Ultralight Packing Perfected — West Coast Trail & Beyond

It’s cheeky to claim that you’ve mastered anything by the age of 30, but when it comes to Canada’s West Coast Trail it’s safe to say that I’m approaching expert status. In a few days I will  formally claim that title by hiking it for the fifth time… alone. For those of you considering the trek, or any multi-day excursion, I’ve pulled together a preparation guide (and video!) to help you hike with your best foot forward.

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First, a little West Coast Trail history. What the hell is WCT and why on earth would you do that five times?

It’s simple: Verity + nature + no cell connection + physical challenge = bliss. The WCT strips trekkers of external dependencies and grounds them firmly in the present. Your job is to go from point A to B under your own power, and to explore and examine nature along the way. This inherently natural state of being, free of technology and distraction, re-focuses attention to be present in the ‘now’ and completely surrender yourself to the earth.

Oh, and it’s m’fing spectacularly beautiful:

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The trail, located along the west coast of Vancouver Island, runs 75km (as the crow flies) along the Pacific ocean in the extremely remote Pacific Rim National Park — which happens to be a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve based on incredible biodiversity and naturey stuff. It was built in 1906 to help rescue shipwrecked sailors along the notoriously treacherous coastline, and today is regarded as one of the most gruelling hikes in North America.

First things first

If this is your first overnight trek, the only preparation tip I can give you is to reconsider your plans. This isn’t a hike for beginner or intermediate adventurers as a high fitness level and significant backcountry experience are mandatory.

If you’re up for the challenge, there are the two packing guidelines you must follow:

1) bring the right gear; and

2) make it as light as humanly possible. Remember that everything is pack in, pack out. You will be carrying every ounce of your gear on your back for a week! If you pack appropriately, and ultralight, you will have the best shot at an awesome WCT experience.

If you don’t, your trip will be total and complete hell. I’ll never forget seeing a group of novice hikers on day two carrying folding lawn chairs and crying. Don’t let this be you. Be happy and lightweight instead! 

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Ultralight overview

Let’s get down to it! Filmed the day before my trek by my amazing Papa on Vancouver Island, here’s a 3.5 minute video overview of what my years of trekking have taught me to pack:

I just realized I made the entire video with a cider in hand. Typical!

Packing list

The items you must bring on any multi-day temperate hike are grouped into gear, food, personal, and misc. lists below. I’ve used all of these products personally and don’t suggest hiking without them!

Gear:

  • Backpack (suggest 65L or below with back access options like my NorthFace Terra 65)
  • Sleeping bag (Kelty -20, must be rated colder than you will encounter)
  • Hammock and fly (1.5 pounds combined!)
  • Pot for boiling water
  • Stove and fuel, lighter and matches
  • Bowl, spoon, food hanging sack with rope
  • Collapsible hiking poles

Food:

Remember to bring enough food for one extra day, and pick the lightest options with the least amount of packaging. It’s recommended to bring fresh food for the first two days and to transition to packaged food after.

  • Water purification tablets
  • Water flavoring and instant coffee
  • Oatmeal and dried berries
  • Power bars
  • Snacks (high energy, includes nuts, dried fruit and chocolate almonds)
  • Freeze-dried pasta dinners

Personal:

It’s easy to get carried away in this category. You can wash clothes or wear things two days in a row. Remember two things — layering will keep you the warmest, and everyone smells bad.

  • Warm jacket (I live by my Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody)
  • Fleece
  • Raincoat
  • Hiking pants (I wear Lululemon’s Wunder Under which work beautifully)
  • Hiking shorts
  • Long sleeve shirt (Helly Hansen is classic!)
  • One pair of hiking socks per day
  • Nickers & one sports bra
  • One pair of cozy sleeping socks
  • Sleeping clothes (this purple Helly Hansen set makes my life)
  • Gaiters (non-negotiable for the West Coast Trail)
  • Skimpy bikini
  • Two tank-tops, one t-shirt
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Ball cap and sunglasses
  • Broken-in hiking boots
  • Light camp shoes

Misc.

  • Basic first aid kit with blister protection like moleskin
  • Wet wipes
  • Small garbage bags (for waste)
  • 2 large garbage bags for pack protection and rain cover
  • Sunscreen, bug repellent, dish soap
  • Headlamp
  • Camera
  • Cell phone (if appropriate)
  • Water bottle
  • Toiletries
  • Animal protection (because I’m on my own, I will carry a knife and bear spray)
  • Paper and pen
  • Prescriptions (ladies: highly suggest bringing back-up medication for things like bladder infections)
  • Kindle (my luxury item!)
  • Fireball Whisky (my other luxury item!)

When packing your bag, try to fit as much as possible inside your pack. Items hanging off the back are easily snagged, dropped or damaged. It’s also wise to pack the heaviest, densest items (food sack, sleeping bag) lowest in the pack and closest to your body. This will stabilize your center of gravity and help your center of balance. 

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Happy trails!

Last tip: this is very ‘minimalist’ of me, but do it. You will thank me. Put every item you’re bringing in your hand and ask: it is completely essential that I bring this? If you waiver (and it’s not on my list of necessary gear), put it in the leave behind pile.

And, If you’re still not sure that you’ve packed appropriately,put on your pack with everything in it and do 25 burpees (chest to floor, then jump off the ground with hands overhead). Still need to bring along that set of Harry Potter books? I can guarantee that lawn chair wouldn’t have survived the first round!

Are there any trekking items you can’t live without? I’d love to hear about them! If there are any tips and tricks you’ve found to expert lightweight packing send them my way!

BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?

x V

 

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8 Comments

  1. It has been recomended to me to use a synthetic sleeping bag for the WCT this summer. I notice that you used a down sleeping bag. We are planning 7 days, 6 nights. How did your down sleeping bag work for you

    1. Hi Hiking Addict — great question! Here’s an article I found helpful on the difference between down and synthetic: http://www.backpacker.com/gear/down-vs-synthetic. I have a very lightweight down sleeping bag which is great on space/weight, but is not ideal for extremely wet conditions. I’ve used this bag for the last four WCT hikes without incident, however if you’re going to buy a new one you may consider synthetic for a hike that’s known to be wet. Enjoy the trail!

    1. She is a BadAssAmazonianQueen who doesn’t need a straight backpack to get where she needs to go!

  2. A great start to your latest journey. Looking forward to more about the WCT.

    Everytime you amaze me more!

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