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How to train for the West Highland Way

If you are new to walking, or even if you already enjoy regular walks, it is important to train specifically for the West Highland Way. You need to ensure you are physically prepared. The 96-mile trail from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, is mostly off-road and much of the route is on rough trails and paths. There is also a total elevation of more than 3500 metres to further challenge walkers.

The best way to complete the WHW is to book a luggage transfer company to carry the main bulk of your clothes and kit. In this way, you only need to worry about your day-to-day hiking equipment and this can be carried in a small day pack. Having less to take with you each day of the long-distance walk allows you to enjoy the walking.

The WHW includes a range of off-road trails. Credit: Vishnu Prasad / Unsplash

Training miles before the West Highland Way

It’s important to do a bit of planning first. Decide how many days you will take to complete the WHW. Many people plan to walk the route over five to eight days. However, you might be keen to walk the full route over just three or four days.

Whatever your plan is, you can then assess how far you will need to walk each day. There are plenty of West Highland Way day-to-day route descriptions, such as on the official website. Look at each day including the distance and total elevation.

There will be some days that will cover more mileage than others and you should aim in your training to build up to being able to complete this type of route.

If you are a newcomer to walking, you’ll be starting from a baseline of zero miles. Your aim in the early weeks of training is to build up to walking a few miles non-stop. It is a good idea to walk a few times a week. You could walk two or three miles on a week-day evening and then aim for a long walk at the weekend.

Each week, build up your mileage by between 10 and 20%, but no more than this. It might be better to think about this in terms of time on your feet. So, you could walk for 30 minutes in week one and then add 10 to 20% time each week.

If you try to walk too far, too soon, you are more likely to end up with injuries or your aching joints and muscles will put you off going out again.

The same applies to people who already doing some walking but who might not be familiar with walking as far as the West Highland Way. Remember this is a day-after-day walking challenge and while you might be comfortable with walking 10 miles on one day, you need to make sure you are prepared for walking back-to-back days.

With any training plane it’s important to allow enough time to build up. Plan ahead by looking at what daily mileage you need to be able to achieve the full distance and then calculate the number of weeks and months you will need to comfortably train for this.

For example, a seven-day walk of the West Highland Way includes daily walks of between nine miles and 19 miles. Think about the longest walking day and use this as your goal for training.

The key is to enjoy the build up and not to feel like it’s a chore.

It's important to be prepared for long days of walking. Credit: Vishnu Prasad / Unsplash

Also read:

The West Highland Way includes hills, as well as flatter sections. Credit: Sigge Bjerkhof / Unsplash

15 tips: Training for the West Highland Way

1) Make sure you have a good quality and well-fitting pair of walking shoes or boots so that your feet and ankles are supported. It is useful to have waterproof boots, whether you choose leather or fabric footwear with a waterproof lining, such as Gore-Tex.

2) Wear comfortable clothes that allow the sweat to wick away and always carry a waterproof jacket so that you can stay as dry as possible.

3) Walk off-road trails. Training on tarmac will not give you the right build up to walking a route that is predominantly trails.

4) Include hills in your training. Again this is important because the West Highland Way is not flat. You need to ensure you build up the right muscles and muscle groups to be able to cope with walking the West Highland Way.

5) Walk briskly and with purpose because this is sort of pace you will walk on the WHW.

6) Try walking back-to-back days. Once you feel fitter, plan to walk a fairly long day and then follow this with another medium walking route the next day.

7) Give walking poles a go. Poles can help to reduce fatigue in the legs because they spread the weight and exertions of walking to the upper body, too.

8) Remember the rule of careful and considered build up. Adding miles and elevation to your training plan each week will help to combat potential injuries from walking too far, too quickly.

9) Walk with a rucksack. Get used to walking while carrying all your day kit. In this way, your body will be ready for the West Highland Way. You will also discover if your day pack is the right one for you.

10) Every four weeks of training, take a recovery week. You could go back to week 1, or week 5, etc and use this as your recovery week.

11) Don’t leave all your training to one day a week. Equally, don’t try to train for the West Highland Way in the month before you have booked to go.

12) Walk with friends. It’s much more likely that you will stick to your training if you arrange to meet other people to walk with. Walking with others is a great way to catch up on your chat and to share information about life’s ups and downs.

13) Vary the walking routes. It’s much easier to stay motivated if you pick a variety of walking routes and in different locations.

14) Plan to walk some challenging day routes well in advance of the West Highland Way trip. This will show you how you will cope with the challenge. While the long-distance trail is signposted, accessible and achievable, you will have changeable weather and conditions to cope with so your preparation will be a vital ingredient to having a successful WHW holiday.

15) Don't rush in. It is far better to plan a year ahead to make sure you are prepared for the full challenge than to book this summer without the right preparation. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy the experience.

If you train for the WHW you will have a more enjoyable experience. Credit: Krisjanis Mezulis / Unsplash

Plan to walk the West Highland Way

If you want to discuss any plans or ideas you have for walking, running or cycling the West Highland Way, you can give Highland Transfers a call. We can help with luggage transfer between your overnight accommodations and we have a wealth of other information at our fingertips.

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