Hiking along the West Highland Way is a truly incredible way to see some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery. A crucial part of setting yourself up for an enjoyable (and successful) West Highland Way backpacking trip is making clever choices about what to pack.
Obviously, the heavier your backpack is, the harder and less enjoyable your hike on the WHW, (unless you are using a baggage service). However, with a bit of smart planning, it is entirely possible to keep the weight of your backpacking backpack manageable while still being able to carry everything you may need on the trip – here are the factors you’ll need to keep in mind:
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Packing for the West Highland Way – The Basics
There are numerous options to customise your hike on the ultimate of Scottish hikes – you can customize your meal options, accommodation preferences, the length of the walk, and so much more. But still, there are a couple of simple rules when it comes to packing, and these apply to basically everyone. The rules are:
- Make sure to wear proper footwear
- Learn how to use the trekking poles and take them with you
- Keep your pack as lightweight as possible
The Weight of the Backpack
How much should the backpack of a West Highland Way trekker weigh? Answering this question is all but easy.
As an (extremely) general rule, walkers staying indoors should never carry more than 9 kilograms of gear, obviously, this will depend on the time of year you walk the West Highland Way. The campers, on the other hand, should aim to keep the weight of their backpacks below 13 kilograms. Are you planning to have your gear transferred along the route? If that’s the case, keep in mind that most transfer services won’t accept luggage that weighs more than 20 kilograms.
In case you have a chronic injury or you’re a complete beginner when it comes to trekking, your backpack should be really lightweight – much more so than anything mentioned above.
Here’s a couple of tips that should help you lighten your load:
- When it comes to shirts, you won’t need more than just a couple of them. The same can be said for socks and underwear. You’ll have more than enough time to wash and dry your clothes, so try to bring as little of those as possible
- Unless you’re really passionate about photography, do not bring your bulky camera equipment with you. Keep in mind that most of today’s smartphones take phenomenal photos
- Avoid carrying more food than you’ll actually need. Also, plan where and when you’ll be restocking your food provisions
The Importance of Great Shoes or Boots
Traditional trail runners, hiking shoes, or hiking boots are all good for the West Highland Way, but it’s incredibly important that the footwear you choose genuinely suits your needs. In other words, you should aim to bring boots or shoes that have never caused any issues for your feet before.
To reduce the chances of running into problems on the trail, try walking at least 30 miles in the boots or shoes you’re planning to use, and make sure to do this in various weather and terrain conditions. On a long-distance hiking route like the West Highland Way, a vile blister can be absolutely catastrophic.
Also, keep in mind that opting for pricier instead of cheaper socks can be a true game-changer. The socks made out of Merino wool are probably your best option – they are quick-drying and don’t stink as much, (Icebreaker vs Smartwool). Still, just like in the case of boots and shoes, it’s important that you do some trekking in a couple of different types of socks in order to determine what you like in terms of height, cushion, and thickness.
What About Hiking Poles?
A pair of good hiking poles can be a complete game-changer on a difficult route such as WHW. Many trekkers swear by their hiking poles – you’ll be glad to have these once you bump into some particularly steep sections, and there are plenty of those on this trail. See aluminium or carbon fibre review.
Carrying a set of quality hiking poles is especially important for campers, as they’re carrying loads that are much heavier than those of folks planning to stay indoors.
The Backpack – Your Main Companion
What we said about shoes and socks applies to backpacks too – it’s very important that you complete a few different hikes with a backpack you’re planning to use on the WHW before you hit the WHW.
When it comes to size, most folks who intend to camp on the way will need a backpack with a volume between 45 and 65 litres. If you’re planning to sleep in hotels, hostels, and B&Bs along the way, a ~40-litre backpack will be more than enough.
One extremely important thing you’ll need on the way is the rain cover for your backpack. This is a must-have and something that is, fortunately, included with the majority of newer packs.
Full Gear Packing List for the West Highland Way
Are you planning to camp along the route? If so, there’s quite a lot of gear you’ll need to take with you. Use the following list in conjunction with your men’s or women’s clothing list, personal valuables list, and miscellaneous list in order to put together an ideal kit.
- Backpacking pillow
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Energy snacks
- Portable stove
- Backpacking pot
- Hydration bladder or Water bottle
- Adhesive tape – great for blisters or repairing sleeping bags
- Tick-removal tool
- Antiseptic wipes & cream
- Emergency whistle
- First-aid kit
- Antihistamines for bites & stings
- Toilet paper
- Bug spray
- Sleeping mask
- Elastic knee/ankle support
- Digital watch
- Notebook & pen
- Some plastic bags
- Biodegradable soap
- Midge hat
- Mobile phone & charger
- Hiking gaiters
- Hiking poles
- Travel towel
- Smaller day-pack
- Battery backup
- Travel insurance
- Map & compass
As we have mentioned above, these items should be combined with men’s or women’s clothes. And when it comes to these clothes, make sure to pack things like a rain jacket, a hat, a pair of gloves, a bandana, a pair of camp flip-flops, and, in the case of ladies, both a sports bra and a standard bra, along with your main clothes.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.