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The dilemma: what to bring on the West Highland Way?

Posted on May 13, 2016 by Pete Long

Weight vs Comfort

This is the long distance walkers’ eternal dilemma… what to pack for the trip?

Too much or not enough equipment will mean a less enjoyable experience, with the possibility of serious consequences!

But if you come prepared with the right kit and the right attitude then walking those 95.5 miles from Milngavie to Fort William will leave you inspired, satisfied, proud of your achievement and deserving of a rest! We also run baggage transfers on our guided and self guided tours of the West Highland Way, so if it’s in your suitcase, then you’re laughing and comfortable.

Wilderness guide Pete Long has done the West Highland Way several times and has distinguished the ‘essentials’ and ‘usefuls’ from the ‘luxuries’, hopefully giving you some handy insight on what to bring on the West Highland Way.

The Big Five!

These are the essentials. Get these right and you should be comfortable… whatever the weather!

1. Footwear.

Happy feet make for a happy walker! Good boots are crucial.

To avoid blisters and cramped up feet, they should be waterproof, give good ankle support and be ‘worn in’. New boots can cause problems. We recommend a wool or high wool content sock to go with it. 

What to bring on the West Highland Way

2. Clothing. No Cotton for hiking!

Trousers which are light and dry quickly work well. Consider ‘zip offs’ if you like hiking in shorts when its sunny (I have Englishman legs –  so don’t do shorts!).

Pair this with a good lightweight base layer top. A shirt or light fleece. Windproof jacket or similar. Several thinner items work well as a layering system and it is worth carrying a spare top or gillet for rest stops.

Read More Walking Articles

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3. Outer Wear Protection.

Waterproof and breathable jacket and over trousers (Goretex or similar).

The trousers are more manageable if they have full leg zips, these make them easier to put on or take off over boots.

Although it’s very entertaining watching somebody trying to remove no-zip over trousers… balancing on one leg hopping about, rotating and usually cursing. Zips are useful too as they can be opened to act as a vent. Knee length gaiters can be a good addition for muddy or wet trails.

Don’t forget to pack some warm gloves and a hat or two. A peaked cap will protect from sun and anybody turning up on a trip I guide with a tri-cornered hat will win the prize money!.

4. Rucksack.

A well packed rucksack.

A well packed rucksack. Side pockets for water and pole and a separate compartment for waterproofs make this Fjallraven Kaipak one of my favourites.

If you are staying at accommodation overnight, a rucksack for day walking of 25- 35 litre capacity should suffice.

As with your boots – wear it in! Check that it’s comfortable… especially loaded! Shoulder and waist straps should distribute the loading. Side pockets are useful for waterproof clothing or drink bottles etc.

Learn how to pack it and use it efficiently. Use a liner, custom made or a heavy duty plastic bag, you need to keep the contents dry, many rucksacks come with an rain cover, these can be great, but make sure they are secured to your pack… its disheartening to see one hurtling across Rannoch Moor…

The independent camper will need a bigger bag for the trip, have a read of Wild Camping in Scotland – How to Pack Like A Pro for tips on your bag and what to put in it.

5. The Care-Package.

A few items to help look after yourself. Food and drink, amazingly often forgotten by some folk! Snacks, sandwiches, treats – you’re going to need them as there are some long days on the West Highland Way.

Bring cold drinks be they water or juice. A flask of a hot beverage on a bad weather day can make a huge difference to how you feel and your performance, don’t underestimate! Food and fluids are VITAL FUEL! Carry your own personal medicines and first aid kit. If you are travelling with a guide they will have a first aid kit but knowing how to manage small first aid concerns is an important skill.

Take some sunscreen, insect repellent and maybe sunglasses too (if you spend days unprotected and/or squinting into the life-supporting ‘miracle orb’  you’ll finish the trip etched and looking ten years older!)

Ready to roll?

Well…. No! The above is pretty much the absolute minimum. You will of course require more ‘stuff’. Here is my list of ‘useful’ items which you’ll want to bring as well. 

  • Walking poles can make a massive difference, they act as a support for balance and take a lot of strain off your knees. Learn how to use them here
  • Comfortable footwear and clothing for changing into at your accommodation.
  • A wash kit bearing the essentials, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and shampoo. 
  • Electronic devices: camera, tablet, laptop, phone, hair straighteners? Or anything similar might need a charger and/or spare batteries with it too (though I, Luddite-like, recommend leaving that all behind anyway apart from your camera and phone).
  • Binoculars or a monocular are great for wildlife spotting and watching.
  • Take and know how to use a map and compass if you are self guided, though having your own map and following even with a guide is really useful and navigation is a top skill in the outdoors.
  • Carry a whistle and make sure you know the emergency signal using: 6 blasts followed by 1 minute interval then further 6 blasts , interval, blasts… Repeat continuously.
  • I also recommend carrying a head torch in case we finish late… or if you go for a late stroll to gaze at the stars!
Pete's Essentials

The essentials I would carry. Top L – R Spare windproof top, waterproof breatheable overtrousers and jacket. Middle- gloves hats and gaiters. First aid kit, lunch, water bottle and flask. Bottom – walking poles, camera, monocular, sunscreen, insect repellent, map compass and whistle.

This is by no means a definitive list for what to bring on the West Highland Way . I’ll be carrying lots of items not listed here, your guide will carry extra emergency items like a group shelter, a GPS device and a comprehensive first aid kit. Pack a luxury or two in your main baggage, but don’t overload your day walking pack!

I hope this list will help to assist you when time comes to pack for your trip and that by following some if not all of these top tips you will remain relatively comfortable whilst walking our guided West Highland Way or self-guided West Highland Way with Wilderness Scotland. So pack your bags and come with us through some of Scotland’s iconic and inspiring scenery… see you on the hill!

Now that you have what to bring on the West Highland Way covered, you can worry about what to eat along the way! No need to fret however as we’ve gathered all of the best places to grab a bite in our Interactive Foodie Guide to the West Highland Way.

Fancy Walking the West Highland Way?

It’s consistently listed in the top 10 walks in the world, on many traveller’s bucket lists and all because it’s got such iconic splendour along the way. You’ve got Loch Lomond, the 300yr old Drover’s Inn, Rannoch Moor, the 3 Sisters of Glencoe and Ben Nevis packed into this incredible route.

About the author

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Pete Long

Originally from Yorkshire I moved to Scotland in 1990 to spend more time in the outdoors. Climbing , trekking and travelling has taken me from the Gritstone crags of my youth to wild and remote areas in Britain and Ireland, Europe, North America, Bolivia, Nepal and Patagonian Ice Cap. I work in a variety of outdoor roles and environments, delivering outdoor activities, educational/learning programmes to a diverse client range. I’m a qualified Summer and Winter Mountain Leader, John Muir Award Leader, Bushcraft and Wilderness Living Skills Instructor, member of Mountain Training Association and Institute of Outdoor Learning, First Aid qualified and a trained Wilderness Guide.

Read more articles by Pete


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