A Solo Hiker’s Packing List for the West Coast Trail

As the snow falls over British Columbia, it may be crazy to start thinking about hiking the West Coast Trail. But the trail opens in less than 3 months, so 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! Please, learn from my mistakes…

Registration for the 2017 West Coast Trail season opened on January 9 2017. The trail season is open between May 1 and September 30th.

The West Coast Trail on Canada's Vancouver island is a formidable hike. Making or breaking this 7 day trek is what and how you pack your backpack! Check out my packing mistakes and my wins from my experience hiking the West Coast Trail.

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 camping. I did end up hiking with a great group of folks though, but still, all the gear was separate.

tsusiat falls West coast trail packing list
If you liked this post, you may also like: Hiking the West Coast Trail Blog

hiking packing list for women

Parks Canada Packing Recommendations

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.

First Time West Coast Trail experience

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.

what should I pack for the west coast trail

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.

Preparation for the West Coast Trail
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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 You Start the West Coast Trail

 

Port Alberni (North end)

Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel

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Hospitality Inn

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Swept Away Inn

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Cedar Wood Lodge Bed and Breakfast

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Redford Motel

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Bamfield (North end)

The Bamfield Motel

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The Kingfisher Lodge and Marina

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Sooke (South End)

Sooke Harbour House

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Prestige Oceanfront Resort

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Moonlit Cove B&B

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Victoria (South End)

Oak Bay Beach Hotel

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Swans Hotel and Brewpub

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Hotel Rialto

Check Prices Now!

But enough with my yammering, on to the list! Below is the list of what I took on the West Coast Trail. In bold are items I wish I had brought.

Walbran creek west coast trail gear list

Clothing

Hiking boots (clearly very important, make sure they are broken in with good ankle support and tread)

Sports bra (Doubled as a swim suit)

Regular bra (for camp)

Quick dry underwear (3 pairs)

Two pairs of Smart Wool Socks (Bring more than two! Bring like 5 pairs)

Two pairs of normal socks (for camp)

Two tank tops (one for hiking and one to stay dry for camp)

Quick dry hiking pants with cargo pockets

Quick dry shorts (for camp)

Long sleeved thermal shirt

Zip-up fleece

Rain jacket (seriously, it’s a rainforest!)

Flip-flops

Warm hat

Baseball hat (or anything with a brim for hiking)

Gloves (Joy wore a pair of lightweight gloves while hiking, and they really helped keep her hands ok on those ladders)

First Time West Coast Trail experience

Outdoors Gear

Tent (I took the one I had, it was too big and too heavy. Opt for the smallest one that you will be comfortable in)

Sleeping mat (Essential, don’t skimp. Mine was borrowed and too bulky, but comfy at least!)

Sleeping bag (Obviously, also essential. I had bought mine in Nepal so you know it was warm enough, could have been lighter weight though)

Kaleidoscope Hiking Poles (100% essential!!!! The WCT is rough, muddy, and full of tricky footing. Your poles will save you!)

Headlamp or flashlight (it’s dark out there, especially getting to the outhouse)

Backpack with waist harness (make sure it fits properly and do some practice hikes with it on to get used to the hot spots)

A pack cover (It rains on the West Coast Trail!)

Gaiters (I did not have gaiters, everyone else did.  I was wrong.  They were right.  Just buy gaiters.)

If you liked this post, you may also like: The West Coast Trail Guide

packing list for the west coast trail

Cooking

Pot with lid

Butane stove and canister (My canister was too big; you only need a small canister, don’t take a big one. If you are hiking with a group, share the stove and the canisters)

Swiss Army knife

Water filter or iodine tabs (essential, boiling water is a pain and doesn’t guarantee you against beaver fever. All of the water comes from rivers, 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

Plastic spoon (regardless of your tastes most of the food you cook will be eaten with a spoon, just like baby food!)

Lighter

Two 1-liter water bottles (plus I had the 1.5 liter pouch for my water filter)

hiking the West coast trail what to take

Food I Dehydrated

Quinoa

Chicken (I don’t really recommend this, but at least it was protein)

Lentils

Apples

Strawberries

Banana chips

Blueberries

Pasta

***I used the site The Backpacking Chef for guidance

packing list for the west coast trail
If you liked this post, you may also like: West Coast Trail Difficulty and Rescue – When S*&t Goes Sideways

What to pack for the west coast trail

Food I Took Without Dehydrating it (because that would be weird)

Oatmeal laced with cinnamon and sugar

Hot chocolate

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

Trail mix

(I was really glad to have all of these, especially the tea and hot chocolate!)

tsusiat falls West coast trail packing list

Food I wish I had

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!!)

First Time West Coast Trail experience

Odds N’ Ends to Pack for the West Coast Trail

Small camera

Phone (no reception, but for pictures)

USB battery packs and an extra camera battery (I didn’t use as much battery as I thought, I was too busy trying to breathe to take a ton of photos)

Vaseline (my team mate Joy had a small tub and we all used it! #blisters)

Drugs (Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, whatever you like and or actually need)

Small bottles of Sunscreen and Purell (I barely made a dent in either of mine)

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 (I used pages from my book. I know, I’m a heathen)

Extra Ziplock bags

Watch (To determine the tides)

Money! Bring at least $150

Nylon food bag (to keep your food separate from everyone else’s in the bear bin or for hanging)

Rope (most sites have a bear bin, but you may need to hang your food bag at some point)

Light cord rope (to set up a drying line)

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)

Travel sized face wash, toothbrush, and toothpaste (Some semblance of a human)

Satellite Phone (I know, they are super 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

If you liked this post, you may also like: Reflections of the Hike: A West Coast Trail Blog

First Time West Coast Trail experience

Items my team and I never used:

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…)

Frisbee

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 enviro friendly or not, and I turned out ok! Each to their own though, I’m sure other people had them on the trail and were good people.)

Preparation for the West Coast Trail

What’s Next?!

This summer, I am planning on hiking the Jasper Skyline Trail with some of the fine folks I met on the West Coast Trail. So I will be using the knowledge from the WCT and applying it to my backpack accordingly!

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!

 

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The West Coast Trail on Canada's Vancouver island is a formidable hike. Making or breaking this 7 day trek is what and how you pack your backpack! Check out my packing mistakes and my wins from my experience hiking the West Coast Trail.

5 thoughts on “A Solo Hiker’s Packing List for the West Coast Trail

  1. Too bad my son Scott didn’t do any of this at church horse camp at age 7. We packed him all new clothes, shoes, etc. When it was time to pick him up, it was obvious whose kid it was – same exact clothes on and looked exactly like Pig Pen, and smelled like a pig pen. Now his younger brother and his family do day hikes and love it. Wish I was in better health – I would love to go hiking again.

  2. Very very interesting to read your post! And you packed and prepared very well, I cannot imagine doing this trip solo without absolutely scraping back to the bare essentials, and lightest weight gear possible, which could be miserable. And dangerous to boot, this can be dangerous territory.

    For anyone else thinking of going…it will be wet. Wet wet wet! Soaking wet, rainforest wet! Very little will truly dry out once it’s even a bit wet, just never sunny or windy enough to truly overcome the moisture in the air, it’s a rainforest!….that’s why you MUST bring a new pair of socks for every hiking day, thankfully they’re light. Your feet are your most valuable assets. So just for them…bring some bandaids or blister packs, if you get blisters and cannot manage them, you will end up in agony. Bring some baby powder too, elevate feet at every rest stop and evening and give them loving care.

    Take 2 hiking poles. A pair of ski poles is perfect, no shame in it at all. When you only neeed one, shove the otherin your pack…and if you need neither, well,

    Your gear list is awesome reading, looks very thorough! You must must must have tide tables too, that allow you to know when hiking along the beach (and camping near the tide line) is safe or not.

    Did you see the Carmannah Giant, in the river valley of the same name? The biggest tree on the entire West Coast, part of the never harvested old-growth forest, well worth the 1 hour hike up river on the Carmannah River. You can leave your packs behind so it’s like a vacation!

    I hiked the WC trail myself twice many years ago (first as a duo, next as part of a 4 person team), and after 30 years of camping and outdoor adventures, vast majority of which were packed into 1 week chunks, I can honestly say the WC Trail was at the top of the most challenging physical exertions. Just day after day of tough wet work, plus those crazy ladders. After that, the Utah desert is almost welcome! 😉

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks so much for your feedback and input! Yes, I totally agree with you on the socks and being prepared to be wet, the only 2 days that I was able to really dry stuff out were at Tsutiat and Campers, where we got in kind of early and still had some good hours of sunshine before dusk. Good call on the baby powder, a ziplock worth would have been fantastic for the feet after each day. Must have missed the Giant, in that area we were so focussed on getting to the burger shack nothing else was happening. But such amazing forest along the trail, I just loved the ever changing environments.
      I’ve actually considered doing the trail again this summer, but I think I will do some others in BC instead. So much to explore so little time!

      Cheers,
      Emily

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