So, you’ve decided. You’re going to hike the West Coast Trail. But where do you start planning? Are you physically prepared? Who and what will you bring with you? A successful journey requires forethought and preparation.
First, we begin by examining ourselves and our capabilities. The trail is 75 wet, muddy, sandy kilometers with abrupt elevation changes in the form of 70 individual ladders of varying height. Factor in the extra 30-50 lbs of weight we add onto our backs and you have a formidable physical challenge, even in a perfect weather scenario. We can give ourselves the best chance at success by training early. Registration opens early January, giving us plenty of time to prepare (isn’t it always easier to get into shape with a clear goal? I think so!). There are few places along the trail that require high exertion; a steady deliberate persistence will see you through to the goal. Thus, the best type of training you can adopt is simple walking. Slowly add more distance and pack-weight to your regimen as you get closer to your departure date. This will condition your stamina, your back & shoulder muscles, and your foot muscles to handle the stress of a multi-day backpacking trip. You can add incline training and tricep exercises as well to prepare for the ladders.
I Can Cry If I Want To
So, your body is ready. But there are some challenges which prove to be somewhat less tangible. How do you cope when you roll out of your sleeping bag on day 5 and the sun still hasn’t come out? When your hiking partner won’t stop talking about pizza? When your blisters have blisters? Make no mistake: this trail can test the patience of a saint. There is little you can do to emotionally prepare for something like this. The most impactful skill you can possess is the ability to recognize your misery, assess that there is nothing that can be done to alleviate it, and then choose to smile anyway. Seriously, the most effective method of defying despair is finding joy in the suffering. It sounds a bit deranged, but then again so does hiking in the rain for 8 days. We sign ourselves up for this temporary discomfort and are rewarded with the lasting joy and fulfillment of the finish line. This feeling only increases with the difficulty we face along the way!
I Got Blisters On My Fingers
Wait, what was that about blisters? Expect them. There are ways to minimize them, but they are a constant threat. Make sure you have properly fitting boots, merino wool socks, and lots of moleskin on hand. Some people find success with runner’s glide or vaseline, or medical tape. Experiment so you know what the early warning signs are and what works best for your body. Blisters form in 3 conditions: heat, moisture, and friction. Well-made merino wool socks (like those made by Smartwool or Icebreaker) help all 3 ways. The construction of these socks matches your foot shape to reduce bunching or rubbing, and the fabric has natural moisture wicking and temperature regulating properties. A high-cut boot locks the heel in and supports the arch to reduce elongation and movement.
Misery Loves Company
Your choice of hiking partners can have far-reaching consequences. More than a handful of romantic relationships have met their untimely end on those shores. The unique stresses can push people to reveal their highest virtues, or their most malicious iniquities. There are a lot of different qualities that make a good hiking companion, but I find 2 to be of particular importance. 1: Attitude. Picture yourself, breathing the ocean air, drinking in the sights, and all you can hear is your partner whining about the sand in his boots, or the ache in his muscles, or how bad the food is, or blah blah blah… There is certainly something to be said about voicing your struggles and sharing the burden of them, but there is a fine line between “communicating your needs” and “whining like a baby”. Understand that you will be infected by the disposition of those you surround yourself with, for better or for worse.2: Preparedness. Planning this adventure takes a lot of effort. Between trail reservation, meal planning, travel planning, gear preparation, and personal training, there are a lot of moving parts that need to be nailed down months in advance. If your prospective partner is unwilling to lend a hand in any of these areas, prepare for a headache. Along the same lines, beware of flakey friends! Keeping another person on standby is a good idea in case somebody bails out 2 weeks from departure. You should also acknowledge this person’s physical abilities. I’m sure your grandmother is a wonderful person who would add a lot to the group dynamics, but I do question whether she can handle 40 lbs on her back through a 75km mud-slog.
Bring it in
At this point, you may be asking yourself if this hike really is for you. It sounds difficult, dangerous, and downright uncomfortable. Well, without mincing words, it’s all of those things! That doesn’t mean the trail isn’t also beautiful, enjoyable and rewarding at the same time. If you find yourself questioning whether this particular adventure is a good fit or not, don’t fret! There are many alternatives. You can choose to hike half of this trail, exiting or entering at Nitinaht Narrows. Or you could hike the Juan de Fuca Trail. It offers similar sights, but at reduced difficulty and with more access/exit points. Something closer to home might be more suitable, such as Grey Owl’s Trail in Prince Albert National Park (this is an especially good option for those just getting into hiking!). But if you think you’ve got the right stuff, the West Coast Trail is a once in a lifetime experience, widely regarded as one of the very best hiking trails in the world. Reservations open every year in early January, so it is never too soon to start planning your escape!
Are you planning some adventures this summer, check out what Bill took with him when hiking the West Coast Trail. Though this list was created for the particular trip, its a good base for almost any multi-day backcountry hiking trip.
- Properly fitting hiking backpack w/pack cover, 55-75 Litres capacity
- Lightweight backpacking tent w/footprint and pack towel
- Packable sleeping bag (0o to -5o)
- Sleeping pad with minimum R-value 2.0
- Lightweight backpacking stove and appropriate fuel
- Cookware, dish, cup, utensils, pack towel dish cloth
- Waterproof food bags & rope (for bear caches)
- High energy, low bulk food & snacks
- First Aid Kit
- Bear spray
- Toiletries (including toilet paper and biodegradable soap)
- 2-3 Litres of water reservoir/ bottle
- Water treatment system
- Tinder kit, small camp knife
- Freezer bags for packing out garbage
- Small repair Kit
- Sturdy, stiff-soled hiking boots (make sure they are broken in!)
- Comfortable camp shoes or sandals
- 3 pairs of merino wool hiking socks
- 3 pairs moisture wicking underwear (polyester or merino wool)
- Waterproof raingear (for best performance, wash and retreat your raingear just before your trip)
- Thin waterproof sacks (for inside your backpack)
- Moisture wicking long underwear top and bottom (polyester or merino wool)
- 1-2 pairs of quick-drying hiking pants
- 2-3 quick-drying hiking tops
- 1 thermal fleece (polyester or merino wool)
- 1 puffy jacket
- Toque, light gloves, Buff
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Ziploc bags for map, tide charts
- Cash (about $100)
- Cell Phone (Sparse coverage for emergency calls)