What to Pack for the West Highland Way?
Sitting in front of your bags thinking what to pack for a trip on the West Highland Way can be a pretty daunting experience. There are so many 'what ifs' that you might end up throwing in everything just to make sure that you are covered in any situation. However, if you are carrying your pack yourself you will have to think twice about this, or similarly if you are getting your luggage transported for you, your limit will be 15kg, so what do you pack in to that allowance? Well, hopefully this guide will give you an insight and make your West Highland Way trip even better.
Day Pack: During the walk your baggage will likely go ahead of you with the baggage handlers, so you carry a day pack with all you need during the day. I recommend a 15 – 30L pack that is comfortable and has a waistband. Your daypack contents should include 2-4L of water, snacks, lunch, spare clothes required during the day, waterproofs, hats, gloves, sunglasses (yes the sun shines in Scotland occasionally!), passport, money and definitely your camera.We would recommend either a waterproof inner lining, a waterproof cover or both, just in case. Gear Bag: Your gear bag will likely be moved by the baggage handlers and you will not have access to it during the day. You can take any kind of luggage with you, though rucksacks are easier for the baggage handlers to move and they should weigh a maximum of 15kg.
Choosing the correct clothing is essential!
Boots: Keeping your feet happy and comfortable is essential. You have two choices when it comes to footwear. Traditionally boots were the only option but recent advances have meant walking shoes are becoming more popular. Though there are sections where the paths are very good on the West Highland Way, I tend to find that boots are the way to go for that extra support on the rougher sections. Ensuring that either walking boots or shoes are well worn in prior to your walk will make a world of difference. Casual Shoes: A pair of comfortable shoes for the evenings. I would still recommend something waterproof for the getting to the pub and back, as there is the occasional rain shower in Scotland. Socks: There is no point spending money on boots and then not using the right socks. I would always recommend wearing just one pair of good quality walking socks. Again ask for advice in a specialist outdoor retailer. Take a minimum of two pairs on your trip and preferably three. Personally I swear by both Smartwool and Thorlo. A great tip to prevent blisters is to coat your feet with Vaseline each morning then put on your socks, this stops rubbing and blisters appearing.
Using the Layering System: The temperature will vary considerably according to the weather conditions and time of year. The layering system works best to cope with the variation in temperature as you can quickly and easily add or remove layers as needed to stay comfortable.
The layering system consists of:
Base Layer – high wicking, close fitting tights and top.
Mid Layer – a warm mid layer consisting of fleece or similar materials.
Outer layer – A breathable waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers.
Extra Warm Layer - A down jacket for use at night is pretty much essential and you may even wear it while walking on very cold days.
Accessories: This system is then supplemented with gloves, hats, buffs etc that you can take on and off quickly to regulate temperature. Obviously this list is dependent on the weather conditions that you are facing. The good thing about the layers is that you can strip them off or add them on as you see fit. You will also learn over the first few days walking what you are most comfortable wearing and then any surplus layers can be stored in your main baggage.
It does occasionally rain on the West Highland Way
- Walking Boots –Three season trekking boots. Good ankle support and well broken in.
- Comfortable shoes- for wearing in the evenings around the towns.
- Walking Socks – Good walking/trekking socks. If you buy good walking socks wearing one pair is fine but some people prefer two pairs. (3 Pairs are normally sufficient and I would suggest packing one really warm pair).
- Thermal Base Layer – Merino Wool is the best as you can wear for weeks without washing, synthetic is also fine. (2 sets)
- Fleece Trousers – I use power fleece which are great for walking in on really cold days.
- Walking trousers (Zip-offs are great) – 1 or 2 pairs. (No Jeans)
- Shorts (1 or 2 pairs if not taking zip-off trousers)
- Waterproof Jacket (Goretex or other breathable fabric).
- Waterproof Overtrousers (Goretex or other breathable fabric).
- Long-sleeved trekking shirt.
- T-shirts/Walking T-shirts.
- Thin Fleece Jacket/Top (Often called micro-fleece) - 2
- Thick Fleece Jacket/Top - 1
- Sun hat and sunglasses
- Warm Hat or Balaclava
- Gloves (one pair thinner and one pair very warm)
- Buff or Neck Gaiter.
- Down Jacket Travel Towel
- Daypack/Rucksack – A good day pack of between 25 – 40L for carrying spare layers, water, camera, snacks etc.
- Water Bottle and/or Camelback (4 Litres) + purification tablets/system.
- Head torch + Batteries (Including spare bulb and batteries)
- Books/Guides/Maps as preferred.
- Pocket Knife/Leatherman/Swiss Army Knife.
- Camera – I would recommend taking spare batteries and film.
- Money Belt/Pouch
- Waterproof liner for both bags.
- Walking poles are becoming more popular. I use and recommend them. A pair is best but many walkers start with just one. Leki Makalu anti-shock poles are some of the best although there are numerous brands on the market.
- Large plastic bin liners and Ziploc storage bags of various sizes for keeping your kit dry.
- Energy bars and snacks - 2 per day
Toiletries, Health & Medical Kit:
- First Aid Kit – It is always a good idea to carry a wee personal first aid kit for your own needs. even though you will not always be miles from civilisation, some parts of the walk are quite remote, so it is worth taking along. It should include wound dressings, antiseptic wipes, antiseptic cream, crepe bandages, triangular bandages, blister kit (plasters and Compede) etc. You can buy excellent readymade kits from outdoor shops or pharmacies.
- Sun block & Lip balm – 30+ SPF
- Medication – Please take sufficient quantities of any prescription medication you need for the duration of your trip. Additionally, you may want to take a supply of medication that you use occasionally for headaches and aches and pains.
- Toiletries – Pack toothbrush & paste, floss, hand and face cleansers. Baby wipes are excellent for a quick freshen up. Even though a lot of this is common sense, there are not so many supermarkets on the route, so it is a good idea to think ahead and make sure that you have packed exactly what you need.
If you are looking for a top-quality operator for your West Highland Way trip, why not try Macs Adventure Holidays? We've also produced a comprehensive downloadable guide to walking the West Highland Way which includes other tips such as how to travel to the start of the way, fitness advice, and useful further reading. Download it here, Guide to the West Highland Way.