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The Best West Coast Trail Packing List

The Best West Coast Trail Packing List

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If you’ve successfully scored permits for the West Coast Trail, congratulations! Perhaps you’re wondering what to pack for the West Coast Trail and are looking for a West Coast Trail packing list? You’re in the right place.

The West Coast hiking trail is known for being muddy given its location along the west coast of Vancouver Island and involves lots of ladders. Because of that, it demands a little bit more equipment to keep you dry and comfortable, without being too heavy for the duration of your hike.

If you’re unsure of what to pack for the West Coast Trail, BC hopefully, this backpacking packing list will help.

Packing for another multi-day backpacking trip? Take a look at this backpacking packing list.

About Hiking the West Coast Trail

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The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a 75km backpacking trail within the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. For many, it’s considered a hike of a lifetime in part due to the scenery, the varied beach terrain and camping options, and the fact that it’s a challenge!

Over the course of the 75km backpacking route, you’ll climb more than 100 West Coast Trail ladders with your pack on, navigate cable cars and bridges, wade through deep mud and across hip-deep, chilly streams. Add to that the chance of rain and wind and it’s easy to see the challenge presented by the West Coast Trail.

The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island is open from May 1st to September 30th each year. Reservations for the West Coast Trail are essential and can be hard to get. Most people will take between 4 and 7 days to complete the whole trail.

West Coast Trail reservations can be made here.

There are two points of entry for the West Coast Trail. If you start from the south you’ll go from Gordon River, and if you start in the North you’ll start from Pachena Bay.

There is almost no cell phone service along the trail, and evacuations in the event of injury are by boat or helicopter. You’ll need all your food and water purification tablets for the duration of your hike and need to be aware of tide times as parts of the trail are inaccessible at high tide. That means preparedness for this hike is essential – especially when it comes to packing!

How to Pack for the West Coast Trail

Packing for multi-day packing trips can always be a bit tricky, here are some top tips for packing for the West Coast Trail which has its own set of challenges.

How Heavy Should Your Bag be for the West Coast Trail?

Given the particularities of the West Coast Trail (ladders, length, beach trails, mud), it can be hard to pack for and there’s a strong likelihood you’ll start by overpacking.

The key with this trail is not to overpack since you’re not only going to have to hike with that for a week or so but climb ladders with your pack too!

In general, Parks Canada recommends that you pack weighh 25-30% of your body weight. If it’s more than this they say you should reassess as packs that are too heavy can really ruin your experience and cause injuries!

Before beginning your hike, you need to go through orientation from Parks Canada rangers. There are scales at the Pachena Bay ranger station, at the Crab Shack at Nitinaht Narrows and on Butch’s Dock at Gordon River. So, if your pack is still to heavy you can have a last minute repack but it’s easier if you’ve sorted that out beforehand.

How to Reduce Pack Weight on the West Coat Trail

Here are some great tips for reducing pack weight:

  • Go lightweight for your big items: sleeping bag, tent, backpack, and sleeping pad. Lightweight can be expensive but they’re usually good quality and worth it in the long run!
  • Don’t bring too many clothes on the West Coast Trail. You won’t need clean clothes everyday.
  • Save weight on food: Pack dehydrated meals over bags of heavier food items
  • Reconsider taking camp chairs and heavy cameras. Phone cameras are great these days and are likely good enough to get the photos you want!
  • Share gear with your group such as a tarp, first aid kit or water filter.

What not to pack for the West Coast Trail

  • Drones: They aren’t allowed in any national park unless you have a special use permit.
  • Axe: Campfires are allowed, but axes are against the rules. In any case, you should be able to find lots of small driftwood to make a fire. Remember to follow Leave No Trace best practices and make a small fire.
  • Your dog: Dogs are not permitted on the West Coast Trail.

West Coast Trail Packing Essentials

These are the West Coast Trail essentials that you’ll need to make sure you have on you, or between your group. Of course, the first essential is making sure you’ve got your camping reservations for your West Coast Trail campsites. You can get your West Coast Trali booking online here.

Your West Coast Trail Permit

When you check-in at the ranger stationy you’ll be given a small paper permit. It’s a good idea to pack a ziplock bag to keep it in since it’s not waterproof. You’ll have to show this when you take the Gordon River and Nitinaht Narrows ferries so make sure you don’t lose or damage it.

National Parks Pass

You need a National Parks pass to hike the West Coast Trail since you’re hiking in a Canadian National Park. If you have an annual pass (great idea if you’re planning to visit a few national parks, buy onlin here), you can use that. But if you don’t you can buy them at check-in or just get them online in advance.

Again, these aren’t waterproof so keep them with your trail permit.

Tide Table

You need to pack a tide table since several parts of the trail are inaccessible at high tide.

Though park rangers will stick a tide table with your West Coast Trail Map it’s pretty basic and just has daily highs and lows. It’s not adjusted for clock changes under daylight savings and therefore it’s just way easier to take your own separate tide table.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada produce a tide table that’s adjusted for daylight savings time and has hourly predicted tide height for every hour of the day. No more guessing! You’re looking for the Tofino tide table (linked above) as this is recommended for the West Coast Trail.

And, you’ve guessed it, add it to the ziplock bag!

West Coast Trail Map

At orientation, you’ll be given a waterproof version of the West Coast Trail map to add to your West Coast trail packing list.

This is the item you’ll probably use the most to see how far it is between campsites and plan your hiking route.

Watch or Cell Phone (& chargers)

Together with the tide table, you’ll need a watch or phone so you can tell the time!

If you use a Garmin/Apple watch, remember to also pack your charging cable and a battery pack so you can recharge it. The same goes for your phone, especially is you’re planning on using it as your camera.

GPS (optional)

I like to record my hikes through my Garmin Instinct watch and you can also do this through hiking apps on your phone. However, this is optional!

Satellite Communication Device (optional)

If you have an InReach or similar satellite communication/SOS device then take it! It’s better to have it than not, but it’s also not essential.

Tent and Sleeping Gear

west coast trail packing list

Tent & optional additional tent pegs

It rains a lot on the West Coast Trail and so making sure you have a properly waterproof and lightweight, compact tent is a must. No one wants to wake up to find they’re sleeping in a puddle of water!

MSR 3-season tents are always a good option. We use our MSR Elixir for everything. We got it second-hand on eBay and respray it with waterproofing spray every now and again – it’s served us well!

Given that most of the camping on the West Coast Trail is on the sand, your standard tent pegs might not work so well. While your tent is unlikely to move if you put rocks around the pegs and keep your gear inside the tent, sand/snow stakes are a good option just to make sure.

Sleeping bag and stuff/Compression sack

Given the weight recommendations for the West Coast Trail, you’ll want to pack a lightweight and easily compressible sleeping bag. Something that is rated to as low as 0°C should be warm enough but if you have something that sleeps cooler you can take that, it just might take up more space in your backpack.

Whichever bag you go for, be sure to get a compression sack to help squash it down and take up less space in your backpack. I picked mine up from MEC, something like this will do the trick.

Tarp and Cord (Optional)

If you’re hiking in a group of 4+ taking a tarp amongst you is a great idea! This way you won’t be confined to your separate tents if it rains. Taking a tarp means you can rig yourself a little shelter for cooking and hanging out and if it’s super sunny it acts as shade!

You can get good tarps from most stores including Home Depot and Garden Stores.

West Coast Trail Backpacks and Bags

Backpack

What size backpack for the West Coast Trail? Your best bet will be something between 60 and 75L which is pretty big.

You should test your backpack out in the store beforehand (use weights to see what it feels like when packed) to make sure it’s comfortable.

I use a Vango backpacking pack for multi-day hikes and sometimes my boyfriend’s Osprey backpack.

Dry Bags & Stuff Sacks

To keep things dry on the trail, it’s best to buy several dry bags or stuff sacks of varying sizes. Not only does this help compress your clothes or sleeping bag, but it makes organizing your backpack easier and keeps things dry! There’s nothing worse than getting into some damp clothing or a sleeping bag!

These sacks are pretty good and not too expensive.

Rain Protection

Some backpacks come with a rain cover but not all of them. If yours doesn’t make sure you get one that’ll fit your bag – opt for one a little bit bigger so it’ll fit a full bag. They usually come with a draw string so you can tighten it around your bag too.

Another good tip is to get a big trash compactor bag and put it inside your backpack. This acts as an extra layer of rain protection and it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry!

What to wear on the West Coast Trail

Rain jacket (ideally Gore-tex) & rain pants

You should take a rain jacket on every hike you do, especially for the West Coast Trail.

Some key things to look for are that it’s Gore-tex and has zippers by your pits to allow form breathability and cool you down while staying dry. My Arc’teryx jacket was pricey but worth it!

When I was a dog walker I used waterproof pants a lot! You’ll want them a bit bigger and baggier than your usual pants since they go over your hiking pants/leggings/shorts. I use these ones, but any should help keep you drier.

If you want to go all out, you could get a pair of waterproof socks too!

Insulated Jacket & additional warm layer

The mornings and evenings may be quite cold and so you’ll want a puffy jacket to go under your rain jacket. I use a Patagonia puffy and combine it with my R1 insulated top.

You may only need the puffy if the temps don’t look like they’re going too low but make sure you have at least one option!

Hiking pants or leggings or shorts (2 pairs)

Wear what you’d usually wear when hiking as that’s what you’re used to and are most comfortable in. However, I wouldn’t recommend brand new, expensive leggings since they might tear or get caught on branches/ladders etc.

Shorts are a good idea if you’re hiking in July or August as temperatures are typically a bit warmer.

I have a pair of Fjallraven pants and typically take those and some leggings or a pair of biker shorts.

Tops

For hiking, I’ll take a quick-drying t-shirt, and a long-sleeve one both for sun and mosquito protection and to keep warm if the mornings/evenings are cold.

Again, these are usually tops I’ll run and workout in normally and are typically from Old Navy.

Something to sleep in

I’ll typically pack a long sleeve t-shirt, a bralette, and some leggings to wear when at camp and to sleep in. My leggings are a mix of Old Navy and Lululemon.

Underwear & Sports Bras

Some people will say you don’t need to bring fresh underwear every day. Personally, it’s one of the luxuries that I’ll take when backpacking. They don’t take up much room or weight, so why not!

Plus, they can double up as bikini bottoms if you fancy a dip in the ocean!

Any underwear will do, I’m a recent convert to Lululemon’s active underwear.

I’ll typically take 1-2 sports bras and wear the same ones I’d use running: this one.

Hat (warm & cool)

Pack a beanie and a trucker cap/baseball cap, or just the cap if your insulated jacket has a good hood for chilly evenings!

Gloves

I get cold hands easily so will usually pack a pair of gloves when doing multi-day hikes. These ‘waterproof enough’ gloves from MEC are a new favorite, but any gloves will do!

Some West Coast Trail hikers recommend garden gloves for the ladders and cable cars to keep them protected from cuts/blisters.

Sunglasses

Make sure you’re prepared for sunshine by packing sunglasses. I love Goodr sunglasses since they don’t slip, are cheap, and are polarized too!

Footwear for the West Coast Trail

Hiking Boots

Hiking shoes probably won’t cut it on the West Coast Trail since it’s muddy and wet. Make sure you take boots to keep your feet drier and give you some more stabilization.

With boots, you should make sure you’ve had a chance to wear them in to minimize getting blisters. Go to a store and try various pairs on to see which fits your feet best then get out and break them in!

I wear Keen Pyrenees boots which I love. They are comfortable, keep me dry and I like the way they look too. But make sure you get ones that work for you!

Camp or water shoes (optional)

I like to take some lightweight shoes for walking around camp to air my feet out, or for any river crossing on trail. I have a pair of Native shoes but Tevas and similar sandals are supposed to be great too and take up less room than Native shoes.

Socks

Buy some good hiking socks such as Darn Tough or Smartwool and pack 4 pairs for the week. You can keep one pair as night socks and air out those you’ve hiked in at the end of the day to help keep them fresh.

Gaiters (Optional)

Gaiters can help keep mud, sand, and water out of your boots which can avoid blisters over the course of your hike. I don’t own gaiters but you might find you prefer using them and if you get them for the West Coast Trail, you’re sure to find a use for them on other hikes around BC.

Toiletries

For toiletries, you want to be as minimal as you can while still staying fresh and clean. It can be a hard task but after many trips and living in a van for 5 months I’ve picked up some great tips along the way.

I keep all of these in a silicone bag so that they’re not picking up dirt from my backpack or getting lost amongst everything else.

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste: Take a mini toothpaste and a standar toothbrush
  • Deodorant: I usually decant some of this deodorant into a small pot
  • Baby Wipes: Pack a small pack of baby wipes (unscented) and give yourself a baby-wipe shower to freshen up!
  • Cotton pads & micellar water: This is what. Iuse as a makeup remover and I just put some micellar water in a small container and pack some cotton pads so. can give my face a good clean
  • Sun cream & lip balm: I love Sun Bum for both body suncream and lip SPF
  • Bug Spray: If you’re a mosquito magnet you’ll want some bug spray. This is a good item to share amongst your group
  • Hair ties: Always good to have a spare. I typically don’t brush my hair much so can go without a brush if I have hair ties
  • Toilet paper: Share between 2 and keep in a silicone bag to keep it dry
  • Hand sanitizer: Just a little bottle
  • Menstrual supplies: if needed (I use a Diva Cup)
  • Glasses/Contacts: if needed

First Aid and Safety

First Aid Kit

You should always pack a small first aid kit when you go hiking (day hike or backpacking!). Include some band-aids, bandages, blister packs, gauze, medical tape, and antiseptic cream. Adding some painkillers or Immodium is a good idea too.

I use 2-person Adventure Medical Ultralight first aid kits and add a couple of extra supplies to them such as blister packs. You should also add a multi-tool and a small roll of duct tape in case repairs are needed

Bear Spray

There are bears on the West Coast Trail so you must carry bear spray and make noise when hiking. In Canada, you have to buy bear spray in person and this can be bought at pretty much every outdoor store.

Take a look at this bear safety post for more information on hiking in bear country.

Headlamp

Headlamps are one of the 10 essentials for hiking and a safety item as well as just a good to have when it’s dark in your tend. I use a BioLite headlamp which I really like.

Cooking Gear

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Stove, fuel, and lighter & cooking pots

Fires are allowed on the West Coast Trail (when you’re on a beach and there’s no fire ban!), but it’s easier to take a stove with you to cok on.

A lightweight stove like this or a Jetboil will get your meals ready quickly which is perfect when you’re hungry after hiking all day! Don’t forget to take an ignitor if needed (storm proof matches are a good idea in case the ignitor breaks). And gas, of course.

If you’re using a Jetboil then you won’t need a cooking pot since it’s built into the whole thing. With the lightweight stove linked above it comes with some pots that I used for years before getting a Jetboil.

Bowl & mug

I use a collapsable bowl similar to this and this silicone travel mug/cup. They fold down so they don’t take up much space and big enough for breakfast and dinner.

Spoon, fork and knife

If I’m taking a lot of dehydrated meals I love my extra long silicone spoon that can reach right down to the bottom of the pack. Otherwise a spork is great to eat with.

We also pack this knife to chop up any salami or cheese we’ve pack to eat during our backpacking trip (plus it acts as a fire starter too!).

Washing up

Pack a small thing of biodegradable soap and a cloth to wash up with.

Never put your dirty water into streams, put it into the ocean.

Food to pack for the West Coast Trail

Water bladder and/or water bottles

I typically pack a 2L hydration pack and a 1L Nalgene bottle.

There’s one stretch between kilometers 30-40 where there’s no water so you may appreciate being able to carry more than 2L, especially if it’s hot!

Water treatment

You’ll have to treat all the water you drink on the West Coast Trail. Streams look clean and they may not make you sick, but it’s not worth the risk!

I use a Sawyer squeeze to treat my water. You just fill up the bag and squeeze it through into your nalgene or water bladder.

What food to pack for the West Coast Trail

Hiking is hungry work! You’ll want food that is high in calories but still lightweight!

Below is what I’ll typically pack for backpacking food on a multi-day trip. I’d rather have move than run out!

Breakfasts:

  • 2 sachets instant porridge (mix with water)
  • Dried Fruit & nuts
  • Instant coffee

Lunches:

  • Wraps
  • Hummus (dehydrated or the mini pots)
  • Babybel cheese
  • Salami (we buy one big salami and cut it up for lunches during the day

Dinners:

  • 1 dehydrated meal per day. My favourite brand is Backpacker’s Pantry (the pad thai is so good!)

I’ve just been given a dehydrated from my friends which I’m very excited to test out for the upcoming season since dehydrated meals are expensive!

Snacks

  • Protein bars (1/day)
  • Trail mix (with some added chocolate chips or M&Ms!)
  • “Tiger” tea iykyk
  • Dried mango
  • Chocolate

You’ll want to store all your food in a bag and then use a bear hang or a food locker to keep it safe from mice and bears. I just use a dry bag like these and pack a trash bag to keep all the trash in too!

Optional Extra West Coast Gear

Quick-dry towel and swimsuit

If you like to swim in the ocean (or think you’ll want to) pack a swimsuit and a small microfibre towel as they dry quickly.

Camp games

You’ll have a few hours each night in camp when you’ll need to entertain yourself. Consider bringing a book or some headphones to listen to music or podcasts. I always travel with my Amazon Kindle eReader so I have hundreds of books to choose from. We’ve brought the card game Exploding Kittens on a few backpacking trips and it’s always a hit.

Camera

If you’re really into photography then pack your main camera – just be aware of the weight it’ll add! You can also use a GoPro or, of course, your phone!

Battery pack & charging cables

As mentioned above, packing a battery pack is a good idea if you’re using a watch like a Garmin or Apple that needs charging and if you’re planning to use your phone for photos. I use one like this.

Have you hiked the West Coast Trail? What would you add to the list?