So you’ve decided to walk the West Highland Way? First off, congrats. It’s a stunning hike with out-of-this-world scenery and you’re gonna have the best fun. But we know exactly what you’re thinking now. What on earth do I put on my West Highland Way packing list?
Before we did the walk we had little idea either, even though we’d done plenty of multi-day hikes. Because the West Highland Way is a different beast!
100 miles navigating the Scottish Highlands and all of the crazy weather they have to throw at you is daunting.
It can be very tempting to try and squeeze everything you own into your backpack. You know, “just in case”. And there are plenty of variables to prepare for on the WHW.
But the truth is, the best idea is to streamline what you’re taking as much as possible.
After completing it, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what should be in your backpack. So strap in and get ready for the ultimate West Highland Way Packing list.
How Much to Pack for the West Highland Way
How much you take will largely be depend on whether you plan on carrying your pack or using a baggage transfer service. Obviously if you’re carrying your bag then you’ll want to make it as light as possible. However with a baggage transfer service you get up to 20kg so can afford a few more luxuries.
We’d highly recommend doing this, and you can read all about what it involves here if you’re tempted. But we know that some of you will consider it cheating or something. So in the spirit of inclusivity, we’ve put this West Highland Way packing list together for anyone and everyone taking on this monumental challenge.
We’ve included everything from footwear to camping essentials, but you can adapt the numbers and contents to suit your style. Just remember, less is better. Let’s get stuck in.
Best Footwear for Your West Highland Way Packing List
You’re going to be on your feet for over 100 miles while walking the West Highland Way. Though it’s not really a technical hike, some of the terrain is rough underfoot and it can get extremely wet. You are in Scotland after all guys!
Because of this it’s essential to have the right footwear to carry you to the finish line. Many people would say it’s the most important thing on your West Highland Way packing list.
You’ll find plenty of conflicting views on what exactly is the correct thing to put on your feet for the walk. Some say ankle support is a must, others that lightweight shoes are a better option. Unfortunately this just goes to prove that there is no definitive right or wrong answer.
With just a minimal amount of research you’ll discover that there’s no scientific proof to support one choice over another. At least when it comes to the support they provide and protection from injuries.
The truth is that the majority of it is down to you. Your personal preference, the experience you have and how much you’re willing to shell out.
Somewhat controversially I’m gonna say there’s actually one consideration even more important that what you put on your feet. And that’s to ensure that whatever it is is properly broken in.
Your shoes should be like an old friendship by the time you start. One so comfortable and familiar that you know regardless of what you do, they’re never gonna let you down.
Rocking up with a shiny, fresh-out-of-the-box pair of new kicks may mean you look cool. But you certainly won’t feel great when you’re hobbling around like John Wayne with saddle-sore after just a few miles.
New shoes = blisters, and blisters = early retirement from the West Highland Way. So take the advice and make sure you get plenty of miles in beforehand wearing whatever footwear you opt for. Here are the most popular choices:
Hiking boots are recommended by plenty of people who have completed the West Highland Way. The perceived wisdom is that they provide you with advanced ankle support.
Though in reality that’s not necessarily the case, for many people they’re still the number one pick for their West Highland Way packing list. And they have plenty of positives going for them.
Boots come up higher on your leg than shoes which is beneficial for a couple of reasons. It mean you’ll avoid little rocks and other debris making their way into your shoes. They’ll also provide a higher level of waterproofing for when you’re trudging through puddles as the splashes won’t come in over the top.
One definite con is that they’re not the most lightweight option. If you’re wondering why that’s important, weight on your feet is far more energy-draining than weight on your back. So why go to all the effort of packing light only to knacker yourself out with clunky footwear?
Another negative is the waterproof aspect itself. While it sounds appealing, if it’s wet in Scotland, your feet are gonna get wet whatever you’ve got on them. Waterproof boots can often take absolutely ages to fully dry as the waterproofing means the water can’t escape. And slipping into wet boots at the start of your day can ruin it before it’s begun.
If you do opt for walking boots, check out a pair like these Merrell MOAB (Mother of All Boots). Not only is the name cool, they’re also some of the best rated walking boots on the market. They’re durable, lightweight as far as boots go, and above all comfortable.
Hiking Shoes / Trail Runners
Hiking shoes and trail runners are currently all the rage among walkers. They’re a hybrid of a trainer and a hiking boot giving you the best of all worlds – they’re comfortable, durable, and lightweight. For this reason they’re a very popular choice for a West Highland Way packing list.
Hiking shoes are slightly different from trail runners as they tend to be sturdier and slightly more solidly constructed. But they share more in common than they have differences.
Nether cover your ankles, giving you plenty of flexibility and ensuring they’re lighter than boots. They also tend not to be waterproof, though some hiking boots are made from water resistant materials.
The soles of hiking shoes are usually thicker and stiffer so you won’t get rocks jabbing in your feet. But this means less flexibility than you get with trail runners, and for some people, ultimately less comfort.
Saucony make excellent trail running shoes, check out the Peregrine 8 model which Runner’s World rate as the best trail running shoe currently available.
If the weather report is looking good for you then there’s a third option you may want to consider. A sturdy pair of training shoes could be the perfect choice.
We walked the entire route just wearing running trainers and felt that it was the best choice for us. We made sure they had a good tread and a solid amount of support.
There are a few top benefits of wearing trainers. Firstly they are extremely lightweight which you’ll be thankful for after a few days. Secondly, if they get wet they dry out quickly – much quicker than a thick walking boot. Thirdly they’re the most breathable of any of the footwear suitable for your West Highland Way packing list.
Obviously it’s important to choose the correct model, but don’t feel obliged to wear hiking boots/shoes if you don’t want to. However, we’d probably only suggest opting for trainers if you are using a luggage transfer service and not backpacking.
Trainers are also an option for wearing in the evening time after your day of walking. So even if you don’t choose them for the trail, you may still want to pop a pair in your backpack. However, they add more weight to your bag than the flip flops we recommend below so you’ll probably only want to do this if you’re using a baggage transfer service.
We’re by no means suggesting you attempt the hike in flip flops (although it has been done). But after a long day of hiking, the last thing you’ll want to do is stuff your feet back into the shoes you’ve just spent the day tramping along in.
In fact you’re probably gonna be desperate to let your feet breathe. There’s no better way to set your tootsies free than with a pair of flip flops. We always wear Havaianas, they’re by far the best quality you’ll find and last for years and years. One pair lasted over a decade.
One thing to note though, if you’ve not worn flip flops before then we’d suggest breaking those in as well. You don’t need to do serious miles in them. Just wear them around the house a few times to get your feet used to them as they can feel a little alien at first.
Essential Clothing for Your West Highland Way Packing List
The weather in Scotland is famously changeable. You can experience spring, summer, winter and autumn all in a single day with little warning of when it’s going to switch. And in the Highlands this is even more amplified.
So regardless of what time of year you’re doing the West Highland Way, it’s vital you pack for all weather.
The key to being prepared is thinking in layers rather than outfits. Having multiple items of clothing that are easy to throw on or strip off is ideal.
The exact number of each item you need will vary. It largely depends on how many days you plan to take to complete the walk. But also frankly how bothered you are about pulling on a fresh set of threads each day.
For the stuff that’s gonna get the most “odorous”, changing every other day is fine. Particularly if you go for a wicking, breathable material that can stop you from stinking to high heaven.
The numbers below are based on the standard time of a 6 day route.
2 x Base Layers – Base layers are the ideal starting point for your upper body on the WHW. They will keep your temperature just right, stop you from smelling, and can be layered up on easily. We’d recommend going for these merino wool moisture wicking ones. If it’s looking like it will be particularly cold on your hike you may want to switch a couple more base layers into your West Highland Way packing list in place of a couple of tshirts.
4 x Tshirts – Three sports tshirts for hiking in, plus a regular one that you can wear at night for chilling out in. A quick drying fabric is ideal for your tshirts for when they get wet. These Under Armour tshirts wick sweat, are anti-odour, and dry fast.
1 x Fleece – If it starts to get cold you’ll want to sling on something warm and comfortable, a fleece is perfect. This one from Columbia is a great choice.
1 x Down Jacket – If you get really unlucky then you’re gonna want some serious protection from the cold. The most popular choice for hikers is a down jacket like this North Face one. They’re lightweight and pack into a tiny space when not using them, yet keep you toasty warm when called upon.
1 x Waterproof Jacket – The last thing you want is to get soaked to the bone if the heavens open. A good waterproof jacket is an essential inclusion on your West Highland Way packing list.
4 x Wicking Underwear – Sports underwear is great, it keeps your nether regions sweat free and mighty fresh – nough said.
2 x Shorts – If you get lucky like we did you may catch a few rays while walking the WHW. I was thankful I’d packed a couple of pairs of shorts for those days as I’d have been roasting otherwise. Any sports shorts like these will do the trick.
2 x Sports Leggings – Leggings are extremely diverse and strangely enough are great in the cold, heat, and rain. They aren’t heavy but will keep you warm, and when it rains they dry extremely quickly. We actually both wore sports leggings on a few days and loved them – I’d be tempted to make them my number one legwear next time.
2 x Walking Trousers – If you’re not a leggings kind of person then some walking trousers are your other option. I won’t lie, I hate the things. They always look terrible, fit badly, are made out of horrible materials and I just think there are better options. That said, Colombia make consistently good quality outdoor clothing so this rugged, wicking, lightweight pair would be a good shout.
1 x Waterproof Trousers – While we took waterproof trousers, we were fortunate enough not to have to wear them. It did rain a little in patches but we were happy continuing with our sports leggings as they dried quickly. The waterproofs we took (and have used elsewhere) were these Mountain Warehouse ones that you pull over whatever you’re wearing.
Other Clothing Items
Wooly Hat – Your head is where lots of your body heat will escape from when it gets cold. A lightweight running beanie like this is great and won’t add any weight to your pack.
Gloves – Similarly, your hands will get seriously cold if the temp drops. This lightweight, water resistant, windproof, touch-screen-compatible pair will certainly do the job of keeping them warm.
Daypack for Your West Highland Way Packing List
If you’re using a baggage transfer service then you’ll need a day-bag. Each day you’ll separate what stuff you’ll need to carry with you while walking. Because this won’t be a lot of gear, you can get away with quite a small pack.
Something in the region of 20L will do fine, but since you’re not gonna be stuffing it full, slightly larger is no biggie. Make sure that it also has a mesh pocket on the side for your water bottle.
We took an extremely lightweight, water resistant, foldable daypack like this ZOMAKE model and it worked perfectly. However, if you want a bit more comfort and support then take a look at this Osprey daypack.
While they are both water resistant, you should also pack a couple of drybags in case the weather gets particularly filthy. We used them to put our electricals in like phones, camera, and anything else we didn’t want getting soaked.
Backpack for Your West Highland Way Packing List
If you’re planning on carrying your bag the entire way then you’ll need something that’s up to the job. Your backpack is therefore one of the most important things on your West Highland Way packing list.
It needs to be sufficiently sized, extremely comfortable, and well designed for multi-day hikes. Make sure it’s got a padded back panel and adjustable straps for both your hips and sternum. Something like this is perfect for hiking.
Camping Gear for the West Highland Way
We did a mixture of camping and staying in hotels and hostels during our walk. Thanks to this we have a unique insight into both. Our camping equipment was basic, a deliberate choice to keep the weight low. Here’s what we stripped it down to:
Tent – If there are two of you doing the walk then it’s advisable to share a tent. You’ll be able to alternate carrying duties and save a little weight. Plus your combined body heat will keep each other warmer than sleeping on your onesome. Go for a 2-person tent like this that’s lightweight but sturdy.
If you’re flying solo then you can cut the weight even more with a dedicated 1-person hiking number. This backpacking tent will do just the trick and you’ll barely notice it in your pack.
Sleeping Bag – If there’s one camping item worth investing a little bit more money in, it’s your sleeping bag. The best ones combine warmth and comfort with being lightweight and highly packable. A 3 season sleeping bag will suffice – it’s not the arctic. This one weighs in at under 3lbs and will help you sleep like a baby.
Sleeping Mat – We never camp without sleeping mats. Ever. We used to use those crappy foam ones but upgraded some time ago to the self inflating variety which are far superior. They’re more lightweight and the air cushion makes you feel almost like you’re on a bed. These are our favoured models as they’re easy to use and comfortable.
Camping Stove – If you’re gonna cook your own food then this is essential. After a long day’s hiking nothing feels better than fixing yourself a coffee and a bite to eat. A small stove like this is fine and you can easily chuck it in your backpack.
Cutlery – We carry our own cutlery with us everywhere we go now. Firstly we don’t like the idea of adding to the well documented plastic problem by using disposable knives and forks. Secondly the cutlery we have is awesome! It’s made from bamboo and includes a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks and a straw, all wrapped in a cute little carry pouch. Buy yours here, it will last for years.
Mess tin – You’re gonna want something to eat your food out of, but lugging around your best china certainly isn’t an option. A mess tin allows you to cook and eat from the same vessel saving weight, money, time, and washing up. Simple, effective, and cheap.
Pocket Knife – The best ones are designed to do an endless amount of tasks from opening cans to snipping a painful nail. This makes a pocket knife a handy thing to include on your West Highland Way packing list. We’ve always favoured Swiss Army knives and always carry this model on camping trips.
Shovel – One of the basic principles everyone should adopt on the West Highland Way is to “leave no trace”. To spell it out for anyone who doesn’t get why a shovel is necessary, that includes your shit. Unless you want to be carrying bags of your own faeces for miles on end a shovel is an essential for your West Highland Way packing list. That’s right, dig a hole, crap in it, cover it up, move on and forget it happened. Until the next morning.
Head Lamp– If you need to get up in the middle of the night to dig yourself a wee hole (wee as in Scottish for small, if you just need a pee then don’t bother digging a hole), you do not want to be doing it in the pitch black. There’s very little light pollution in the highlands so when it’s dark it’s really dark. An inexpensive head lamp will free up your hands for, ahem, other things.
Water Bottle for Your West Highland Way Packing List
This is one of our to tips for your West Highland Way packing list. The right water bottle will save you weight in your pack, money, and hassle. It will also stop you getting sick, because though the fresh water looks fine, it can contain hidden nasties.
We met someone whose wife had to retire from the walk because she got sick from drinking the water. We also saw plenty of people adding unnecessary weight to their packs with multiple giant water bottles.
The simple solution to all of this is a filter water bottle.
It means you can drink from any source, safe in the knowledge that you’re supping on pure H2O.
And the thing about the West Highland Way is that water is all around you! Waterfalls, lochs, even puddles – nothing is off limits.
During our walk we often set off without any water. Usually this would be totally irresponsible, but we knew that within a few minutes we’d come across a source.
Our suggestion for campers would be this GRAYL water bottle. It means you can pour it out to cook with and brush your teeth and wash up or whatever you want to do.
If you’re not camping then as a pure filter water bottle, this Water to Go model is what we’ve carried for years. Both filter out bacteria, viruses, and all the other stuff you don’t want in your water. They were perfect for the WHW.
Check out our full guide on the best water filter bottles here for more details.
Midge Protection for Your West Highland Way Packing List
While preparing for our West Highland Way walk we read a lot about the midges.
Unfortunately we didn’t take any of the warnings seriously and just assumed that they wouldn’t be too bad.
We didn’t want to shell out the couple of bucks that a pair of head nets would cost. And we didn’t bother packing any repellant either.
I can confidently say that this was my single biggest regret from the entire walk. The midges are brutal and relentless.
There were long stretches where we were completely unaffected. And in fact we didn’t see a single midge for the first few days, which left us feeling pretty smug. This was a false sense of security.
Once we encountered the little barstewards we soon came to realise they are no joke. They attack in swarms of thousands and go right for your head. You can swat, slap, clap, and even run. These things just keep on coming.
They’re particularly bad on a couple of the campsites but we also encountered them on some sections of the path.
Essential Midge Protection for Your West Highland Way Kit
There are two things you need to arm yourself with to make sure you’re midge proof.
Number one – invest a few quid in one of these head nets for each person that’s doing the walk. Yes they look silly, but it’s a small price to pay for keeping your face out of reach of the little blighters.
Number two – get some midge repellent. The one highly recommended by the locals we spoke to is called Avon Skin So Soft. It wasn’t designed as a midge repellent but somehow someone figured it works. Avon caught onto this and have since remarketed a version as bug spray but it’s essentially the same thing.
There’s also another alternative called Smidge which was specifically created for purpose and many people swear by. It’s only available in the UK though so unless you live there then go for the Skin So Soft.
Either will do the trick, so get whichever you can. Just be sure to order some before you go so it’s ready in your bag. Please heed the advice, midge protection is a non negotiable inclusion on your West Highland Way packing list.
Other Essential Kit for Your West Highland Way Packing List
Even though this is the final section, some of these items are vitally important to include on your West Highland Way packing list.
Hiking Poles – Hiking poles will be a godsend at some points during the walk, particularly if you’re carrying a backpack. They take the strain off your knees and generally make the walking easier. Go for a lightweight pair like these that can strap on your backpack when you’re not using them without adding much weight.
Travel Towel – We’d recommend taking a quick drying travel towel whether you’re camping or not. They’re great for drying off after a rain shower and obviously after washing if you’re camping. Take a look at the best towels for travel here, a microfibre one will be perfect, but any in this post will do the trick.
First Aid Kit – Hopefully you won’t need it but it’s worth carrying some first aid basics for if you do. A portable kit in its own carry case is best.
Blister Plasters – No one wants to cut their walk short because of a pesky blister. These bad boys are a hiker’s secret weapon. Stock up on blister plasters but don’t think they mean you can skip breaking in your shoes!
Plug Socket Adaptor – If you’re not from the UK then remember we have different sockets here. They’re the strange three pronged ones that no one else in the world uses. Grab yourself a universal adaptor and you’ll be fine.
Battery Charger – Don’t want to run the risk of your battery suddenly dying on you? Keep your electrical essentials up and running with one of these mini battery packs.
Sunblock – Erm, we know, but Scotland is meant to have bad weather right? Well believe it or not, the sun does shine from time to time. And much of the WHW is pretty exposed. After a few hours in the open you may be frazzled to a crisp. Take a small bottle of sunscreen, and hey who knows, you may get lucky enough to have to use it. We did!
Don’t Attempt the West Highland Way Without Travel Insurance
If you’re not from the UK then DO NOT take a single step without making sure you’re completely covered. Sure, it’s not a technically difficult or dangerous walk. But there’s always the possibility that something doesn’t go to plan.
Whether that’s through illness or injury, or something happening to your equipment, it’s not worth taking a risk.
Sarah twisted her knee quite seriously on the third day. While it didn’t warrant a hospital visit, it did stop her from fully completing the walk. She had to catch the bus between a number of stages.
It also meant doctors and physio visits were required to rehabilitate the injury. Had we not been from the UK with access to free healthcare, it could have potentially been extremely costly.
For this reason we always recommend getting a travel insurance plan that definitely covers you for this type of activity. It’s just not worth messing around with.
Our preferred choice is World Nomads as they’re designed by travellers, for travellers. Their policies also cover you for numerous adventurous activities as standard. Get a quick quote below:
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.