The most common question regarding my West Highland Way hike, both on and off the trail, has been “what did you pack?”. I didn’t really plan on writing a post like this because I do not consider myself an expert, having only completed one long-distance hike. But, having done this one with all this kit on my back, I do feel I have something to say about the things I personally chose to take. Not to mention the hours and hours, probably days, of research I did before I went! During the course of this adventure I have acquired a lot of knowledge about the gear needed for a long-distance hike, and so here I am, sharing what I have learnt in the hope it might help someone else planning a similar trip.
Hiking the West Highland Way… the last day!
To answer that “what did I pack?” question right at the start of this post, though, “TOO MUCH” is my response. My bag was heavy. Not too heavy, I faired better than Cheryl Strayed trying to pick up her pack in Wild, but very nearly. And while I did use just about everything that I took, and the bits I didn’t use were more safety than luxury, I probably could have done without some of it. I’ll know for next time.
Here follows some information about my kit with some asides here and there commenting on my choices, and some useful links where I could find them. Use this, along with your own research, to influence what you take on your next long-distance hike.
The only properly technical pack I owned prior to this hike was my little Osprey Tempest 20l, my old faithful day pack. A brilliant pack, but one that wasn’t going to be suitable for the West Highland Way; I was carrying my own camping gear after all. I ended up purchasing the Lowe Alpine Manaslu ND 55:65 (I got mine from Go Outdoors) following a good handful of recommendations from people I trust. The women’s specific pack is tall and narrow rather than short and wide, had plenty of room for all my kit for this hike but could be compacted smaller for shorter adventures in the future, had a great pack and strap system that (when I eventually got it set up just right, which took some trial and error) was comfortable, and was very well made. With the exception of a couple of little holes in the (included) rainproof cover courtesy of dumping the pack on stony ground, the pack has come back in top condition, ready for my next trip. I would recommend it.
My Lowe Alpine Manaslu ND 55:65.
What I Wore
Long-distance hiking might not be a fashion parade, but choosing the right outfit is still very important. Getting the right gear on your own body will make sure you are comfortable, warm, dry, free from chaffing, and the rest. Clothing is a hugely personal, but thanks to years and years of hiking I knew what I was doing in this area.
West Highland Way clothing.
After a little deliberation, I chose to hike in my trusty Merrell Chameleon Shift Mids, as they have done me well for hundreds of miles over the last few years. Always make sure you are confident in your footwear. You can’t get these boots anymore which is a shame as I’d very happily purchase another pair to replace these. Under my boots I wore Bridgedale CoolMax Sock Liners (purchased from Go Outdoors) with their Trekker/Trail Hiking Socks, a combination I’ve been relying on for years and one I doubt I’ll deviate from any time soon.
Onto my body, and like most female hikers I’ve met in the last year or two, I wore the Craghoppers Kiwi Pro Stretch trousers because they fit well (go down a size), have water repellent properties good in a light shower, and wear well. I took two pairs. On my top half I combined a cheap Quechua Techwool long sleeved tee with my Trespass Stalk Merino Wool top used as a mid-layer, along with either my Odlo, Ordnance Survey or Adventure Queens technical tees. All of these layers were comfortable, easy to wash and dry, and worked together to keep me warm or cool as the need arose.
On the outside I had my Craghoppers Ordnance Survey Sienna Jacket, perhaps a bit bulky for back packing but a superb jacket and I was pleased I took it, and it did roll up just about small enough to fit in the front pouch of my pack when I didn’t need it. And my Berghaus Deluge waterproof overtrousers, which seem to be the ones everyone I know has, and for very good reason.
Gear to keep warm on the West Highland Way.
I also packed my trusty The North Face Thermoball hooded jacket to keep me warm in the evenings, some basic sports leggings, a cotton tee and my CEP compression socks to get me out of my hiking gear in the evenings, a baseball cap and beanie hat, three Buffs which I used for all kinds of things, my e-tip gloves, some super cheap flipflops so I didn’t have to go anywhere barefoot including camp and hostel showers (highly recommend you take a pair), and a couple of comfortable sports bras.
Oh and if you are wondering, I wore some M&S microfibre short-style knickers, as they are moisture wicking and wash/dry easily and quickly. I have no problem being a bit muddy on the outside, but being clean and dry next to your skin is so important. I might invest in some proper sports knickers sometime, but these did the job for this hike.
I didn’t really wear them but I’ll mention my walking poles here, too. I purchased the OEX X-Lite Trigger Carbon Trekking Poles from Go Outdoors as they seemed to be well made, light weight, easy to adjust, comfortable to use, and good value for money. They absolutely did the trick; I didn’t use them at all to begin with but soon made it a habit; my knees were very grateful. I would have loved some with cork grips but my budget didn’t stretch that far.
What I Slept In
I purchased a new tent for the West Highland Way, which is probably the thing that too the most research. I went for the Vango Banshee 200, the option with the best size to weight to value ratio I could find. I spent less than £100 on the tent, and am so pleased with it; it weighs 2.4kg, had plenty of space for me and my pack inside, I could sit up in it (hugely important!), packed down small enough to fit in the bottom section of my pack (with the poles in the main section), and was super quick and easy to put up and take down. I highly recommend this tent if you are looking for something for backpacking. Yes I could have spent more on a better/lighter tent, but I didn’t have more to spend, and this one is just fine.
Sleeping gear for the West Highland Way.
My sleeping system, as I think the cool kids call it, comprised of my Alpkit Dirtbag self-inflating sleeping mat that I’ve had for a couple of years and makes a comfortable bed, my (very old) Blacks mummy sleeping bag, and a cheap Quechua silk sleeping bag liner that was an excellent buy that upped the comfort rating of my bag and also was handy for hostels. I took my OEX inflatable pillow as a bit of a luxury item, well worth the extra weight in my bag, and slept in a set of Odlo Evolution thermals. If I was going again then I would definitely invest in a new sleeping bag – the rest of my gear for sleeping worked very well but my sleeping bag really is old and only two season, I could have done with a better one.
My Vango Banshee 200 on our first night.
Eating and Drinking
We knew that there would be at least two nights when we would not be close to pubs or restaurants, so we went prepared to cook our own food. It’s good to take a stove when long-distance hiking anyway, a cup of tea in the morning goes a long way. I packed a Jetboil Flash cooking system (read my review) with a couple of gas canisters; I only needed one in the end and could have left the other one at home. I also packed a mug and a spork.
Eating and drinking.
For water I carried two metal water bottles (one by SIGG, one by Klean Kanteen) meaning I had over 2 litres with me each day. I also packed a Sawyer style water filter by Care Plus just in case I ran out and needed to filter some from a less-than-pure water source; although it wasn’t needed this time as I was able to refill my bottles every evening without any problems.
Food wise, I packed a handful of Firepot meals which are the best dehydrated meals I have tried, some mug shots and powdered cup-soups, Clif Bars and other snacks including chocolate, Percy Pigs, dried mango and cranberries. We were able to purchase food along the way which meant I didn’t need days and days of snacks; good job really as food is heavy!
I used my iPhone as my phone, GPS unit and camera on this hike, and it did everything I needed of it. To help power my tech I took my TeckNet battery pack, which is good for six charges of my phone, along with the mains adapter so I could charge it in pubs/huts/hostels when possible.
Some of the tech bits and extra items.
For navigation, I had the OS Maps app installed on my phone, with the West Highland Way route plotted day by day, and maps downloaded onto my phone so I didn’t need to use any data along the way (the signal was poor most of the time anyway, so this was very wise). Naturally, I also had physical maps (printouts from OS Maps online to save having to take six Explorer Maps) and a compass in my pack, but the phone mapping combined with a guide book worked a treat.
Looking After Myself
I carried a small wash kit containing solid shampoo, face wash, moisturiser, deodorant, vaseline, toothbrush and toothpaste, sun cream, a brush and hair bobbles, and some nail clippers (my toe nails grow so fast I knew I would need to cut them before the end of the hike). I also had a microfibre towel, some tissues and a little pack of baby wipes. Oh, and because I knew we were going to be filmed for a television programme, I packed some of my normal foundation (I just asked for a sample pot in Debenhams, which they were happy to give me), some mascara and a Benefit Eye Bright pencil – a little confidence boost for my moment of fame!
As you might expect, I put together a first aid kit with insect spray, antibac gel, blister plasters (the Compeed ones are the best), Tiger Balm, a tube of Gehwol Extra foot cream (this stuff is superb for helping my feet recover after a tiring day), some dressing squares, a woven bandage, a tick remover, bite cream and pain killers. These things shouldn’t be overlooked when packing; they might seem small and insignificant, but can make or break a multi-day hike!
Bits and Bobs, Luxuries and Essentials
As you’ll have seen in the photos throughout this post, there are a few bits and bobs that haven’t been mentioned yet. So this is the final – catch all – category.
I took a head torch, the Alpkit Gamma, for evening wanderings and trips to the campsite loos, which proved invaluable when hiking the last two miles in the dark on day three. Add to that a pair of sun glasses, a pen knife, a waterproof phone case, a tote bag for when I needed to carry things without my pack (also useful for laundry), some Adventure Tape as my repair kit, and an elastic washing line so my smalls would dry better overnight. Oh and my journal – I’m so glad I took it, it was my little bit of “me” and allowed me to spend a few minutes each evening making notes about each day to help keep the memories.
The bits and bobs.
Things I Didn’t Have
I didn’t need anything else, really, but I did leave a couple of “nice to haves” at home. I had planned on taking pair of sneakers rather than the flipflops but they didn’t make the cut when I was doing my fine tuning; they would have been nice for evenings when we went to the pub for dinner, and for when we had a day off in Fort William and in Edinburgh, but I managed without. I would have also loved a complete new set of clothes for travelling home, but that just wasn’t going to be possible. Jenni couriered some stuff to our hotel in Fort William, which was a grand idea, but I made do by washing my hiking gear in the sink so I at least had clean stuff for the train journey.
The one thing I will definitely purchase before my next long-distance hike, other than a new sleeping bag to replace my old one, would be some lightweight dry bags/stuff sacks like these ones by Exped. I used freezer bags from Ikea this time around which did work okay, but they weren’t as convenient or hard wearing as something more specially made would have been.
Taking the load off.
So there we have it, my West Highland Way Kit. I hope this post has been interesting and useful.