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West Coast Trail Packing List: The Best Items to Bring

The West Coast Trail is a one-of-a-kind hiking experience on Vancouver Island, Canada.

The challenging route traverses 75km of rugged beach and forest terrain as well as more than 70 wooden ladders.

Looking across driftwood towards the cascading Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail, which is backdropped by forest and fronted by beach
Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail

While the rewards are plentiful, hikers need to be completely self sufficient and prepared to endure potentially extreme weather conditions. Bringing the right equipment is key.

In this post, I aim to help you create your own perfect West Coast Trail packing list. I will cover backpacking essentials as well as West Coast Trail specific items and optional luxury items, with tips and advice gained from our own 8 day WCT hike.

Back view of JR hiking around a rocky headland with the sandy shores of Pachena Bay visible behind
One of the WCT’s coastal sections

No matter if you’re a novice or experienced backpacker, the following information should help enhance your West Coast Trail experience.

Read our other WCT guides for more tips:

The West Coast Trail is located on the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations.

Published March 2023

Hiker sign on tree trunk next to root system obstacle on the West Coast Trail
The forest sections have some interesting obstacles

Putting together the perfect West Coast Trail packing list

No hiker is the same and hence there is no one-size-fits-all West Coast Trail packing list. I can help point you in the right direction to put together the right packing list for you.

  • When considering what to bring and what to leave at home, keep in mind that your loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight

A hiker weighing 150lb (68kb) should aim for a backpack weight of around 30lb (13.6kg). Most WCT hikers carry 25lb to 40lb of gear

  • The lighter your pack, the easier the hike will be physically. Parks Canada reports that many accidental injuries on the WCT are a result of hikers carrying too heavy backpacks

When packing for a trip, I always weigh my backpack before leaving home and again at the trailhead. If it’s too heavy, I reassess luxury items and clothing

  • It can take a few backpacking trips to refine the best set-up (food, gear, clothing, footwear etc) for you. And over time, you may replace certain items to achieve a lighter pack or more comfortable experience

That is one reason why I don’t recommend the West Coast Trail as a first time backpacking trip. At the very least, try an overnight trip before starting the WCT.

  • Before finalising your West Coast Trail packing list, you should have secured a WCT reservation. Only 75 hikers can start the West Coast Trail every day and a reservation is required to ensure a spot

2023 reservations will launch on March 25th at 8am PT. Cancellations can and do happen, so be sure to check the Parks Canada website often if you do not manage to reserve a permit.

Side view of JR ascending elevated ladder near Tsusiat Falls
You’ll really feel the weight of your backpack when climbing the 70+ ladders!

Backpacking essentials

Let’s start with the essentials. The bare minimum for a WCT hike is:

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat/pad
  • Stove and fuel
  • Cooking pot and utensil
  • Food
  • Food storage
  • Water treatment system
  • Water storage
  • Clothing (at least two outfits)
  • Appropriate footwear
  • First Aid kit
  • Light source
  • Map
  • Signaling device
  • Fire starters
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Sun protection
  • Toiletries and medication

I will discuss each of the above items in more detail below. As a rule, I would suggest trying to aim for the lowest possible weight for your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and stove.

Experienced ultralight backpackers may swap out some of these items for lighter options e.g. tent for tarp shelter, stove/cooking pot for ‘cold soaked’ food.

Looking across rocks (some covered in seaweed) towards headland and ocean at Thrasher Cove
Thrasher Cove, West Coast Trail

Backpack

Ideally, your WCT backpack should be big enough to fit all of your gear inside of it.

Items stashed on the outside of the pack may get snagged or damaged by tree branches on the West Coast Trail’s many forest sections. Swaying items can also throw off your balance.

Most WCT backpackers use a backpack with 60 to 70 litres of space. Some people will find that their gear fits a smaller backpack (50 litres) or maybe a little bigger (80 litres). We used an Osprey Aura AG 65 and Osprey Aether 65.

The most important aspect to choosing a backpack for the WCT, however, is that it fits properly. The right fit is determined by:

  • A harness system that fits your back/torso properly
  • A snug fit on your hips (where most of the weight will be carried)

A well fitted backpack should be comfortable, distribute the load of your gear evenly and transfer the weight to your biggest and strongest muscles (those in your hips and legs).

More information about choosing a backpack in our Backpacking 101 guide.

Back view of JR standing on cliffside trail, looking out to foggy ocean views. On his back is a large backpack
Checking out the (foggy) views on day six of our WCT hike

Tent

Your tent will likely be the heaviest and largest single piece of gear in your WCT backpack. A well-built lightweight, waterproof backpacking tent is a must have for the often wet and windy West Coast Trail.

Most three season backpacking tents weigh between 2lb (1.1kg) to 7lbs (3.17kg). A good weight to aim for is 2lb per person.

Most WCT campsites are located on the beach. Sand and pebbles do not provide the most solid terrain for pitching, so a freestanding tent is preferable (but not essential).

Freestanding means that the tent body can hold its shape without needing to be staked to the ground.

If your tent is not freestanding, I would suggest bringing some sand stakes or extra cord to help secure your tent. Some hikers use drywall screws to stake their tent to large driftwood.

We used our trusty MSR Freelite 2 tent on the West Coast Trail, with a tent footprint to protect the base.

After 6 years of use, we have now switched to a Big Agnes Copper Spur 3 (again, with a footprint). It offers a lot more living space for very little extra weight penalty.

More information about choosing a backpacking tent in our Backpacking 101 guide.

Sunset colours in sky behind set up tent on sandy beach, surrounded by driftwood
Camping at Klanawa Beach on the West Coast Trail (MSR Freelite 2 tent)

Sleeping bag

Designed to keep you comfortable on the trail, a warm sleeping bag is a must have on the WCT. Weight is still an important deciding factor with sleeping bags, but not usually the primary one.

When choosing a sleeping bag for the West Coast Trail, temperature rating and insulation type are the two most common points of discussion.

Temperature rating

When choosing between different sleeping bags, be careful not to get confused between the comfort, limit and extreme temperature ratings.

The comfort rating indicates the temperature at which at the average female can sleep comfortably through the night (men usually produce more body heat).

Though nighttime temperatures on the West Coast Trail are rarely very cold, I would recommend bringing a sleeping bag with a comfort rating of at least 0c (32f).

Keep in mind that it is damp on the WCT, regardless of whether it is raining or not. At least with a warmer bag, you can always open it and let heat out.

On my WCT hike, I used a Rab’s Neutrino Pro 600. This bag is rated at -12c so while it may seem little overkill for the WCT, I run pretty cold.

Synthetic vs. down

Down (feathers) and synthetic (polyester fibres) are the two most popular sleeping bag insulators. 

Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper and more water resistant than down. If a synthetic bag gets wet, it will still offer some warmth (unlike a down bag).

These water resistant properties make synthetic sleeping bags the top choice for many hikers packing for the notoriously wet West Coast Trail.

The problem is, synthetic sleeping bags are less compressible (larger to pack) and heavier than equivalent down sleeping bags.

For me, having a lightweight pack trumps the risk of my sleeping bag getting wet (which has not happened in 50+ backcountry trips). Your level of risk aversion may be different to mine.

Whatever you choose, be sure to store your sleeping bag in a water resistant compression bag (should look similar to a dry bag). I’ve used the same Outdoor Research compression sack successfully for 8+ years!

Side silhouette of hikers on coastal section of the West Coast Trail
We were stuck in coastal fog for almost half of our WCT hike, which meant that temperatures were pretty cool (12c during the day)

Sleeping mat/pad

The ground draws heat away from the body. A sleeping mat, or pad, helps prevent this from happening and also offers cushioning for a more comfortable night.

Sleeping mats have an R-value, which is a measurement of the sleeping mat’s resistance to heat loss. The higher the number, the more warmth the sleeping pad offers.

Though the WCT is not usually very cold, I would still choose a sleeping mat with a minimum R-value rating of 3 (three season).

Hiking with your partner? Consider a double sleeping mat. We use an Exped Hyperlite mat and it helps us make the most of the space in our tent.

If using an air pad, be sure to bring a repair kit in case of small holes or leaks.

More information about choosing a sleeping mat in our Backpacking 101 guide.

JR standing next to collapsed tent on sandy beach on the West Coast Trail, surrounded by driftwood
JR packing up our tent at Tscowis Beach on the West Coast Trail

Stove and fuel

Canister stoves are the most commonly used cooking stove on the West Coast Trail as they are easy to use, lightweight and pack down small.

Some WCT hikers use liquid fuel stoves. These connect to refillable fuel bottles and have better heat control (but are heavier).

We used the Jetboil MiniMo canister stove on the WCT. The integrated stove and pot system is more efficient than other canister stoves (= faster boiling, less gas), especially in windy conditions.

The amount of fuel needed for your WCT hike depends on a few factors.

  • Length of trip
  • Stove efficiency
  • Cooking style (Are you just boiling water? Or actually cooking meals?)
  • Amount of hot meals (Dinner? Breakfast and dinner?)
  • Daily coffee/hot drinks?

With the WCT being located at sea level, you don’t have to worry about elevation impacting fuel consumption (the higher you are, the more gas needed to boil water).

JR and I boiled water for one hot meal a day on the WCT and one/two cups of tea in the evening. That is on the low side of consumption (no hot breakfast, no morning coffee). On our 8 day WCT hike, we used the majority of one 100g fuel canister.

If we had needed to boil water for breakfast and coffee each day, I would have brought 2 x 100g or 1 x 230g. Some hikers like to bring two canisters in case of damage/misuse of the first.

The good news about the WCT is that if you run out of gas, it is very likely that there will be other hikers around willing to help. People tend to bring more than they need (in fear of running out).

Jetboil cooking stove on long in front of ocean at Thrasher Cove campground
Our Jetboil stove at Thrasher Cove campground on the WCT

Cooking pot, plates, utensils and cleaning kit

Some backpackers like to bring dedicated bowls and plates for meals, as well as drinking cups. Plastic is a popular material as it is very light.

Alternatively, you can also purchase an integrated set of dishes and cups, designed to fit inside a cooking pot.

A lot of WCT hikers primarily eat prepared freeze dried food and usually eat directly from the packet, with no bowl needed. I’d recommend buying a long plastic spoon if you choose to do this.

Preferring to avoid the weight, we ate our cooked dehydrated meals from our Jetboil cooking pot with plastic spoons. For tea and rehydration drinks, we shared a GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug.

If you plan to do anything more than boil water at mealtimes, you’ll also need to bring a small cleaning kit. This would typically include a container of biodegradable soap and a small scrubber/scraper. Prepare to air dry or bring a small dish cloth.

Food

Food is fuel – this is particularly true when backpacking the challenging West Coast Trail!

Keep in mind, however, that food will be the heaviest single ‘item’ in your pack. We pack 1.2lb (0.5g) of food per person, per day, which is on the low side.

The best WCT foods are:

  • Nutritious – A balance of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins is essential for energy and good health
  • Calorie dense – Calorie dense items provide a high number of calories relative to weight. The less weight, the lighter your backpack
  • Shelf stable – There’s no refrigerator on the WCT! Safe storage at room temperature is a must to avoid food spoilage or sickness

Backpacking food is always subject to a lot of personal preference and you may already have some favourites.

Some of the most popular WCT foods are:

*These can either be made at home (DIY) or purchased from grocery stores, specialist outdoor stores or online. We make our own dehydrated dinners, with our favourites being pasta puttanesca and pesto pasta.

If you’re not sure where to start meal planning, I’d suggest using a hiking calculator to first work out an estimate of many calories you will be burning. You can then use Right on Trek’s meal planner for inspiration (free account required).

Always bring a little more food than think you need. This could be an extra meal or half a day of snacks. You never know what kind of delay you may have (weather, injury, illness etc.)

For drinks, consider freeze dried coffee, tea, hot chocolate and/or electrolyte drinks. Some hikers bring small amounts of alcohol.

Front view of closed metal food cache on West Coast Trail, surrounded by foliage
A typical food cache on the West Coast Trail

Food storage

When not in use, food, toiletries, cooking equipment and garbage should be stored securely, away from your tent.

Most WCT backpackers store food in a dry bag (one or multiple), which is placed into the provided metal food caches. All but one of the official campgrounds have food caches.

The more popular campgrounds also have a metal bear hang pole. These feature multiple rope pulley systems to secure your food bag high in the air.

While the bear hang poles usually work perfectly fine, the downside is that they do expose your food bag to rain and condensation.

Although these food storage facilities exist, I would still recommend bringing the necessities to build your own bear hang (15m of nylon cord, at least one carabiner). These items can come in handy for other uses, such as for a tarp or drying line.

Looking into metal bear cache with eight colourful dry bags visible in box
A look inside one of the West Coast Trail’s food caches

Water treatment system

There is a running water source (river or creek) located close to each of the designated West Coast Trail campgrounds. There are other water sources located on the trail as well.

Though most of these water sources may look fine in appearance, the water may be carrying bacteria that could make you very sick.

The two most popular ways to make water safe to drink while backpacking the WCT is to use a filter or water purification tablets. Some people choose to use a UV light instead.

A few of the creeks are a little murky, with some sediment in the water. Filters can remove sediment, while the other methods (tablets and UV light) cannot. Tablets also have the downside of a chemical taste.

We tested MSR’s Thru-Link In-Line Microfilter while hiking the West Coast Trail. It connects directly to a water bladder, so you can simply filter as you hike. We also brought some water purification tablets as a back-up.

While I loved how lightweight the Thru-link was (70g!), we did find it a bit tricky to use on some of the shallower creeks. We tested MSR’s Trail Shot Filter on our next backpacking trip and it worked a lot better for shallow creeks.

We also like Katadyn’s BeFree Filter. Large groups may prefer to utilise a gravity filter system instead.

Back view of JR bent down next to river collecting water on the West Coast Trail
JR gathering water to filter at Carmanah Creek

Water storage

Adequate hydration is a priority on the WCT. With too little water, you’ll soon be feeling dehydrated, lethargic and weak.

The amount of water needed varies on the weather and your own requirements. No two hikers are the same!

Unless you are a camel, you’ll need to bring some water on the trail to stay hydrated. It’s also handy to have an easily accessible supply of water in camp.

Using a bottle is the cheapest option to store water while hiking the WCT. Smartwater bottles are popular for their size, durability and cheap price. They also fit onto the Sawyer Squeeze filter.

Nalgenes 1l bottles are another favourite (durability, wide mouth opening).

We each used a hydration bladder to carry and store water on the WCT. Most backpacks have a dedicated space for these. The drinking tube allows you to hydrate on the go.

Huge old growth tree next to forest trail on the West Coast Trail
Old growth tree on the WCT

Clothing (at least two outfits)

It is vital to wear clothing that will keep you warm, dry and comfortable while hiking the West Coast Trail.

The key to this is wearing layers and utilising clothing made from moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics (polyester, nylon, merino wool).

Like food, clothing is subject to a lot of personal preference. Keep that in mind when reading this section of our West Coast Trail packing guide.

Many backpackers carry at least two outfits for hiking – one to wear and one spare. Some hikers prefer to bring a few more outfits, ‘just in case.’

Keep in mind that no-one cares if you wear the same t-shirt for three days straight!

WCT weather

The more clothing you bring, the heavier your pack will be. It is important, though, to balance this idea with carrying clothes and accessories for the coldest and warmest possible conditions during your West Coast Trail hike.

Rain, strong winds and coastal fog are possible at any time during the WCT hiking season and can drop temperatures considerably.

We were trapped in coastal fog for four days on our July WCT hike, with the average daytime temperature around 12°C. The rest of Vancouver Island was enjoying sunny weather and 22-25°C temperatures. And, just so you know, the forecast didn’t show this (it displayed 22°C sunshine for the WCT).

  • No matter the forecast, bring a waterproof jacket. It offers both rain and wind protection
  • Temperatures can be cool on the WCT’s beaches in the morning and evening, even on warm days. A warm hat, light gloves and neck gaiter can help
  • Due to the usually damp climate, it can be very difficult to wash and dry clothing on the WCT

My WCT clothing packing list:

As you may notice, I wore a lot of merino wool clothing on the WCT. This material has natural temperature regulation, keeping me cooler when it is hot and warmer when it is cold.

Merino also wicks sweat away, smells less than other materials (such as polyester) and dries reasonably fast.

Gemma and JR stand on sandy beach with backpacks and hiking gear, having just finished the West Coast Trail
We both wore shorts for most of our WCT hike, despite the cool weather

Appropriate footwear

Like clothing, appropriate footwear for the WCT is pretty subjective. For many people, however, waterproof hiking boots are the most suitable choice.

The cut of the boot varies according to preference preference. Backpacking boots are designed to carry heavier loads, with stiffer midsoles and a high cut covering the ankles. You may prefer a lower cut.

Whatever type of boot you choose for the WCT, make sure that you have worn them in a little before heading to the trailhead.

While it is possible to get a great fit from day 1, most people find that some prior use is needed to avoid blisters.

We both used Salomon Quest 4 GTX hiking boots on the West Coast Trail. They kept our feet dry for the majority of the trail.

Socks

As a side note, the pair of socks you wear is almost as important as the footwear you use.

I swear by lightweight merino wool socks, such as those made by Darn Tough and Icebreaker. $25+ may sound like a lot for a pair of socks, but the cushioning and quality construction is worth it.

First Aid kit

A First Aid kit is invaluable for every-day irritations (bee stings, small cuts) as well as major injuries. We used ours most days and offered items to other hikers.

One easy way to put a kit together is to buy a basic one and then customize it to your needs.

Our WCT First Aid kit included items like bandages, blister plasters, surgical tape, oral rehydration salts, painkillers, tweezers and antihistamines.

We also brought Leukotape for blister prevention (moleskin fabric is an alternative).

Back view of JR hiking on seaweed covered beach on the West Coast Trail, with large green backpack
Many sections of the West Coast Trail feature slippery surfaces – a First Aid Kit can help with injuries

Light source

Although most hikers will go to bed soon after dark, a light source is still an essential item on your West Coast Trail packing list.

A flashlight will do but it’s much easier to use a headlamp. It’s best not to use your phone as it uses the battery unnecessarily.

A headlamp frees up your hands and will make it so much easier to find items in the tent or use the outhouses at night.

The number of lumens indicates how bright the headlamp is. We brought our Petzl Actik Core on the WCT, which displays 350 lumens. It runs on runs on regular batteries or lightweight Lithium-ion batteries (recharged by USB).

Map

The official Parks Canada West Coast Trail map, given to all hikers at orientation, notes the relevant maximum tide height for each coastal trail section. The Parks Canada map notes all significant creeks and campground locations.

The West Coast Trail is featured on one of our favourite hiking apps, Maps.me. Download the relevant maps at home so you can use them offline while on the trail.

If you’re ever unsure about where you are, Maps.me will show your GPS location and where you are compared to the trail route. You can also use it to work out how far the next campground (or stream/beach access) is.

Screenshot of West Coast Trail map on AllTrails with hike routing
The West Coast Trail is also featured on the AllTrails app (paid membership required for offline usage)

Signaling device

A signaling device is one of the 10 Essentials for every backcountry adventure. Something can simple as a whistle could help save your life.

If lost or injured, yelling is tiring and also difficult for rescuers to hear. Whistle blasts are much more effective.

Some backpacks have built-in whistles on the sternum (chest) strap. Our Osprey backpacks do.

Fire starters

Another of the 10 Essentials, fire starters can be a lifesaver for backcountry users suffering from hypothermia.

As the name implies, firestarters are designed to get a fire going quickly. Bring matches at a minimum, preferably of the waterproof kind.

Repair kit and tools

Imagine a tree branch poking a hole through your tent fly or your backpack buckle snapping.

While these incidents aren’t going to end your WCT hike, being able to fix these issues may improve your comfort for the rest of your journey.

The cheapest solution is to bring a small amount of duct tape and a knife. Both of these items can also be utilised for wilderness first aid, if needed (making splints etc.)

We personally find Tenacious tape to be a good alternative to duct tape.

Sun protection

No matter the time of the year, sun protection is a must on the WCT (even on foggy days!)

The coastal sections of the WCT are very exposed to the sun. On sunny days, it can be hard to find shade.

Bring sunscreen, a sun hat, polarized sunglasses and lipbalm. A neck gaiter can be used to protect your neck on hot days.

Toiletries and medication

Toothpaste and a toothpaste should be essentials on your West Coast Trail packing list. We brought small, folding toothbrushes and a travel sized tube of toothpaste.

Other toiletries and personal items you may want to consider are deodorant/anti-perspirant, hair brush, comb and/or hair tie.

Mosquitoes and other flying insects are generally not a major issue on the WCT. We did not use the insect repellent we brought with us.

If you take any medication, don’t forget to bring enough for your planned days as well as some extra for possible delays.

Seaweed on deserted sandy Carmanah Beach
Carmanah Beach

West Coast Trail specific items

Now that we’ve covered all of the essential backpacking gear you’ll need to bring, let’s move on to some specific West Coast Trail packing list items.

The first two items are mandatory, with the others being highly recommended by me.

  • WCT Overnight Use Permit
  • Discovery Pass or daily parks pass
  • Tide table
  • Cash
  • Toilet paper and hand sanitizer
  • Bear spray
  • Hiking poles
  • Sandals and/or camp shoes
  • Gaiters
  • Small towel
  • Power bank and charging cable
  • Satellite communication device
  • Tarp
  • Backpack cover
  • Dry bags

WCT Overnight Use Permit (mandatory)

After checking in at one of the WCT trailhead offices, you’ll receive your WCT Overnight Use Permit.

Hikers must carry this permit while hiking the WCT and show it to any Parks Canada Ranger when requested. It is necessary to show it to the boat captains at the two ferry crossings as well. No permit, no ferry ride.

The Overnight Use Permit is not waterproof, so bring a plastic bag (Ziploc or similar) to store it in.

Close up of A frame wooden building at Pachena Bay West Coast Trail entrance
The West Coast Trail office at Pachena Bay

National Parks Discovery Pass or daily parks pass (mandatory)

WCT hikers must have a valid parks pass while exploring the trail. The daily fees are $10.50/adult.

It is usually better value for most WCT hikers to purchase a Discovery Pass ($72.25/adult, $145.25/group) or Pacific Rim Pass ($52.25/adult, $104.50) rather than pay for the daily fees.

Discovery Passes and and Pacific Rim Passes can usually be purchased at the WCT trailhead offices. If you can get one beforehand, I’d recommend it as they occasionally run out.

Tide table

The West Coast Trail features multiple mandatory and optional beach sections. To hike these sections safely, it is necessary to have a tide table and understand how to read it.

Tide tables display predicted tide heights throughout the day in one particular coastal area.

The best tide tables to use for the West Coast Trail are those produced for Tofino (not Bamfield or Port Renfrew).

At orientation, your Parks Canada map will be issued to you with a small Tofino tide tables for your relevant hiking dates. It is, however, pretty limited.

I would highly recommend downloading and printing an hourly Tofino tide table in advance of your trip (see below for example). I found this to be a lot easier to use, with less chance for error.

Screenshot of hourly time table for Tofino
Tofino tide table with hourly predications for our West Coast Trail dates

Cash

There are a few good reasons to bring (Canadian) cash with you on the West Coast Trail.

For one, cash is the only payment method accepted at the Crab Shack in Nitinaht Narrows. If you want to enjoy the luxury of a hot meal halfway through the WCT (and trust me, you really do), be sure to bring some cash.

Example Crab Shack meals in 2022:

Steamed crab$40
Halibut with baked potato$37
Nitinaht Ultimate including half steamed crab,
loaded baked potato and halibut
$55
Fully loaded baked potato with sour cream,
chives, bacon and margarine
$10
Chips$2
Beer can$9
Coffee$3

Cash is also helpful to have in case of non-emergency evacuation.

In the event that you want or need to leave the trail at the midpoint, you’ll need cash to pay for the ferry from Nitinaht Narrows to Nitinaht Village ($62.50/person) and then $20/person for the Nitinaht Village to Nitinaht Junction bus.

Nitinaht Junction has a pick-up location for the West Coast Trail Express bus. The journey to Pachena Bay or Gordon River is $70+.

If the weather forecast calls for multiple days of heavy rain (80mm+) during your hike, I would think carefully about bringing extra cash for the non-emergency evacuation.

100mm of rain fell in 24 hours in September 2021 and more than 25 people chose to leave at Nitinaht rather than continue.

Hiking in July with no torrential rain forecasted, we chose to only bring cash for the Crab Shack and a small amount extra

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer

All but one of the designated West Coast Trail campgrounds have at least one composting outhouse. Some of busier campgrounds have two.

Besides those in the campgrounds, there are outhouses at the northern trailhead (Pachena Bay), near the Pachena Bay Lighthouse and at the Crab Shack (Nitinaht Narrows).

Toilet paper is not provided in any of the WCT outhouses so be sure to bring your own. Hand sanitizer is also a good idea.

Bear spray

Black bears, wolves and cougars all live in the area on and around the West Coast Trail. Negative wildlife encounters are rare on the West Coast Trail. Making noise (such as talking) scares away most animals from humans.

Bear spray is a helpful item to have as a last resort, in the unlikely event of a negative encounter. An aerosol deterrent made with chili pepper oil, bear spray is a ‘last resort’ tool, used only when other methods have failed.

Keep it in a convenient place, close enough to access quickly. I’d recommend using a holster like this.

We met many WCT hikers who did not bring bear spray. I know I was very happy to have bear spray, however, when we discovered a seal carcass (recently killed by a black bear) on one of the beaches!

Please note that bear bangers not permitted to be carried or used on the West Coast Trail

Damaged boardwalk crossing muddy bog section of the West Coast Trail. Some of the planks are missing
We found hiking poles most useful on the inland sections

Hiking poles

With so many slippery obstacles, hiking poles can be invaluable on the West Coast Trail.

I felt so much more comfortable having a hiking pole for balance when crossing the various forest obstacles (mud, fallen trees, bog). I also found them useful on long beach stretches.

JR and I usually share a pair of Black Diamond’s Carbon Z poles. They are incredibly lightweight (less than 300g) and strong.

The West Coast Trail’s ladders do make using poles more difficult. The Carbon Z poles fold down really quickly, however.

When approaching a ladder, I’d simply fold them up and then attach to my backpack strap (Osprey backpacks have a built-in attachment for this purpose).

Two pairs of feet with sandals on sandy beach in front of ocean
I absolutely love my Teva Hurricane Drift Sandals (left) – they work well as water shoes as well as camp shoes

Sandals and/or camp shoes

A pair of water shoes is a must have for the West Coast Trail. Yes, there are cable cars for the biggest water crossings but they are not always operational. Bare feet is a very risky prospect – don’t do it!

The best solution is to find water shoes that double up as comfortable shoes to wear around camp. I loved being able to take off my hiking boots in the afternoon and replace them for sandals.

My Teva Hurricane Drift sandals can be used for river crossings as well as camp shoes. I can comfortably wear socks underneath them too, for added warmth. They have a supportive sole, are super lightweight (only 170g) and dry very quickly.

Gaiters

Gaiters strap over hiking boots and prevent mud, pebbles and sand falling into shoes (which can happen often on the WCT). They can can also provide protection against sharp branches and rocks.

We wore gaiters for the majority of the West Coast Trail. I found that my shoes stayed drier longer while wearing gaiters. It also kept my lower legs cleaner.

Without gaiters, I believe I would have been picking pebbles out of my shoes all day while hiking on the beach!

The gaiters we use are from MEC, originally purchased in 2014. When I purchase a new pair, I will avoid buying a brand that uses zips for the closure. The zips on our gaiters often become clogged with mud and sand.

Waterproof pants

Depending on your comfort level and choice of start date, you may want to consider bringing waterproof hiking pants.

Designed to be pulled on quickly during rainstorms, waterproof hiking pants can help keep you drier during the most torrential conditions.

Hiking in mid July with no major rainstorms forecast, I opted not to bring waterproof pants. Our WCT hike was damp but waterproof pants were not necessary.

Back view of JR standing on elevated boardwalk, which is partially damaged
One of the largest forest obstacles we came across on the WCT

Small towel

With most of the WCT campgrounds being located on sandy beaches, it can be difficult to keep sand out of your tent.

One popular suggestion is to bring a small quick dry towel and use it to clean off your feet before entering the tent. If you think you may go swimming, it will come in handy for that too.

Power bank and charging cable(s)

My phone was our primary camera on this hike. The West Coast Trail is pretty long for a backpacking trip and my phone would have run out of charge on day two if I hadn’t carried a couple of power banks with me.

I bought two cheap INIU chargers (>$35 each) to use on the West Coast Trail. They lasted until the end, even with heavy camera use.

Don’t forget to pack your charging cable(s) with the power bank.

Satellite communication device

The West Coast Trail has very limited cell phone signal. And the phone signal that does exist is usually from the USA, not Canada.

To avoid accidental roaming charges, plan to put your phone on airplane mode after starting the trail. This also helps to conserve the battery.

For emergency purposes, we carried an InReach device on the WCT. We were also able to use it to send pre-set messages with a map of our location every night to family members.

Though the WCT is a well travelled trail, I felt more comfortable having a way to call for help quickly. And I wasn’t just thinking of myself either.

With the WCT having such a high evacuation rate, I liked the idea of being able to help other people if needed.

View of Darling River camping area, with brightly coloured tents set up on beach near treeline
A tarp being used at Darling River campground on the WCT

Tarp

A tarp can provide shade on sunny days and shelter on rainier ones. If hiking in May, June or September, I would definitely put a tarp on your WCT packing list.

Be glad if you don’t need to use it, but you’ll be very happy to have it if torrential rain sets in.

Sil nylon tarps (siltarps for short) are lightweight and also tear resistant. Bring some extra cord for attachment and/or learn how to utilise a hiking pole to put it up.

If you haven’t used a tarp for shelter before, practice putting it up at home first.

Backpack cover

Due to the amount of rainfall and general misty/damp environment, I would recommend bringing a waterproof backpack cover on the WCT. These help to keep your backpack dry in wet weather.

Some backpacks come with integrated versions. Backpack covers can be purchased separately too. We use those made by Osprey, designed to fit our packs.

A cheap alternative is to bring a large garbage bag.

Dry bags

Ideal for food and clothes storage, dry bags are not waterproof in terms of full submersion but they will keep the rain and most of the damp away.

Nylon dry bags are lightweight and easy to pack. Look for the thinner variety, rather than those used for paddling.

Elevated wooden platform and metal cable car above rocky Camper Creek on the West Coast Trail.
One of the cable cars on the WCT

West Coast Trail packing list: luxury items

The following items are what I would consider luxury pieces of gear that are completely optional.

Some hikers like to add these luxury items to their West Coast Trail packing list to feel more comfortable or relaxed on the trail.

That comfort does, however, come with a price. These luxury items all add extra weight to an already heavy load. Carefully consider whether you really do need these items before adding them to your pack.

  • Camp chairs
  • Camp pillow
  • Reading material
  • Bathing suit
  • Games

Camp chairs

For some people, being able to sit in a proper chair after a long day of hiking is a must.

While the WCT beaches feature plenty of driftwood ‘seats,’ no-one can deny that bare wood is not the most comfortable for prolonged sitting. A lightweight camp chair provides the situation.

The most packable camp chair is the Helinox Chair Zero, which weighs in at 500g/1lb. The bag is about the size of a water bottle. The price tag, however, is high (around $200) and the extra pound is yet more weight to carry.

JR standing on beach looking up at tall 'flowerpot' rock - a rock that has been eroded by the ocean, leaving trees and foliage at the top
Checking out a ‘flowerpot’ rock on the WCT

Camp pillow

For some people, a camp pillow is a non-negotiable item on their West Coast Trail packing list. While the weight for the average inflatable camp pillow is very little (100g/0.22lb), it does all add up.

Personally, I don’t bother. I stuff clothes into an unused stuff sack and sleep on that. It works for me!

Reading material

Some WCT hikers like to bring a book to read in the evenings. An eBook reader is an alternative option.

A popular option for reading material is the Blisters and Bliss: A Trekkers Guide to the West Coast Trail book. It’s pretty lightweight as books go and includes a day by day overview of the trail.

We do not usually bring books on backpacking trips. What I do instead is load a few long articles onto the Pocket app on my phone before leaving, just in case I want something to read.

Bathing suit

Tsusiat Falls and Walbran Creek are two of the most popular places to swim on the West Coast Trail.

While plenty of hikers choose to swim in just their underwear, you may prefer to bring a bathing suit.

Games

Depending on your hiking speed, you may find yourself with a spare hour or two in camp. Pass the time or strike up some conversation with a game.

Having some extra evening entertainment is particularly nice if there is a fire ban during your hike.

A pack of cards has many possibilities. We personally love YAHTZEE. It’s so easy to learn and quick to play. We bring a small Ziplock bag with 2-3 ‘Roll the Dice Game’ sheets (Dollar Store version), a set of five dice and small pen.

A set up tent on Tsocowis Beach, in front of calm ocean on sunny day
Tsocowis campground

Other BC backpacking guides:

The Nootka Trail

The HBC Heritage Trail, from Hope to Tulameen

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park

The Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island

The Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

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