A Guide to Hiking the West Coast Trail

Hiking West Coast Trail: Preparing for the Hike

The West Coast Trail isn't the type of hike you can just make on a whim; it's a serious trail that requires some serious preparation. Like any multi-day backpacking trip, you'll have to plan out your meals for each day and pack the right clothes and camping equipment for both hot and cold or rainy weather. But beyond the typical preparation you might do, Parks Canada requires anyone who camps overnight on the trail to obtain a permit and take an orientation course.

We know: You're an experienced hiker who has probably seen it all. So why do you have to take the orientation course? As we mentioned earlier, rescues have been on the rise on the WCT, and the orientation course is aimed at addressing safety issues and reducing the number of injuries on the trail.

In addition to making sure that hikers are prepared, the other main objectives of the WCT orientation sessions are to give visitors a general overview of the trail's history, to issue permits and perhaps most importantly, to collect money (hiking the trail isn't free). For every person that hikes the trail, Parks Canada collects a $127.50 overnight use fee and a $24.50 reservation fee. And you'll also have to pay $16 for each of the ferries to take you across Nitinat Narrows and the Gordon River.

In terms of gear, these three items are an absolute necessity on the WCT: good hiking boots, rain gear and a waterproof tent. All hikers have their own preferences when it comes to boots, but because Vancouver Island is often very moist, the boardwalks, rocks and ladders that make up the trail can be very slippery.

To avoid injury you'll want to wear sturdy boots with good tread and ankle support. Having adequate rain gear and waterproof tent is both an issue of comfort and safety; water-soaked clothes -- particularly cotton -- can cause hypothermia in the wrong conditions. You'll also want to pack lightweight, high-calorie food and a backpacking stove. And finally, you'll need a well-stocked first aid kit, cash for emergencies and sunscreen.