Adventure awaits – Walking the West Highland Way
As some of you might know, I am about to start a walk down the West Highland Way soon. This long distance walking trail in Scotland connects the cities of Fort William and Glasgow, traversing the Scottish highlands with their epic scenery. The beauty comes at a price though. Unfortunately, the Scottish weather is not exactly famous for plenty of sunshine. On the contrary, I will probably have to deal with a good amount of rain which the Scots sometimes (lovingly?) refer to as liquid sun. Also, I’ll have to climb 4640 meters in total. The highlands carry their name for a reason after all. All this translates to specific requirements for my gear. It has to be lightweight, comfortable to wear and waterproof. In this article, I give you a rundown of my equipment along with a short explanation of why I choose to carry it.
My bag of choice is the Tilopa backpack from F-Stop Gear. It is a 50l pack especially made for photographers. It has plenty of useful features, is made of high-quality materials and really sturdy. Check out Google for more in-depth reviews of this fantastic pack.
The pack itself appears to be of being pretty waterproof on its own. For my peace of mind, I also bought a third-party rain cover for the bag anyway. The original F-Stop rain cover fits the pack perfectly, but it also leaves absolutely no space for anything attached to the outside of the pack. I, therefore, chose a rain cover for a 60-80l backpack. This way, I can cover the pack with the tripod and even my walking sticks attached to it.
My rain jacket of choice will be the Shelter Jacket M from Jack Wolfskin. It offers the perfect combination of protection and price. It also comes in a color that goes well with the bright orange of my backpack, and it comes in my size.
As usual, I tried to keep the list of my gear short and light, but I am afraid I failed miserably. Here is what I’ll carry.
- Nikon D7100 – my trusted DSLR that has already accompanied me along with many hikes in Germany, Majorca, and the United Kingdom.
- Nikkor 18-135mm zoom lens – I got this lens nine years ago as a kit lens with my Nikon D80. There are certainly better lenses out there, but so far I have no reason to complain. It is relatively light and small and performs well. I will use it for 95% of the shots on my trip and only switch to a different lens when the need arises.
- Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens – This is the lens I have used for many of my animal portraits. It will provide me with a considerable range of those frames that are farther away. Yes, I could use my feet to zoom and move closer to my subject. Keep in mind though that this is not an ordinary landscape photo shoot but a long distance hike. Leaving the path too often is not a good idea. After all, I have a fixed distance to cover and destination to reach every night.
- Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens – another budget lens, this time covering the wider range of things. I hope to capture the epic vistas of the Scottish highlands well with this lens.
- Firecrest ND1.5 and ND3.0 filters. In combination, these filters will allow me to stop down 16 stops – long enough for long silky exposure of waterfalls and swiftly moving clouds even in bright daylight. I’ll also carry a circular polarizer.
- Joby Gorillapod for those shallow angles, maybe at the shores of Loch Lomond or a waterfall. Also, together with the
- Tripod holder for my iPhone, I might be tempted to do a short time-lapse movie while I take a break. It’ll all depend on the battery life of my iPhone, though, as I plan to use it as a GPS tracker as well.
- Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT tripod. Despite its minimum height of 75cm (with a ball head attached to it) and 1,70m plus a very long central column it only weighs 3.75 pounds – one of the advantages of carbon fiber tripods.
- I’ll use 4 SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB SD cards, two of which will be used as backup cards, so I effectively I will have 64GB of capacity for my photos. These cards are enough to hold about 1400-1500 24MP RAW files.
- Nikon ML-L3 infrared remote control – 1 small device, one button, no further feature. I like to keep things simple.
- Bergeon Blower No 5733 – I hate dust on my sensor.
- Peak Design Shell – This is an essential piece of photography gear you can have in Scotland. It protects the camera from the Scottish rain while still retaining the camera’s usability. The Shell is especially crucial for me because I plan to carry the camera outside of my backpack attached to one of the pack’s harness using the
- Peak Design Capture Clip and Capture Pro plate. This way, I have the camera always at hand even when I am walking with my walking sticks and without it dangling at my side on a camera strap all the time.
That’s it for my photography gear. The list is pretty long, so it’s surprising it all fits so well into the relatively small space that is my F-Stop Small Pro ICU.
Essential walking gear
There are some things every walker on a long distance trail should carry at all times. Here’s what I chose to bring.
- Water bladder – I bought one that holds up to 2l of water. The bladder will go into my pack and use the pack’s hydration system to conveniently guide the tube outside where it is attached to the harness. This way I can have a sip on the go without having to take off the pack.
- Water bottle – 2l may not be enough for a long day of walking, so I’ll carry another liter of water in a dedicated lightweight plastic water bottle.
- Compass – Ok, despite the romantic advertising, the West Highland Way is not exactly a dangerous backcountry adventure. A road or small village is never too far away. And since the West Highland Way is one of the most popular trails in the UK, it is likely that there will be many walkers there. It is also waymarked relatively well. In other words, it should be hard to get lost there. But since the compass weighs close to nothing and is really small, there is no harm in carrying it.
- Maps and guidebooks – It’s always nice to know where exactly you have taken the last stunning shot and what those impressive hills are called. So I consider a map and a guidebook walking essentials for photographers.
- Spare laces – There may always be a village relatively close, but this doesn’t mean that they sell extra laces there. Running out of laces can easily mean the end of the adventure.
- Sun blocker – The weather in Scotland is unpredictable. There might even be long stretches of sunny weather.
- Insect repellent – A summer in the highlands often means having to deal with countless of midges. Those nasty beasts bite and can ruin the walk. I will carry two kinds of repellent: A bottle of Autan spray and a bottle of Avon Skin-So-Soft oil which is said to be the most effective midge repellent of them all.
- Walking sticks – I decided to not use them on my last long distance walk along Hadrian’s Wall Path two years ago, and I regretted my decision at the end of the first day. They are a great help in rocky terrain because the can take a lot of burden from your feet as they try to maintain balance and continuously compensate for the unevenness of the ground.
- iPhone – I will use the iPhone for many things. It holds flight and bus tickets, digital maps and brochures. I will also use it as my mobile library on the plane and as my GPS tracking device as I walk. At night I will use it to FaceTime with my family at home.
- Compeed blistering plaster – No further explanations required.
- A basic pocket knife – Luck favors the prepared.
If all goes well, I won’t need any of it, but if I need it and don’t have it with me, then this might mean the end of my trip on the West Highland Way. And I don’t want this to happen.
- Ibuprofen painkillers for the recurring headaches.
- Arnica globules against ankle sprains or bruises.
- Medigel and Traumel ointments against all kinds of injuries
- Disinfectant spray
- Plasters, a compress, and dressing.
- Imodium against diarrhea – There are some areas along the West Highland Way with absolutely no bush nearby…
That’s about it.
Quite a list, isn’t it? But most of these items are pretty small, and the Tilopa backpack offers lots of space. Please let me know if you found this helpful or engaging in the comments below.