The West Highland Way – a 96 mile journey that takes you along the west coast of Scotland. Year round, outdoor enthusiasts from around the world attempt the multi-day trek from Milngavie to Fort William. The West Highland Way should be on your bucket list if you live in or plan to visit Scotland. It will push you both physically and mentally as you discover the best parts of Scotland.
We partnered with Shannon Fox, originally from Ottawa in Canada who walked the West Highland Way, the beginning of this month. “So, one sunny May morning, I find myself sitting on a train about to attempt something I have never done before. After successfully completing the West Highland Way, the below is my list of must-have items that I believe every walker should have with them on their travels:”
The West Highland Way Route
1. Walking Boots
The most important part of your walk will be a pair of good quality walking boots that have been well worn in. I met several people on my walk who had terrible blisters and rolled ankles that caused them so much pain they ended up going home early. Your walking boots should have good tread to help avoid any potential injuries. The terrain can be very rocky and unstable at some points. There will be different degrees of incline and decline that might be slippery when wet. Speaking of wet ground, make sure your walking boots are waterproof. There will be unavoidable puddles along the way. When I was preparing for my trip, I walked 22 miles in my walking boots to test how my feet would feel on what would be my longest day. Luckily no blisters, but it gave me good insight to some other areas of my feet I needed to look after. By day 3, you will dread having to put your boots on in the morning, but they will be the most important aspect to completing the West Highland Way.
2. Waterproof Gear
The likelihood of completing the West Highland Way without any rain is very slim. Next to your walking boots, your waterproof gear will be just as important. First things first, a waterproof jacket or rain jacket. Everyone is different when it comes to their rain jacket. I preferred something lightweight that was big enough for me to add layers underneath. If you are doing the West Highland Way in the off season months, then something a little heavier might be a better idea. Either way, look for a hooded jacket that is quick drying, packs down small enough to throw in your day pack and has taped seams to prevent any water from seeping in.
Next up are your waterproof trousers. I prefer to hike in leggings so the Qikpac waterproof trousers were perfect for me. The wide legged bottoms allowed me to put them on without having to take my boots off (very important as the rain can come on fast). A bonus is they dried quickly so I could throw them in my bag just as quickly as I put them on. Waterproof walking trousers are another great option if you don’t want to worry about digging around your bag. Make sure to find a pair that are waterproof and quick drying so you can wear them in all types of weather. Finally a rain cover for your backpack. The last thing you want is all your belongings (and lunch) getting wet. Luckily many hiking backpacks come with rain covers built in these days. If not, you can buy separate ones that will fit snuggly around your bag and protect your belongings.
3. Anti-blister Socks
I had never heard about anti-blister socks until researching for my trip. As mentioned above, your feet will make or break you on the West Highland Way. Why not take all preventative measures and make sure your socks help rather than hinder those long days. The anti-blister socks I wore prevented any new blisters forming and had extra arch support. The style I wore, Enclosed had moisture wicking properties, which meant my feet didn’t smell when I took them off at the end of the day. I’m sure those around me appreciated that. I kept a spare pair in my backpack as well. Although my walking boots are waterproof, anything can happen and nobody likes walking in wet socks.
4. Warm Layers
Even the summer months in Scotland don’t reach the average temperatures of places like Spain or Greece, so no matter what time of year you are doing the West Highland Way, make sure to pack something to keep you warm. I brought a lightweight fleece and a down jacket with me in my daypack. I ended up using both over the 5 days. The lightweight fleece was perfect to put on in the mornings over my base layer while the temperature (and my body) was warming up. Because of its lightweight fabric, it didn’t add to much weight to my daypack when I took it off at lunch. The down jacket was a last minute decision to throw in and I’m glad I did. There are some lengths of the West Highland Way that are quite exposed to the elements. The morning wind was cutting through Rannoch Moor on day 4, so I pulled out the down jacket. Immediately my body temperature warmed up and the walk through the prettiest parts of the journey (in my opinion) became much more enjoyable. The best thing about down jackets are how small they can pack down too. My Valentina down jacket even comes with a handy bag to put it in which kept my backpack nice and organized.
5. Walking Poles
To pole or not to pole, that is the question! I was asked by many fellow walkers along the way about my opinion on them. I hiked for many years without walking poles before I was gifted a pair one year. I have used them ever since. Walking poles are totally personal preference. However, if you are going to walk with them, make sure the West Highland Way is not your first time. If you discover in the first mile that you hate walking poles, you might be stuck for a further 95 miles with them. Try them out on a long day hike to see if they are for you. If you are looking to buy a pair, look out for a lightweight collapsible set. I was grateful that my walking poles Stryder collapsed down so I could easily carry them or throw them in my side pockets of my hiking backpack.
6. QuickDry Microfiber Towels
These things are so handy for outdoor activity and travel. I often give them out as gifts to friends and family. The compact size of microfiber towels are perfect to throw in your hiking backpack or luggage. You can pull it out whenever you need to wipe down any gear (or yourself) after the rain. The bonus of quick drying is that it does exactly as it says. It dries so quick that you can throw it back in your bag without worrying about putting a stinky wet towel amongst your other belongings. Another great function is to use it as a makeshift picnic blanket. Each day, I would stop for lunch at a spot with a beautiful vista. I never worried about finding a dry spot to sit, I’d put down my microfiber towel on some wet grass or damp tree trunk. Et voila, a dry seat to enjoy your food!
7. First Ait Kit – safety first!
This is an item that you hope you don’t have to use, but is so important to have. The compact first aid kit I brought with me was packed with items to bandage up any small wounds until medical attention can be obtained. The most important thing is to have the basics in your first aid kit. Items like adhesive dressings, antiseptic wipes, bandages and disposable gloves should all be in your first aid kit along with an assortment of plasters for any little cuts and scrapes. Another item I would recommend every walker have is an emergency foil blanket. Foil blankets are designed to retain body heat, so they are handy to have if you need to shelter overnight. They fold down so small, they take up very little space in your backpack. Again, you hope you don’t need these items, but if you do, you’ll be thankful you packed them.
8. Water Bottle or Bladder
There are two options when it comes to keeping hydrated on the West Highland Way. Personally, I am on team water bladder. I used a 2L water bladder and ended up drinking it all by the end of the day. The benefit of a water bladder is the minimal space and weight it takes up in your backpack along with being able to drink while you walk. Make sure to check your hiking rucksack has a compartment at the back for it and a space at the top to pull through the mouth piece. Some people prefer the classic water bottle. As you need to stop to take your water bottle out and have a sip, it makes you take a short break during those long walks. If you are going to go with the water bottle option, I would recommend looking into a flask style. Flasks are designed to keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. On those hot afternoons going uphill, a cold drink of water can really refresh you for the next push. On this adventure, I brought with me the Breen flask to put some hot tea in each morning. Not only is the stone design so pretty, it kept my tea hot all day so I could enjoy a good cuppa with lunch. No matter which option you choose to store your refreshing Scottish water in, just make sure you have it.
9. Sun Protection
Yes, sun protection in Scotland is still needed. I know I’ve spoken about the cool rainy days we get majority of the year, but Scotland does get the sun every so often. Even on those overcast days, the sun is still strong enough to get you. No matter the weather, I would recommend putting on sun cream each morning. There were some days that I would leave in the morning with a grey gloomy sky only to have the sun break through within the first hour. My backpack contained a small bottle of sun cream to re-apply throughout the day along with a hat to protect my head from the shining rays. Also in my backpack was a pair of polarized sunglasses. The polarized lenses allowed me to enjoy the stunning views of the West Highland Way without having to squint every time I looked up.
Last, but certainly not least, a healthy amount of snacks. You will be using a lot of energy each day, no matter how many miles you are doing. Staying nourished is just as important as staying hydrated. Make sure to bring a variety of your favourite snacks to enjoy throughout the day. Some options I brought with me are granola/protein bars, nuts like almonds and pistachios, beef jerky, bananas and sour candies. These all came in handy on day 2 when the place I planned to have lunch at was closed for renovations. Luckily I had enough snacks to keep me going until dinner. Although I took breaks for my lunch, the little snacks I brought were able to fuel me as I continued walking.
🌟 Bonus: 5 Items that you’ll love to have at the end of the day…
1. Sandals/comfy trainers
Your feet will thank you after a long day in stiff walking boots.
2. Small hard ball
Think of it like a mini foam roller to massage any sore areas like the arches of your feet or shoulders from carrying your backpack.
3. Topical muscle relief cream
Such as tiger balm or A535 feels absolutely glorious on those sore muscles at the end of the day. Even better after a hot shower.
4. Good book/journal
If you are walking the West Highland Way alone, a good book will keep you entertained while enjoying a hot meal at dinner time. If you like to journal, bring one with you to document each day.
5. Cosy jumper
Nothing like throwing on a warm jumper after a long day outside, especially if that day was a cold one.
Top Tips from Shannon Fox ✔️
West Highland Way Hotels 🏨
Night 1 (Balmaha) – Birchwood Guest Lodge: Modern on the outside, cosy on the inside. Birchwood Guest Lodge has a variety of room styles that can accommodate different party sizes. Outside Covid restrictions, you have access to a communal kitchen which is perfect if you want to cook your own meals or prepare your lunch the next day. The room was clean with a modern shower, something that you’ll be thankful for after a long day. The service was friendly and helpful. They even gave me some tips for my journey the next day.
Night 2 (Inverarnan) – Drovers Inn and Lodge: An eclectic Inn with lots of history, the Drovers Inn is an iconic stop on the WHW. The place is a bit run down and the service wasn’t the greatest, so I wouldn’t recommend staying. However, make sure you stop into the pub for a bite to eat. It is a traditional pub and when they have live music, you get a truly authentic Scottish experience.
Night 3 (Inveroran) – Inveroran Hotel: Another few miles past Bridge of Orchy (where most people stop) is the Inveroran Hotel. I recommend pushing on and staying here for the night. The hotel, which is run by a lovely woman named Nadia, has a fresh feeling to it. The rooms are warm and bright with a mix of private and shared bathrooms. I booked a shared bathroom room and was thankful to find a clean shower (which you don’t always get with shared bathrooms). The best part of the Inveroran Hotel is the food. After a couple days of pub grub, I was happy to see the restaurant served some healthier options. They also have a small pub for a more laidback vibe at the end of the evening. The included breakfast the next day had a menu with different options like eggs benedict and Scottish porridge. The host, Nadia, chatted with everyone about their experience so far on the WHW. Her bubbly personality at breakfast lifted your spirit as you headed out for another day.
Night 4 (Kinlochleven) – Forest View Guest Lodge: This pretty little B&B is run by a lovely couple, Jack & Sarah, who were so welcoming and friendly when I arrived into Kinlochleven. I was shown to my room and offered some freshly made shortbread as I was asked about my day. The room was spacious and clean with a view that looked into a field of grazing deer. The neighbourhood is quiet and you are a quick 10 mins walk from a variety of pubs and restaurants in Kinlochleven. Like many places, you can order a packed lunch the night before. When I was given my packed lunch after breakfast, I found a cute little note from my hosts wishing me luck as I set out on the last day of the WHW. The hospitality was superb and it is a must-stay in Kinlochleven.
West Highland Way Food 🍽️
Breakfast: Three out of the four places I stayed included breakfast. The standard breakfast is a Scottish fry up, but you can choose what items you do and don’t want. The Inveroran Hotel and Forest View Guest lodge also offered lighter options. Make sure to research where you plan to have breakfast if you are not making it yourself (ie camping) or being provided (B&B). Some hotels offer breakfast to non-residents, but only after a certain time. This could be a problem if you want to hit the road early.
Lunch: Majority of B&B’s/hotels will offer packed lunches. I would recommend you take this option. I made the mistake of not researching lunch spots and turned up to a hotel for a bite to eat on day 2 to find it closed for renovations. With no other options until my destination, I was glad to have packed some emergency snacks. The lunches are standard; sandwich, crisps, piece of fruit, granola or candy bar and a juice box. The price ranges from £7-£9 and it was always prepared when I arrived for breakfast. A benefit of having your lunch in your backpack means you can stop at any time to eat.
Lunch (on a budget): If you are staying in accommodation and having your luggage transferred, you can pack snacks and non-perishable items for lunches. This will save you from buying packed lunches or stops at restaurants/cafes. Keep organized and pre portion the snacks so you can quickly pack your hiking backpack each morning. Some items I had in my baggage transfer luggage are:
- Bagels (less squishable then bread)
- Peanut Butter and Jam
- Granola Bars
- Juice Boxes
Dinner: Oak Tree Inn (Balmaha): The warm atmospheric pub sits close to Loch Lomond and is the main eating establishment in Balmaha (it also offers accommodation). A traditional menu provides the hearty meals you need after a long day. If you get a nice evening, they have a large outdoor beer garden.
Drovers Inn (Inverarnan): The décor alone is worth a visit to the Drovers Inn pub, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. A popular spot for walkers and bikers along the A82. Another traditional pub menu with a large whisky offering if you need a wee dram to warm your bones.
Inveroran Hotel (Inveroran): A cozy restaurant for residents only. The traditional Scottish scran menu gets a fresh twist with some healthier options. It is a refreshing change after a couple days of pub food. If that is the vibe you want, they also have a small pub you can eat in.
Glengoyne Distillery (Day 1): The Distillery is about halfway between Milngavie and Drymen. If you have time to visit the distillery (and time it right for a tasting), it is definitely worth the stop. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. They really enjoy welcoming walkers and talking all things whisky.
West Highland Way Wildlife 🐑
- Lots of sheep the entire way!
- Shetland Ponies (Beech Tree Café)
- Wild mountain goats in between Rowardennan and Inverarnan