Getting Fit For Your Vancouver Island West Coast Trail Hike

Beautiful sunset along the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada | James Wheeler

Traveling six to sixteen kilometers with a twenty kilogram backpack on a wilderness hike like the West Coast Trail demands a good level of fitness. What is the best way to prepare? Just how fit do I need to be? When should I start preparing? These are pertinent questions for anyone who is planning on making this trip.

Although some cardio preparation is important, the greatest need is for stamina. Established mountain trails are usually challenging because of elevation gains or losses, but the ruggedness of the West Coast Trail with the very poor footing and twisty, windy ways challenges the physical stamina of most people. The West Coast Trail does not contain a great amount of elevation change, so long, steady, and steep uphill travel just does not happen. There is a lot of up and down and around. The forest sections can be especially challenging. The sea shelf and the boardwalks have very slippery footing. Walking on sand that gives way underfoot can be very tiring as well. The difficulty of the trail is often surprising to hikers who have not travelled the coastal rainforests and shores before.

Building stamina

A good way to begin your preparation is to start walking each day. Build up from there, slowly adding weight. It is better not to start out with a major day hike and a heavy pack unless you already do that regularly. Start small, be diligent and consistent about it, and increase time, distance and weight. A two month preparation schedule might look something like this:

Week 1:

No pack, 30 minute walk in shoes each day for 6 days
1.5 hours in shoes for 1 day

Week 2:

No pack, 30 minute walk in shoes each day for 6 days

2 hours in shoes for 1 day

Week 3:

10 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in shoes each day for 6 days

10 lb. pack, 2 hours in boots for 1 day

Week 4:

15 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in shoes each day for 6 days

15 lb. pack, 3 hours in boots for 1 day

Week 5:

20 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in boots each day for 6 days

20 lb. pack, 3 hours in boots for 1 day

Week 6:

30 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in boots each day for 5 days

30 lb. pack, 3 hours in boots for 2 days

Week 7:

40 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in boots each day for 5 days

40 lb. pack, 3 hours in boots for 2 days

Week 8:

40 lb. pack, 30 minute walk in boots each day for 5 days

40 lb. pack, 4 hours in boots for 2 days

Vary the terrain to give yourself and your body a greater range of motion and balance development opportunities. Load your pack tightly and wear it with proper adjustments to fit your body so that you get used to moving with the extra weight on your back. With proper adjustment and packing, you get used to moving with a different center of gravity. But make sure you pack it so that the weight is concentrated low in the pack and toward the shoulder straps, which keeps the center of the additional weight close to your natural center of gravity that is located around the midsection for most people.

Eating

Eat well, with good food, but avoid over-eating. Try to maintain your normal intake. If you are used to junk food, switch over to more whole foods while you are preparing. Try to make sure your meals are balanced with carbohydrates and proteins. Drink water. Start paying attention to your body’s thirst. Give it plenty of water, but not too much. Get used to drinking while you are walking by taking your hydration system with you and using it.

Preparing for your West Coast Trail hike is straight-forward. You need to begin to do the things you will be doing on the hike. Build up your activity so that you do not strain yourself, helping your body to get used to the activity. Build up your stamina. Eat healthy and drink plenty of water. Following these simple suggestions will prepare you well for your trip, helping you to be safer and to enjoy the experience more.

To learn more about hiking trips on the West Coast Trail, visit www.coastalbliss.ca where you will find this and much more about adventure tours and coastal hiking.

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