing, because you may not find them in the mountains.

If you’re planning a Torres del Paine Tour, don’t forget to have a look at our special section of Patagonia Tours and our blog post about the W trek in Hiking Patagonia:

Say Hueque Patagonia Tours Hiking in Patagonia: The W in Torres del Paine Great Patagonia Trekking: 5-Day Torres del Paine Tour
Take Say Hueque Patagonia Tours to El Chalten & beyond Hiking Patagonia The W, Torres del Paine National Park Travel to Chile, Discover Torres del Paine

 

Must-see Destinations

Cuernos del Paine or “Horns of Paine”

It is a visually stunning mountain group. The view of the peaks is outstanding from the Pudeto lookout, a four-hour round trip hike of moderate difficulty.

Torres del Paine or “Towers of Paine”

Several closely situated granite peaks resembling a tiger’s teeth dramatically soar about a kilometer (over a half-mile) into the sky. The national park gained its name from them. Viewing requires an eight-hour round trip hike.

Valle Frances or “French Valley”

It’s a five-hour trek to make it there from Cuernos or Lago Pehoé. In clear weather, this hike is one of the most beautiful ones as, if you get to the end at the British Camp, you will be able to see Paine Grande on the west and spectacular Torres del Paine and Los Cuernos to the east, with glaciers hugging the trail.

Lago Grey in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Glaciar Grey or “Grey Glacier”

This four-hour hike offers a beautiful path that ends with a view to the lake and glacier Grey, after crossing a vast Lenga, Coigue and Ñirre forests and lagoons. There are some challenges in the end, but its difficulty is moderate.

Mirador Nordesjolk “Nordesjolk Viewpoint”

The trailhead for this walk begins near the Pudeto catamaran dock. This trail begins with an up-close visit to the crashing Salto Grande waterfall. Then it winds through Antarctic beech and thorny bush to a lookout point with dramatic views into the French Valley and the Cuernos, looking over Lago Nordenskjöld. This trail is a good place to see wildflowers in the spring, but it can get really windy in late summer.

Lago Pingo “Pingo Lake”

Lago Pingo is a less-visited path and for that is an excellent spot for bird-watching. The trail begins as an easy walk through a pleasant valley, past an old baqueano post. From here the trail heads through forest and undulating terrain, and past the Pingo Cascade until it eventually reaches another old baqueano post, the run-down but picturesque Zapata refuge. You can make this trail as long or as short as you’d like; the return is back along the same trail. The trail leaves from the same parking lot as the Lago Grey trail.

Eating local cuisine in Torres del Paine National Park

Eating and Drinking

In the Park, eating and drinking will be limited to where you are staying. Every hotel in the Park has a restaurant. There also are a few refuges that serve food: Paine Grande, Las Torres, and Grey. In the camping areas, there is no kiosk available (unless the camping is next to a refuge or a hotel)- so if you are camping you have to take your own food.

In general terms, food will be simple (even in good hotels in the park) and will be very simple for vegetarians. Fresh vegetables are hard to find (you will end your stay in the park dying for a green salad).

Refuges usually have a settled menu every day (usually pork, chicken or beef with potatoes) – with a vegetarian option (usually omelet, pasta or rice). 

In the few kiosks, you can find crisps, peanuts, cookies, and chocolate if you are lucky.

If you have any dietary requirements, we suggest checking in advance if your chosen accommodation has it available.

Check out our blog post below with more Patagonia information and food tips for your Torres del Paine adventure! And if you’re ready to start planning your trip, take a look at these Torres del Paine tours:

Torres del Paine Food Tips (Argentina Travel Blog) Patagonia Adventure: El Calafate & Torres del Paine Discover Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine Eating Tips Patagonia Adventure Perito Moreno Glacier Torres del Paine National Park

Directions

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is 112 km ( 70 miles) on the north of Puerto Natales via a decent but sometimes bumpy gravel road. A new road from Puerto Natales to the Administración provides a more direct southern approach to the park, but as bumpy as the old one. 

In the park, there is very little transportation service – mainly buses coming from Puerto Natales to drop-on/off people. Most of the transportation within the Park is done by private cars of the Hosterias.

Lodging at the Park

If you are staying in a refugio, a cabin or a dome, you MUST show your passport and tourist card on each check-in, otherwise, you will have to pay the corresponding tax fee of 19% according to law N°19.518.

What To Do If You Get Sick 

Health care service in the park is very basic. There is basic assistance at the Administration office, which will assist you in an emergency and will be contacted by the hotel/park ranger.

For other medical issues, you will have to travel to the nearest town, which would mean to travel for 3 hours at least. This is why it is recommendable to bring a small medical kit. It should have painkillers, antiallergenics, antiseptics, antispasmodics, diarrhea remedy, mosquito repellent, elastic bandage, gauze, cotton, tweezers, bandages, etc. If you plan a long trek in the park, a medical kit is a must.

Useful telephone numbers

The international prefix for Chile is 56 and for Torres del Paine 61. For example, to reach the 55-5555 in Torres del Paine when calling from abroad, dial: 56-61-55-5555.

People

Many people come for the season, to work for about 6 months in the park, and then go back home. You will be surprised to know that any of the receptionists in the hotels have done less trekking in the Park than yourself. People in the park are mostly shy.

Clothing

Dressing like an onion is probably the key – since weather is so variable – always be ready for some rain, wind, and sun. Visit our blog for more packing information for your Torres del Paine Tours & Patagonia Adventure

In order to properly enjoy the activities in the park, we recommend to take the following:

Recommended Backpacks:

– 40 liters Backpack

– 20 – 25 liters Backpack for day hikes

– Waterproof jacket and trousers

– Warm clothes

– Comfortable trousers for trekking.

– T-shirts.

– Long-Sleeved Shirts.

– Trekking boots.

– Sandals (for showering, resting and crossing streams).

– Flash lamp.

– Enough batteries supplies, as there are not places to charge batteries.

– Earplugs.

– Sunglasses.

– Padlock.

– Gloves / Sunscreen.

– Camera / Binoculars

– Bottle for water

– Ziploc bags (for taking your trash back)

– Trekking sticks

– Swimsuit for the hot tub at the Los Cuernos Cabins.

– Warm hat.

– Hat for sun protection.

National Park Entrance Fee

Always remember that entrance tickets have to be paid in Chilean Pesos. No credit cards. The entrance fee for foreigners is around 30 USD for high season and around 16 USD for the low season. Click here to check the prices on the Torres del Paine National Park website.

 

See exotic Torres del Paine Animals like the guanaco

Animals

The variety of birds and other animals in the park is much more exciting than you would imagine, although, given the number of visitors, the animals are quite shy. There are 118 recognized birds, 26 mammals, 5 fish, 6 reptiles, 3 amphibians. Some of these species have become very abundant, such as the guanaco and others are in danger of extinction or vulnerable, such as the huemul (native deer) and puma. Check out this article on a puma sightseeing Torres del Paine Tour!

What not to forget

– Carrying sunblock on all tours is very important! Have it handy to use. Since it’s cold and windy most of the time, people tend to forget still you are receiving lots of sunlight- and UV! 

–  Waterproof clothes- to fully enjoy your activities

–  Extra socks

Photo Tips

If you are in a windy area, then a tripod with sturdy legs that can be spread quite wide can be an advantage as winds can very very strong. Polarizer filters are a must and graduated neutral density filters are also recommended. These landscape tips are from the famous adventure and sports photographer Tom Bold, who has shot in his career also the wonderful Torres del Paine.

1- Consider all of the things happening in the foreground that lead the eye to the mountains. “It’s about having lots of depth of field, and having elements front and center of your frame that lead you the background.”

2- Go wide: wide-angle lenses not only take in more real estate, they inherently keep more of the near and far in focus at the same time.

3- Landscapes are all about getting a sharp detail from the foreground and the background, which usually requires a shutter speed on the slow side. Using a tripod is a must.

4- When shooting at a slower shutter speed on windy days, the undulating flowers in the foreground or trees in the distance can blur. So, be patient and wait for the wind to calm down.

5- Streams and waterfalls often benefit from motion blur. If it’s moving water, that’s a great thing to shoot at slow speeds, it can make the water look silky.

6- If the light is not working for the big scenes, choose a little scene.

7- Too much light can be as bad as too little, but still, you see some great images in full sunlight. A lot of times when oceans get penetration from overhead light it really changes the look, for example. Removing reflections from water and adding rich texture to clouds, rocks, and plants with a circular polarizing filter can really help with that look.

 

Torres del Paine Panorama

Environmental Tips

– Avoid polluting, minimize and compress the garbage you produce and transport it to the garbage collectors provided.

– Keep garbage out of reach of children; besides, consider that the wind may disperse the garbage easily.

– The batteries contain harmful substances for the environment. You must take them back to the nearest city where you can find special containers for this purpose.

– Take the organic garbage back (food leftovers, fruit skins and peels, shells, etc) because they do not belong to the environment you are visiting. They decompose slowly and are the source of infections; they also attract animals and contaminate the surroundings visually. Make sure you have not thrown any kind of seed or stone because they may introduce a new species which would alter the balance of the local ecosystem.

– Although fruits and vegetables are organic garbage, they are not native to the region. So, if you leave the rest of an apple in the Park you are contaminating, as it could grow and affect the ecosystem.

– The Park receives many visitors every year. If everyone would take a rock or the leave of a tree in some years we wouldn’t have any more forest. Just take pictures from the park! 

– More than 18 fires have occurred since 1980 due to careless visitors. These have damaged almost 17.000 hectares of vegetation from protected areas. This is why visitors are requested to use a camping stove. Fires are strictly forbidden.

– Remember not to throw cigarette butts on the ground during hikes or from a vehicle because they are a source of possible fires and produce visual pollution.

Our Favorite Torres del Paine Tour Packages

Best of the Argentine & Chilean Patagonia Trekking Torres del Paine “W” Circuit Hiking in Patagonia
Torres del Paine Tour Patagonia Trekking in Torres del Paine Trekking in El Chalten

 

Exclusive excursions for travelers staying in the Hosteria Las Torres

Full Paine

This is the best way to get to know the National Park; visiting its most famous attractions and enjoying beautiful walks while learning about the flora and fauna of the marvelous mountains that are part of the Paine Massif. After enjoying a lunch outdoors, pick between a walk around the lakeshore of Grey lake or take the wonderful navigation and get up-close to the Grey Glacier. Duration: Full day. 7-10 hours. Level of difficulty: Low.

Torres del Paine National Park Excursions and Tours

Patagon

This excursion is designed for those who would like to learn about the Aonikenk (Tehuelche) culture. Visit the valleys and other areas, where these indigenous people used to live. This excursion is also a good option for watching birds, raptors and scavengers alike. Duration: 4 hours. Level of difficulty: Low. 

Salto Grande

Arrive at the Salto Grande area by vehicle, and after a short walk,  find yourself surrounded by one of the most beautiful views of the Paine Massif. Salto Grande is the natural union of the lakes Nordenskjöld and Pehoé. This area is also characterized by its richness in vegetation. Duration: 4 hours. Level of difficulty: Low. 

Los Cuernos

Border the south side of Mount Almirante Nieto, getting a spectacular view of the mountain.  The trail wraps around the icy blue waters of Lake Nordenskjold, on the way to Cuernos Lodge (final viewpoint). Duration: 6-8 hours. Level of difficulty: Medium. 

Valle del Francés

Get to Pudeto boat dock by vehicle and board the “Hielos Patagónicos” ferry for a 30-minute crossing of the Pehoé Lake, to reach the trailhead for the trek towards the French Valley. The trail is surrounded by lakes, rivers, streams, and offers a wonderful view of the Paine massif. Once reaching the feet of Monte Paine Grande, rest in front of the French Glacier, and become a spectator for the avalanches that often occur. Duration: 12 hours. Level of difficulty: Medium. 

Las Torres: Sendero del Ascencio

Explore the Ascencio Valley walking through beautiful lenga forests and getting up close to the astounding Towers of Paine. The trail travels through brush and crosses streams and moraines. For horses lovers, there’s an option to ride to El Chileno Lodge, which is located halfway up the trail. Then continue on foot towards the base of the Towers and delight by the stunning views. Duration: 6-8 hours. Level of difficulty: High. 

Mirador Grey

Arriving at Pudeto boat dock by vehicle, board the “Hielos Patagónicos” ferry for a 30-minute crossing of the Pehoe Lake, to reach the trailhead for the Grey Glacier View Point. The hike travels through rocky areas, evergreen, and deciduous forests until reaching the wonderful view of the Grey Glaciar and the lake of the same name, filled with centenary icebergs. Duration: 10-12 hours. Level of difficulty: High. 

Valle Bader

Travel the south face of Almirante Nieto Mountain. After hiking for approximately 9km (6 miles), the trail ascends the Bader Valley, reaching 750 m, and offering a spectacular panorama of the opposite end of the Park and exposing the Cuerno Este at its best. Duration: 6-8 hours. Level of difficulty: High. 

Torres del Paine Patagonia Trekking with Say Hueque

Basic Information

Distance from Santiago de Chile

3100 km/ 1930 miles

Are there banks, ATMs?

No. It is also hard to use any credit/debit card- except in hosterias -and not always the system is available.

You can provide yourself with enough Chilean pesos in the nearest town (Puerto Natales in Chile and El Calafate in Argentina)

Is there internet?

No. In the places where there is internet available (Paine Grande refuge, Hosteria Las Torres) the service is slow (it is satellite signal) and many times during the day it doesn’t work, despite the fact it’s expensive. We highly suggest using the internet just before you go into the park.

Are there any phones? 

It is the same situation as with Internet service. The only public telephone inside the park can be found in the Park Administration Office. It is available until 8:00 p.m. on the high season and until 6:00 p.m. in the low season. Unfortunately, cell phone calls cannot be made and visitors must pay in local currency.

Is the water drinkable? 

It is suggested to bring a purification system available, for instance, Lifestraw bottles or another kind of bottle that includes a filter in order to prevent any disease that could be contracted through the water.

 

Money

Chile’s unit of currency is the Chilean peso, which has held steady for a few years at about seven hundred to one against the US dollar (but this rate could change quickly). Notes come in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 20000 pesos. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 pesos. The $ sign in front of a price is usually used to signify pesos, so this should be the case unless otherwise marked.

Don’t be dismayed if you receive dirty and hopelessly tattered banknotes; they will still be accepted everywhere. Some banks refuse worn or defaced US dollars, however, so make sure you arrive in Chile with pristine bills.

Banks

There are no banks in the Park. The nearest one is in Puerto Natales.

Credit cards

As stated before, a credit card can be used for very few things in the Park (just in big hosterias), so we recommend taking cash with you.

Traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks are impossible to be changed in Torres del Paine.

Tipping

The Spanish word for tip is propina – a synonym of ‘reward’- and derivative from the Latin word propinare, meaning to give something. We cannot emphasize enough that tipping is a personal choice and should be based upon the quality of service provided. Nobody should expect a tip and do not feel obligated to give one if you are unsatisfied with the service.

It is difficult to give firm guidelines as to how much to tip a provider of services. In general terms, we can say that It is normal practice in Latin America to tip anyone who provides a service, including waiters, guides, porters, room service, and maid-service in hotels. For everyone, with the possible exception of guides, it is more convenient to receive a tip in local currency.

Torres del Paine Tour Trekking Panorama

 

Lonely Planet

“Jutting out some 2800m above the Patagonian steppe, the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) are spectacular granite pillars that dominate the landscape of what may be South America’s finest national park. These breathtaking spires are flanked by the summit of Paine Grande (3050m) and the sharp tusks of black sedimentary peaks known as Los Cuernos (The Horns; 2200m to 2600m). Yes, these are the famous Patagonian mountains that you see on posters and book covers all over the world.

But the park is not just mountains. Trails meander through emerald forests, alongside and over roaring rivers, past radiant blue glaciers, azure lakes and up to jaw-dropping lookouts. You can hike into the vast openness of the steppe, heading to less-visited lakes and glaciers, all the while keeping an eye on the looming peaks. That is when the weather is clear. Unpredictable at best, weather systems can sheath the peaks in veils of clouds that hold for hours, if not days. Even then, the park has its allure – but it is always wise to plan a few extra days to make sure that your trip isn’t torpedoed by a spot of bad weather.” Read more

Rough Guide

“Rising above the flat brown pampa, the massif features a small range of mountains topped by weird twisted peaks and unfeasibly smooth towers. Wandering around the giants’ castles and demons’ lairs is one of the highlights of any trip to Chile. On the eastern side are the soaring, unnaturally elegant Torres del Paine (“Paine Towers”), the icon of the park, and further west, the dark-capped, sculpted Cuernos del Paine (“Paine Horns”), which rise above the moonscape of the Valle del Francés (“French Valley”). To the east of the park is the broad ice river of Glaciar Grey, and on the plains, at the mountains’ feet large herds of guanacos and the odd ñandú still run wild…” Read more

Fodors

“The Torres del Paine, part of the Paine Massif, an Eastern spur of the Andes rising dramatically above the Patagonian steppe, are three granite towers that form the centerpiece of the Torres del Paine National Park in Region XII. In addition to the towers, the park has breathtaking lakes, glaciers, valleys, and forests. Pumas, guanacos, and a wide variety of birds are also found there.” Read more

Footprint

“Covering 242,242 ha, 145 km northwest of Puerto Natales, this national park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a huge, huge draw for its diverse wildlife and spectacular surroundings. Taking its name from the Tehuelche word Paine, meaning ‘blue’, the park encompasses stunning scenery, with constantly changing views of peaks, glaciers and icebergs, vividly colored lakes of turquoise, ultramarine and grey, and quiet green valleys filled with wildflowers. In the center of the park is one of the most impressive mountain areas on earth, a granite massif from which rise oddly shaped peaks of over 2600 m, known as the Torres (towers) and Cuernos (horns) of Paine.“ Read more

The New York Times Travel Guide

“Seeing the spectacular Paine Massif, near the bottom of the world, can be a demanding trek or, with new lodges, a walk in the park.” Read more

Frommers

“This is Chile’s prized jewel, a national park so magnificent that few in the world can claim a rank in its class. Granite peaks and towers soar from sea level to upward of 2,800m (9,184 ft.). Golden pampas and the rolling steppes are home to llamalike guanacos and more than 100 species of colorful birds, such as parakeets, flamingos, and ostrich-like rheas. During the spring, Chilean firebush blooms a riotous red, and during the autumn, the park’s beech trees change to crimson, sunflower, and orange. A fierce wind screams through this region during the spring and summer, and yet flora such as the delicate porcelain orchids and lady slippers somehow weather the inhospitable terrain. Electric-blue icebergs cleave from Glacier Grey. Resident baqueanos ride atop sheepskin saddles. Condors float effortlessly even on the windiest day. This park is not someplace you just visit; it is something you experience.” Read more

Nile Guide

“Torres del Paine is Chile’s most-visited national park, and deservedly so. It is located 70 miles (a few hours drive) north of Puerto Natales and about 225 miles NW of Punta Arenas. It comprises nearly 600,000 acres of astonishing landscape, from golden pampas to milky turquoise lakes, to a giant bi-color massif to the Torres themselves, soaring granite towers. The vast size of the park means that even though the number of visitors is rising every year, it’s not that hard to find a piece of solitude just for yourself (but you must stay on the marked trails).” Read more

General Information

Why is it called Torres del Paine?

There are different versions of the origin of the word “Paine”. Some say it’s a word in the Tehuelche vocabulary that means blue. Others contend the towers are named after a Welsh mountain climber, Paine, a not entirely unlikely possibility. Parts of nearby Argentina’s Patagonia are populated by Welsh settlers, who despite having spoken Spanish as their first language for several generations, are abundantly represented by families named Paine, Jones, Evans, and Jenkins.

Torres del Paine National Park Panorama

How was it formed?

The “Macizo de Paine” (the central massif) was formed when hot volcanic magma cooled and turned into granite. Over millennia, this area was covered by layers of sediment, compressing to form a rock cap over the harder granite below. Over more thousands of years, unbelievable geographical pressures forced the entire area to rise up. The area was then covered by glaciers and as they retreated the ice-carved away the softer, sedimentary rock to reveal the harder granite columns below. The result is the jaw-dropping site of almost vertical columns of rock that shoot up from the ground like towers, rising to just below 3,000m in height.

Economy

The economy is centered on tourism, given that the park’s many hotels provide the principal source of jobs for its inhabitants. Thousand of tour companies all over the world offer Torres del Paine as a trekking destination, and this generates hundreds of jobs for local tour guides, hotel workers, etc.

Elevation

Its height varies from 50 to 3050 m above sea level.

Population

There are around 250 people living in the park.

 

Guanacos in Torres del Paine National ParkHistory

Inhabited by the Tehuelches (relatives of the Mapuches), Torres del Paine was occupied by them in a vast extension until the beginning of 1900, when they were forced to leave.

Different exploring expeditions were led to this area between 1870 and 1910.

The first tourist expedition was organized by Lady Florence Dixie (1879). She and a group of friends were the first Europeans to experience the Paine range of mountains. Later, scientists became very interested in this part of the world, so Otto Nordenskjöld (1895) and Carl Skottberg (1908) made some exploratory expeditions.

In the year 1896, the British immigrant Walter Ferrier obtained the authorization from the government to settle down over a field fraction between rivers Paine, Serrano and Grey in the northwestern extreme part of Toro Lake. The infrastructure for cattle breeding was started here.

This is how the cattlemen period started (1910-1960), in which the cattle infrastructure consolidated and became small communities known as estancias. Consequently, a big amount of cattle were managed in lands that were not adequate for such purposes. All this process caused significant ecological consequences to the Region, mainly the Park which was damaged by forest fires started for the clearing of land later to be used for cattle.

Consequently, the damage caused in these lands spurred the community into awareness of the significance in the preservation of such regions. As a result, a conservation stage started to develop, allowing the enforcement of this area as a National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park Panorama

In 1959, the National Park Lago Grey (Grey Lake) was created, with a surface of 4.332 hectares. In 1961, The Minister of Lands and Settlement at that time extends the border so the surface increases to 24.532 hectares and is called Tourism National Park Torres del Paine. On April 30, 1970, the Ministry of Agriculture added 11.000 hectares and named the whole protected area as National Park Torres del Paine. In March 1975, the Park administration is taken by the National Forest Service (NFS) (CONAF). It was declared a Reserve of the Biosphere by UNESCO on April 28th, 1978. This means that it became part of the different representative ecosystem zones in the world, which are seen as patterns to measure the impacts caused by man in the environment.

What type of clothing do I need to go to Torres Del Paine?

The climate in the Torres del Paine National Park is influenced from the south by the Antarctic continent, from the west by the Pacific Ocean, and from the North by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (third source of fresh water on the planet). It is characterized by unstable trans-Andean weather, with strong winds, especially in summer. The average summer temperature is 12 ° C, with a minimum of 0° C and a maximum of 23° C, annual rainfall reaches 700 mm.

In the valley of the Torres del Paine National Park, there is a trans-Andean climate, while in altitude the temperatures are lower because of the effect of the ice and snow. Without a doubt, the best seasons are spring and summer, when temperatures can reach a nice average maximum of 23.5 ° C during the day. While in winter, the temperature drops considerably, falling even below freezing. Always come prepared for all seasons; due to the characteristic weather instability, you may go through all the seasons on the same day. In addition, sometimes the strong winds make the temperature drop 6-7 degrees. 

This area usually has strong winds, rain or snow so it is very important to wear the right clothes for these occasions. Warm clothes, polar (or fleece) are always a great choice because they will warm you up and will protect you from the winds, quick-dry clothes (the advantage of the special fibers is that they dry very quickly and the body does not get cooled), windbreaks and/or waterproof jacket, hiking shoes and sunscreen. So this is your packing list:

Hat of wool or polar fleece, neck scarf

Sunglasses with UV protection 

Sunscreen of at least factor 45

Chapstick

Quick-drying T-shirts

Fleece jacket

Waterproof Coat

Fleece gloves: bring two pairs ideally.

Waterproof trousers, hose

Shorts (in summer)

Fleece pants (if you are going to spend the night)

Fleece or polypropylene socks

Trekking shoes: preferably high boots, to avoid kinking

Comfortable Shoes for base camps and rest your feet

Gaiters (optional): to cover the bottom of the pants and the boot and prevent mud, water or snow from entering inside the sock and make us wet

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