Outdoor Tips for Vancouver Island
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Enjoying God's Creation in Coastal BC
Laid at the edge of North America beyond the mountains and fjords of Canada’s rugged western coast there rests an Island blanketed in tall trees, jagged peaks and besieged by mighty, cold seas.
Vancouver Island is one of the larger rocks in the Pacific that has drawn the admiration and tested the resolve of people for thousands of years. From the Aboriginal people who’ve lived here since time immemorial to the first Europeans explorers and now the modern day backpacker, this Island steals people's hearts like an eagle steals a salmon off your fishing line. It truly is a rugged, beautiful place that commands awe and respect. I’m one of the lucky people that grew up here on Vancouver Island. I took for granted lessons I’ve learned about the land, climate, and culture of this awesome place that I now have the pleasure of passing on. If you’re one of the people who would dare to adventure in the mountains and rainforests of the far west coast, here are a few outdoor tips for Vancouver Island that I think you ought to know.
Climate & Geography
Vancouver Island can be divided into two categories in terms of climate: wet and really wet. The Island’s weather is largely dictated by its proximity to the ocean. This maritime climate makes for a lot of precipitation year round with the heaviest occurring during winter on the outermost west coast. This storm beaten coast is home to a vast swath of temperate rainforest teeming with biodiversity. The Island is also divided by a large range of Insular Mountains rising up to 2100m (7000ft) which forms a dry rain shadow around the southeast coast from Victoria to Campbell River. The mountains themselves are one of the defining features of the Island’s landscape which consists of many steeply rising peaks wrapped in thick Hemlock forests before breaking out into aesthetic, rocky summits. These highlands feature beautiful subalpine parkland dotted with tarns, wildflowers and dwarfed trees in the summer and are buried under the heavy coastal snow during the winter.
The two extremes of mountains and coastland are where the majority of the Island’s backcountry adventures are found. In the mountains, you often venture up steep slopes while enjoying better weather during the warmer months (May-September). On the coast, you can enjoy relatively flat terrain complemented by the wild, maritime, climate. During the winter storm season, however, neither of these options are particularly amicable to the average adventurer without serious preparations and a tenacious attitude. Better luck testing your mettle in the winter surf!
Equipment & Safety
So I haven’t scared you away yet? Good. You’ll want a bit of grit to enjoy the beautifully harsh wilderness the Island provides. I mean, you can spend your whole visit looking out from inside a warm hotel room, but where’s the fun in that? So if you're still with me let’s move onto equipment and safety.
Most of what you’ll want for an outdoor adventure on Vancouver Island is pretty standard; boots, a backpack, warm layers, a warm sleeping bag and mat, but there are a few specific considerations. As I said, it rains a lot here. Locals have adjusted to this and are comfortable doing most things in a light rain. This is partly because everyone has a good quality rain jacket. By good I mean actually waterproof, NOT water resistant. You want a fully waterproof jacket that can withstand hours of constant rain. Gore-tex is good but it can still “wet-out” after a few hours. I use a work jacket made of 100% polyurethane. Additionally, all your equipment needs to be able to withstand getting wet. This includes your tent, which should have a very high waterproof fly rating, a waterproof backpack or pack cover, a waterproof pack liner and some dry bags for camp. Also make sure all your clothes and sleeping gear isn’t going to fail you if it’s wet. Down is a great insulator but it’s useless when wet, cotton is worse, so choose something synthetic or wool which is less affected by moisture. Waterproof shoes can be nice if you don’t like wet feet, but I find they always eventually get soaked and then they become really heavy and don’t dry out. I usually prefer lighter, quick drying shoes which evaporate from my body heat while I’m hiking.
Lastly I want to briefly touch on safety. When adventuring outside, always plan ahead and prepare. One of the simplest things you can do is leave a detailed trip plan with someone you trust. Next, don’t go out alone, especially if you don’t have much experience. And of course, bring the right equipment for the trip, terrain and wildlife in your area. This could mean bear spray and you should always have a first aid kit that you know how to use. I’ll go into more detail with this in my next post where I’ll share a bit more on outdoor safety and ethics, so be sure to look out for that!
I hope this can be a helpful introduction to adventuring outdoors on Vancouver Island! There is always more to learn when it comes to the outdoors - but the best teacher is experience! So get out there and enjoy the wilderness safely and responsibly. Here at YWAM Nanaimo we love to get out and encounter God in creation. Maybe that’s something you love or want to learn more about - well good news; there is a place for you here! Join us as we discover with God, pursue Him and enjoy His creation together. We hope this piques your interest enough to get you to explore BC and bring you to Vancouver Island. In the meantime, keep adventuring and we’ll see you out there!