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…
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.
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.
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.
But enough with my yammering, on to the list! Below is the list of what I took on the West Coast Trail, click on anything in bold to see for yourself!
Hiking boots – I wear the KEEN Women’s Voyageur Mid Hiking Boot, and they are awesome!
Sports bra (Doubled as a swim suit) – The Shock Absorber Sports Bra is super supportive (even for big tatas!) and quick drying
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
North Face Rain Jacket (seriously, it’s a rainforest!)
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)
Lightweight Tent (I have my eyes on this MSR Elixer Lightweight tent for my next trip!)
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)
Cascade Mountain Tech 100% Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles (100% essential, saved my life!)
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!)
Hiking Gaiters (I did not have gaiters, everyone else did. I was wrong. They were right. Just buy gaiters.)
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)
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 Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System, which I love, is lightweight, takes no room, and make water taste yummy and clean!)
Plastic spoon (regardless of your tastes most of the food you cook will be eaten with a spoon, just like baby food!)
Two 1-liter water bottles (plus I had the 1.5 liter pouch for my water filter)
Food I Dehydrated
Chicken (I don’t really recommend this, but at least it was protein)
***I used the site The Backpacking Chef for 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 (one for the end of every day)
(I was really glad to have all of these, especially the tea and hot chocolate!)
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!!)
Odds N’ Ends to Pack for the West Coast Trail
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)
Duct tape and 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!)
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight Medical Kit (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)
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…)
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.)
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!
Related West Coast Trail blogs are:
Related West Coast Trail blogs are: