What to Pack to Walk the West Highland Way
A multi-day hike in a country which regularly boasts "four seasons in one day" can be a daunting prospect for those who love an organised suitcase! This advice and the packing list below should hopefully help you avoid panic packing an unnecessarily heavy bag and have you adventuring happy (and with everything you need). One thing to note: Our hints and tips here are designed with those walking the West Highland Way with a self-guided operator in mind (like us here at Macs Adventure), staying in small hotels or B&Bs and having overnight luggage moved by a bag transfer service. If you are choosing to camp, then your checklist will be very different, and we recommend the West Highland Way's official website for advice in that case.
You'll need two bags; a small day-pack rucksack for the essentials you want to take on the trail, and an overnight bag.
A good day pack should have a waist strap and ideally chest strap. Osprey packs are one of our favourites - www.ospreypacks.com
Your day pack is the bag you carry with you on your walk containing food, water, spare clothing layers etc. It can be anything from 15 - 40 litres capacity (around 30l is ideal for the West Highland Way). It should be a rucksack with a waistband and and chest strap to help distribute the weight and help your posture and back. A really helpful extra is a built-in rain cover, although you can buy a waterproof liner bag to fit any rucksack too.
Your overnight bag should be a maximum of 20kg (for our baggage operators). Rucksacks are often easier for the baggage team to handle, although you can take any kind of bag for this. Bear in mind you won't have access to this during the day.
Good walking boots are an absolute must. Don't try to walk the West Highland Way in anything other than walking boots or shoes (there are some good specialist walking shoes on the market, but if you have to choose, go for boots for ankle support and extra waterproof-ness in the inevitable muddy patches!). This man may have managed to walk it in flip-flops - but although it is an entertaining tale, you should absolutely NOT try this! If you are buying new boots, head to a good outdoor retailer who will give you advice, and also please make sure you gradually wear new boots in before starting the trail.
Side note: Socks!
There is no point spending money on quality boots and then not using the right socks. Wearing one pair of good quality walking socks is ideal, and take a minimum of two pairs on your trip and preferably three or more (you can hand-wash at your accommodations). Bridgedale are a brand we love, and opting for a merino wool sock is a great way to keep the feet warm, dry, and able to breathe. We also have some tips for avoiding blisters on the blog.
- Good walking boots/shoes (worn in if they are new)
- 3 x Pairs (at least) of good quality walking socks
- 3 x Base layer tops - ideally thermal, and Merino Wool is once again excellent.
- 1 or 2 x Mid-layer tops (eg. fleece)
- 2 x Trousers (or 1 x trousers 1 x shorts, but ideally zip-off trousers/shorts for the best of all worlds)
- Hat for warmth, and a hat for shade
- Waterproof and breathable jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- 1 x extra warm layer. A natural or synthetic down vest or mid-layer is a great extra - easy to pack away, light to carry during the day, and perfect for keeping the chill at bay when you stop to rest or in the evening.
- Casual and comfortable clothes & footwear for evenings. Remember you won't need much as you'll only be wearing it for a short time, perhaps for dinner. A couple of outfits and a comfortable lighter pair of shoes to give your feet a rest from the walking boots should suffice.
- Nightwear and underwear (a set of under-tights or "long johns" can be useful for under the trousers on colder days)
- Day rucksack + waterproof cover or liner bag
- Water bottle
- Sunglasses & sun cream (yes, even in Scotland!)
- Toiletries (don’t forget your toothbrush!)
- Small first aid kit
- Prescribed medication
- Blister plasters
- Insect repellent (read more about avoiding midges)
- Antiseptic hand gel or wipes
- A little washing detergent for handwashing clothes
- Electrical socket adapter (non-UK walkers)
- Phone and charger
- Following the Covid-19 Pandemic, please ensure you have suitable face-masks. Guidance on this may change, please keep an eye on local advice for any destination you travel to and always follow the latest safety advice.
- Map and compass (in addition to maps which will be provided digitally by Macs Adventure)
- Binoculars for wildlife-spotting
- Book to read or Kindle
- Notebook and pen
- Energy snacks
- Walking poles are an excellent accessory for the West Highland Way
- Extra rechargeable battery pack for your phone
- Neckwear/headscarf, for example, a “Buff”
- Thermal or fleecy cold-weather trousers or tights
Macs Adventure will provide you with all the mapping and navigation you need. Please download the Macs Adventure App before you go, and make sure you charge your smartphone, although the West Highland Way is very well waymarked and a clear path. Always carry a well-charged mobile phone. You can also download Erin's general walking holiday packing list here.
Being prepared for every eventuality means you can concentrate on having fun (Thank you Steven for this #MacsMoment photo)
Much of what you pack is down to personal preference, but it is always important to be prepared for every weather eventuality as even a completely clear forecast can change, particularly in the west of Scotland. Thankfully both waterproofs and sun protection are fairly light items to pack, so make sure you don’t forget either.
Ultimately, the West Highland Way is a great walk, with plenty of fun and camaraderie to be had along the way. It will probably rain at least once (although hopefully not too much), you will probably end the walk with tired feet, but you'll have the time of your life! If you are interested in walking with the support of baggage transfers and comfortable overnight lodgings, browse the West Highland Way itineraries on our website or contact us for more information. Happy packing, and have a safe and fun adventure!