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Cape Wrath Trail Backpacking Gear List, Explained

Cape Wrath Trail Gear List

The Cape Wrath Trail travels up the west coast of Scotland, beginning in Fort William, and ending at Cape Wrath which is the northernmost point of Britain. It’s not actually a trail though, but a route. What’s the difference? You can connect the two endpoints by hiking over any trails you want, even hiking cross-country or a mix, if it suits you. Which is basically my plan. For more details, see my post, Section Hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.

Backpacking in Scotland 101: The quick and dirty

I always like to motivate my gear lists with a summary of the conditions I expect to encounter. It’s the key to packing properly, particularly when you’re backpacking someplace you’ve never visited or seldom travel to. So here’s what you need to know. 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.
  • 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 wilder and wetter as you head north up the west coast.
  • 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 paths. Few are maintained. Signage is sparse.
  • Public access laws let you walk and camp anywhere, even on private land. This makes it possible to hike cross-country routes to seldom traveled areas.
  • Scotland has mountains. Lots of mountains with valleys, lakes, and rivers in between.
  • Scotland is sparsely populated. There are 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.

Gear List Summary

This gear list is very similar to the gear lists I’ve brought on my previous backpacking trips in Scotland. It comes out at 15.5 lbs, which is a perfectly comfortable weight for me to carry. With up to 6 days of food, it will never exceed 28 pounds.

There are a couple of differences worth noting compared to my 2013 TGO Challenge Gear list. I’m bringing a tent with a floor on this trip not a floorless mid, a more comfortable sleeping pad/pillow combination, a camping towel for washing up, two wool shirts instead of synthetic ones, and an extra pair of socks and underwear. There’s no doubt I could drop some of these to save a half pound of gear weight, but I’m not inclined to on this trip. In fact, I wish I’d had them on my last coast-to-coast hike in 2013. Trying to find replacement socks in small towns in Scotland is a nightmare!

Baggage

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 SW BackpackWaterproof, Good volume for extra food carry132.4
Fox 40 WhistleEmergency whistle10.1

I wrestled with which backpack to bring on this trip and in the end decided to bring my trusty Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 (55L), mainly because it’s a waterproof pack and has removable frames stays, which makes it easier to travel with by plane. It also has decent external storage for carrying wet gear.

The largest and heaviest load I’ll have to carry will be coming out of Fort William at the start of my trip, when I’ll be carrying 6 days of food will be 28 pounds. That’s easily managed by the 3400, which can be compressed as I eat through my food. Water is so abundant, that you seldom need to carry much.

Coire Fionnaraich Bothie
Coire Fionnaraich Mountain Bothie, near Strathcarron

House

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 DCF TentSingle Wall DCF Pyramid Tent w/ Stuff Sack128.5
7.75 in Big Sky Tube Steak StakesHolding power in damp ground/grassland60.37
MSR Needle StakesGood stakes for hard ground40.35
Feathered Friends Tanager 20 Sleeping BagHoodless, no zipper119
Sea-to-Summit 8L Sleeping Bag Stuff SackSleeping bag stuff sack w/ window11
Zpacks DCF Stuff SackStake bag10.2
Outgo Backpacking TowelClean up and internal condensation mgmt13.2
Sea-to-Summit EtherLight XT Insulated Sleeping PadDurable for mountain bothy floors. R=3.8115
Sea-to-Summit Aero Down PillowAttaches to pad with velcro. Great pillow.12.6
Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag ULStuff Sack, Pad Pump (takes 2-3 pumps to fill pad)12.2
Gossamer Gear Thinlight PadPrevents sliding on DCF11.3

I’m bringing a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent, which is a two-person single wall tent. Weighing less than 2 lbs, it’s a spacious, pyramid-shaped DCF shelter that provides me with a lot of living space if I need to sit out bad weather or cook under cover. It’s pitched with two trekking poles. I’d originally planned to bring a new Tarptent Stratospire 1, but I never got around to seam sealing it or using it with the terrible autumn and winter we’ve had. While the Dirigo is a single wall shelter prone to internal condensation, that kind of thing has never phased me. I also have a small towel.

Having backpacked in Scotland in May previously (in the 2010 and 2013 TGO Challenge), I have a good idea about what works for sleeping insulation. I’m bringing a 20-degree Feathered Friends Tanager bag for those days when I’ve been hiking all day in cold rain and want some warmth. I plan to sleep in some mountain bothies along my route and decided I wanted a sleeping pad with a thicker exterior shell fabric, like the Sea-2-Summit Etherlight Insulated XT. It’s so much more comfortable than my NeoAir Xlite, that I figured I could afford the extra 3 oz difference in weight. I’m also bringing a cut-down Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad to lay under it. The Thinlight prevents inflatable pads from slipping on slick tent floors (DCF or silnylon). Plus I can use it as a sit pad to keep my butt dry on coffee breaks.

Map Check enroute to Lochnagar, Scotland 2010
Map Check en route to Lochnagar, Scotland 2010

Office

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear DCF Shoulder PocketKeep camera & phone close at hand11.41
HMG DCF Office Stuff SackDrawstring, mainly electronics10.2
Eagle Creek Document OrganizerTravel document storage11.7
inReach Explorer+Satellite tracking, check-ins, easy keyboard17.6
Suunto M3-D Compass w/lanyardNavigation, minimize phone use11.5
Anker 10k Powercore BatterySmall, fast charging16.7
Lightning & USB cordsDurable, won't fail or break10.8
Canon G9 Mk II CameraUSB Rechargeable, Low light Sensor17.2
Extra Canon BatteryMore power10.8
ViewRanger AppPreloaded maps, routes10
OS Maps AppPreloaded maps, routes10
Harvey Cape Wrath MapsCoincides with major portions of my route22.6
OS Landranger Map #33Shiel Bridge Area12.8
OS Landranger Map #25 (portion)Strathcarron to Torridon10.8
iPhone XR w/ 256GB w/caseNavigation aid, books17.9
Anker IQ Quick Charger11.4
UK Plug Adapter11
Nitecore NU20 HeadlampLocking on/off switch11.7
Hardcases for GlassesCan't go breaking these in the tent23

The office is the brains of this operation and encompasses navigation, communications, photography, lighting, and power. I’m a map and compass person at heart, so I plan to rely on them primarily. Still, it’s nice to have Smartphone apps with GPS-encoded maps, so I can check my position and view maps on the phone that I don’t want to carry. It’s hard to believe how good the maps in navigation apps have gotten in the past 5 years, to the point where you really could navigate entirely by them if you could count on having power for your phone and not having it break or malfunction.

I carry a Garmin inReach Explorer+, so my mother and wife can track my progress on an online map, which they enjoy doing on my longer hikes. I also like the keyboard functions on the Explorer+ more than the ones on the inReach Mini, and the fact that I don’t have to slave my phone to it via Bluetooth for better ease of use. I mainly send my wife preset messages, but having the ability to communicate with ad hoc typed messages can be helpful. I’ll probably also pick up a local sim card for my iPhone, but will usually just check email when I can get free WiFi. This is a vacation after all. I want to get away from the Internet for a while.

Photography: the Canon GX9 Mk II is a very compact, USB rechargeable camera with a big sensor that’s good for low light conditions. I unified my electronics to all be USB or Lightning rechargeable last year. Lighting: You actually don’t need much lighting in Scotland, because the days are so long. But a headlamp is a good aid in a dark bothy. Power: It’s just a good idea to carry a power pack and recharge it when you come across a power outlet.

Flameless radiant burner stoves like the MSR Reactor or Winburner Stoves are two of the safest stoves you can cook with in a tent
Flameless radiant burner stoves like the MSR Reactor or Windburner Stoves are two of the safer stoves you can cook within a tent, although you do need to ventilate well to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kitchen

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
MSR Windburner Stove SystemWind Proof w/Pot, cup, towel, and canister stand116.1
humangear GoBites DuoLong spoon and fork combination11
Light My Fire Army StrikerNever fails to generate a spark11.3
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter12.7
Evernew 2L BottleSelf standing, connected cap, fits sawyer11.5
20L Sealline Rolltop Stuff SackFood bag (hold up to 6 days of food)11.8

I’ll be bringing an MSR WindBurner which is windproof and fuel-efficient. The Windburner is a self-contained canister stove system that is impervious to the wind because it has a radiant burner that cooks without a flame. It’s also fairly safe to use in a tent since it doesn’t create a fireball when lit, provided that you have excellent ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Scotland has a reputation as having clean water, but I’ve always filtered mine. Face it. Most of the countryside is given over to raising livestock, be it deer, cows, or sheep. Plus, I’ve seen dead deer in streams, killed by the winter, so I’d just assume filter the water I drink from them. Hence, my Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter. I’ll be using it with an Evernew 2L bottle which has a gusseted bottom, so it stands up by itself. It also has a cap that’s permanently attached to the bottle so you can’t lose it. I’ll probably pick up a 1L bottle, as well, when I food shop in Fort William, and filter water into it.

There wire bridges are best avoided if possible
These wire bridges are best avoided if possible.

Clothing Carried

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Montbell Tachyon Wind JacketWind protection, insulation layer12.6
Under Armour BoxersChafing prevention13.2
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Cushion SocksGoing to be wet, keep socks in rotation23.4
Montbell Versalite Rain PantsVery light weight13.6
Helly Hansen LIFA Long UnderwearWarm15.2
Minus 33 Wool Algonquinn SS ShirtStink prevention/Warm Weather Layer16.6
Lightheart Gear Rain JacketAdjustable hood, pit zips16.7
Outdoor Research Baja Down PulloverWarm down hoodie, mainly for camp111
Extremities Thinny Touch GlovesTouchscreen compatible, acrylic11.7
Yama Mountain Gear Rain MittsWrap over pole handles like pogies11
Hanz Chillblocker Waterproof SocksInsulation for hiking in snow on peaks15.7
HMG DCF Stuff SackClothing bag110.7
Sea-to-Summit Head Net w/Insect ShieldBug protection, Clothing bag 210.8

Think wind, rain. some snow up high, and hypothermia conditions. I’ve also packed in a little redundancy, like an extra pair of socks and underwear, since I’ve learned the hard way that these are very difficult to replace if you blow them out in the remote part of Scotland. 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 which can be combined in different ways.

The only exception to this is the Hanz Waterproof socks I plan to bring. The ridgeline hikes I have planned are bound to have some lingering snow high up. Hiking in wet snow while wearing trail runners at elevation is unpleasant, but these socks are insulated, in addition to being waterproof. They also fit into my trail runners, so I plan to wear them to keep my feet warm on the tops and down below if my wet feet get chilled.

First Aid Kit

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Total Contents Weight (details below)14
HMG DCF Draw-String Stuff Sack10.4
Claritinallergies100
Benedrylantihistamine, sleep aid160
Immodiumdiarrhea prevention100
Ibuprofenpain relief200
Leukotape StripsStuck to release paper200
Bandaid Hydro-seal Bandages (assorted)Blister bandages (assorted sizes)100
1 Pair Nitrile GlovesBody Fluid Isolation10
Assorted Bandaids60
Alcohol PadsDisinfection30
NightguardDental10

My first aid kits have always been self-assembled and pretty minimal. I put the most effort into blister prevention and treatment, using Leukotape to prevent hotspots when I feel I need the,, and long-lasting, padded, Band-aid Hydro-seal bandages if I get blisters. These are super sticky bandages that don’t come off for days and help heal the wound. They’re the same thing as Compeed bandages, sold in the UK, but much less expensive.

The key to foot health is hike year-round so your feet stay “hard” and letting them dry out at night. I guess I’ve been lucky to avoid most other complications. In addition to foot care, I carry the usual anti-histamines, pain relievers, and anti-diarrhea pills.

The sun does come out once in a while
The sun does come out once in a while

Clothing Worn

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail RunnersLots of stream crossings. Mesh.128
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Cushion SocksDurable, especially against stream grit22.4
Ragged Mountain Equipment Intervale GaitersHigh Calf Gaiters14.3
Under Armour Boxer JockChafing prevention13.2
Casio Altimeter WatchSolar powered, navigation aid12.4
RailRiders EcoMesh Pants w/beltInsect shield treated112.1
Ragged Mountain Powerstretch Highland HoodyWarm, 1/2 zip111.3
Minus 33 Ticonderoga LS Wool ShirtLow stink18.9
Pacer Pole Duolock PolesDurable CF poles with posture improving grip121.1
Insect Shield Billed CapWind resistent12.3

Lyme disease is a growing concern in Scotland, which has a huge deer population because they’re cultivated for venison. I’ll be wearing pants, socks, and a hat that have been treated with Insect Shield (Permethrin), which is an insecticide that kills ticks and other insects on contact. I’ve been wearing clothing like this for going on 10 years and stayed Lyme-free throughout.

It’s also worth explaining my footwear selection. 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 so thick and durable, and can stand up to really extreme abuse.

Additional Information

I’ve backpacked twice across Scotland previously and spent a considerable amount of time in the country, so I know the ropes, although it wouldn’t be an adventure if there weren’t unexpected surprises. Still, I hope you’ve found this annotated gear list walkthrough useful if you plan to hike the Cape Wrath Trail or another route in Scotland. You may also find some of my previous articles on the topic helpful:

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

12 comments

  1. No OR Sentinel brim hat?, I thought that would hold up better in the winds with the strap,..hope you have a great and safe trip!

  2. Have a great trip Phil! The weather is looking good at least for the next few days. According to the MWIS forecast it will be in the mid 20s C in the glens of the west and northwest highlands. As you know it’s best to be prepared for wet and windy weather in Scotland at any time of the year. Good luck!

  3. I think Scotland is the rainiest country in Europe, especially the West Coast :-)

    • My family is from the west of Ireland and I know that the Maumturk mountains and parts of Connemara Ireland get like 2500mm of rain each year. I thought that was about the wettest place in Europe until I researched western Scotland. WOW!…..some places can see upward of 6000 mm of rain and more than 250 days per year of it!!!!!! Beautiful country, no doubt, but that sounds miserable for backpacking! I guess that is also coming from someone that lives in a place that has 300 days of sun per year ;-)

  4. I am planning to do this trip as well this year. Is it possible to rely on a wood stove and bring some alc as backup?

    • There’s no wood and meths are hard to find for sale up north. Canister gas is widely available though. There’s also a lot of fire danger from open flames. Peat is a fuel and the countryside is made of it.

  5. What No Wool Shirt and in Scotland??? I am surprised you were not deported. Lots of Laughs…. My only interest would be as to the performance of the Casio Watch in a Cloudy and wet clime like Scotland…. Was it useful and did you get enough Sunlight to keep it accurate?

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