Scotland Coast-to-Coast Backpacking Gear List Explained

Scotland Coast-to-Coast Gear List

I’d planned to backpack coast-to-coast for the third time this May (in the annual TGO Challenge) along a 185 mile route that requires a significant amount of off-trail, cross-country travel. That was before the Covid19 pandemic made travel to the UK ill-advised and impossible. While I hope things return to normal by next spring (2021), it’s too early to know when I’ll get back to Scotland which I consider one of the best destinations in the world for mountain-style backpacking. Here’s a look at the gear list I planned to take this year and that I’ll take next May if conditions improve and international travel becomes feasible again.

Route Plan

I’d planned to hike this route with my buddy Ken, who’s never been to the UK, but is a very experienced mountaineer and climbing guide. It includes many several dramatic ridge walks, high peaks, and extensive off-trail travel which is a challenge that we both enjoy.

Week One

We planned to start in Shiel Bridge on the west coast, which is relatively easy to get to from Fort William by bus. From there, we’d hike cross country for four days and climb 7 high peaks, called Munros (over 1000 meters in height) before resupplying in Fort William which has stores and B&B’s to resupply and clean up. From there, we planned to hike through Glen Nevis (near Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak) climbing some more big hills before arriving in the hamlet of Dalwhinnie to pick up a resupply package, take a zero-day there to rest up, and visit the local distillery, which makes an excellent Scottish Malt.

Week Two

The second half of our route runs from Dalwhinnie to Dunnottar Castle, outside of Stonehaven on the east coast, over a period of 6-7 days, climbing more high peaks and camping remotely along the way. This is a really wild segment of our route, far off the beaten track from much of anything, except for a brief stop in the small village of Tarfside, about two days west of the coast. Tarfside has an outdoor shower that hikers can use and you can camp on the village green. There aren’t any shops in the village, but the local church convent sells baked goods and you can buy a pint at the local Mason’s hall.

Gear List Summary

This gear list is very similar to the gear lists I’ve brought on my previous backpacking trips in Scotland with a few notable changes in the shelters, clothing, cooking system, and water filtration set up I now use. It comes out at just under 14 lbs, which is a perfectly comfortable weight for me to carry. That’s a bit heavier than I’d need in the United States because Scotland is so much more remote and it’s quite difficult to replace certain items within a reasonable timeframe if they break or get destroyed, like clothing. Been there. Done that. This isn’t my first rodeo.

Baggage

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 SW BackpackWaterproof, Good volume for extra food carry132.4
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Accessory WP PocketCarry my camera and phone.11.4
Fox 40 WhistleEmergency whistle10.1

I plan 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. I line the interior with a waterproof stuff sack (see below) that serves double duty as my sleeping pad inflation sack. The largest and heaviest load I’ll have to carry will be coming out of Dalwhinnie after the half-way point of our trip, when I’ll be carrying 7 days of food and my total pack weight will be about 28 pounds. That’s easily managed by the 3400, which can be compressed as I eat through my food.

Loch Muick
Loch Muick

House

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Dan Durston/DROP X-Mid 1Double-wall silpoly tent128.0
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 PadR=3.2. Very thick (4") and very comfortable115
Sea-to-Summit Aero Down PillowAttaches to pad with velcro. Great pillow.12.6
Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag ULStuff Sack, Pad Pump, WP Pack Liners12.2
Gossamer Gear Thinlight PadPrevents sliding on tent floor. Doubles as sit pad. 11.3

I’m bringing the MassDrop X-Mid-1 designed by Dan Durston on this trip because it’s ideally suited for setup on tufted grass (more on this in a second), it’s quite wind-resistant with angled walls, lots of extra guy-out points, dual doors for ventilation, and covered overhead space for gear storage and cooking. I’ll be camping almost exclusively on wild tent sites in Scotland that are covered by wild grasses. These are lumpy tufts of grass which can be annoying to pitch a tent on because they’re very uneven. I’ve found it useful to have shelters whose walls are decoupled from their floors so they can “bend” around the tufts when pitched. The X-Mid has a screened inner tent which is necessary because Scotland is deer tick country. It’s also a double-wall tent that can be set up in the rain without getting the inner tent wet. The X-Mid requires a fairly large footprint to set up, but that’s not an issue in Scotland because there are very few trees and lots of grassland.

I’d considered bringing a Sierra Designs High Route FL 1 on this trip, but I’ve found it very difficult to set up in wind over 20 mph because it has flat sidewalls. There’s almost always wind in Scotland, so this was a non-starter. The X-Mid is so much easier to set up in crappy weather. There’s really no comparison.

I used the rest of my sleep system: the 20-degree Feathered Friends Tanager hoodless sleeping bag, the Sea-2-Summit Etherlight Insulated XT sleeping mat and down pillow, and a cut-down 1/8″ Gossamer Gear Thinlight Pad on the Cape Wrath Trail in May of 2019 and they’re perfectly suited for the cold wet weather one encounters in Scotland in May. I get cold when I’m wet and I’ve stopped moving and like a warm bed to recover.

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

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
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 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 -2 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.

I’ll print out a custom set of maps to carry for our route which we’ve planned in ViewRanger to save weight, but I expect us to mainly use our GPS mapping apps to lookup our current locations and calculate the bearings to our next destinations. The UK’s paper maps, called OS LandRanger Maps (1:50,000), are really bulky and kind of a pain in the ass 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. My phone carrier charges me $10 for international cell phone coverage, so I’ll use that instead of picking up a local SIM card. My iPhone supports multiple sim cards, but it’s a hassle to use that way. Most pubs, restaurants, and B&B’s have free wireless in the UK, so I can get Internet access that way and rarely have to resort to the international Verizon service.

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 the year before last. Lighting: You actually don’t need much lighting in Scotland, because the days are so long. But a small headlamp is a good aid, if only for signaling SAR. Power: It’s just a good idea to carry a power pack and recharge it when you come across a power outlet. I go through my iPhone battery every 2 or 3 days.

Kitchen

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Soto Amicus Stove and CooksetIsobutane stove and two nesting AL Pots111.2
humangear GoBites DuoLong spoon and fork combination11
Light My Fire Army StrikerNever fails to generate a spark11.3
HydroBlu Versa Flow Water FilterFast water filter12.6
CNOC 3L BottleSoft reservoir12.9
20L Sealline Rolltop Stuff SackFood bag (hold up to 6 days of food)11.8

I’ll be bringing the Amicus Stove and Cookset I used on the Cape Wrath Trail last year. It has two pots, which are convenient in the UK so I can drink tea while I have my breakfast in the morning. I drink a lot of strong tea. The Amicus Stove is a very powerful 10,000 BTU isobutane stove that’s compatible with all screw-on canisters which are now common in Scotland and easy to find in Fort William.

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 switched to the HydroBlu Versa Flow Water Filter with a 3L CNOC Reservoir last year and like it much better than the Sawyer Squeeze.  The Versa Flow has caps that cover both ends so it won’t drip over all my stuff or my pants when not in use, it’s threaded at both ends so I can use it in a gravity set up very easily, there are no stupid connectors to buy from Sawyer for extra money, and you don’t need to carry a syringe to backflush it. I’ll pick up a 1L bottle somewhere and squeeze water into it as needed. Water is so plentiful you rarely need to carry much.

I’ll also bring Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide drops 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.

Liathach near Torridon
Liathach near Torridon

Clothing Carried

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Montbell Versalite JacketRain jacket and light enough for a wind shirt17
Under Armour BoxersChafing prevention13.2
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Cushion SocksGoing to be wet, keep socks in rotation23.4
Montane Atomic PantsVery light weight with side zips18
Helly Hansen LIFA Long UnderwearWarm, Merino, Calf length15.2
Minus 33 Wool Algonquinn SS ShirtStink prevention/Warm Weather Layer16.6
Montbell Ex Light Down AnorakWarm down hoodie, mainly for camp19
Extremities Thinny Touch GlovesTouchscreen compatible, acrylic11.7
REI Minimalist GTX Rain MittsVelcro wrist cuffs10.8
Showers Pass Crosspoint WP SocksInsulation for hiking in snow in trail runners14.2
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 that can be combined in different ways.

On this hike, I’ll be using a Montbell Versalite Jacket as a rain jacket and a wind shirt instead of bringing two different garments because the Versalite is lightweight and well ventilated enough for use as a wind shirt. I’ll also bring Montane Atomic Rain Pants which are very lightweight but have side zips for ventilation. I found I wanted that on the Cape Wrath Trail last year to vent my legs.

I also plan to bring a pair of Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Socks. Our first major ridgeline hike out of Shiel Bridge is bound to have some lingering snow high up in May. Hiking in wet snow while wearing trail runners at elevation is very unpleasant, but these socks are insulated, in addition to being waterproof. They also fit into my trail runners perfectly and don’t bunch up, so I plan to wear them to keep my feet warm on the snow-covered ridges and down below if my wet feet get chilled. They may also prove useful on the approach to Mt Lochnagar in the second half where snow lingers on the high peaks and the ground can be quite wet and cold.

Fionngleann
Fionngleann, nr Glen Affric

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. That said, I had a need for a few more supplies on my last long trip to Scotland, including more bandages and sterile wipes to staunch a self-inflicted scissor wound. So, I’ve added some of those to my kit, if not for me, for others. 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.

Torridon area
Torridon area

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
Outdoor Research Thru-GaitersCool Low Gaiters11.9
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, shirts, gaiters, 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.

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 unexpected 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.
  • 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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18 comments

  1. Now that’s planning ahead!

  2. I spent a few days hiking in the Fort William area in 1986, including Ben Nevis. Magnificent landscape for walking, much like northern New England and surprisingly lush with the onshore flow from the Atlantic. And Dalwhinnie is a magnificent single for walking (or at least afterwards). Starts out bright and rich and resolves with an airy light finish. I hope you enjoy this dream-come-true expedition.

  3. Perhaps you could set up a sponsor link for the Dalwhinnie distillery?

  4. Hi I can’t understand how you prefer doing this with mesh trainers and wet socks. Its difficult to fully dry thick socks on the trail in Scotland- too damp and not enough sun.This means wet feet all day and putting on damp socks in the morning. I spend days fishing and camping in the remote areas of Scotland and use high top boots with goretex which lets me Wade thru streams.Rarely the stream is too deep and I will take them off.

    • I hike about 15 miles a day in Scotland and my feet sweat buckets…about a half cup of perspiration per foot per day to be precise. My feet actually stay drier this way since gotetex footwear doesn’t actually work that well at venting and takes forever to dry (as in days) when it gets wet. Sink into a bog up to your knee and your shoes get wet. Goretex or not. Cones in right over the top.

      • Ok I see your point. I sweat a lot top half which is why Merino is off my list. I also need my boots for ankle support for the steep descents with a heavy pack if I’m carrying my fishing gear with waders and sometimes my packraft.

  5. New Zealand and Scotland are at the top of my “international list!” Sounds like a great trip. I quit taking off my trail runners for stream crossings years ago when I made the switch to trail runners. Smartwool has always held up well to the sediment, for me. I’ll have to give Darn Tough a shot though since I’ve noticed over the last year or so that the Smartwool socks are not holding up as well.

    Safe travels!
    Ellie

  6. I was surprised to see the Showers Pass waterproof socks as just for snow. I thought Scotland was boggy and wet. Would the socks work well in those conditions also? Or are they too warm to hike in all day?

    • I’m wary of socks that lead to pruned feet because they make the skin soft so it tears and blisters. Scotland is boggy but not consistently. Your socks and feet dry out quickly on a warm day. There are plenty of dry walkers paths.

  7. Great read. This is more than just a gear list; the reasoning behind the choices makes for a good lesson too. Stuff like this is why I recommend your site to folks. Hoping you get to make use of the gear sooner rather than later.

  8. Steve Macauley

    Great informative list. Do you take a solar panel of any sort, or do you just use your gadgets sparingly?

  9. Have you worked out total cost of your kit? I hope obsessing about kit doesnt detract from enjoyment of views and walking?

  10. Any issues with the Pacer Poles’ angled grips when you’re using them as a part of your tent’s set-up? I’m kind of eyeing those poles. I normally sleep in a hammock, but I just bought a SlingFin SplitWing system for those times I’m headed somewhere I know I’ll need to sleep on the ground. I’d rather know ahead of time if I should purchase a separate tent pole.

    And I’d like to second the comment that reading your reasoning behind why you chose certain items is really helpful. Lots of insight!

  11. Hi Phil.

    Do the Pacerpoles work well with the x-mid shelter?

    Also, what’s your thoughts on the CF Vs Aluminium poles?

    I have an X-mid on order, my 1st trecking pole shelter and I’m nervous about potentially snapping a pole, which could be a disaster when out in the wilds.

  12. Stewart Maclachlan

    No plan for a trip through Scotland is complete without reference to midges, specially in May. Try sleeping above the tree line where there is less of them cos of more air movement . Got them at 3000’+ on the Skye ridge one time. so add midge repellent. and also paracetamol, if you do like the locals. Drink spring water out of the hill. never had a filter ever, bring more socks instead. Ticks abound from May onwards. and did I mention midges? Be warned :)

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