The Trans Canada Trail (TCT) is a trail network. Rather than a single trail which maintains uniform characteristics from end to end, the TCT is made by connecting various trails to form a continuous recreation corridor. Therefore, there are few standards to which they all must conform. In other words, Trans Canada Trail users should expect a wide spectrum of trail surfaces across BC and plan accordingly - particularly those travelling unsupported over long distances.
While certain equipment (a carbon road bike, for example) is appropriate along many portions of the trail, one would expect this equipment to fail in more challenging areas along the TCT. Therefore, the recommendations listed below are designed to help travellers determine what minimum standards their equipment must meet in order to handle all portions of "connected and operational" TCT within BC.
Trail and weather conditions do change constantly, so trail users should still be prepared for the "worst case scenario". Luckily in this scenario, mud, snow, and water only typically interfere with travel on the TCT for short sections. If you are prepared to carry your bicycle for up to 200 metres, or are physically fit enough to climb a step ladder, you can probably handle any obstacles typically found along BC's TCT during the summer months.
Below you will find general tips on the following topics:
- Recommended equipment for bicyclists
- Recommended equipment for hikers
- River crossings and snow
- Camping along the Trail
- Cell Phone Coverage
- How long does it take to cross BC on the TCT?
- Eastbound vs. Westbound: Which direction is best?
For advice on GPS, maps and other navigation equipment, Please refer to our page on "Navigation Tips". For advice on equipment related to wildlife encounters (such as bear bangers), please refer to our page on "Trail Safety".
Recommended Equipment for Bicyclists
Within BC, the Trans Canada Trail is not a particularly challenging route to ride when compared to classic mountain bike trails. However, as a long distance "expedition touring route", riders must be prepared for constant changes in terrain and be self-sufficient. The bulk of the journey is on rough gravel surfaces. Some of the TCT is suitable for hiking only, so our trail maps provide bicycle bypasses, usually on paved roads. If you plan on biking the "hiking only" trails anyway, the recommendations below may not meet your needs! For the sake of keeping this list concise, the recommendations below do not include first aid items, clothing recommendations or a list of spare tools useful for normal bike touring; there are hundreds of articles online to help you plan accordingly. The following list is a starting point only, and is Trans Canada Trail-specific within BC only (not other provinces).
Average Distances, Food and Safety
- If covering 60-80 km a day, you can expect to find supplies (food, etc) at least once a day with some exceptions; carry enough for 2-3 days - especially during the rainy times of the year
- You should expect to push or carry your gear at least once a day - in some areas, several times a day
- There are surprisingly few bike shops in BC's interior; take a course in basic bike repairs, and always carry spares and tools
Specific Equipment Recommendations
- Front Fork: Straight forks are sufficient; suspension is not necessary - though front suspension can increase comfort (particularly for heavier riders) on washboard roads.
- Frame: Should be light enough that you can lift it above your head without trouble - at some point you may have to!
- Full fenders: Generally a nuisance and get caught on branches or become clogged with mud - high clearance mountain bike fenders are recommended instead
Tires: Should be a minimum of 32c width to handle sand, mud and loose gravel
- Cyclocross tires are often perfect - narrow for speed with aggressive tread for grip - but often wear out after less than 2000 km
- Touring tires are far more durable but usually lack sufficient tread grip for the occaisonal mud encounter or steep hill
- Expedition tires may be the most suitable, given they often provide more tread than normal touring tires with similar durability
- Mountain bike tires are forgiving, durable and inexpensive - but at the expense of speed, which is a huge factor over long distances
Cargo space: Carrying only rear panniers and handlebar bag is best, though this may not provide enough cargo space for long term travel. Consider supplementing with other options:
- Front panniers may cause the bike to be difficult to handle on the roughest terrain but are generally suitable almost all the time
- Single wheeled trailers (eg Bob Trailer) are narrow enough for almost all obstacles but will need to be disconnected from time to time in order to be carried over obstacles such as washouts and stairs - therefore, they are suitable but sometimes annoying. However, they can handle rough terrain very well, and if packing lighter gear, minimally affect bike handling and can replace all panniers outright
- Two wheeled trailers are not recommended
- You will inevitably have to disassemble your kit to bypass obstacles - be sure your cargo system is easy and quick to take apart and put back together. Practice this, as well as carrying your gear (we recommend being able to do so with one hand free for safety), before heading out to create efficient habits - and not throw out your back on your first day!
- As off-road touring gains popularity, unique cargo bags are becoming available. Check out this article for an interesting perspective.
Handlebars: As a general observation, there are very few obstacles or gates which are narrower than handlebar width - but there are exceptions.
- A good "expedition-style" touring bicycle handlebar set-up can be seen here. You may consider creating something similar, depending on which items you'll enjoy having within reach:
- Pen-Style Bear Banger
- Dog Spray (a blast from your water bottle is also effective)
- GPS Receiver
- Handlebar bag, carrying other items (guidebook, sunscreen, map, snacks, emergency flare, rain jacket, cell phone, etc - be sure everything "scratchable" is padded and tucked away)
- Butterfly-style handlebars (great for long trips, providing various grip positions)
- Bike computer (odometer/speedometer)
- Loud, brass bell (works for alerting people...and bears!)
Recommended Equipment for Hikers
The Trans Canada Trail is not considered a technical hike, but one should take the time to become prepared for just about anything. For the sake of keeping this list concise, the recommendations below do not include first aid items, general clothing recommendations or a list of objects one normally requires for hiking; there are hundreds of articles online to help you plan accordingly. The following list is a starting point only, and is Trans Canada Trail-specific within BC only (not other provinces).
- Average km per day distances vary, depending on backpack weight and hours hiked in a day. Relaxed hikers can usually cover 20 km. A good pace can cover 25-30 km. Day hikers (minimal gear) can cover 30+ km.
- Ankle-high hiking shoes are suitable for virtually all portions of the trail
- For those carrying heavy backpacks, consider higher-cut hiking boots to prevent ankle turns
- Hiking poles are a great idea for taking weight off your feet. A high visibility vest is also a good idea along the roadway portions. These two pieces of gear will also allow people to realize you are an adventurer, not a drifter on the side of the road - a surprisingly common sentiment shared with us by TCT hikers. Some wise choices in gear will show people you are not a threat.
- Some sections, particularly the Okanagan are hot, dry and dusty - a wide hat and plenty of water is recommended as streams can be bone dry. All water should be treated - farm animals are never too far away. Municipal water is safe across BC.
- Bugs are generally not a major issue along the trail compared to other areas of Canada! However, ticks can be found along the Columbia & Western in the tall grass at the sides of the trail - consider wearing pants
- Mud is rare on the TCT, compared to most backpacking trips. Sometimes the rail trails are flooded - the water is usually very shallow but can stretch up to 100 metres!
- Finding official campsites along the trail is not always possible. Remember, the TCT does go through private property, so be aware and be respectful. Use your judgement and leave no trace
- Bring a flashlight for the KVR and Columbia & Western - there are tunnels!
- Supplies will often be more than a day away - always carry a minimum 2-3 days of food for all sections. Some sections are extremely remote; Elkford - Banff is approximately 180 km - that's at least 6 days!
River Crossings and Snow
The Trans Canada Trail avoids river crossings - but you will encounter many small streams, particularly in the spring. We are working to provide more bridges, but be prepared to deal with 6" of water in some areas. Currently, only two seasonal river crossings are an issue; Coquihalla River north of Hope (fordable in late summer, but use the highway bypass), and Aldridge Creek in the Upper Elk Valley about 40 km north of Elkford (this portion is marked on our maps as an "Alternate Route", not the current interim route along Elk Valley FSR). We do not recommend fording Aldridge Creek until its waters subside in late summer - those who ignore this warning will need to backtrack about 40 km to the highway!
Vancouver Island and Southwest BC can be exceptionally rainy into mid May or later. Luckily, your gear will probably dry out quickly in the Okanagan. Washouts and landslides can occur throughout the province - avoid travelling during heavy rainstorms and choose a camping site wisely.
The TCT is generally almost completely free of snow by the first week of May, with the following exceptions:
- Paleface Pass (Chilliwack-Silverhope) to mid June
- Old Coquihalla Road on the KVR (Ladner Creek to Coquihalla Lakes) to late May
- Coldwater River on the KVR (Coquihalla Lake to Brodie Siding) to mid May
- Summit Lake on the KVR (east of Myra Canyon) to mid May
- Farron Station / Verigen Monument on the C&W (north of Christina Lake) to mid May
- Grey Creek Pass to mid/late June
- Upper Elk Valley (and Elk Pass) to mid June
If you choose to "wild camp" (camp in an unofficial site), please be mindful that you may be doing so on private property and there could be consequences of doing so. However, we realize that sometimes it is inevitable when travelling by foot or bicycle - and it's part of the appeal of travelling this way. Obviously one should not light fires, leave garbage or make noise. If you must deficate, dig a cat hole and pack out your TP. If done respectfully, wild camping can be a very satisfying experience.
If traveling in early summer, try to pitch your tent on a southern facing slope to maximize sunlight in the evening, and especially in the morning. A warm sun in the morning will dry your gear and allow you to pack up earlier. Avoid any place that shows signs of past mudslides or landslides. If heavy rain is forecasted, avoid camping near steep slopes or rivers that could swell.
Cell Phone Coverage
Cell phones are recommended, and service is generally reliable for most of the trail, including 3G - but there are no guarantees. Check your supplier's coverage map to be sure. The trail sections far from highways are least likely to have service, and outages are common at Paleface Pass (Chilliwack), Eholt Station (northeast of Greenwood), Farrow Station (between Christina Lake and Castlegar), Grey Creek Pass, Mt. Broadwood (south of Fernie) and the Upper Elk Valley.
How Long to Cross BC?
For those looking for a end-to-end adventure, the most common way to crossing the province on the Trans Canada Trail is by bicycle; it takes 18-24 days to travel across the southern portion, and 7-10 days to travel the northern portion (Alaska Highway). On foot, you'll need at least 70 days of walking (averaging 25 km/day) for the southern portion, and about 42 days across the northern portion - not including rest days!
Only a handful of people have attempted to travel the entire route by foot or by bicycle, and until the trail is fully connected in 2017, accomplishing this feat isn't technically possible - some sections simply do not yet exist! However, Trails BC is happy to provide road connections and other bypasses to allow intrepid trail users to cross the entire province using as much of the Trans Canada Trail (and some of our future "proposed" routes as well) should they wish to do so. Please contact us with your travel plans. We're sure that you'll have a great time on the trail!
We are often asked which direction is best to travel in - east or west. Typically in southern BC, winds are not an issue on the trail, so the main concern is climate and snow. Two areas of the trail are typically snowbound until June: Paleface Pass (Southwest region) and Grey Creek Pass (East Kootenay region). Those considering a journey across southern BC before mid June should consider bypasses around these areas. Also, rain can be heavy until as late as June from Vctoria to the Coquihalla - and make for a cold, soggy ride.
Rain and snow aside, there is no overwhelming answer to which direction is better to travel. Crossing in BC in July, August and even September is undoubtably going to be a drier and warmer experience. If you are crossing Canada, consider headwinds in the prairies - and remember, they can blow both ways! Also, consider how many bugs you might encounter across Central Canada. This might just play a role in your planning.
For advice on GPS, maps and other navigation equipment, Please refer to our page on "GPS and Navigation Tips".
Dealing with Wildlife Encounters (and other safety issues)
Carrying bear bangers is a great idea. For more information, please refer to our page on "Trail Safety".