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Backpacking Across Scotland Gear List – May 2024

TGO 2024 Route

I’ll be hiking coast-to-coast across Scotland in a few weeks for the third time in the annual TGO Challenge. This is a non-competitive event where backpackers, called Challengers, have 15 days to hike from the west coast to the east coast. To make things interesting, everyone defines the route they want to hike, with the goal of climbing as many mountains as they can or seeing as many sights as possible along the way. The goal is not to finish before you have to, but to pack in as many experiences as you can between the start and the end.

I’ll be starting in Oban on the west coast and will be hiking to Montrose on the east coast, following a more southerly route than on my previous crossings to experience some new areas of the country. I’ll stay in two inns along my route, two campgrounds, and spend eleven nights wild camping along the way.

Route Plan

My route is 202 miles (326 km) long and has several dramatic ridge walks, high peak climbs, and miles of off-trail travel which are all challenges that I enjoy. I’ll be hiking it solo again, which I did the first time I hiked across Scotland in 2010, and I’m rather looking forward to that. I’m sure I’ll run into other Challengers as we crisscross the countryside, particularly in week two when people’s routes begin to converge on the east coast outside of Montrose, where everyone has to sign out and officially finish.

Navigating Cross Country in Scotland
Navigating Cross Country in Scotland

Gear List Summary

This gear list comes out at just under 15 lbs which is 1-2 lbs heavier than what I carry in the United States in the spring, summer, and fall. I’ve learned on past trips to Scotland that you can experience all four seasons in a day, so I’ve added a little bit more clothing and insulation for those times when the weather is crap. Scotland is also pretty hard on gear and it’s quite difficult to replace certain items within a reasonable timeframe if they break or get destroyed, like socks and underwear. Been there. Done that. This isn’t my first rodeo

Packing

itemWeight (oz)
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 Backpack20.9
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shoulder Pocket1.4
Exped Schnozzel (Pad inflation, pack liner)2.2

I plan to bring my trusty Zpacks Arc Haul 60 because I’ve found that I prefer wearing a ventilated backpack with a suspended mesh back panel. While the Arc haul is made with Ultra, which is waterproof, I still line the interior with a waterproof stuff sack, the 42L Exped Schnozzel, which serves double duty as my sleeping pad inflation sack. I also use a Hyperlight Mountain Gear Shoulder Pocket to hold my iPhone, which serves as my GPS and camera.

The largest and heaviest load I’ll have to carry will be coming out of Blair Atholl after the half-way point of my trip, when I’ll be carrying 7 days of food and my total pack weight will be about 30 pounds. That’s just manageable by the Arc Haul, but being food, I’ll quickly eat it down to a more manageable weight before I get into the rougher country near the end of my route.

Backpacking in the TGO Challenge
A big tree in Scotland

House and Sleep System

ItemWeight (oz)
Tarptent Notch Li w/ 4 x 6" Easton stakes21.4
Feathered Friends Tanager 20 Sleeping Bag18.6
S2S Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack 1.2
S2S Etherlight XT Insulated Sleeping Pad15
S2S Aeros Down Pillow2.6
2 x 6", 2 x 8" Big Sky Tube Stakes (extra)1.5
Extra guylines/clothesline2
Pack Towel (cut in half)3.1
MH Fleece Beanie0.9

I’m bringing the Tartpent Notch Li which is made with Dyneema DCF on this trip. I’d originally planned to take a DCF Durston X-Mid-Pro 1, but I decided I wanted a tent that was going to be easier to pitch in Scotland’s windy weather, especially because I want to do a few high camps on mountain summits. It takes a little effort to secure an X-Mid-Pro-1 in high wind and I decided I wanted a tent that didn’t require as much babysitting.

This was a difficult decision to make because I love using the X-Mid in the Northeastern US and consider it my go-to backpacking tent. I came to this conclusion by practicing pitching the X-Mid-Pro 1  in New Hampshire and Vermont in 30+ mph wind, orienting a corner into the wind, using extra guylines, and 12 stakes. I just wasn’t wowed by the result.There’s also the issue that the X-Mid-Pro 1 is a single-wall tent, which has its drawbacks (internal condensation) in very damp Scotland.

I also strongly considered bringing my double wall, silpoly X-Mid-1 instead, but in the end, I decided I’d rather have a tent with much lower profile walls, with a smaller pitching footprint, and one that is also a double wall tent. The obvious choice was the Tarptent Notch, which is a shelter I’ve owned previously. Then to cut weight and because I didn’t have the time to seam seal it, I decided I’d get the Tarptent Notch Li which is made with Dyneema DCF (and seam-taped) and to keep the weight down.

The Notch Li isn’t a perfect solution because it has carbon fiber struts that make it impossible to pack horizontally in some backpacks, including the Arc Haul. But I can lash it to the side of my backpack since I don’t need both side bottle pockets in Scotland to carry water, since it’s so abundant.

I’ve used the rest of my sleep system in Scotland previously when hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in 2019, and it’s perfectly suited for May conditions. The Feathered Friends Tanager is a 20 degree hoodless sleeping bag that weighs less than most quilts. I augment with a down hoody and the combination keeps me toasty.

Apps are great, but you still need to use a compass to avoid falling flat on your face
Apps are great, but you still need to use a compass to avoid falling flat on your face

Office

ItemWeight (oz)
Zpacks Travel Utility Zip0.9
iPhone 14 w/case (GPS nav, text, talk)8.9
Garmin inReach Mini2 Satellite Communicator4
6 x OS Paper Maps20.1
OS Maps App0
Suunto A10 Compass w/Lanyard1.5
Route Sheet Printout in Plastic Folder0.7
Nitecore NB20K Power Bank11.5
Assorted USB Cords w/stuff sack0.8
UK USB-C QC Charger2.3
Nitecore NU20 Headlamp1.7
Walmart glasses case w/ sunglasses3.3
Walmart glasses case w/ distance glasses3.3

The office is the brains of this operation and encompasses navigation, communications, photography, lighting, and power. I’m a compass person at heart and far prefer to use one to follow a bearing than an app. One of the nice things about Scotland is that the current declination is only -1.15 degrees, so you don’t have to translate between magnetic north and true north over short distances. You can just point your compass and start walking.

While I used the OS Maps app to plan my route and will use it for on-the-ground navigation, it is important to carry paper maps in Scotland in case your phone dies or you run out of power. It is a very unpopulated place and you want to be self-sufficient if the shit hits the fan. The UK’s paper maps, called OS LandRanger Maps (1:50,000), are bulky and kind of a pain in the ass to carry. But they are very high quality and loads of fun to use with a compass. I am looking forward to this aspect of the trip very much. That said, they add over a pound to my pack weight.

I carry a Garmin inReach Mini2, so my loved ones can track my progress on an online map, which they enjoy doing on my longer hikes. I mainly send preset messages, but having the ability to communicate with ad hoc typed messages can be helpful. I keep the tracking function off to preserve battery life. They have a detailed plan of my route which they can give to mountain rescue if I go missing or have fallen unconscious and can’t check in.

Even though I use them sparingly, all of my electronic devices use power. This is why I upgraded to a Nitecore NB20000 mAh power bank for this hike. I don’t have many town stops where I can recharge a power bank, so I wanted the extra capacity. I also got myself a native UK Quick Charging unit to recharge the power bank, rather than fussing with an international adapter. It’s a lot lighter weight too.

There are very few towns to resupply at on my route.
There are very few towns to resupply at on my route.

Kitchen and Water

ItemWeight (oz)
MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove2.9
Evernew Pasta Pot (M) 3.9
2 x Paria Ti Long Handled Spoons1
Platypus Quickdraw Filter3
1L Platy Bottle (Clean)0.9
2L Platy Bottle (Dirty)1.3
1L Ultralite Wide Mouth Nalgene (Hot drinks)3.75
Sealline 20L Stuff Sack (Food)1.8

I’ll be bringing the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove. The Pocket Rocket Deluxe is a powerful and wind-resistant isobutane stove that’s compatible with all screw-on canisters. I have a local friend who’s meeting me in Oban with gas canisters since I can’t bring them on the plane.

Scotland has a reputation as having clean water, but I’ve always filtered mine. Most of the countryside is given over to raising livestock, be it deer, cows, or sheep. I’ve seen dead deer in streams in spring, killed by the winter, so I’d just assume filter the water I drink from them.

I’ll be using the Platypus QuickDraw filter with soft Platy Bottles for batch and bulk water filtration Water is so plentiful you rarely need to carry much. I’ll also bring Katadyn MicroPur chlorine dioxide tablets as backup in case my filter craps out and to purify larger batches overnight. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s an old habit.

I’ll also be carrying a 32 oz Ultralite Nalgene bottle so I can drink hot tea while I eat breakfast out of my cookpot. I like to drink a lot of tea in the morning! Coffee’s a hassle to make, but tea is easy.

A very cold morning when I was wearing every stitch of clothing I had
A very cold morning when I was wearing every stitch of clothing I had.

Clothing Carried

ItemWeight (oz)
Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak9
Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket7
Montbell Versalite Rain Pants3.8
Cocoon Polarguard Vest - No Longer made6
3 pr Darn Tough Socks11.1
2 Pr Under Armour 9" Boxer Shorts5.6
REI Swiftland LS jersey4.1
Helly Hansen Long Underwear5.1
REI GTX Rain Mitts1.9
Extremities Thinny Touch Gloves1.7
2 Turkey Roasting Bags0.7
Insect Shield Buff1.3
S2S Insect Shield Head Net 0.8

Think wind, rain, some snow up high, and hypothermia conditions. I’ve also packed in a little redundancy, like extra pairs of socks and underwear, since I’ve learned from prior trips that these are very difficult to replace if you blow them out in the remote part of Scotland. Like impossible. The rest of my clothes are a pretty standard load for hiking in wet and windy mountainous terrain, like the Appalachian Trail or New England, with lots of thin layers that can be combined in different ways.

Lyme disease has become a real problem in Scotland in the past decade and it pays to be extra cautious about it. Some of my clothing is Insect Shield treated, which is an industrial application of an insecticide called Permethrin, which is safe to use on clothing. The rest, I’ll spray or soak with Sawyer Permethrin shortly before leaving to fly to Scotland. If you apply it yourself, it’s only effective for about 6 weeks.

A windshirt or windbreaker is necessary for Scotland since it is so windy, and I’ll be using the Enlightened Equipment Copperfield since it has an adjustable hood. Non-adjustable hoods flap loudly, maddeningly so, and are to be avoided in my experience. I’m also bringing a Cocoon Polarguard Vest which is one of my oldest hiking garments, going on 15 years old, as an active insulation piece. I’ve been using it a lot this past winter, under a windshirt or shell, and it provides lots of extra warmth with very little extra weight.

Below Beinn Liath Mhor - quite a long valley
Below Beinn Liath Mhor – quite a long valley

First Aid Kit

I pack my first aid kit in a Hyperlight Mountain Gear Pack Pod which makes it easy to find what I need. They make great toiletry bags for business trips too!

I’ve been packing more first aid supplies this past year than ever, in part because I’ve been leading some hikes for a local hiking club and it’s required. That’s rubbed off on my personal kit, which has grown to 8 oz. It includes pre-cut strips of Leukotape stuck to release paper, Band-aid Hydro-seal bandages, the usual assortment of pills and potions, a tick-removal kit, safety pins, an assortment of bandaids, N95 masks, and nitrile gloves. The latter so I can help others who need assistance without contracting something nasty.

I am looking forward to the Freedom of the Hills in Scotland.
I am looking forward to the Freedom of the Hills in Scotland.

Clothing Worn

ItemWeight (oz)
RailRiders Eco-Mesh Pants11
Capilene LS Shirt6
1 Pr Darn Tough Socks3.7
1 Pr Under Armour 6" Boxer Shorts2.6
La Sportiva Wildcat Trail Runners24
Ragged Mtn Equip Fleece Hoodie - No Longer Made9
Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Jacket2.35
LL Bean Insect Shield Billed Cap1.9
1 Pr REI Swiftland Gaiters2.5
OR Active Ice Fingerless Gloves1.3
Casio Pro-Trek PRW 3500 Altimeter Watch3.1
1 Pr Pacerpole Dual Lock Trekking Poles21.1

I’ll be wearing pants, socks, shirts, gaiters, fingerless gloves, and a hat that have been treated with Insect Shield or Permethrin, which is an insecticide that kills ticks and other insects. I’ve been wearing hiking clothes like this for over 15 years and stayed Lyme-free throughout.

It’s also worth explaining my footwear selection – mesh La Sportiva Wildcat Trail Runners. Scotland is so wet and you have to ford so many streams and rivers, that many hikers wear mesh trail runners because they drain quickly and provide good traction. I don’t even bother to take my shoes off in Scotland when I have to ford a stream: I just walk right through. The downside of this is that the stream grit is highly abrasive to socks. But wearing Darn Tough socks is a good way to mitigate the issue because they’re thick, durable, and can stand up to extreme abuse.

Backpacking in Scotland 101: The quick and dirty

I’ve backpacked twice across Scotland previously and spent a considerable amount of time living in the country, so I know the ropes, although it wouldn’t be an adventure if there weren’t surprises. Here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of hiking conditions in the country if you aspire to hike one of its many long-distance trails or participate in the annual TGO Challenge. This is highly summarized.

  • Scotland is wet. It rains a lot. There are numerous stream crossings, far too many to take your shoes off every time.
  • The abundance of water means you don’t have to carry much drinking water
  • Scotland is windy. There are very few trees. The vegetation consists largely of heather and grasses. The wind and rain can be nasty to walk in. Rain gear isn’t optional.
  • The weather gets milder in May as you head east.
  • Temperatures can be all over the place in May. It’s usually above freezing, although not by much. Perfect hypothermia weather, as they say.
  • Scotland has many paths. Few are maintained. Signage can be sparse.
  • Public access laws let you walk and camp anywhere, even on private land. This makes it possible to hike cross-country routes through seldom-traveled areas.
  • 90% of the land is owned by large private estates. The estates raise herds of deer as a cash “crop” and host hunting parties for people who want to score a trophy. Much of this land is fenced, but there are gates and styles to cross through them. Some of the fences are electric which is not so nice.
  • Scotland has mountains. Lots of mountains with valleys, lakes, and rivers in between.
  • Scotland is very sparsely populated. There are very few resupply points when you leave the larger towns.
  • There are no large animals to fear. You can sleep with your food and cook in your tent.
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29 comments

  1. Awesome! Best of luck and safe travels

  2. Do you use a waterproof cover for your phone? If not, is the HMG shoulder pocket waterproof enough? 8

  3. I was wondering why you were carrying the heavier PackTowl, then I see that they seem to have stopped making the original (rayon) version. That absorbs 10X its weight in water instead of 4X and weighs much less. The large size is only 2.1 ounces. Maybe there is some old stock somewhere.

    https://www.packtowl.com/shop/towels/original-towel/original.html

  4. How are you getting your Etherlight XT in at 15oz? I love that pad but mine is the wide one at 22oz. S2S lists the small as 16.5.

  5. If time permits you may wish to acquire one or two (I rec two) Cat-7 tourniquets and, if space permits, one 90% blood-clotting gauze and two 70% effective blood-clotting bandages for your first aid kit. A fall with weight on the back can result in a femoral protrusion and rupture, which I’ve seen up close and in person and this made me a believer, because you need to stop the flow now. The 70%’s will often staunch blood flow and they usually don’t need debridement, the 90% usually stops all but complete severance bleeding such as from a landmine, however, the patient will require debridement at hospital eventually, which is damaging and unpleasant. If those two fail, you need the tourniquet or else perhaps two of them. And I think of a victim I may encounter on the way, say, a landfall and there are two bleeders. Good luck and godspeed john glenn. A Scot to some degree. Since you’re reading this at this juncture, I hear single-malt has medicinal properties, if this agrees with you please post photos and mumblimgs.

  6. The Scots and Brits I follow are fond of the Notch and the Momentum. Cooking under shelter in wind and rain up on The Hill go without saying. Philip you are better prepared than ever for the TGO.this time. I do think an Ocelot wind screen would improve efficiency. Curious why gas over a hexamine cube?

    • That Pocket Rocket Deluxe is pretty wind proof already. My travel arrangements are pretty tight on this trip – I just don’t have time to go looking for esbit when I land in Glasgow. But gas is better anyway on this route. I plan to take tea breaks during the days.

  7. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Logistically, how do you fly with your pack and tent stakes?

  8. Philip, One day, I’ll do the tromp. Meanwhile, I send my best wishes to you for a “bonnie” hike!!!! PS Single malt is indeed a multi-use – and therefore essential – trekking item;-)

    Regards, Searlaid

  9. Always interesting to get the perspective of a non-UK national about the Challenge, Philip. One comment on your gear. I’d have thought you might want two extra guys from the ridge of the Notch and thus need 6 stakes for Scotland given the likelihood of some windy camps.

    Good luck, have a great crossing.

  10. Ahhh! Just seen you have the two extra stakes!

  11. Jo Anne Reinhard

    Hi Phil – I hope you have a safe and wonderful trip!!

  12. Well, I wish you the best of luck with the weather, Phil, and appreciate your gear list. I was most interested in your boots, though, especially since your old favorites, Asolos, are no longer recommended, I understand, because of a change of company ownership and resultant quality concerns.

    I’m looking for something with more support than the Merrell Moabs I’ve been hiking in for years to accommodate osteopenia.

    Thank you and good luck,

    Jerry

    • No actually, I hiked the 100 mile wilderness in Asolos about 10 years ago when it rained 6″ in 4 days and my boots became so wet and heavy (like cinderblocks) that I vowed to switch to mesh trail runners. And I’ve been wearing them ever since. Has nothing to do with declining product quality.

  13. Stuart Crawford

    I wish I could persuade my cousin Zak to do the TGO. He lives an hour inland from Aberdeen and took early retirement which coincided with the first year of Covid. He walked a thousand miles across Scotland in that year.

    You mention ticks, they were a huge problem when I lived in Andalucia, not for me but for my dogs, Had to check them over meticulousy after every walk in the Tierra Malas behind the Sierra Nevada mountains.

    MIdges can drive you crazy in Scotland, they come in clouds but you probably know that already.

    Philip whilst your over in Europe why not think about catching a flight to Almeria after the TGO and walk the length of the Alpujarras – about 10 days, most of the snow should have gone. There you have to worry about the sun, temps should be good.

  14. Have fun and success on the trek. How do you plan your meals for the 7 days?

    • Nothing very scientific. I create 7 piles and count out breakfast, dinner, and snacks for lunch and during the day. I throw it all in a big roll top stuff sack and weigh it. If it’s less than 13 or 14 pounds, I keep adding snacks, nuts, etc. I know I’m not going to starve to death. The goal is to eat and be satisfied.

  15. This sounds great! Just finished the WHW and good idea to take water treatment tablets in addition to the filter. The busy trails unfortunately have lots of human waste so I used the 4-hour virus tabs. (Also carried a few 30-min tabs) And..my sawyer filter ceased to work…has worked for 5 years so not sure the issue. But tabs always good to carry!

  16. Turkey roasting bags? Please explain!

  17. Really enjoy reading your local hikes and trips. This gear list for Scotland is great , providing insight to the planning,weather and terrain you will deal with. Thanks for sharing your expertise, insight, equipment refs.etc.! Very helpful ,always! Quick question TROWEL??? LOL

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