The number one wilderness backpacking trail in BC is the West Coast Trail and it is essential to know what kind of equipment to carry and wear because there are many unique facts to consider. First however, is the matter of getting on the trail. This is a very ecologically sensitive rain forest trail with strict daily limits on the number of users who may start each day.
When we did it, the number was 26 per day from either end of the trail and I don’t think that has changed much. Consequently, it is absolutely vital that you reserve a starting date well in advance and have a couple of options in mind. After determining and reserving your start date, it is time to get down to the serious business of making sure you have the right equipment from your head to your toes and from your tent to your pack. I’m serious about that since over 80 people per season get flown out by Air and Sea Rescue with various injuries, mostly from falls.
In this article, I will deal with some more specific equipment recommendations from my own experience. Number one on the list is boots. You are going to walk, climb, slide, trip, stumble, balance, slosh, slog, tramp, slip, wade and crash your way over, under, around, through, beside, up and down this 47 mile trek through the rain forest while carrying everything you need including food, shelter and clothing for 7 days. Yes, you need a top quality pair of boots that fit properly, are well broken in and come up over your ankles. I would advise you to wear a pair of light, perhaps nylon, liner socks covered by top quality, heavy duty backpacking socks when you get fitted and then later on the trail.
Do not, under any circumstances, scrimp on this part of your equipment. Use a store that is very knowledgeable about backpacking equipment and if possible, talk to a salesperson who has actually hiked this trail. You must spend time breaking these boots in no matter what some rookie store clerk tells you, I suggest 2 months minimum of hard work. This should include as much rough terrain as you can find including mud, water, steep inclines and tree roots if you can possibly arrange it. They must be leather and have a waterproof liner, if possible, otherwise be sure to pack extra socks so you can change frequently. You should start wearing your boots the day you begin training for the West Coast Trail and don’t worry about what fellow walkers say, just tell them where you are going and enjoy the look of awe on their faces. If you don’t break them in, they will break you in, and painfully.
Next up, your backpack. I used one that had a capacity of about 70 L. You can vary the size a bit depending on the number of people in your party and whether you are male or female (in this case, females should pack less weight, so chivalry is not dead). The pack must absolutely have a waterproof cover and you might consider lining the inside with a plastic garbage bag for increased protection, it is a rain forest, remember. If something gets wet like your powdered food, socks, etc. they will not dry out. Yes, it could rain for all 7 days and nights. Check around your city, depending on where you live, you might find people who have done the WCT who would rent or lend you their pack. I cannot underestimate the importance of spending the time and money to obtain the best boots and the most comfortable backpack that you can find. Before you commit to the pack, make sure to load it with 40 to 50 lbs of weight and check all of the adjustments to make sure that it fits and rides on your shoulders, back and hips properly. This will take some time and effort but it is much easier to do this a couple of months before heading out than a day after you start the trail.
Boots and backpack should be your number 1 priority. The key information to understand is that you will be backpacking in an area that gets over 12 feet of rainfall per year and the trail is often covered in deep mud. It is essential that all of your gear is built for these kinds of conditions and that fashion is secondary to function, therefore leather boots and gators. These guidelines will make your experience on any of the wilderness backpacking trails in BC more pleasant but are essential on the West Coast Trail. Next time, in part two, I will cover things like hydration systems, water filters, light and more.