Why Bring a Tarp on the West Coast Trail?

Why would you want to bring a tarp on the West Coast Trail? It’s a gruelling 75km hike up and down ladders, through mud pits and soft sand. That doesn’t exactly sound like a great place to take extra weight in that already heavy backpack of yours.

It is extra weight, yes. But weight that is very worth it. Here’s why.

The wet coast, I mean the west coast, of Vancouver Island can be a very wet place. There’s a reason why it’s called a rainforest. There’s plenty of rain to keep the ‘rain’ in rainforest.

When you’re hiking through those conditions, it’s nice to have a dry place to do things. Yes, you can set up a tent and get inside and then try to do everything from that small space. But have you tried to set up a tent in the rain, keeping it dry then getting inside to get dry clothes on and keep everything else dry?

It’s nearly impossible.If you actually do manage to set up the tent and keep it somewhat dry inside, you have to get in there in your wet gear do tent yoga to change. And keep everything dry. Right.

Or… you can put up a tarp.

These aren’t your standard Canadian Tire special tarps that weight 10 pounds on their own. The tarps I’m talking about are the extra thin, extra light siltarps for backpacking. They don’t weigh much.

When I hiked the West Coast Trail, we’d roll into camp, select our spot and set up the tarp as soon as we could. It was my first multi-day hike with the 10’x12′ MEC Silicone tarp and I just thought it would be a good idea to bring. It weighs 792 grams.

After the tarp was set up, we could relax in a dry, protected area of the elements. Each of the tents then can be set up under the tarp out of the rain and then moved to its final spot.If you have a big enough tarp, you can cover parts of the tents for a bit of extra rain protection. If not then it will be out in the rain but by that time, the fly will keep it nice and dry. We never pitched the tents far from the the tarp.

The tarp provides a dry community area to get out of the rain but not be stuck in your tent. The 2 person backpacking tents are getting roomier every year but they’re still not a huge amount of space when you have to change and cook and hang out for extended periods of time. Mountaineers weathering a storm might be fine being stuck in a tiny tent for multiple days but I’d prefer to have as much room as possible. The tarp gives a dry, spacious place to relax.

The tarp does weigh something and take up some space. If you are shaving ounces and just don’t have the space, it’s not absolutely necessary but if you’re looking for some level of comfort and want to get out of the rain on the “Wet Coast Trail” then you just might want to pack a tarp.

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