Walking in the Scottish Highlands

Far too early in the year, usually from October, I look forward to winter camping in Scotland. Folk often find this strange because I'm not talking about the deep, cold snowy winters of, say Alaska, but the bone chilling, 'just-above-freezing and the sleet's blowing sideways' maritime climate that Scottish hillwalkers rejoice in.

Winter camping in Scotland in the snow can be fun. But it can also be cold and wet. We don't live in a big country but it's possible to get far away from the road and relative safety (some roads in winter have no traffic) and with the snow, wind and often freezing rain it would be easy to get hypothermia. It's important to have the right skills, quality equipment and to be prepared.

Here's a sample Scottish winter camping gear list (with some kit thoughts and camping tips from 12 years experience thrown in).

Warning, this is not a lightweight winter camping kit list. Try here instead. It's designed in a way that I can walk in to a location, set up a 'base camp' and then take multiple day walks from there, hence the tent plus other forms of shelter. I don't always take everything but I do consider it.

WEAR

  • Underwear - try merino wool, it doesn't stink as much after a few days out.
  • Trousers - I've tried lots and prefer Powerstretch leggings (thick, stretchy tights - not for the fashion conscious)
  • Socks - thick woollen socks (carry a spare pair). If you wear leather boots, waterproof/breathable socks are very good (look for ones with merino wool inside).
  • Boots - Scarpa Mantas win Trail magazine's 'Best in Test' award most, if not every year.
  • T-shirt - merino wool (mixed reviews - I like it) or Patagonia's capilene.

WARMTH

  • Fleece top - lightweight fleece, 100weight.
  • Windshirt - invaluable. Wear it over the t-shirt or the t-shirt and fleece and it can keep you warm on the move in most weather. (I have a Patagonia one from years back but I'd like a new one as it's an RAF blue colour - read baby blue - and I have, somewhat regrettably, been mistaken for a female from a distance...)
  • Fleece jacket - I like a good old-fashioned thick fleece jacket. e.g. Berghaus Spectrum. Other hill walkers go for a lighter option e.g. a thin Primaloft top (Rab, Haglofs, Patagonia) but I've found these compress too much in a winter hoolie and I've gotten cold.
  • Duvet jacket - I've spent a ton of money looking for a good, thick hooded 'belay jacket'. Current one is Mountain Equipment's Citadel and it's super toasty. (I've tried down insulation and don't like it in Scotland in winter for camping trips, even with a water-resistant shell. It gets wet too easily so you can't wear it through the day. I do though have a Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket - I'm the warmest dog walker in the park).
  • Hat - thin wool hat (thicker ones I find get too hot for walking in).
  • Balaclava - powerstretch or merino wool.
  • Windproof hat - spare in case of very bad weather.
  • Windproof neck gaiter - ditto - I get a cold, sore face when the wind is strong and it is around/below freezing.
  • Fleece gloves - windproof, soft-shell-style ones are good. They will get wet but should dry (relatively) quickly.
  • Pile mitts - lightweight pertex/pile mitts, again they'll get wet but will dry quickly
  • Waterproof pile mitts - big, sleep-overnight mitts for emergencies.

WET

  • Waterproof jacket - I like two layers of fabric for the front zip (or the wind/sleet/rain comes through it) and a hood you can disappear into (with strong bungee cord for cinching down - some jacket hoods un-cinch in strong winds).
  • Waterproof trousers - If you're wearing thick trousers, you could get away with a lighter pair of shell trousers. (Caution lightness against robustness though. I've trashed a pair of Paclite trousers in 2-3 trips (heel rubbing, crampons rips, etc.).
  • Gaiters - I use an old pair of Mountain Hardwear waterproof/breathable ones. Make sure the loop at the bottom is sturdy or it'll break easily. (If you tuck your waterproof trousers inside them them you can negate the last point about robustness but you will end up looking like a German soldier).

SAFETY

  • Map - in Ortlieb waterproof case (essential).
  • Compass and GPS - essential (compass first, GPS as backup).
  • Mobile phone - in dry bag.
  • Ice axe - I prefer a long walking axe, 80cm (65cm though seems very popular).
  • Crampons - Grivel G12s (10-point ones would suffice for winter walking).
  • Ski poles - carbon fibre poles (e.g. Alpkit) are the lightest weight. I prefer stronger Black Diamond ones (flick-lock because I've had two Leki screw-tighten poles fail on me).
  • Headtorch - Petzl Myo XP (I also take a Petzl E-lite as a spare - handy for in the tent)
  • Bothy bag - great for lunch stops. (A 2-man one fits you and the dog. A 3-man is better for 2 adults).
  • Blizzard bag - never used it but if the marketing's honest it'll be as warm as a 2-season sleeping bag...

EATING AND SLEEPING

  • Tent - a 4-season dome or tunnel tent (I have a Macpac Minaret which seems bombproof).
  • Poles - there's the option to double up on poles if you're expecting very bad weather (I've never had to).
  • Pegs - long ones plus snow stakes if camping on snow (Useful to take poly bags then too - fill them with snow and attach them to the guy lines).
  • T-shirt, long johns, socks - it's nice to have completely dry clothes to put on.
  • Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Classic 750 down bag.
  • Sleeping bag cover - Mountain Equipment Ion is ideal (down bags are prone to get damp with condensation).
  • Sleeping mat - Alpkit 3/4 inflatable plus a Ridgerest.
  • Stuff sack - the stuff sack for the Rab down jacket. Stuff a fleece top in it and you have a perfect pillow.
  • Glasses case - I've rolled over on my glasses a few times.
  • Book - it's a long night if you're in bed just after it gets dark.
  • Ear plugs - useful for tent partners but more for the wind.
  • Stove, fuel, windshield - MSR Whisperlite (A Jetboil's a good alternative as you can use it inside your tent - just remember to have ventilation).
  • Water bottle - rigid 1l Nalgene with a wide mouth.
  • Vacuum flask - 0.5 litre seems a good combination of weight versus amount of use.
  • Pot - 1.6 litre MSR pot (there's smaller and lighter ones but I like to boil a big pot of water and use it to make dinner, fill a flask and fill a makeshift hot water bottle, all at the same time. Saves you reboiling water).
  • Mug - it's nice to have a drink whilst your tea's cooking and you'll appreciate your morning coffee more if it doesn't taste of Thai Chilli Supernoodles.
  • Spoon - Lexan
  • Lighter - Light my Fire
  • Pen knife - Swiss army knife
  • Water bottles - 1.5 litres worth of soft, roll-uppable water bottles, e.g. Platypus (It's nice to not have to walk back and forth for water).
  • Hygiene - Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, handwash.
  • Medicine - e.g. strong painkillers, loperamide.
  • Bandages- just enough to stop moderate bleeding.

On top of this, I'll also have a DSLR camera, lenses, spare batteries and memory cards in a Lowepro Toploader Pro camera case (reviewed here).