Did you know that about one third of the people who walk the West Highland Way every year abandon it before reaching the end? That is why we decided to create an easy 4-step guide for those of you who are thinking about conquering Scotland’s most scenic long distance walking route.
SET A BUDGET
Unless you are a professional, you need to remember that completing the route will take several days. There are three main types of accommodation walkers usually pick: tents (wild camping), guest houses/B&Bs/hotels, or bungalows. Some may decide to do half and half. Your choice of accommodation is the first step to take towards budgeting, not only because of the obvious cost of your overnight stays, but also because it will determine what sort of equipment you need. More information on equipment here.
Sara and Maciek are a young couple who embarked on this adventure last summer, so we asked them for advice. One of the first things they said was “You will not find a place to stay unless you book in advance, especially over the summer.” That is why planning your trip months in advance is not only important, but essential. Check the guide to see what you can find at each stop, then start planning your journey. If you decide to go for wild camping, make sure you research which areas you are allowed to set up your tent in: there are lots of protected areas by Loch Lomond. This is not a stroll in the park, so do not overestimate your physical abilities. As Sara pointed out, “the path is rougher than you might expect. Take one extra day, well-divided stages. Enjoy it, don’t rush it, it’s not a competition.”
WHAT & HOW TO PACK
The first rule to keep in mind when packing is: bring the bare minimum. Any extra items will only add useless weight on your shoulders, which you will regret later on. So what is the “bare minimum”? Here is a sample checklist for campers. If you are staying in a holiday home overnight, your list will be even shorter.
1x t-shirt + 1 spare
1x waterproof over trousers + jacket
1x pair of socks + 1 spare
1x warm fleece
1x resistant walking boots
FOOD and DRINK
1x 2lt water bladder (you tend to drink less with bottles)
Protein bars/nuts/oatcakes (light but filling snack)
Water purifying tablets (in case there are no cafés nearby)
Dehydrated food – porridge, couscous, etc. (keep it light)
Cooking utensils (portable hob)
Cooking kits (compact)
1x mug/cup + ‘spork’
1x sleeping mat and bag
1x ground sheet (not indispensable, but highly recommended)
1x first aid kit
1x bug spray
1x bug net
Toilet paper + shovel
“Everything seems very easy, but it usually isn’t. Your body reacts differently from how you might expect it to, casual daily training and a week-long hike are very different things.” As untrained hikers, Sara and Maciek suggest beginning your daily workout at least three months in advance, which should be a combination of gym and outdoor activities, ideally complete with a one short hike per week. The more you train, the better. You will also want to bring your backpack on hikes in order to adapt to the weight on your shoulders. If you realise you might struggle, consider taking walking poles with you. The very last resource is backpack-carrying companies.
If you feel like this might be the perfect next adventure for you, start planning now. Check out westhighlandway.org for more information.
Photos by Sara Paddeo and Maciek Kornobis