Hands down, my most memorable backpacking trip is the West Coast Trail (WCT) along the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. For those of you who have not heard of the WCT, it is a 75km trail originally built to rescue shipwrecked survivors in 1907. The trail winds its way along the coast, often literally walking on the continental shelf, through old growth forests and bogs. It is typically completed in 5-7 nights and has been rated as one of the world’s top hikes for its difficulty level as well as its scenery. I’ve completed many 5+ day trips in the Rocky Mountains along the Alberta/British Columbia border but no other trip compares to the physical grade, the unique environmental zones and the absolute necessity to persevere that the WCT demands of its hikers.
Looking back on my WCT experience I acknowledge that a large part of my rave review is due to the atypical dry weather we experienced, as well my hiking partner, Grace, is not only one of my favourite people to hike with but one of my best friends. These two factors kept tensions and conflict, which are commonly experienced by fatigued and irritated hikers, far far away. Therefore, since the WCT holds a special place in my backpacking heart, I want to share the things that worked and didn’t work, so others can emulate the experience I had.
1. Take Your Time And You Won’t Whine
We completed the trail in 7 days, 6 nights, although it would have been possible to do it in fewer. The longer timeline allowed us to take breaks at cool spots on the trail (i.e. caves, waterfalls, shipwrecks, burger shack…yes you read that right), ensuring we had a good selection of beauty shots by the end. It was also nice to have the luxury of sleeping in on a few days towards the end of the trip. You’re hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world; you may as well let yourself enjoy it!
2. Pack Lots Of Snacks
I NEED snacks to make it through long days of hiking. There is something about the fresh air and compounded long days of high physical exertion that make me burn through calories. In our meal planning we had each allocated about a cup of trail mix and two energy bars a day for snacks on the trail. Although we finished the trail with just enough food (I finished the last mouthful of trail mix waiting for the trailhead shuttle bus), the next time around I would pack an extra energy bar or two per day. It’s not enjoyable for you or those around you when you’re hiking hangry (so hungry you’re angry).
3. Iodine Tablets Vs. Filter
We opted to use iodine tablets for purifying our drinking water over carrying a filter. Here’s why; filters add weight to an already heavy pack and have a tendency to get clogged with small particles. There were streams of moving water spread throughout and at each campsite, so keeping our multiple Nalgenes full of drinkable water was never a problem. If the after taste of the iodine tablet bothers you, try adding a teaspoon of Gatorade powder, also excellent for rehydration.
4. Pass On The Packaged Dehydrated Meals
Believe it or not, there are alternatives to the packaged dehydrated meals you can buy in many outdoors stores. Not only are those packaged meals expensive, but they also don’t offer much for the taste buds. Grocery stores have a lot more dehydrated or vacuum-packed food then people realize. For our entire WCT trip we didn’t have a single packaged dehydrated meal, in fact, we had people lining up for our leftovers because they were so sick of their packed meals. With just adding hot water and powdered milk, the possibilities seem endless. Think of your favorite meals, find them in the grocery isle, and look for the dehydrated version (i.e. pasta sauce, dehydrated mushrooms, sundried tomatoes). Remember to remove any unnecessary packaging and stay away from cans as much as possible because you have to “pack out what you pack in” and this includes garbage. Here was our WCT menu:
We opted for bringing a block of cheddar cheese because cheese is a great energy source and is filling. Plus it’s so yummy that it was well worth its weight. It never got extremely hot on the trail so the cheese, pepperoni and hummus kept pretty well. Also, refrain from taking the whole Kahlua bottle, a small flask will do. Another tip; shake up the chocolate pudding in a Nalgene, after rinse it with a cup of hot water for some hot chocolate before bed.
5. Bring An Espresso Maker
Instant coffee is the WORST. The extra weight of the espresso maker will save your sanity. Enough said.
6. You Can Dress To Impress Without Packing A Wardrobe
I always approach packing clothing with two outfits in mind; your hiking outfit and your camp outfit. Your hiking outfit should prepare you for wet and dry weather while your camp outfit’s main priority is warmth and comfort. It’s important to keep your hiking base layer separate from your in camp clothes because your hiking clothes will become saturated with sweat which will chill you when stopped. This is especially relevant with shirts and socks, so always have a “dry” shirt and pair of socks to change into once you reach camp. Remember your scarf for those beauty shots and its great for locking in heat! Here is what I packed for clothes for 7 days on the WCT:
7. Bring $40
Half way through you may think you are hallucinating, but rest assured, you are not insane yet! You have stumbled upon the oasis of Chez Monique’s; a burger bar and food swap on the beach under the Carmanah lighthouse. It may be the most expensive cheeseburger you’ll ever eat ($20) but you won’t regret it. There are also halibut, salmon and veggie burgers and other food items (chips, cookies & candies) to be bought. If the weather is on your side, like it was for us, you’ll be sipping beers ($5) in the sun on the beach watching the seals and whales play meters away from you. As well, the taxi crossing at the Nitinat Narrows sells freshly grilled salmon, Dungeness crab and baked potatoes for $20. I highly suggest the crab, and don’t worry about the mess, at this point, you’re not getting any dirtier.
8. Gators & Hiking Poles
From tip-toeing through slippery tidal pools, to precariously balancing your way across soaked logs to navigating your way in and out of tree wells with snake like roots attempting to trip you up, gators and hiking poles will make your life a whole lot easier. Gators will help keep your feet dry and pebble free, while poles will alleviate the force on your knees and keep you balanced. Just be sure to stow away those poles on ladder ascents and descents. Plus, gators and short shorts can look pretty good, right?!
9. Pre-heat Your Sleeping Bag And Never Have Cold Feet Again
A trick that my sister and I learned at camp really made bedtime on the WCT luxurious. Before heading to bed, fill your Nalgene with fresh boiled water. Pop that radiating warm Nalgene into your sleeping bag and let it heat up while you brush your teeth and clean up camp. By the time you crawl into your sleeping bag for some much-needed rest, it’s already warm and the Nalegene will keep your feet toasty for much of night. As an added luxury, kindly ask your tent-mate to roll the warm Nalgene on your back and shoulders to alleviate strained muscles. You might need to bat your eyelashes and give a coy smile depending on how many days of dirt you have on you; reciprocation is usually required.
10. Campsuds Spa
If you could have clean hair would you? YES. With Campsuds you can! I took advantage of warm days, waterfalls and swimming holes. Campsuds is a biodegradable soap that can be used for anything from washing dishes to washing hair and clothes. A quick dip, scrub and rinse will leave you with a new sense of freshness that’s worth the glacial shock to the system. Even better, if you can spare the fuel, warm up some water and have a soothing sponge bath. Bringing a microfiber towel will help with cleaning and is super light and functional. Remember to braid your hair after to prolong your hair’s freshness.
These are my top 10 tips I have for making the West Coast Trail more enjoyable. Remember you are in the wild and need to remain prudent at keeping a clean site. There are lots of wild animals you could encounter on the trail, including bears and cougars. To avoid these encounters, follow these simple guidelines and rules:
- Use the provided bear bins, never leave anything with a scent at your campsite over night
- Cook away from your tent
- Follow the rule “pack out what you pack in”, never leaving any garbage, especially in the bear bins
- For extra security, keep a canister of bear spray in the tent with you at night
Remember to follow my essential beauty tips (braids, scarfs, nail polish) to keep you looking cute in your bragging rights photos. For more boot related information, be sure to read my post about choosing the right hiking boot for you. As well, include these toiletries, they will certainly help protect you from the elements and keep you looking good; Bert’s Bees colored lip balm, hand sanitizer and tinted moisturizer with SPF. There are so many opportunities for beauty shots along the way; you’ll make your friends jealous with all the pictures when you get back, proving you don’t have to be a granola girl to accomplish trips like this. Along with other essential daypack items, the most important thing to remember is to pack as light as possible, I can’t emphasize this enough.
With the limited number of spots per year and the physical demand of the trail, very few people can add the WCT to their list of accomplishments. If you’re one of the lucky few who get to experience it this summer, best of luck, stay positive and endure! You’ll come off of it with a huge sense of accomplishment and probably a temporary hatred for backpacking, which will soon turn into a hunger for more.