Through sandy beaches and forests of pine, misty sea breezes and drizzling rain, the West Coast Trail in Canada is full of gorgeous views and adventure. We made our trek in July of 2015 and had an experience we’ll not soon forget, especially since it was my first backpacking trip ever. (They do not recommend making this trail your first, as it is for intermediate hikers. Oops.)
Mistakes were made, as were memories. At one point mice scurried around while we slept at night. On another occasion we flew over cliffs on a fun cable car. We ate at pit stops people had set up along the trail and remembered how good real food tasted. I took too long hiking and we were the last to get back to camp on one occasion, after the sun went down and then tears took over my life. It was crazy, and I ended up loving the experience.
I’m sharing with you everything you need to pack on the West Coast Trail, and things I wish I brought that will help you avoid some of the situations we faced. This info is coming at you straight from a pro (certainly not me)! Tyler’s dad is an avid hiker and has tackled a ton of trails in his life. He used to take Tyler and his brothers on insane hikes as kids. One time they even ran out of water and had to get it from the dirt under plants because all the nearby freshwater had dried up!
Most complete this trail in six to eight days. Our group finished it in seven, giving us enough time to sight-see when we wanted to and to not rush ourselves. In total, the trail is 47 miles long (75 km).
Packing Tips Before You Go
So here are some things you’ll definitely want to keep in mind as you’re preparing to head to Canada. Check out the Parks Canada website for all the details on this hike and what you should expect. Additionally, you can read this incredibly informative trail guidebook to learn anything your heart desires about the hike (when hiking season opens, trail permits and etiquette, history, etc.)
- Parks Canada suggests women’s backpacks should be 1/4 of their body weight and men’s should be 1/3 their weight. You will be carrying a crap-ton of stuff so you want to make sure most of it is as lightweight as possible.
- When you start the trail, you will have to undergo a mandatory orientation. There are scales hanging from the little triangle-shaped hut where you can hang your packs to determine if your pack is overweight. I was a normal-sized 20-year-old when I hiked this trail, so my pack was around 35 lbs.
- Make sure your backpack has a padded, adjustable hip belt for support. A chest belt is helpful as well to keep your pack as close to your body as possible.
- Be realistic when packing your backpack before the trip and walk around with it on for a bit to get a feel for what you’ll be carrying for a week straight.
- You will be carrying your own food. Be prepared to heat your food at camp and bring light meals that are vacuum-sealed/dehydrated. Food will be the heaviest thing you’re carrying, so it’s good to know each day you’ll be carrying less and less weight!
- Lastly, fit everything into your pack like you’re a Tetris wizard. Consider this diagram to help you put everything in its rightful place. Remember: your sleeping bag always goes at the bottom, and things you’ll be needing regularly like toilet paper, maps, and cameras go in outer pockets or at the very top of your pack.
Done all your research? Fantastic! Now it’s time to scrounge up some equipment you already own, borrow from friends, or start filling up your shopping cart with hiking essentials! At the start of our adventure, Tyler and I heeded the wise words of Samwise Gamgee and shared the load. We were also lucky enough to have Tyler’s dad carrying the cooking equipment for our whole group. So if you are hiking alone, be extra vigilant when packing all that crap for yourself.
- 65L backpack with cover– Your pack is your home and your turtle shell for the next seven days. Make sure the pack itself is lightweight when you buy it, and includes padding and straps for needed support. If you find one that is already waterproof, go you! If not, consider getting a waterproof cover as well. Remember your camera at the top of your pack? Yeah, that would suck.
- Tent with waterproof fly– When buying a tent, check the specs. Don’t get a tent that is too large for you, because that’s just unnecessary. Pay attention to its weight, as you’ll be carrying the tent poles as well. Don’t skip out on bringing the waterproof fly. It will rain at least once while you’re there (if you’re lucky) and if it’s at night, you and all your things will be drenched and then you will not be a happy camper. A sad one. You’ll be a sad camper.
- Sleeping pad– We brought your basic blue foam, closed-cell sleeping pad. These are the cheapest option, but by far the least comfortable. If you have the cash, maybe choose to invest in a compact, light sleeping mattress. Your back will thank you.
- Synthetic sleeping bag– Okay, here’s where packing gets kind of tricky. You want to be really warm and insulated at night, but you don’t want to lug around 7 lbs. of sleeping bag for seven days. There are sleeping bags, then there are sleeping bags for hiking. These bags are significantly lighter and more compact. When buying, pay attention to the temperature rating, weight, and cool features it offers. Mine has a foot hole to zip open if it gets too toasty!
- Headlamp– For those unexpected days where you go slower than the rest of the group and end up hiking in the dark… and when you need to pee three times a night.
- 2L water bladder– Our brand is Platypus. They offer a bunch of sturdy water bladders, along with smaller bladders with caps that you can use as water bottles. The tube on the large bladders comes right out of your pack so you don’t have to keep pulling a bottle out just to re-hydrate.
- Water bottle– When your fancy water bladder runs dry, go old school and always carry a light water bottle.
- Gaiters– No, do not bring your pet alligator on the WCT. Gaiters cover your legs from the tops of your feet to your knees. They keep anything wet and gross (or sandy) from getting in your boots and socks. They are often only recommended, but we found them necessary as some forest sections of the trail were full of mud puddles. Once there was a whole stretch of the trail that had seemingly turned into a swamp, and all we had was a nearby rope to pull ourselves up an entire wall of mud in order to move on.
- Swiss army knife– Because when do you ever not need one of these while camping?
- Water purification tablets– We chose to boil our own water every morning, but you could also try this method with freshwater. Or combine both methods, you fancy-pants hiker, you. In dire straits I’ve had to drink a bottle of straight river water before and lived, so…
- Hiking poles– A lot of hikers swear by these, and I’ve never actually used them before. I hear they’re way helpful in situations with tricky footing. They’d probably work really well in those muddy sections I mentioned earlier.
- Synthetic rope– You might want to bring enough to dry wet clothes on or to hang your food away from bears. (Though, there are bear bins at most sites.)
Clothing and Outerwear
- 3 shirts/tank tops– Moisture-wicking shirts are the absolute best. Or you could go with a tank top if you aren’t afraid of getting sunburn.
- 2 pairs of leggings/shorts– I love hiking in knee-length leggings that wick away moisture. Not only do they feel really breathable as you walk, the fabric is usually really flexible.
- 2 sports bras– Ladies, you’ll need one for hiking and one to put on at camp to stay dry.
- 3-4 pairs of quick-dry underwear– An obvious one.
- 2 thermal shirts/t-shirts-To change into when you get to camp and to keep you warm in your tent at night.
- 1 pair of pajama shorts– You should bring what you’re comfortable sleeping in. Don’t bring sweatpants because they will weigh you down while hiking. I don’t recommend sleeping in the nude because you might get cold or have to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night and awkwardly run into a stranger. Or worse, someone you know…
- 3 pairs of hiking socks– Most outdoor stores sell hiking-specific socks, and they are magic. Smart Wool socks have extra padding on the heel to help prevent blisters, and are made to wick away sweat. They resist odors and are just super comfy. I also brought 3 pairs of normal ankle socks to put on under the hiking socks to further prevent blisters, but you don’t have to. (You can also buy sock-liners.)
- Lightweight windbreaker– This is great for keeping wind out on cold mornings and for not getting wet if it starts to sprinkle. (You’re hiking in a temperate rainforest, so that will likely happen.) Now I use a zip-up fleece hoodie for morning hikes.
- Sturdy gloves– There are crazy amounts of ladders on the trail that you’ll wish you had gloves for. Some ladders immediately lead to four other ladders and your hands will be begging for relief and slow you down if you don’t have them on. I didn’t bring them and I wish I had.
- Hiking boots with ankle support– Emphasis on “ankle support”! I borrowed boots that fit me, but they lacked ankle support. Definitely rolled my ankles quite a few times. Now I have really sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with ankle support that I seriously love. The ankle support makes all the difference. It makes hiking more enjoyable, and involves less of me being overly careful about where I step (and being the slow one!).
- Flip flops– Lightweight and perfect for chilling out. You’ll need these for when you walk around at camp, in the outhouses, and in the shower at the end of your trek.
- Sunglasses– Because your eyes are precious and you’re also really cool.
- Hat– If you’re bald or your face gets burnt easily, pick a hat and wear it on the trail!
- Swimwear– You could cool off by swimming in the ocean or in the freshwater you’ll come across at campsites. You’ll mainly need swimwear to put on as you rinse all that dirt and grime off once you’re done hiking for the day.
- Rain poncho– Buy a cheap plastic one to bring along in case you have to hike during a downpour. We were lucky enough that it only rained on some nights.
- Aluminum coffee pot– Poppa Grow carried this for the group. He used it to boil water for everyone’s dried meals and for his special hot chocolate he needed for those chilly mornings.
- Lightweight camping stove and cookset– Keep it light! I don’t remember us using this because it never rained while we were cooking, but you never know. All the wood around you might be saturated from a previous downpour, or something.
- Alcohol fuel– Also, just in case your fire won’t start.
- Lighter– We just used a lighter instead of matches to start our campfires.
- Plastic mug– Because you don’t want to pour hot chocolate down your throat from the coffee pot that everyone needs to get their water from. Yum!
- Spork– What an invention. Need I say more?
- Dehydrated/freeze-dried camp food– You can choose to dehydrate and seal your own meals, or you can buy the pouches of camp food they sell in most outdoor stores and at Walmart. They actually have some pretty delicious options for meals, even dessert! They are really pricey, but I love seeing the different choices and splurging. I don’t want a bland meal after looking forward to eating each day!
- Granola bars– Pack a few light granola bars to snack on when you’re in need of an energy boost.
- Jerky– Classic hiking snack. My personal favorite is teriyaki.
- Fruit leather– We just discovered this healthy snack and brought a ton of them. Sometimes they can be sticky, but they were tasty.
- Oatmeal– Pouring a steaming pot of water into my strawberry oatmeal packet every morning was really satisfying.
- Trail mix– Another classic! You can also make your own, healthier version if you want.
- Candy bars– It sounded a little odd to me when we were told to bring a favorite candy bar to have each day… How can that be healthy for you every day?! Candy bars are a big source of sugar and energy and really help your body get going while hiking. Plus it was really nice to have a sweet treat each day.
- Hot chocolate– Nights and early mornings on the beaches and at campsites get pretty chilly on the West Coast Trail. Having some hot chocolate on hand is both a great way to get cozy at night and a warm, gentle wake-up call at the crack of dawn.
- Seasoning packets– In case your food is just “meh”.
- Electrolyte powder– Pop one of these babies in your water and you’ll get some extra hydration your body needs.
First Aid Kit
- Pain medication– Because you’ll need it, like, often.
- Benadryl– My mother never goes anywhere without it. If you have an allergic reaction or get a bug bite, this will fix you right up. I recommend bringing the spray-on version along with the pills. This way you can spray it on the affected area without falling asleep on the trail and getting eaten by a bear.
- Band-aids– An obvious one. Bring a few different sizes/types, just in case.
- Neosporin– A small amount will soothe any minor cuts or scrapes you get along the trail before sealing it with a band-aid.
- Moleskin– When you get a blister, you’ll want to cover it up with this ASAP. Band-aids only last so long if they are used for this.
- Stomach medication– Bring a few Tums for your tum if your stomach has trouble adjusting to the water situation.
- Birth control– Ladies, stay regular. Plus, camping with your period is hell. So let’s avoid that, shall we?
- Any medications you have been prescribed to take normally
You might think you need more to be more prepared, but you don’t. Every little bit of weight counts against you.
It’s the Little Things
- Travel-sized soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste– It’s just more courteous to others…
- Chapstick– And probably another tube for when you lose that one.
- Insect repellent– You need it.
- Sunscreen– You need it. Are you incredibly pale and freckly like me? You really need it. Half of the trail is thankfully in the cover of the forest, but the other half is on the beach directly under the sun.
- Toilet paper– Tyler and I each brought a roll, took out the cardboard, and sealed them each in Ziploc bags. This is your Precious. Don’t use too much at one time.
- Travel-sized pack of tissues– My nose runs if I hike for long periods of time. It’s nice to know I’m not using up all my toilet paper on snot when it needs to be saved for more important duties. Also if you happen to cry after hiking 17 miles in one day, I guess you could use them for that…
- Hand sanitizer– Nice for if your hands get sticky or you touch something sketchy, but not really helpful if your hands are just dirty. Then you’re basically rubbing the dirt around without removing it. That’s what the soap is for when you get to camp!
- Small hairbrush– My hair was pretty long, so I tied it up every day. But after the shower you get at the end, your hair might require some extensive de-tangling.
- West Coast Trail Map– You can find these as a PDF online to print out, or you can just grab one when you get there.
- Tide Tables– You will receive these when you get your trail permit. You’ll need them to determine when you should be off the beach in the evenings, and what the best times are to see the sea caves without getting washed away.
- Money– It is recommended to bring at least $100-$120 in cash (in a plastic bag) with you for emergencies, buying your trail permit, and other food options. There are a few fantastic little places you’ll find as you’re hiking where you can eat a juicy burger or chow down on some freshly caught crab. Yummmm! You do not want to miss them!
- Cell phone– Again, for emergencies. You won’t get great service, but you can still charge it up beforehand and take photos. I don’t recommend making your phone the only means of taking photos, though. Phones die pretty quickly when they are used enough, and that would mean you have to find some way to charge it while on the trail. I think it’s a hassle to buy and carry charging equipment while backpacking, so I used my phone for videos only to conserve battery.
- Point-and-shoot camera– These are great for taking as many photos as you want, and their batteries last a lot longer than a phone’s. It’s very lightweight and thus a great way to capture all your memories on the trail. I didn’t have a DSLR like I do now, but even looking back I would not want to lug around and worry about it.
- Extra camera battery/memory card– Charge up your camera batteries before you go, but bring an extra battery and an extra memory card just in case. There have been several times I have been traveling or hiking and realized my battery or memory were all used up! And it’s one of the worst things to forget! You’ll be kicking yourself for when you can’t capture something worth remembering.😢
- GoPro– My first GoPro was the cheapest and earliest models they sell, but it was great to have it taking photos as it was strapped to my head, rather than taking the point-and-shoot out for everything. We took some sweet videos and time lapses too!
- Pen– Just in case you want to write on the map, jot a thought down, or take down someone’s contact info.
- Small journal– I didn’t bring this, but I so wish I had! Don’t bring a bulky journal you already have, but try to purchase a super tiny, light binding of paper that you can write on for seven days.
- Watch– To figure out the tides.
- Ziplocs– A few small extra baggies will keep things like your hiking permit and map dry in case they were to get wet.
- ID– You might need it if something comes up.
Now You’re All Set!
So there you have it, hikers! That’s everything you need to know about packing and what to bring to backpack Canada’s West Coast Trail. With these items, you will not only be prepared for whatever this seven-day hike throws at you, but you will not be struggling to carry the extra weight if you pack too many items. My advice would be to backpack with a friend or in a group because that will make carrying items more bearable if you are sharing with them.
Remember to not make this your first backpacking experience, and if it is, prepare yourself long beforehand with some training and many day-hikes. I trained half as much as I should have for this trek! Being physically primed for the WCT will make it an entirely more enjoyable experience that you’ll grow from in the long run. You can do this!
Raise your hand if you want me to create a printable (or PDF) packing checklist so you won’t forget anything! Let me know in the comments and I’ll get on that for you, friend!
Have you ever backpacked the West Coast Trail? What are some of your favorite items you packed? What did you skip out on packing that you wish you hadn’t? Post your comment below so we can all be a little more prepared for this incredible adventure! 🙂