What to pack to walk the West Highland Way
Preparation is key to your enjoyment when walking the West Highland Way and a major part of this is packing the right kit. Many people choose to book a luggage transfer company (a great idea!) so that they only need carry a day pack for walking each section, but there is still an important list of items that you will need for the 96-mile walk from Milngavie to Fort William.
The first thing to consider is your speed. Do you plan to take the average seven to eight days to hike the West Highland Way? If you hope to walk faster or further each day, or perhaps run the route, you will most likely want to pare down the kit that you plan to carry each day. The weight of your day pack will be critical to your enjoyment of the walking holiday.
What to wear to walk the West Highland Way
What will you wear each day when walking the West Highland Way? It is worth investing in a few high quality items of clothing, as well as comfortable and durable footwear.
Scotland’s weather is changeable, whatever the season. Even in the height of summer you can experience low temperatures and rain. In the spring, you may encounter "summer warm" days or "winter cold" conditions, too. So this means you should be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best!
In Scotland, many people will tell you that rather than worrying about the weather, you simply dress to stay warm and dry in any weather.
The long-distance trail is a mix of footpaths, tarmac, Land Rover tracks, moorland singletrack and includes rough and smooth sections. You need robust and grippy footwear but not mountaineering boots.
A minimum daily clothing list includes:
Tried-and-tested walking footwear (boots, shoes or trainers)
Waterproof jacket (a good quality jacket that is both waterproof and breathable)
Baselayer – short or long-sleeved, or both on top of each other, for versatility of warmth
Mid-layer – an insulated jacket or fleece-style jacket (choose the warmth/weight depending on the season)
Walking trousers, running tights or shorts (again, depending on the season)
The key is to have plenty of thinner layers that you can take off or put on depending on the conditions. A waterproof outer shell for body and legs is vital. You'll want to have these waterproof layers handy in case it starts to rain.
Footwear that you know will be comfortable and that you have tested while training for the West Highland Way is the best choice. If you wear brand new footwear, you will be at risk from sores and blisters.
In the autumn and spring, boots will serve you well because the group is likely to be wetter and include muddy sections. Choose lightweight summer hiking boots. They can be leather or fabric, but the best boot will be both waterproof and breathable.
Many walkers wear walking shoes in the summer. Make sure they are waterproof and supportive because you will be walking many miles each day.
If you are running the route, trail running footwear is recommended. Some walkers wear trail running footwear although it is worth noting that running shoes are generally not as supportive or durable as walking shoes.
Not many people choose to walk the West Highland Way in winter. This is because there can be a lot of snow and ice on the trail. The weather is also likely to be much less favourable and changeable. However, if you do choose to walk in winter, make sure you have ice grips for your boots. These are known as ice spikes, YakTrax, Kahtoolas etc.
You’ll need a lightweight walking or running pack / rucksack to stow all your spare layers. A pack that is about 10 litre to 20 litre is ideal. Make sure the pack is comfortable with padded shoulder straps and a padded waist strap. Sternum/chest straps are useful, too.
The aim is for a comfortable rucksack that can also be adjusted to fit neatly on your back, shoulders and waist.
Other essential or useful day walking items
Route details (map, compass, book, GPX uploads on phone or watch) – the West Highland Way is signposted but it’s important that you have further route details in case you can’t spot a sign or the weather is inclement.
Gaiters - these are great for keeping the wet and mud from ingressing the inside of your footwear
Walking poles – poles help with balance and also take the strain off leg and back muscles
Emergency blanket or bivvy bag (these are small and lightweight and can be placed in a corner of your rucksack in case you, or someone in your group, becomes injured and needs to stop to wait for emergency services)
Smartphone - for contact and taking photos
Small first aid kit, including pain killers, blister plasters and antiseptic wipes
Midge repellent (eg Smidge) and midge net (the midges can be pest, especially in the early morning or evening, or on hot and humid days. Read: Should I be worried about the Scottish midge?)
Food / snacks (there are plenty of places to stop along the route but it’s always a good idea to have snacks with you )
Plenty of water
Head torch (if walking in winter or if you are planning long days)
Portable phone charger (again, if you are planning long walking/running days)
Drybags (to stow your kit in your rucksack if your rucksack is not waterproof).
Top tip: Arm sleeves – many people use these for cycling – can be a useful addition you your walking or running kit list. They can be used as an extra layer of warmth and also for protection against the sun.
If you choose to book luggage transfer it allows you to walk with a lighter day pack.
What else to pack in overnight bag?
It can be tempting to pack everything you think you’ll need and then pop in lots more items just in case (and then add the kitchen sink!) but, in reality, you can be fairly economical with your packing.
The maximum weight for luggage transfers with Highland Transfers is 25kg. This is generous enough for all the week’s kit that you will need. Note: The items that you will take with you daily in your day pack are not included in the 25kg.
Top tip: Clothing made of natural fibres, such as merino wool, is a good choice if you want to wear for longer. The natural yarns resist odour better than synthetics.
Overnight luggage kit list
Many people pack too many clothes. You won't need to change your full outfit daily and for most people the items that you will change daily will be underwear and socks.
Top tip: It's wonderful to have clean and dry socks daily.
There is a chance you will end up with damp baselayers each day, whether this is due to sweat or rain, and while many accommodations have the facilities to dry clothing, you can't guarantee this. So, a few of spare baselayers for your week's trip on the West Highland Way is recommended.
Useful list of kit for the West Highland Way
Spare walking clothes, such as two or three fresh baselayers
Spare insulated jacket, trousers/shorts, hat and gloves (if any of these get wet it might be difficult to get them dried out overnight)
Several spare pairs of socks (daily if you wish)
Clothes and footwear for evenings (you won’t need many changes of clothing because you won’t be wearing these clothes for long each day!)
Midge net (if you are staying at campsites/huts, or if you plan to be outdoors at dusk)
A book or Kindle.
Walking or running the West Highland Way is a very rewarding outdoor holiday. Key to your enjoyment is preparation and ensuring you have all the basic and essential items. Remember, though, that you will be asking through villages and towns so you can buy food, drink and other bits and pieces at fairly regular intervals.
If you want to discuss any of this further, please do 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.