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What is the Vancouver Island Spine Trail?

PureOutside - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:00

I’ve written about the Vancouver Island Spine Trail before but they were mostly status updates on how the project was currently going. I wanted an introductory page that explained the trail and will like to all the future posts about it. So here it is!

If you already know what the Spine Trail is you can skip to the bottom to catch up on updates. If not, read on.

The Spine Trail is a 700km long trail stretching from the southern tip of Vancouver Island to Cape Scott at the northern end.

It’s going to start at kilometre zero of the Trans Canada Trail in Victoria and wind it’s way up the backbone or “spine” of the island all the way to the tip of Cape Scott at the North End.

The Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association, or VISTA, is running the whole show out of Victoria (with many trips up island) and hopes to have it complete by 2017. Canada’s 150th birthday is that year as well.

They will be using as many existing sections of trail as they can to limit trailbuilding. See this post on the VISTA website to see where the proposed route is going to go.

Get the latest updates from the VISTA website or here on PureOutside in the Spine Trail category.

Current Status

The trail from Victoria to Port Alberni is nearly complete. There are some small sections from Cowichan Lake to Port Alberni that need to be connected and a small section on the Malahat that needs to be pushed through.

Once the trail to Port Alberni is complete, it will be matter of focusing on the north island the complete the sections there.

The trail will be for non-motorized transportation only, hiking, biking and running. Some sections will be open for equestrian use as well.

Help the Spine Trail

You can help by volunteering or donating on their website. They often run trail building trips or trail recon trips so you can put your hiking and digging skills to good use.

Categories: Hiking

Liquid fuel backpacking stoves: Pros and Cons

PureOutside - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 07:00

While you’re out in the woods on a hike, you don’t want to be carrying more weight than you absolutely have to. Your stove is one thing where you can save some weight by buying a lighter one. Out of the two popular types of stoves, canister and liquid fuel, canisters tend to be lighter. So if you always want the lightest weight why would you take a liquid fuel stove? Well there are trade-offs to that light weight. Read on to see why you would want a liquid fuel stove instead.


What is a liquid fuel stove?

Liquid fuel stoves are stoves that have a fuel bottle with fuel in it instead of a canister with compressed gas. When you attach the fuel bottle, you pump it up to pressurize the fuel inside. This forces the gas out when you open nozzle and fuel comes shooting out.

They’re a little finicky to light because the fuel in the bottle is liquid, it needs to be vapourized before it can be lit. To do that, you put a tiny bit of fuel in a little bowl on the stove. You light the liquid fuel and, after letting the (sometimes large) fireball die down, open the nozzle to let more fuel out. Lighting the fireball first heats up the hose the fuel goes through vaporizing it and letting it go through the stove and ignite.

You don’t need to know the exact details but just know they are a little harder to light than canister stoves. Practice in your backyard to get just enough fuel in the little bowl to light but still save your eyebrows on the trail.

So if they are hard to light, why would you want a liquid gas stove?

Well, they do have some redeeming features.


Liquid fuel stove advantages

Good in the cold - Liquid fuel stoves are good in the cold. You manually pump to keep the pressure up so you are not relying on the pressure in the canister. The stove itself is vaporizing the fuel so it burns. Canisters have issues in cold weather when the gas turns to liquid in the canisters and loses pressure. Running the canisters upside down has helped run them in cold temperatures but liquid fuel still takes the prize on these ones.

Refillable - Just open the lid and pour more in. Liquid fuel bottles are easy to refill.

Easy to see how much fuel you have - Open up the lid and take a look. Canisters are just a guess to figure out how much is left. Liquid fuel, you just open it up.

Multi-Fuel (they can travel well) - Some of the liquid fuel models are able to take many different kinds of fuel. White gas (also called naptha) is the best and burns the cleanest but it may not be available where you are. Some models will burn kerosene, jet fuel or even unleaded gasoline which is nice for travelling. There is a downside though. Dirty fuel means cleaning clogs more often.

Liquid fuel stove disadvantages

Liquid fuel stoves aren’t all rainbows and unicorns. They still do have some downsides to keep in mind.

Heavy  - The stoves and liquid fuel are heavier than the canister equivalents. If you are going for fast and light, liquid fuel may not be the way to go.

Can be messy - Don’t spill the fuel. It’s messy, flammable and smells terrible. Watch out for this when you are connecting your stove or refilling the fuel bottles. You never have to worry about this with canisters.

Hard to light - Try to keep your eyebrows when you light your stove. Use just enough fuel to get it hot and going. It’s an art to lighting these things and takes some practice. Definitely more work than the canister stoves which are just turn on, light, done.

Have to pump - The fuel bottles aren’t pressurized to begin with so you have to pump it up. This means you can take the lids on and off which leads to the advantages of being able to refill it and see how much is left. On the flip side you have to pump it once in a while.


Liquid fuel stove examples

These are some quick examples of liquid fuel stoves from a couple popular manufacturers

MSR Whisperlite

MSR Whisperlite Universal

MSR Dragonfly

Optimus Nova+

Primus OmniFuel


Categories: Hiking

Backcountry kitchen: Canister fuel stoves

PureOutside - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 07:00

When you start overnight hiking, you’ll probably be looking at some sort of stove to cook food with. It’s not absolutely required, you could just bring packaged and dried food, but having a hot, filling meal at the end of a long day hiking is one of the best parts of the whole thing.

If stoves are so important, what kind do you get?

Walk into most outdoor stores and they’ll have 2 types of stoves. Canister and liquid fuel (often the white gas variety). Each have their pros and cons, how easy they are to light, refill, and use in cold temperatures. I’ll be writing about liquid fuel stoves soon but for this post I’ll be focusing on the canister stove.

So…what is a canister stove?

Stoves can be classified by the type of fuel they use. Canister stoves use a small metal canister of butane or iso-butane as their fuel. Basically they’re like the canister attached to your BBQ at home but much smaller and lighter. They small, light and easy to use. Attach a stove to the canister, light it and away you go.


Pros to a canister stove

Easy to light – Canister stoves are easy to light. Turn it on, put a match or a lighter near it and you’re done.

Lightweight – Many canister stoves are small and attach right to the top of the canister. Some of the remote variety are larger and have fuel lines to the canister. Remote means there is a fuel line from th stove to the canister, the canister does not screw on to the top. Remote stoves are more stable but larger.

No spills – With the self-sealing opening, you can’t spill anything out a canister. No mess.

Better simmer control – Many of the canister stoves have a nice control on them to finely control how much is coming out. If you need to simmer something, then you need better control than Off and Rocket.

Cons to a canister stove

Doesn’t work well in cold weather – Canister stoves rely on the butane to be vapor when it comes out. Cold weather throws a wrench in that so they don’t work well in cold weather or with weak pressure. Some of the new stoves are trying to correct this by having a fuel line to the canister which is kept upside-down, helping some of the pressure issues.

More expensive in the long run – You can’t refuel canisters so you have to throw them out. This is part of the reason why buying new canisters each time is more expensive than getting liquid fuel.

Can’t refill – It’s a bit of a ding to the environment to throw out the canisters every time.

Hard to tell how much you have left – You can’t open up a canister unless you are throwing it out so there’s no way to see how much is left inside. There are ways to float them in water to see how high it floats to measure what’s left. Some of the newer canisters are even coming with measurements on the side to do this easier.

Less pressure as you use them – The pressure inside the canister will drop as you use it. There’s no way to pump it back up. Your stove will slowly get weaker as the canister empties. Some new stoves, like the MSR Reactor, use pressure regulators to keep the pressure the same all the way through the canister.

No windscreen unless it’s remote – Putting a windscreen around the stove prevents the heat from being blown out the side. With stoves that attach right to the canister, you might blow yourself up if you put a windscreen around the stove and canister. Things get hot and when fuel gets hot, well you know what happens. If the stove has a fuel line to the canister to separate the two then you can put a screen just around the stove.

Obviously there’s a winner?

Now, by the sheer number of disadvantages to a canister stove, you’d think everyone would be going with liquid gas without a second thought. While the number of advantages isn’t as high as the disadvantages, the size of them outweighs other stoves in many situations. Being able to just attach your lightweight stove, quickly light it and have a hot flame in seconds is really nice at the end of the day. Sometimes weight is your number one concern. In those cases, canisters might be what you choose to go with.


Examples of Liquid Fuel Stoves

We’ll end the post with some examples of canisters stoves. These aren’t the only stoves or manufacturers out there.

MSR Whisperlite Universal

MSR Pocket Rocket

Snowpeak LiteMax

Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Primus ETA Spider

Primus Classic Trail

Optimus Crux Lite

Optimus Vega (remote)



Categories: Hiking

Day Hiking on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail

PureOutside - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:00

Most people know the Juan de Fuca trail as the 47km long coastal trail near Sooke that takes 4 days to hike. There are also places you can just hike for the day. Many points along the trail are beautiful to see and you won’t have to carry 4 days worth of gear and food.

This post is about the 4 main places you can start a day hike on the Juan de Fuca trail. To follow along best, open up the BC Parks Juan de Fuca Trail Map so you can see where I’m talking about in the post below.

Where can you start hiking?

China Beach Trailhead to Mystic Beach

China Beach starts the trail at the south end nearest Sooke. This trailhead accesses the Juan de Fuca trail as well as the China Beach camping area. Take the trail down to Mystic Beach if you want to day hike from this end. The 4 km [tk check distances] hike down to the beach is a beautiful walk along easy trail. The way back up is a more sweat-inducing so leave enough time and energy to get back up to the car! The beach is worth it though. I’ve spent whole days at Mystic Beach before. It’s a beautiful place.

The access to the China Beach parking lot is right off the highway and it’s paved. There are outhouses near the parking lot.


Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach has become a favourite spot for surfers in recent years. It’s a much shorter drive from Victoria than Tofino. The beach is very rocky at the north end but still has a lot of sand at the south. It’s a nice place to hang out for the day. The beach is big enough that you can explore either direction for as long as you have time.

The parking lot is only 10 minutes walk from the beach. It’s not paved and can be a rough drive down. Often the road gets washed out in places and is 4×4 only. There are outhouses near the tenting area on the beach.


Parkinson Creek

Parkinson Creek is closer to Port Renfrew. There is a dirt road down off the highway to a small parking lot. The Juan de Fuca trail winds it’s way right through the parking lot and keeps going. There are outhouses near where you park.

There is no beach access from Parkinson Creek to the water but you can hike short distance on the trail either direction [tk check this distance for either way to the water] to find access to the beach. Parkinson Beach is at the 37 kilometer marker along the trail. Only 10km north and you will be at Botanical Beach, the north end of the trail.


Botanical Beach

Botanical Beach is the northernmost entrance to the Juan de Fuca trail. It’s a beautiful beach to explore on it’s own with many tidepools. You can hike the trails and beach around Botanical Beach without really getting on the Juan de Fuca Trail itself. The Botanical Beach parking lot is all paved and easily accessed by a short drive out of Port Renfrew


Hidden side trails

There are some side trails at other points along the Juan de Fuca trail that access the road. Giant Cedars,White Sands by [tk] can get you started on those hidden side trails.



As for the gear for the trail, you probably won’t need anything special. Some sturdy shoes or hiking boots, a backpack with food and water, and your camera to capture the beautiful scenes will likely be all you need. For sunny or overcast days, sunscreen and hat come in handy. Exploring tide pools all day keeps you in the sun for long periods of time. Always think about the 10 Essentials [tk link to essentials] on every hike and take what you need to be safe.


Categories: Hiking

Trip Reports: Great stories from the Juan de Fuca Trail

PureOutside - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 07:00

Reading through trip reports is one of the best ways to get information to plan a trip. Speaking to a person face to face is usually the best way but if you can’t get that close, a detailed trip report is the next best thing.

I try to keep trip reports around for the Juan de Fuca, it being one of my favourite hikes, so I can keep up to date on what’s happening on the trail. These are the latest ones I’ve found.


Trip Reports

Murray Coates 5-day Trip Report - – April 2013

Jenny Strong’s 4-day Trip Report – Jenny Strong’s Blog – August 2012

DalaJS Trip Report – ClubTread – April 2012

Matt and Caroline’s 4-day Trip Report on Matt and Carolines’ Blogspot – July 2011

Henry Armitage’s 3-day Trip Report – – June 2011

Lonny Barr’s 3-day Trip Report on – May 2009

Mike Rocheleau’s 5-day Trip Report on – June 2009

Dan Durston’s Trip Report on the Forums – October 29-23rd 2009

Mark Feenstra’s 4-day Trip Report on from August 2007

Mike Rocheleau’s 5-day Trip Report on – September 2006

Trip Report from ShiftLess Bum – March 12, 2006

Stephen and Carol’s Trip Report on – May 2004

Markus Wandel’s Solo Trip Report – June 2003


Running Trip Reports

Some of the crazy ones that run the trail actually write trip reports too (oh right…. I ran it in 2010)

Alex’s 1-day Run Trip Report on PoorLifeChoices – June 2012

Ross Collicutt’s 1-day Run Trip Report (my own) on – August 2010

Jeff Hunt’s 1-day Run Trip Report on – August 2008


Other Articles

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail on

Add your report

If you know of other good trip reports or articles about the Juan de Fuca let me know! I’ll add them to the list.

Categories: Hiking

Some days are just crazier than others

PureOutside - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 07:00

There are those days that just aren’t going to plan, nothing is working right, and everything seems like it’s against you. Being out in the wilderness on those kinds of days you may just need a helmet.

We found this one at Thrasher Cove on the West Coast Trail as we hiked through. If you are having one of those days, you could just use it for a bit and place it back on the trail for someone else.

Very useful for walking under those “low hanging bridges”.

Categories: Hiking

Day Hiking Gear: The 10 Essentials

PureOutside - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 07:00

Day hiking is one of my favourite things to do. You can get a long way from civilization,  see some beautiful places and don’t have to carry a huge pack to do it.

Even though it’s only a day hike, things can still go wrong. You can slip and fall, get stuck out in a storm or find yourself lost. Just because it’s a day hike doesn’t mean you can throw away all your safety practices.

So if these things can happen kilometers away from help, probably out of cell reception, what can you do to be as self-reliant as possible and get you and your hiking partners back to the car safely?

Bringing the 10 Essentials is a very good place to start.

The 10 Essentials

Since the 1930’s, hiking and scout groups have been refining their packing lists, making sure they had the most useful items in their packs at all times. They narrowed these items down to an easy to remember list, the 10 Essentials.

The 10 Essentials are more like 10 categories than 10 items. Most of the categories can include more than 1 item or a couple different items. What you bring for sun protection could just be sunscreen or it could be sunscreen, spf 30 chapstick and a hat to provide shade.

Think of the 10 Essentials like a mental framework that you can use to pack your bag for a day hike. When it’s a nice round number, it’s easier to remember.

A note on reliability

Keep in mind reliability when packing your 10 Essentials. A map and compass are far more reliable than a GPS for your Navigation section. If you drop the GPS (as I have, oops) and it breaks or the batteries run out then you won’t know where you are. Compasses and maps are much more reliable.

Let’s dive in.

1. Navigation

Without navigation tools you won’t know where to go. On smaller hikes or well signed ones, you won’t need much. On most hikes it’s a good idea to take a map with you so you know where you are going. Even if you know the area well, it’s nice to have. You can change plans on the fly and take different routes by checking the map.

GPS are great navigation tools as well but they run on batteries and can break after small drops. I bring a GPS on every hike to record my track and take waypoints but I try not to ever rely on it completely.

2. Sun protection

Getting sunburnt sucks. Gettin burnt while travelling is even worse. Sun protection can include chapstick with sunscreen in it, sunscreen for everywhere else, hats and sunproof clothing. Sunglasses are a big one here too. Lots of studies have recommended sunglasses when you are out in the sun. I hate squinting all day so if there is a hint of sun, I’ll have my sunglasses with me.

3. Insulation

This is basically warm and dry clothes. If you are going to spend an extra night out on the trail because you took a wrong turn or someone got injured, you’ll be very happy you have extra clothes. Check the temperatures and weather for the next couple days and see what you should bring with you. Trying to get home in the dark in soaking wet clothes, isn’t much fun and can be dangerous if you can’t get warm.

4. Illumination

Light! Headlamps are popular to bring on hikes but regular flashlights can work just as well. I’ve had to use mine when we were late getting back to the car. It’s nice to know you can keep moving after dark. If you don’t have light, you might have to stop for the night and wait for sunrise.

5. First-aid supplies

Band-aids and such. Bandages, cut-cleaning supplies and pain and allergy drugs are a good start to a first-aid kit. It’s easy to bring a lot of this stuff so pay attention to what you use most and create your own. Adventure Medical Kits makes great premade kits.

6. Fire

Fire is great for keeping you warm and everyone’s spirit’s up. Bring some sort of firestarter and good fuel for getting things going when it’s wet. To practice try and start a fire when it’s wet. It ain’t easy. Cotton balls or dryer lint in a waterproof container and a flint make good firestarter kit.

7. Repair kit and tools

A multi-tool or knife are the main ones in this category. Being able to fix broken gear on the trail is really nice. Don’t bring the kitchen sink though. Think about things that might break on your gear and what would happen if you couldn’t fix it. Would it be a big problem? Could you make it back to the car? A good knife is a great survival tool so make sure you have one of these around. Check out the survival videos on youtube to get some lessons on what you can do with it.

8. Nutrition

Food! I always bring too much but personally I would rather have too much than too little. Try to bring a second day’s worth just in case you get stuck out overnight. Bring nutritious food that you know agrees with your stomach. Long hikes suck if you’re are feeling sick. Experiment with the carb/fat/protein ratio your body likes the most. Everyone is different.

9. Hydration

Humans can’t go long without water. We need it. Philip at Section Hiker recommends drinking a ½ litre per hour. You’ll feel and hike much better if you are properly hydrated. Water is heavy so if you can’t carry enough, bring a pump or water purification drops so you can get more on the way.

10. Emergency Shelter

This might be an emergency blanket or small tarp. Think about spending an extra night out when you go and what gear at minimum you’d want to do that. You won’t be bringing a 3-man tent and full sleeping bags but aim for the minimum that you can carry that would get you through the night and moving the next morning.

Now go hike!

Day hikes are great for so many reasons and 99% of the time, they go off without a hitch. For those rare occasions when things go sideways, having these 10 Essentials in your pack might save your life.


Categories: Hiking

Tips for hiking the Juan de Fuca trail

PureOutside - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 07:00

Having a great hiking trip is all about preparation. The more you know about where you’re going and the gear you’re taking the better. The Juan de Fuca trail is no different. It can be a fantastic trip if all goes as planned but it can be a struggle if everything goes wrong.

Here are a few tips that will help you have a great trip on the Juan de Fuca.

Prepare for the mud

The west coast of Vancouver Island can be a very wet place. Prepare for mud on the Juan de Fuca if it’s just rained a lot, the mud puddles can be big enough to swallow hiking boots whole.

Gaiters and hiking poles are a great defense against the thick mud.

Know your distances

Every time I hike the Juan de Fuca our plans change slightly. We hike longer one day and shorter the next or finish a bit early. Knowing the distances from campsite to campsite let’s you change plans on the fly. Knees giving you trouble? Hike less that day. Feeling great? Bank some extra kilometers and take an easy day later in the trip. You’ll need to pay attention to where the campsites are located along the trail. They are at set points so if you start off to the next site, make sure you have time and energy to make it.

Lock your car

I’d rather not have to give this tip. It sucks to have to worry about your stuff but I’ll say it anyways. Lock up your car. Don’t leave valuables in your car in the parking lot. They say on the BC Parks page that thieves operate in the area and I’ve heard many stories that they actually do.

Bring camp shoes

Be nice to your feet. They’re the ones carrying you that 47 kilometers. Walking around at the start and finish and at each campsite mean you are actually walking more than 47. Having loose camp shoes like sandals let your feet and your boots dry out. Having dry, rested feet means less blisters and other problems. Give your feet a break whenever you can. Happy feet equals happy hiker.

Tarp it

When it’s pouring down rain and you have to get camp ready, a tarp is great to have to keep the rain off. It provides a dry place to rest, put together your tents and make dinner with your friends. Sitting in a small 2 person tent the entire time it’s raining can get a little claustrophobic. When you are ready to go in the morning, wait until everything is packed up and then take down the tarp last.

Sombrio Beach can be busy

The middle of Sombrio where the trail comes down from the parking lot can get busy with other folks that aren’t hiking the trail. If you are looking for a more relaxed experience, you might want to camp at the east end of the beach where you get to first if you are hiking south to north.

The south end is harder

The south end is more work. I prefer to hike the more difficult end first when your legs are fresh. Some people save the hardest for last for when your pack is the lightest. I find my pack weight doesn’t change very much as I eat through food and my gear gets wet. Based on that, I recommend hiking south to north, going from China Beach to Botanical. The easy stroll to Botanical Beach is a really nice way to finish the trail.

Check the tide

There are high-tide cut off points in certain places so make sure you know where these are and have how high the tide is going to be. You don’t want to have to wait a couple hours in the middle of prime hiking time during the day so you can get going again.


Dogs are allowed on the trail but you they have to be leashed all the time. Remember there are cougars and bears in the area and smaller dogs have been taken by cougars other places on the island.

Good weather is best

Well, I think this one goes without saying. Who wants to go hiking in the rain. Rain isn’t all that bad though. “There’s no bad weather, just bad gear,” some say. So don’t forget to aim for good weather. Rain and the resulting mud make for wet gear and clothes and that just makes everything harder. When it is pouring down, that tarp comes in handy.

Keep yourself upright with hiking poles

The first time I hiked the Juan de Fuca years ago we ended up doing it in 2 days. In hindsight, it would have been much nicer in 3. We ended up hiking it from North to South and those last few kilometers up from Mystic Beach were wicked. I’m glad I had my hiking poles with me, and I’m pretty sure my hiking partners did as well. I used them to pick my way through mud pits (although sometimes solid-looking spots aren’t so solid), balancing on slippery board walk and pushing myself up steep hills. The final kilometers of that first Juan de Fuca hike were spent leaning on my hiking poles. Not only can you use them to push yourself up hills, they hold you upright when you stop for a rest. I also used them on the West Coast Trail, though the ladders can be a bit awkward.

Fresh water at all campsites but filter it

You aren’t going anywhere without water and being 3 or 4 days, you probably aren’t carrying all that in your backpack. You’ll need to filter it. Each campsite has fresh water nearby but it needs to be filtered. Bring a filter or water purification drops to prep the water you will drink.

There are black bears and cougars

There are black bears and cougars in the area. Use the bear caches to store your food and be noisy. They are probably more scared of you than you are of them. Be especially careful with mothers and cubs. Do not approach them trying to get photos.


Campfires are allowed below high tide mark on the beach. There aren’t any campfires allowed at Little Kuitshe Creek or Payzant Creek because they are forest campsites up away from the water.


Now go hike!

Hiking the Juan de Fuca is an amazing experience and well worth every ounce of sweat and effort to do it. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll have a great hike.


Categories: Hiking

Rocky beaches to Owen Point

PureOutside - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 07:00

This post is part of the West Coast Trail series from my hike there in 2013.


The “trail” along the “beach” to Owen Point

The West Coast Trail starts with a good hike to Thrasher Cove. You can either choose to stay at Thrasher Cove for the night or continue on to Walbran Creek. The start to Walbran Creek in one day is a long hike so most people choose to stay at Thrasher Cove.

To continue from Thrasher Cove you have a choice of going to Owen Point along the “beach” or taking the island trail. Here is when the tides come into play as they do in multiple places on the trail. If the tides are too high then Owen Point is out of the question and you have to take the inland route.

We were excited and fresh the day we started so we decided to take the route around Owen Point. There is one other important part to the decision to go around Owen Point. It was dry. If every one of those rocks in the picture above was slippery, it would be a nightmare.

The “beach”, aka huge pile of rocks and logs, that goes to Owen Point from Thrasher Cove is pretty, but not easy.

Trekking poles and patience were valuable that day.

Categories: Hiking

Sleeping bag shopping? Here’s what to look for

PureOutside - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 14:10

Mike from Valhalla Pure Outfitters in Nanaimo dives into sleeping bags. He covers the differences, materials, temperature ratings, and what to look for when you’re shopping for a new bag.

Categories: Hiking