How to prepare for the Scottish Highlands

How to prepare for the Scottish Highlands

One of the best things about taking on a long-distance trek in the Scottish Highlands is that you don't need to be an experienced or heavily trained trekker to complete a trail. Many of its great walks and trails are accessible for most skill levels, and there are plenty of choices for those who are not as fit and would prefer to keep to the lower levels. In addition, its highest peaks are at a considerably lower elevation than most mountains on our climbing bucket list, so it doesn’t take rigorous training to climb them – Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, can be climbed in about 3.5 to 5 hours, for example.

But the question remains: how do you prepare to hike the Scottish Highlands? Even though hiking a long-distance trail in the Highlands is hardly an impossible task, it’s still a demanding undertaking. Remember that you will be encountering diverse terrain – from forest roads to moors and peat bogs, going uphill and downhill, dealing with changeable weather, and protecting yourself from bug bites all while carrying a massive pack on your back. Plus, if you’re planning on sleeping under the stars, you also need to factor that in, making sure that you’ve got enough daylight left to set up for the night at an ideal camping spot.

Considering all that, you are expected to be at a certain fitness level to complete a long-distance route. You don’t need to be an athlete to climb the Highlands, but you do need to be fit enough to take on ascents and descents with a heavy pack on your back and to have the endurance to hike several miles a day for several days.

Preparing for this kind of physical activity doesn’t take much. You don’t need a personal trainer, or to join a boot camp. Here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • Build your strength and stamina by hiking several miles daily and by walking every chance you get.
  • Practice your uphill and downhill hikes, and gradually increase elevation. Try using the stairs instead of the elevators at work.
  • If you live in a city where there isn't a lot of hiking options available, use the treadmill on the highest gradient.
  • Do several run-throughs with your backpack on. This will help you get used to hiking with a heavy pack.
  • Invest in proper hiking boots that provide proper support, and break them in. There’s nothing worse than breaking in a pair of new boots during a hike.
  • Start with shorter trails, then work your way up. A few weekend hikes along shorter routes should help you prepare yourself for a weeklong trek.
  • Work out. Build up your leg, back, arm and core muscles. A daily trip to the gym will do the trick.

You don’t need to train hard to complete a long-distance trail in Scotland. However, it does help to have a certain level of physical fitness and endurance, especially if you plan on doing a multi-day hike and camp. Hiking uphill every day for an hour or so, preferably with your backpack on, a few months before your trek should help you prepare for it. Try gradually increasing elevation the stronger you get.

In Scotland, layering is key, as is waterproof and quick dry clothing. The weather can be unpredictable, and even in the summertime, rain can come at any time. Additionally, it rarely gets warmer than 70°F (21°C). Having several layers of clothing that you can peel off or quickly put on depending on the current temperatures is essential to the completion of your trek, as are a light, waterproof jacket, and pants that dry quickly. As for footwear, invest in a pair of reliable hiking boots that are well-made, comfortable, and offer great support and traction. Complement them with a pair of hiking sandals that you can use on easier sections of the hike to give your feet a break and let them breathe.

Ticks and midges are the main problem when hiking in Scotland. Midge bites are excruciating, while some ticks carry Lyme Disease; protecting yourself from them is important, and can make or break your Highlands trek. Pack midge repellent, midge head nets, DEET-based chemical repellent, and tweezers. Be sure to wear light-coloured clothing and tuck your pant legs into your socks.