West Coast Trail Preparation- How to Prepare for the Hike!

Welcome to the second instalment of my West Coast Trail blog series. In this post I will focus on the Logistics and the  West Coast Trail Preparation. Because really, the West Coast Trail is not easy to get to, to sign up for, to prepare for…it’s just generally kind of a tough nut! For general West Coast Trail guide (like…what and where is it??), check out The West Coast Trail Guide.

Registration for the 2017 West Coast Trail season opens on January 9 2017 at 8AM PST. The trail season is open between May 1 and September 30th.

West Coast Trail in Canada blog series. This blog is a West Coast Trail preparation guide to help you avoid my mistakes and help you know what to bring.

Why hike the West Coast Trail?

 I decided to do the West Coast Trail because I like a challenge, I wanted to see that part of Western Vancouver Island and flat out, I wanted to complete this impressive feat of strength. If you don’t want to do any of those things, don’t do the West Coast Trail hike. Do the Juan de Fuca, a shorter, less strenuous trail with similar scenery and far better access. Or any other hike really, most are easier than the WCT. Or do something more up your alley, like drinking whiskey or curling, no shame in different alleys!

The West Coast Trail difficulty is hugely mental. And if you go in with a crap attitude, pessimism towards the elements, or lack of belief in yourself, well then you’re done before you even start! This is not an easy trail; many times I caught myself comparing myself to Frodo. The 75km might kill you or at least try to. Don’t do it because someone else wants you to (cough pushy boyfriend cough), do it for yourself. If you decide it’s for you, the West Coast Trail will make you stronger, as the old adage goes. So, it’s all up to you.

West Coast Trail thrasher cove campsite

Ok, now that my naggy disclaimer is out of the way, here goes!

Booking the West Coast Trail

The first task in West Coast Trail preparation is that you must do is pick you dates and reserve your start day. The Trail is only open from May 1-Sept 30.  You can reserve start dates as in January of each calendar year for the upcoming season. The specific date will be announced prior, so check Parks Canada in December so you’re right on time. There is limited entry, so if you are particular on dates or have a big group, then book early.

That being said, if you are hiking solo, or are easy with the calendar, there are stand-by spots for each day. I had a date reserved, got to the trail a day early, and started prematurely in a stand-by position. But I am also bonkers lucky and get free stuff from the universe pretty often (I won a lottery ticket to see Wicked!). So don’t bank on the standby, and please don’t try this and then curse me later if it doesn’t work out. You can book your dates online or via the phone (both with credit card) , and you’ll pay for your permit and water taxi usage at this time.

West Coast Trail preparation logistics

How Much Does the West Coast Trail Cost?

Speaking of credit cards, hiking the West Coast Trail isn’t cheap. Every person must pay the Backcountry Use and Overnight Camping permit, regardless of how long you are on the trail for. Current West Coast Trail fees will take $127.50CDN per person. If you make a reservation, it costs $24.50CDN per person. Water taxis at Gordon River and Nitinat Narrows both cost $16 each (totalling$32), but you pay for this at the same time as your permit ahead of time. I can tell you that my bill was $184CDN for the permit, the water taxis, and the reservation.

If you don’t get a reservation and you show up standby at the trail, you can pay with credit cards/debit at the Parks Canada Info centres at Pachena Bay (north) or Gordon River (south). You have to attend trail orientation at these centres either the afternoon before you start or the morning of (orientations are daily at 10am and 2pm). You will get your permit and your waterproof West Coast Trail map, over which you will obsess for the next 7 days.  We joked about this map costing $182. I was thinking they may say something about preparation at the orientation, but hey, your lack of preparation apparently isn’t Parks Canada’s problem, until they have to evacuate you due to hypothermia. 

**These prices were in effect the season of 2016.  Please confirm current pricing on the Parks Canada website. 

West Coast Trail preparation

West Coast Trail Transportation

Ok, once your Parks Canada paperwork is done, you have to figure out how to get to the West Coast Trail. Which can be a pain if you don’t have a car, trust me! There is the West Coast Trail Express bus that makes things convenient, taking hikers from Victoria and Nanaimo to either entry point, plus the midway entry, Nitinat Junction, daily. It is not what most of us would call cheap and you need reservations for it. I wanted to avoid the bus, for three reasons: 1) I am a masochist who likes to make things more difficult; 2) reason number 1 is most often caused by my extreme frugality; and 3) I thought I could find something more exciting than sitting on a bus on a logging road.

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West Coast Trail transportation

I was coming from the Vancouver area, so I took BC Ferries across the Straight to Nanaimo, then caught a bus to Port Alberni, where the next day I boarded a boat with the Lady Rose Marine Service company to go the length of the Alberni Inlet to Bamfield. More about this adventure in the next part of the series West Coast Trail Transportation- Bamfield Bound. After I completed the trail, I hitch-hiked to Port Renfrew, then squeezed in a backseat with my hiking group to Sooke, where I took a public bus to Langford, where my friend picked me up, and then drove me to the ferry. This was fine by me, I’m sure the people sitting next to me didn’t love it (7 days is a lot of stench…).

Other than planning to get to the trail, most people’s preparation for the West Coast Trail includes two other components: 1) Getting in physical shape so you don’t die and 2) Preparing your gear. I’ll focus on the latter, since I am neither a personal trainer nor did I do a great job with that component.

West Coast Trail campsites

West Coast Trail- What to Bring?

First and foremost, everything that you need for the West Coast Trail, you need to bring with you. There is nowhere to buy food or gear, save for the two eateries you pass along the trail. But that’s not enough. Additionally, the trail is a pack in, pack out trail, so there are no trash containers and burning garbage is a major faux-pas. And most importantly, you are carrying everything you need. Let that sink in. EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR 7 DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS IS ON YOUR BACK. Everything. This is one reason that I, a solid advocate of solo travel and adventure, do recommend going with another person, simply to share part of the load!

Check out my comprehensive West Coast Trail Packing List!!!

Buy the best, lightweight camping and outdoors gear you can afford. I don’t have much money, so I took what I had, none of which was lightweight, and I felt it. If you can get a lightweight tent, sleep mat, sleeping bag, or stove, you’re laughing! I started the trail with a 50lb pack. Most experienced hikers, as well as Parks Canada, will tell you that men should carry no more than 1/3 of their body weight while women should not carry more than a ¼ of theirs. My pack was 8lbs over the recommended maximum. You may now do the math and determine my body weight. Girl got curves!!! And muscles thankfully, hence finishing the trail with that pack.

Preparation for the West Coast Trail

Aside from camping essentials, your clothing is very important. You will get wet, so quick dry clothing is advantageous, just tell me on night 3 after a day of rain, lying in my tent with a drying line of dirty hiking clothing hanging seven inches from my face.

Preparation for the West Coast Trail

Solid hiking boots are a must. Do not try to do it in running shoes or even hiking shoes. The roots and mud will destroy your ankles. In tandem with boots, good high socks, I like wool, and gaiters. Now, I didn’t have gaiters. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Buy gaiters. Wear your gaiters. Love your gaiters. The reason for the gaiters and the socks is to keep all that trail OUT of your boots. 

West Coast Trail food

Hiking poles are also a must. You could have the balance of one of those tiny Olympic gymnasts, but heavy packs, rain, roots, and mud all have a way of making you feel pretty clumsy. I only fell down twice. Others in my group fell down more, like 6 times. One fell off a cliff. Take hiking poles. Might not help with the cliff, but hey, couldn’t hurt.

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West Coast Trail Food

Food is clearly essential. As stated previously, I don’t like spending much money, plus I have a pretty sensitive digestive tract, so I was against those expensive, vacuum packed dehydrated meals you can get at any outdoors store. Everybody else I hiked with had them and generally seemed fine (save for one…). Unlike those fine folk, I have no money and eating that much salt and preservative for a week probably would have made my bowels seize like Mt. Vesuvius.

I borrowed a food dehydrator, and spent a week of preparation drying anything that made sense: bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, quinoa, pasta, lentils, chicken and even some lemon for my morning tea. I’m classy that way.

West Coast Trail what to bring

My main mistake was not seasoning anything, but the fruit was awesome and the dinners gave me fuel and protein, so really, it was all good. And it cost me next to nothing. I did oatmeal for breakfasts and then did on the go lunches of protein bars, trail mix, and dried fruit. Dinners were the pasta or quinoa, with either lentils or chicken, along with a reward of a Snickers bar every day. I also had chick peas to gobble whenever needed, cinnamon sugar to flavour the oatmeal, and cocoa and green tea for warm camp site drinks. The guys I was with had scotch for Canada Day and a girl we met had a ton of marijuana. Pack to your own needs and wants. Preparation is all on you, but West Coast Trail food?  Very important!

West Coast Trail Mistakes

Things I wish I had on the trail included (or that I borrowed off other people and therefore learned a good lesson): gaiters, Vaseline, and cheese. I wished all of my major pieces of gear weighed less. I did not need the quantity of fuel that I took for my stove, so I wish I had a smaller canister. I did not take enough rope to properly hang my food if there was no bear bin. I also did not take any deodorant. This I am fine with, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyways! #sweatybeast

West Coast Trail what to bring

Something to reiterate: This is the West Coast, you will get wet, and despite it being summer, it does cool off at night. So bring many pairs of socks, a touque, gloves, and warm leggings and fleece zip-ups to relax in camp in. I had my heavy sleeping bag, bought in Nepal, and was glad I had it. Regardless of the forecast, preparation for the elements is key.

I took a book, not everybody would. I did, especially since I thought I would be on my own. I hooked in with a group, so I read a lot less than I thought, but still, glad I had the reads for the downtime.

West Coast Trail blog

Pack Preparation for the West Coast Trail

One thing I did do physically before the trail, besides being a fabulous physiological specimen generally speaking, is that I packed up my backpack a couple of times with the gear I would be taking and making up for missing food weight with heavy books, and going for walks in the park. This can’t actually prepare you for the experience of climbing over roots and through mud with your pack on, but it can at least help you identify any sizing issues, any hot spots of skin chafing, and get you used to the weight on your body. I would recommend this, as a bare minimum. I made my mom go walk 6 km in the park with me so that I didn’t look homeless. But yeah, physical preparation would be a really good thing to do! Do it. And maybe climb a shit ton of ladders, that could help too.

West Coast Trail Vancouver island BC Canada

West Coast Trail Preparation Advice this Bald Eagle ^^^ Would Give You If She Could:

You will have zero cell phone coverage on the trail, so make sure you clear up any pressing business before you go.

If you can borrow, rent, or steal a satellite phone, do it. Zero cell phone coverage and an injury makes everybody wish they had a sat phone. Or the superpower of flight.

Leave your plans and itinerary with a trusted person back home. Have an approximate day that you will get off the trail and get in contact with them.

Write out your emergency contact numbers and have them in a water-safe bag in your bag, just in case!

West Coast Trail what to bring

Along the trail, you can burn the pages of your book that you have already read. Or use them as toilet paper. Just sayin’. Sorry Ayn Rand.

Take toilet paper. Just sayin’.

****This post is Part 2 of my 6-part West Coast Trail blog series.****

Have you hiked the WCT??? How did you prepare for the adventure?? Are you thinking about hiking the West Coast Trail ??? Would love to hear from you below! 

West Coast Trail what to bring

8 thoughts on “West Coast Trail Preparation- How to Prepare for the Hike!

  1. Very good prep page. I agree with everything you comment on.

    I wish I had brought more drugs. I brought Tylenol, IBprofin, gravol and pepto bismal. But I also wish I had also brought cold & flu meds, throat lozenges, midol and maybe laxatives…..dehydrated food, trail mix, granola bars…oh MY!!

    I wish I had brought smaller bottles of sunscreen and purell hand wash. Steve and I only used 1/3 of our 88ml sunscreen bottle and 20ml of our 60ml purell.

    Glad I brought electrolyte powder drink. Should have brought more.I never felt like I was sweating because of the cool, wet air and the overcast skies – but I think I should have planned on 4L per day.

    Things we never used
    Frisbee
    hairbrush – I have long hair and wore it tied up everyday
    mini mirror – I didn’t bring it for vanity, I envisioned it would help with hard to reach slivers or something??
    flint firestarter – I thought it might be fun to practice around the campfire at night
    ear plugs
    ball cap – I found it to be a nuisance each time I put it on. Too hard to climb ladders with ball cap on.
    playing cards
    waterproof matches – BIC lighter better

    1. Awesome input Joy! I barely used any sunscreen either, really only would need it on heavy beach days. I also didn’t end up using my matches, but I still think they were a good thing to have on gen spec!

  2. As one of your parents, it’s nice to see you learned how to organize and think ahead. Couldn’t have done it better myself. 🙂

  3. Great advise for anyone planning to make the trip. My boyfriend (husband) wouldn’t even think about shaming me into making this trip as I would not live through the ordeal. You were very fortunate to get an earlier date for your hike. Though my idea of lucky is a solid week of rain beginning just as I’ve decided that window washing can’t be put off for another day (I did once win a 7-UP cooler when I was in Grade 7 – don’t have enough fingers and toes to tell you how long ago that was).
    Loved the pictures. They are stunning.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Just a heads up. Reservation for each season begin in January. However, the date changes every year, so there is no guarantee that reservations in 2017 will begin on January 11th. Stay tuned to the Parks Canada website. Also the ferry fees in 2016 are currently $16.00 each (a total of $32.00 per person)

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