If you are thinking of tackling the top backcountry trail in Canada this summer, you’re probably thinking of packing your gear and what you might need! I hiked the trail solo, and had never packed for such an intense multi day hike, so please, learn from my mistakes…
Registration for the 2018 West Coast Trail season opened on January 8 2018. The trail season is open between May 1 and September 30th.
I prepared to hike the West Coast Trail on my own, therefore, I really did have to carry it all.
No sharing the load with a tent mate or even a kitchen mate. I carried my tent, stove, food, clothes, tools, sleeping bag, and everything else I needed for 7 days in the wilderness. And I had never done that long of a multi-day hike before, especially not one where I was sleeping in a tent. I did end up hiking with a great group of folks though, but still, all the gear was separate.
Parks Canada recommends that your pack should weight no more than ¼ of your body weight if you are a woman or 1/3 of your body weight if you’re a man. The section on safety in the WCT map states “excessively heavy backpacks” as a main cause of injury (and yes, the underlining is theirs!).
At the mandatory orientation in the information centres prior to starting the trail, Parks Canada rangers talk at length about pack weight and what you must have in that pack to survive. There are scales hanging from the A Frame of the hut. Packing is a serious thing on the West Coast Trail, mistakes will literally haunt you for 7 days, and could actually put an end to your time on the trail.
Did I make some mistakes? Heck yah! So many!
First off, my pack was well over that ¼ body weight thing. It was more like 1/3. I do know myself to be freakishly strong, but still, come on Emily!
My second main mistake that at the time I hiked the trail I hadn’t worked in months, so going out and spending a bunch on gear wasn’t in the cards. So I ended up borrowing bits and pieces from friends and family, or just using what I had. None of which was lightweight. Oh how I envied my trail mates and their lightweight tents, compact sleeping mats and half sized butane canisters. I also didn’t have a pack cover. So dumb.
But I did do some things right!
For food, I was concerned about eating a week’s worth of vacuum-sealed, salt ridden, dehydrated food. Also those packages are super expensive. So I borrowed food dehydrator and went for it. I dehydrated anything I could think of, and didn’t get sick on the trail once. My palate was cruising for a bruising, but I had solid energy and protein and my intestinal tract thanked me.
Clothing wise, I was warm enough. This is key. Even in the summer, nights on the West Coast Trail get chilly. I had a heavy sleeping bag, and my layers held me well. I was glad to have my camp sandals to take my boots off at the end of the day, and my toque to wrap my head.
Money. Despite what I said about not having any money, I took enough money. There are places to eat along the trail, and you do not want to miss out of Chez Monique burger because you didn’t hit the ATM. After hiking for 4 days and seeing everyone else eating, if I couldn’t have eaten, I may have walked into the ocean and never returned.
Where to Stay Before Hiking the West Coast Trail
Leaving from the North End
Staying in Port Alberni before you start hiking the trail makes sense. It’s half way between Nanaimo and the northern trail head and where, if you’re taking the boat to Bamfield, you get on that boat. Port Alberni accommodation is mixed and ample, so there are a few hotels to choose from. If you’re taking the Lady Rose boat to get to Bamfield, I would choose somewhere close so you can walk to the dock in the morning.
The Swept Away Inn is the closest accommodation to the dock, sitting right on the waterfront itself and is moderately priced. Cheaper options in town include the Redford Motel and the Best Western Plus.
Honestly, most of the hotels/motels in Port Alberni are fairly non-descript, so get a room that is comfortable and convenient, since you will experience neither of those two things for the next week of your life.
Book a Comfy Room in Port Alberni Now!
If you don’t camp at Pachena Bay the night before you start the trail, or if you go a bit early to enjoy the village, a night or two in Bamfield would be lovely. A cute marine/fishing village, Bamfield’s all about the sea. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a major research centre on the West Coast of BC. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public for tours or anything, so enjoy the Bamfield ocean in nature, the way it was intended.
That said, there is no cheap place to stay in Bamfield, but everything is of excellent quality. And from what I can tell, there are only two real formal kinds of accommodation in Bamfield anyways, the Bamfield Motel and the Kingfisher Lodge and Marina. Both get decent reviews, but the Kingfisher has the view of the ocean and is probably the more cutesy of the two.
Stay a Night in Bamfield and Book a Room Now!
Starting at the South End
Sooke is an hour or so west of Victoria, so a closer base if you want to get an early start on the trail. It’s also super cute and where a lot of movies have been filmed! The Sooke Harbour House is the most famous place to stay in Sooke, it is ocean front and beautiful. The Harbour House is the heritage option and definitely bears that price tag, but hey, you’re worth it! Plus it’s the only place that has a sauna, and if you’re coming off the trail, the word ‘sauna’ is music to your very sore and tired ears.
Sooke is growing with bigger accommodation options in the last few years, after people realized Victoria is getting really expensive. The Moonlit Bed and Breakfast is a great, and less expensive option, while the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in massive and will contain every amenity you can imagine, because it’s basically a small city.
Go For Luxury and Stay in Sooke! Find a Room Now!
One of my favourite cities in Canada, Victoria has a million and one places to stay and tons of things to do before or after you are on the West Coast Trail. You can check out some of these things to do in Victoria here!
Victoria definitely has the most range in places to stay near the South end of the West Coast Trail, so really it’s up to you how much you want to spend and where you want to do it. You can get anything you want, so I would definitely look for something with a hot tub/sauna and make sure your room has a bathtub. Can you tell I’m subtly trying to say your body will be very sore?
There are so many places to stay in Victoria I actually won’t make recommendations, though I can say staying near the Inner Harbour or in James Bay is the most central and convenient.
Find a place in Esquimalt and you will pay less for an ocean view or grab a room at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for some quaint marina life. I also love Swans Hotel and Brewpub, only because of it’s awesome downtown location and as it sits on top of an excellent brewpub. Obviously. No hot tub though, so tough call.
Take Your Pick of a Great Room in Victoria! Find Latest Deals Now!
But enough with my yammering, on to the list! Below is my West Coast Trail Gear Recommendations, based on experience!
West Coast Trail Clothes
Hiking boots: Clearly very important, make sure they are broken in with good ankle support and tread. I wear these Keen Mid-Hiking Boots, as they are not too heavy, still give plenty of support and are extremely versatile.
Sports bra: Also Doubled as a swim suit! I don’t have the most demure chest out there, so my sports bra is a key piece of hiking gear. For all of my sports, including hiking, I wear the Shock Absorber Running Bra. It’s pricier than most sports bras, but when it comes to the girls, I don’t want to fall victim to the get what you pay for adage!
Regular bra: I also packed a normal super comfy, probably too loose bra for hanging around camp. Because there is nothing better than taking that sports bra off at the end of the day!
Quick dry underwear: I packed 3 pairs and rinsed them out as I went. Again, mine are more specifically for running, and are made for quick dry and to wick away, erm, moisture. A great option are these New Balance Wick Away undies. And they come in a 3-pack!
Smart Wool Socks: Bring at least 5 pairs, though some of the guys I hiked with had a brand new pair for every day. Not dumb. I love Smart Wool Medium Crew Socks, made for women, though Smart Wool also makes both lighter and heavier socks or varying length, for men and women. I’ve had two pairs of these for several years and only now are they starting to die on me. Solid investment, and there is nothing more important on the trail than keeping those feet happy!
Two tank tops/t-shirts: I hiked exclusively in one tank top and then changed into the dry, relativly clean one once at camp. I like to feel cleanish once I get to camp, so for ultra light packing the second may feel redundant. Again, go for something quick dry, and preferably one that wicks away sweat and doesn’t get stinky, and I would recommend for the hiking shirt, it having at least short sleeves to protect your shoulders from your backpack and the sun.
I generally really like UnderArmour stuff, so I like this Under Armour V-Neck that is light and flowy, but very quick dry.
Quick dry hiking pants with cargo pockets: I’m always torn about what pants to hike in. I love simple spandex leggings, but the fact is the ugly cargo style pants are just so much more practical. They are cooler on hot days, save your leg from the passing twigs, and the pockets are just so easy. So as much as I hate ‘cargo pant’s, for hiking, practicality always wins!
Check out these cargo style tactical pants from Under Armour with quick dry and wick-away fabric, and the always important pockets!
Quick dry shorts: Again simple bits and pieces that weigh nothing and make camp life that much more comfortable. Whatever you have in the house, I took my Adidas running shorts because they could double as swimming suit bottoms and then dry really fast afterwards.
Long sleeved thermal shirt: Very important piece because once the sun goes down you’ll be wanting to layer up. I have several Merino Wool Base layer Tops like this one from Helly Hanson that are mid-weight and surprisingly warm for how small it can scrunch up into your pack.
Zip-up fleece: One of my most important pieces of hiking gear on any hike I’ve ever done. I have gone through 4 different ones in my adult hiking life, all black, all with zipper pockets, and all finally dying because of too many burn holes from rouge bonfire embers. I like mine pretty fitted, as the baggier ones don’t stay as warm, plus then it can go under your rain jacket easily. I like this Columbia Full-Zip Fleece jacket because it hits all of my boxes, and Columbia is a solid brand so it’s worth the moderate price.
Rain jacket: Seriously, it’s a rainforest people! Anybody who goes on the WCT without basic rain gear is asking for it. I wore my North Face Rain Jacket almost every day on the trail, not necessarily because of the rain, but it’s also a great wind break. My jacket has a fleece inner layer, that I didn’t take, as I had my black fleece zip up that I prefer as far as fleece layers go. Some people may pack rain pants as well, but I think if you invest in some decent hiking pants and gaiters you’re good.
Flip-flops: Just some cheapy sandals that you can strap to the outside of your pack and wear at camp. Gotta let those trail weary toes breathe a little bit!
Warm hat: In Canada we call them touques. Which Americans always make fur on us for. Regardless of what you call it, a warm, fleece lined woollen hat is a must.
Baseball hat: Really anything with a brim on it, to keep the rain or the sun off your face, and protects your face from rogue branches or whatever may be flying at you. Again, anything you have that you love to see in your pictures. I’ve had my obnoxious red University of Victoria hat since 2nd year of university, and it’s still going!
Gloves: Joy wore a pair of lightweight gloves while hiking, and they really helped keep her hands not destroyed on those ladders. Of course, gloves help keep your hands warm as well, obviously. It was brilliant of her to bring these lightweight black running gloves, and I wish I had have carrier them!
Outdoors Hiking Gear
Waterproof Tent: Opt for the smallest one that you will be comfortable in, but remember you need to fit you gear in there with you. I took the one I had in my closet, which was too big and too heavy. You don’t need a winter tent, but definitely one that is good for rainy conditions like this Easy Pop-Up 2 person tent from Vitchelo or this 2 person, 3 Season waterproof tent from CCTRO. Both of these options are less than 5lbs, and every pound on the West Coast Trail counts!
Sleeping mat: An essential piece of gear, because if you can’t sleep you’r done for. So don’t skimp on it, mine was borrowed and too bulky, but comfy at least! You can go ultra hardcore with the barebones, classic Therm-a-Rest that will act as your personal Chiropractor every night, or bump up your luxury just a bit with this inflating mat from Outdoorsman Pad that folds down to the side of a waterbottle!
Either one will keep you warm as an insulating layer underneath you, but personally I would opt for a bit more cushion too.
Sleeping bag: Obviously, also an essential piece of gear. I had bought mine in Nepal so you know it was warm enough, thought it again, could have been lighter weight. This Kelty 22 degree sleeping bag is 3lbs and stuffs down nice and small to save space in your bag for Snickers bars, and as it goes down to 22F, it’s plenty warm enough.
Kaleidoscope Hiking Poles: 100% essential!!!! The WCT is rough, muddy, and full of tricky footing. Your poles will save you, so get good ones that can bear your weight and won’t crack under pressure. I use these hiking poles from Cascade Mountain Tech; they are carbon fibre, lightweight, quick locking, and fully adjustable.
Headlamp or flashlight: It’s dark out there, especially getting to the outhouse, and you want your handsfree to carry whatever you need. This super duper headlamp from GRDE is ultra bright and comes with a USB charger, car charger, and rechargeable batteries, so you’re not buying and carrying batteries you all the time, and it does hold it’s charge for a long time.
Backpack with waist harness: Not the place to go cheap, the comfort of your backpack is paramount. Make sure it fits properly and do some practice hikes with it on to get used to the hot spots). There are tons of great backpacks, so find the best backpack for you! I carried a top loading pack with many external pockets like this one from Teton. I liked the pockets for easy access to snacks, because food rules my world, plus there are places to stick your water bottle and poles.
Back Pack Cover: It rains a lot on the West Coast Trail, and if your back doesn’t come with a built in cover, you’ll want to purchase a separate one.
Even when it’s not raining, a cover is great to keep your bag clean and safe. This pack cover from Orange Sport is ultra light and ultra bright, so you can be spotted at a distance, and also comes with a waterproof cell phone case! This cover can be used for a backpack of almost any size, all the way up to 90litres, and if you have more than 90 litres on the trail with you, the rain is the least of your worries.
Gaiters: I did not have gaiters, everyone else did. I was wrong. They were right. Gaiters are basically boot extensions that go onto your calves and protect your pants and legs from the knee down. They are waterproof, and keep your legs, and therefore your boots and feet dry as anything. Gaiter keep rocks and debris out of your boots and socks, and not that there are leeches on the WCT, but they would keep those critters out too!
Gaiters are simple pieces of equipment that can really help save your feet from blisters, being wet, and general discomfort.
These FiveJoy Mountain Hiking Boot Gaiters are a bit pricier than others, but they get great reviews and have a polyurethane coating that keeps them even more water resistant!
Cooking Pot with Lid: I just took whatever small one I could find in the kitchen, but there are far better options made specifically for backpacking and camping cooking. I like the look of this 8-piece OuterEQ cooking set with foldable handles, stackable inserts, and lightweight materials. The whole set weighs just over a pound, so that’s a pretty solid, inexpensive investment.
Butane stove and canister: My canister was too big; you only need a small canister of butane for the amount of time you’re on the trail. If you are hiking with a group, share the stove and the canisters. The stove is simple, just a small metal contraption that screws onto the top of the butane canister and upon which you set your pot. Combine the stove by Etekcity and the isobutane canister from Jetboil Jetpower Fuel a make a full cooking rig for around $25. Not bad!
Swiss Army Knife: No brainer, but you also don’t need one of the crazy 24 gadget ones. Just bring one of the more moderate versions of the Swiss Army style, and it can be a good knock off too. I also carried a Leatherman tool, but it wasn’t necessary and was just added weight.
Water filter or iodine tabs: Also, essential. boiling water is a pain and doesn’t guarantee you against beaver fever. All of the water on the WCT comes from rivers, so don’t chance it! I use the Squeeze Water Filtration System, which I love, is lightweight, takes no room, and make water taste yummy and clean!
Plastic mug: I took a lightweight travel mug with a lid, and this worked really well as it would keep liquids warmer for longer while sitting around the campfire. I wouldn’t take an expensive one, since those are more likely to be heavy. Literally the cheapest one you can find!
Plastic spoon: Regardless of your tastes, most of the food you cook will be eaten with a spoon, just like baby food! I took my Triton camping spork with me, and that was the only utensil I used for a week. Is it a spoon, a form or a knife? Wait, it’s all three!
Lighter: Need this to light your stove, so any normal cigarette lighter will do. I took some matches along as well just in case, but didn’t actually use them. Having both wouldn’t hurt.
Two 1-liter water bottles: I had two large hard plaster water bottles as well as my 1.5 litre pouch that comes with my water purifier. There is one day on the trail where there is no water source for over 12 kilometres, so you do need to be able to carry water. Plus, boil water at the end of the night, fill a bottle and you have a hot water bottle for the end of your sleeping bag! I normally opt for Wide Mouth Nalgene bottles because they are BPA free and easy to clean. Not that I would say cleanliness was at the top of my priority list while hiking the West Coast Trail…
Food I Dehydrated
Chicken (I don’t really recommend dehydrating chicken, especially un-seasoned chicken, but at least it was protein)
***I used the site The Backpacking Chef for dehydrating guidance
Food I Took Without Dehydrating it (because that would be weird)
Oatmeal laced with cinnamon and sugar
Loose leaf green tea (and a tea ball, because I’m classy like that! And zero waste!)
A Snickers bar for every day on the trail
Builders Bars (for lunches)
(I was really glad to have all of these, especially the tea and hot chocolate!)
Cheese! (There was a dude with a block of cheese on day 2, I was jealous!)
Seasonings and/or sauces (Pasta and chicken without any taste, mmmm)
Electrolyte powder drink crystals (Hydration is key!!)
Small camera: I didn’t have a larger camera at the time, but my small point and shoot was perfect. I took all of the photos in this post with the Olympus Tough digital camera. Because if a camera is going on the WCT, there is a solid chance it will get dropped, get wet, or get sand in it, so go tough!
USB portable charge packs and an extra camera battery: Although I didn’t use as much battery as I thought since I was too busy trying to breathe to take a ton of photos, I did need to change my battery out. The USB charge packs are getting smaller and smaller and hold a strong charge for the length of the hike, so you’re set!
Vaseline: My team mate Joy had a travel sized tub of classic Vaseline and we all used it on our blisters and chafing. So just take a bit with you, just do it!
Drugs: Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, whatever you like and or actually need. Your body will start to ache, so why not medicate! Some tummy meds are also a great idea if you’re worried the food might make your gastro system say stop.
Small bottles of Sunscreen and Purell: I barely made a dent in either of mine and I was annoyed I had a big bottle of sunscreen. Take the travel sized of everything. The only thing you’ll want to be bigger are the Snickers bars.
Book: I brought a big fat novel as I thought I would be alone in camp. Then I didn’t read too much because I was with people. But I still read almost every day and used the finished pages as toilet paper.
Toilet paper: In a Ziplock bag, but I also used pages from my book. I know, I’m a heathen.
Extra Ziplock bags: Random things can always be put into Ziplocks, like the camera, notes you make along the way, your trial permit, trail map, etc.
Watch: Or any kind of time keeping piece, since you need to be precise about the tide schedules if you’re planning on staying on the beach routes as much as possible.
Money! Bring at least $150, because when you arrive at Chez Monique’s and the Crab Shack you will not want to limit yourself!
Nylon dry bag: All hikers need to pack their food every night and either hang it or put it into the bear bins supplied at camp. So you need something to keep your food separate from everyone elses. This lightweight nylon dry bag from Sak gear is durable and of great quality, and can be hung or thrown into a bin, whatever is available.
Rope: Most sites have a bear bin, but you may need to hang your food bag at some point.
Light cord rope: This is to set up a drying line at camp so you don’t have to rely on tree branches. Those clothes will get wet!
Pen and paper: To take notes or get your new friends email addresses!
First Aid Kit (No brainer, but still. Bring a lot of bandaids and moleskin for those blisters. I bought this ready made Adventure Medical First Aid kit that comes full of everything you may need, in a small nylon pouch, with waterproof pouches inside. Meaning all of those bandaids stay dry and fresh!
Travel sized face wash, toothbrush, and toothpaste: Try to remain some semblance of a human. Don’t bother with shampoo or any of that junk though.
Satellite Phone: I know, they are expensive, but if you can afford, beg, borrow or steal a sat phone, do it! Could save some true agony if you run into the need for a medical evacuation. This satellite phone from Blue Cosmo is one of the more moderately priced units, and gets great reviews!
Multi-tool (I borrowed one from my brother and I never used it, but couldn’t ditch it because it was his. It was heavy too!)
Knife (Same story as above, opt for a simple Swiss Army knife instead, unless you’re getting all lumberjack, and then you’re probably on the wrong trail)
Waterproof matches (We just used lighters)
Playing cards (We all just entertained each other)
Ear plugs (Too quiet, too exhausted)
Flint firestarter – Joy thought it might be fun to practice around the campfire at night, but we were all too tired every night)
Mini mirror (Joy envisioned it would help with hard to reach slivers or something?? Never!)
Hairbrush (I have long hair and wore it tied up everyday. By the end of those 7 days…)
Extra food (By the end I did have extra food. I chucked some in the ocean on night 5, and then I gave the remaining away on night 6)
Environmentally friendly dish soap and body soap (I did not have nor did I use either of these, and I turned out ok! Each to their own though, I’m sure other people had these items on the trail and were good people.)
My two major lessons from packing for the West Coast Trail:
~~~1) As much lightweight gear and quick drying clothing as you can muster
~~~2) Food with flavour! And at least one treat a day!
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