West Highland Way equipment list
Below is a suggested list of equipment necessary for the West Highland Way. Some of it will come down to personal preference and circumstances, but some of it I regard as essential.
I have split it into two groups – what I consider to be “must-haves”, and other equipment that I took but isn’t completely essential.
This is equipment I consider to be absolutely necessary for a good West Highland Way experience.
1. Walking boots
The most important piece of equipment on the West Highland Way is your walking boots. Don’t be tempted to walk the West Highland Way in trainers, running shoes, mountain approach shoes or sandals, it is absolutely essential to have a good quality, well-fitting pair of walking boots.
I have never had a blister on the West Highland Way and I put that down to good boots. I’ve seen a friend of mine in agony due to poorly-fitting boots, and it ended his West Highland Way early.
Some good brands are Berghaus, Raichle, Scarpa and Meindl, but my preference is for Salomon and Haglöfs.
2. Merino wool hiking socks
Hiking socks made from Merino wool are good at regulating body temperature which means your feet don’t overheat. They also have anti-bacterial properties which means that they don’t smell after a day’s walking!
Several brands produce Merino socks, including Icebreaker, Teko and Wigwam. My preferred brand is SmartWool.
The weather in Scotland can be quite changeable – to quote Billy Connolly “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes” – so a good waterproof is another important piece of equipment. It is also important that the waterproof is breathable – material such as GoreTex, HyVent, etc – to stop you sweating as you walk.
If you’re planning on walking the West Highland Way in potentially wetter months, it’s worth considering taking a pair of waterproof trousers, although these aren’t essential.
I use waterproof jackets by The North Face, Montane and Mountain Hardwear, and waterproof trousers by Berghaus and Wynnster.
4. Blister plasters
Hopefully if you have a good pair of boots that fit you well and Merino wool socks then you’ll have no need for blister plasters! However it really is worth having some in your first aid kit, as there’s always the possibility that you or someone in your party could get a blister. And a blister when you have several days of walking in front of you can quickly turn into a big deal.
Compeed is by far and away the best brand of blister plasters I have come across. They tend to be more expensive than other brands, but you get what you pay for – these really are good!
5. Insect repellent
At some point on the West Highland Way you’ll encounter the fearsome Scottish midge! To be fully prepared for this battle you need to make yourself as untasty as possible by coating yourself in midge repellent. There are several different repellents available, but my favourite is Stop Bite, a sweet-smelling 100% natural option made with Bog Myrtle.
For a comparison of four kinds of insect repellent tested on the West Highland Way, please visit the insect repellents page.
6. Sun cream
Despite any rumours to the contrary, it can be sunny in Scotland, and several sections of the West Highland Way are in exposed areas with little in the way of shelter, so sun cream is essential.
Since you will be outdoors for a week you could have several days of sun, and sunburn will make for a miserable experience. Certainly don’t take anything less than SPF 15 – higher if you are fair-skinned.
7. Maps and compass
The West Highland Way is a relatively straightforward route to follow, with signposts infrequently-spaced along it, however it is still advisable to carry maps of the area. If anything was to go wrong it is important that you can pinpoint exactly where you are on a map. They are also useful for calculating distances until your next stop.
If you want highly-detailed maps of the walk then I would advise you to buy the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps. The route is covered by six maps:
OS Explorer map OL39
Buy from Ordnance Survey
OS Explorer map 384
Buy from Ordnance Survey
Alternatively for a general overview there are several route maps and guide books available.
Listed below are some more things I found useful, although I wouldn’t necessarily class them as essential.
Quick drying clothing
Most of the outdoors brands offer quick drying t-shirts made from wicking materials. These are designed to carry the sweat away from your skin as quickly as possible to keep you fresh and comfortable as you walk.
Another benefit of quick drying clothing is that if it rains, you will soon dry off when the rain stops. If the rain doesn’t stop (!) and you get soaked then quick drying clothing will dry overnight, and be dry again for the next day.
Walking poles – also known as trekking poles or hiking poles – are useful for several reasons. On hilly sections of the West Highland Way they provide extra stability on ascents and particularly descents, while on flat sections they have the effect of increasing the walking speed due to the rhythm they provide. More importantly, they reduce some of the stress on your knees in particular, and also your legs and feet, by transferring some of your weight to your arms and shoulders.
If you do decide to use walking poles it’s better to get ones that have spring-tips, as these reduce the stress on the wrists when the poles hit the ground.
I use Leki Super Makalu poles, but there are also cheaper alternatives such as Eurohike.
CamelBak / Platypus
When you are walking all day it’s important that you drink plenty of fluids. While a simple bottle is perfectly fine, a personal hydration system such as those made by CamelBak and Platypus is much more convenient, as you don’t have to stop and take it out of your rucksack to drink.
The West Highland Way is a well-maintained path, so it is only in the case of very heavy rain that you would need gaiters. When we did it in a particularly wet September we didn’t have gaiters and wished that we did have. There is a section along the side of Loch Lomond where streams cross the path. They can be stepped over in dry weather, but in wet weather they become a much wetter affair (unsurprisingly!).
If you’re planning on doing the West Highland Way in July or August then I wouldn’t bother with gaiters. Outside of these two months I would keep an eye on the weather forecast and take a decision just before setting out. Just to reiterate, gaiters are only necessary on the West Highland Way in extremely bad weather.
Cereal bars and flapjack
Since you’ll be out all day walking, and not passing many shops, it’s a good idea to take an extra stash of energy-giving food to keep you going between meal times. Cereal bars containing oats are particularly good for giving you slow-release energy, so flapjack is ideal.
Where to buy equipment for the West Highland Way
Plenty of outdoors brands are available on the High Street, and it can often be a good idea to try items on as you will potentially be wearing them for a week in tough conditions. This is particularly important for walking boots, which should always be tried on to ensure a good and comfortable fit.
Where you are sure that something will fit, you can buy your equipment from the numerous websites catering for outdoor equipment. Some of the best in my opinion are:
Another option is to keep an eye on sites such as Sportpursuit which offer high-quality kit at heavily-discounted prices. Remember to order well in advance and pay attention to the estimated delivery date, as these kind of sites typically take longer to deliver than conventional websites.