West Highland Way Recap: Trail, Budget, and Gear Recommendations
Hello from back home in Michigan! After returning from two weeks in the UK, I went right back to my 9-5 and then ran a Spartan Race a few days later… which is all to say this post is much later than expected, and I’ve been avoiding finishing it!
For my last post, here are my recommendations and takeaways from walking the West Highland Way 27 April to 2 May 2023.
In case you have not already – check out my daily posts while I walked the WHW and introduction post for more info on the trail and my walking style.
In summation, I walked the WHW in six days (plus Ben Lomond on the second day), stayed at hostels or B&Bs each night, as well as had by bag transported each day. This style of walking is one of many, and it made the most sense for me as part of my larger vacation. I wouldn’t change anything about my walk, from the amount of days I walked to where I stayed (except maybe that one in Kinlochleven…iykyk). The following recommendations are informed by these choices.
Looking back, I’m still in awe of the wild beauty of Scotland, and the great weather (+no midges) we were blessed with during my time on trail. As far as trail conditions, it was incredibly well maintained and marked, there was only one place on the south side of Conic Hill where I was confused which pasture gate to go through… My one request of you, dear reader, is to please make sure to pick up a WHW Passport in Milngavie* (sold at the Spar), which goes toward trail maintenance of this beautiful resource! *Or wherever you start the trail
I still think of the trail sections broken up into the days that I walked it, which is how the following is arranged:
- Day 1, Milngavie to Balmaha: The most boring days of walking, largely flat and uneventful, and filled with more sheep than one can imagine. That is until Conic Hill. This was a punisher to end day one! However, probably better to end the day cursing all the way down rather than a gassing way to start day two I assume.
- Day 2, Balmaha to Rowardennan: This was my shortest day of walking on the WHW, only about eight miles. Intentional as I planned to also bag Ben Lomond. I timed this day well, leaving town at 8:30 a.m. and making it in time to eat at the Rowardennan Hotel at 12:00 p.m. Looking back, however, scheduling both in the same day was… a lot. Really think this one through if wanting to bag Lomond, and consider taking an additional day to do so.
- Day 3, Rowardennan to Inverarnan: This is the hardest section of the entire trail. It follows the coastline of Loch Lomond, and is rocky and very slow going. This day I debated bussing around sections of trail because it was mentally a really hard day. This seems to be true of everyone’s day three, no matter the section or how many days they are completing the trail in.
- Day 4, Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy: To me, this was the easiest day of walking. The trail was largely soft dirt underfoot, and gentler hills and valleys. However, there’s little access to food and supplies past Tyndrum, so make sure to load up on protein bars (I overloaded, and ended up still having some in my bag upon arrival in the US…) in case you need to supplement meals between here and the end of the trail. Though there is a grocery in Kinlochleven!
- Day 5, Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven: Leaving town, there was much anticipation of the Devil’s Staircase. It was a long day of walking, with Kingshouse being a good mid-day stop. The Devil’s Staircase is hard hiking, it is the highest point on trail after all, but going nobo allows for a relatively quick ascent (25 min max?). What no one tells you is that the descent into Kinlochleven is the real killer!
- Day 6, Kinlochleven to Fort William: This day was a beautiful end to the hike. Not terribly hard hiking, the worst parts are the hard climb out of Kinlochleven, the descent into Glen Nevis, and the three miles into Fort William to end the trail. After finishing the trail, I stayed at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, which was the cleanest and nicest hostel in my two weeks in the UK – definitely stay here if staying a night after the trail, and/or looking to do Ben Nevis as it’s located at the base on that trail!
This is where it gets obvious that I was living a vacation lifestyle. Plus there is obvious capital involved with staying in hostels every night and having to fly across the Atlantic in order to even reach the trail. You can definitely live more expensively, and more conservatively.
I have a more broken down budget here, but the condensed version is (all in US$):
- Travel (flight to EDI and train to Milngavie): $207.32
- Accommodation: $466.84
- Food: $197.80 (oof…)
- Bag transfer: $84.25
- Total: $956.21
Given that I stayed in hostels and B&Bs, I didn’t bring my usual gear setup. Here’s what I generally carried everyday in my daypack:
- 20L Osprey Daypack – I didn’t test two pieces of gear (arguably the most important pieces) that I didn’t test ahead of time which is not a good idea….but thankfully it worked out! One reviewer said he had “dunked it in a lake” and everything stayed dry, which was good enough for me!
- Chicken Tramper Wallet (passport size) – worth getting the seam sealed version for waterproofing!
- FrogTogg rain suit – this was the other piece of gear I didn’t test ahead of time… I still have never worn the pants, but kept them with me each day just in case. The jacket was great, and didn’t get too hot like others tend to.
- LightHeart Gear fleece – love, a staple piece I take on every trip!
- Book – walking alone can be lonely when you stop for meals, and your day is over by 5:00 p.m.! I brought If You Tell by Gregg Olsen, but it’s generally a bit weight heavy for my UL tastes… fantastic book though, would recommend if you like True Crime.
- Sawyer Squeeze water filter – never used, but it’s an obvious staple on trips.
- Garmin inReach Mini – after a bad health situation on the Foothills Trail last year, I’ll never hike without it!
- Kula Cloth and UL trowel – leave no trace people!!!
- Nalgene water bottle
- Sandwich and snack sized reusable Stasher bags – great for buying bulk snacks, taking what you need each day, and leaving the rest in your bag to be sent to the next hostel!
Well… that’s all folks! It was great to be able to capture my experience for posterity, and to give insight to the unique experience on the WHW for others interested. My only final recommendation is to try all the Scottish protein bars – they all taste like candy!
Lastly, I want to extend a huge thank you to all the trail angels, the local community, and the walkers I encountered and stayed with – you all are what make this experience great for so many, and I will always take your hospitality and positivity with me.
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