What should I wear for hiking in scotland? a complete guide
There’s a famous saying in Scotland — “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes, it’s likely to change“.
At the beginning of the hike — sun beaming down — I’ll have on shorts and a t-shirt. And then shortly after, the clouds roll in, the wind picks up — out comes the waterproofs. By the time I get them on, the clouds part, the rain stops, and the sun punches through. Sounds like a pretty normal day on the Scottish mountains.
This is why a layering system is so important; such a system enables one to adjust layers according to the varying conditions — rain, wind, sun, snow, or a combination of these.
Even when the forecast is favourable, the weather in Scotland is too unpredicatable to take any chances — especially on the mountain tops. And not preparing for the range of weather one can experience can make or break a day out in the Scottish hills.
In this article I’m going to share what I take with me on my Scottish hikes, broken down into three layers: base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. And I’ll share the backpack I use, my hiking boots, as well as some of my essential accessories.
If you don’t like details — here’s a simple list
- Base Layer Top — Patagonia Men’s Capilene® Thermal Weight Zip-Neck
- Base Layer Bottoms — Patagonia Men’s Capilene® Thermal Weight Bottoms
- Hiking Socks — Men’s Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Midweight Hiking Sock
- Chaff-free Underwear — Men’s Under Armour Tech™ Mesh 23 cm Boxerjock®
- Fleece — Patagonia Men’s Lightweight Better Sweater® Shelled Fleece Jacket
- Down jacket (Optional — except for winter hiking) — NorthFace
- Pants — Rab Men’s Torque Pants
- Hat — Smartwool Merino 250 Cuffed Beanie
- Thin Gloves — Rab Power Stretch Contact Glove
- Shorts (Optional — summer hiking) — Patagonia Men’s Stretch Wavefarer® Walk Shorts – 20″
- T-shirt (Optional — summer hiking) — Patagonia Men’s Capilene® Cool Lightweight Shirt
- Waterproof Jacket — Patagonia Men’s Rainshadow Waterproof Jacket
- Waterproof Trousers — Patagonia Men’s Torrentshell 3L Pants
- Thick Gloves (Optional — except for winter hiking) — Rab Guide Lite GORE-TEX® Glove
Hiking Boots — Solomon Mens Quest 4 GTX Hiking Boot
Backpack — Men’s Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack
- Smidge that Midge Insect Repellant (during midge season — May to September)
- Midge-Proof Headnet (during midge season — May to September)
- Waterproof Map Case (not essential) — Aquapac Waterproof Map Case
- Compass — Silva Compass Expedition 4-360
- Safety Whistle
- Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder — Osprey 2L Hydraulics Reservoir
- Water filter — Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
- Survival Bag — Lifesystems Unisex’s Survival Bag
- First Aid Kit — Lifesystems Trek First Aid Kit
- Head Torch — PETZL Actik Core Headlamp
- Insulated Water Bottle (not essential) — Yeti Rambler 36 OZ Bottle with Chug Cap
If you’d like more details on what I take with me on my Scottish hikes, and why, keep on reading.
The base layer is the layer of clothing in contact with the skin — vital for maintaining comfort and preventing us getting cold.
The base layer keeps us comfortable by wicking perspiration away from our skin, where it then evaporates — wet clothes are uncomfortable because there’s more friction, leading to chaffing. And this same wicking effect stops us getting cold; it prevents a moist layer on our skin — we lose heat far quicker when we’re wet. Finally — using our body heat — the dry space between our skin and the base layer heats up; and this heat is retained, keeping us warm.
It goes without saying that it’s worth investing in high-quality base layers. For a comprehensive article on base layers, click here.
After considerable research, I opted for the Patagonia Men’s Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck — and I haven’t looked back. Patagonia have a range of base layer tops (all with different warmth ratings); I opted for the thermal weight — the warmest in their range — due to the colder climate in Scotland. I’ve worn this on cooler summer days as well as cold winter days — and it hasn’t disappointed.
There are a few key features that work really well for me.
First and foremost, the garment uses Polartec® Power Grid™ fabric — a grid construction knit that strengthens performance efficiency by increasing warmth and breathability, while also reducing fabric mass. Simply put, it keeps me warm and comfortable whilst also being incredibly lightweight.
Additionally, there are no seams where the straps for a backpack rest — eliminating the risk of chaffing; really important for long hikes. And another detail relevant for those carrying a backpack, there is a drop tail at the hem — prevents your lower back becoming exposed, which can happen as the backpack rides up your back.
And in terms of odour control, I’ve worn this on a number of long hikes and never experienced any issues — my girlfriend would’ve let me know.
Also, a small detail that makes a difference for anyone camping or bothying is the locker loop — a small loop that makes hanging the base layer a breeze; this is important when drying the garment for next day use.
And — although not important to everyone — there’s a lot about Patagonia as a brand that I like.
Firstly, there is their Ironclad Guarantee that says, “We guarantee everything we make. If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or to Patagonia for a repair, replacement or refund.” As you’ll see throughout this article, I buy from companies that stand behind their product — I like a company that backs up their hype with a lifetime warranty.
And I like that they pledge 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. The natural environment brings me great joy and fulfilment; I want to buy from companies that help restore — rather than destroy — our planet.
Last — but not least — they do their business in an environmentally and socially responsible way; this includes using recycled material, ensuring factory workers are paid a living wage, and that these workers are not subject to poor working conditions.
Whether it’s a cold day, or there’s high winds, thermal bottoms keep my legs warm. While waterproof over trousers are a good solution for windy days, they don’t offer the same breathability as thermal bottoms — resulting in high perspiration; put simply, if it’s windy, but dry, thermal bottoms and hiking trousers are the best solution. And if you’re also camping in the Scottish hills, thermal bottoms make for great pyjamas.
The Patagonia bottoms pack the same technology as the top — so I selected it for the same reasons as above. Having worn these on multiple hikes now — and wild camps — they have done a great job of keeping my legs cosy. On a recent winter hike, the temperatures were as low as -7 C — albeit with no wind — and my legs remained cosy with just these bottoms and my Rab hiking trousers.
Underwear — Men’s Under Armour Tech™ Mesh 23 cm Boxerjock®
As any other male who suffers from chaffing in the inner thighs will know, getting my underwear right was essential! There’s nothing worse than getting an hour into a hike and you start to feel that sting in your inner thighs. After a lot of trial and error, I arrived at the Men’s Under Armour Tech™ Mesh 23 cm Boxerjock®.
Despite several hikes of more than 20km — and a half marathon — I’ve never experienced chaffing. And — thankfully for my girlfriend — they do a great job of reducing odour.
Like underwear, putting on the wrong pair of hiking socks can ruin your day in the hills; a good pair of socks will keep your feet warm, but yet still allow them to breath. And just as important — they’ll be comfortable; hiking puts our feet through their paces, and blisters need to be avoided!
I’ve been through a few brands before landing on these titans — the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Midweight Hiking Sock. In terms of comfort, it doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing socks — the quality of the knitting is exceptional. And as I do multi-day hikes, I need a pair that will dry fast — the last thing I want to do is put wet socks on in the morning — these socks deliver. Having a girlfriend that hikes with me, I’ve also got to be concerned with smelly feet — fortunately the Merino Wool does a great job of keeping my feet fresh.
As with Patagonia, Darn Tough guarantee their product for life; in their own words, “Our unconditional lifetime guarantee is simple. If our socks are not the most comfortable, durable and best fitting socks you have ever owned, return them for another pair. No strings. No conditions. Socks guaranteed for life.”
In the summer, the average temperature in Scotland is between 15°C (59°F) to 17°C (63 °F) — throw in some wind and the temperature can feel much lower. This is why relying on only a base layer or t-shirt for warmth isn’t sufficient — and that’s in the summer.
My second layer of choice — and one that’s popular with hikers around the world — is a fleece; the purpose of which is to keep me warm on cool, dry, and low wind days. If wind and rain are added to the mix, I use a fleece and my waterproof jacket — fleeces are not suitable in wet conditions unless a waterproof jacket is added.
I opted for the Patagonia Men’s Lightweight Better Sweater Shelled Fleece Jacket for a few reasons — including those mentioned above regarding the brand.
Firstly, I’d read a lot about how comfortable Patagonia’s Better Sweater range is — something I can now attest to. And secondly I opted for the shelled version because I felt it would offer better protection in the wind — this is not the case. In windy conditions, a waterproof jacket is required on top of the fleece — keeping the wind out. However, the shell does increase the longevity of the fleece — it’s a durable material that can cope with rubbing from the backpack shoulder straps.
Overall, a really comfortable fleece that does a great job on cooler, dry, and windless days; and forms part of a wider layering system on cold, wet, and windy days. And on a day-to-day basis — much to the annoyance of my girlfriend — I never have this fleece off.
An alternative to the fleece is a down jacket, which I talk about below.
Pants — Rab Men’s Torque Pants
As much as I’d like to hike in shorts, Scotland doesn’t always provide short-friendly weather! But it’s not just the weather that influences the decision – midges and ticks are a good reason to opt for trousers.
Having won rear of the year at secondary school, it goes without saying that I have a big bum — I’ve split two pairs of smart trousers at the rear! So, flexible trousers that didn’t impede my movement were essential. And I’ve been really impressed with my Rab pants in this department — I can even do a full squat with ease. The pants also utilise a part-elasticated waistband, which I find more comfortable — especially when I put on a few pounds over lockdown.
I’ve also taken a couple tumbles on gravel underfoot and there wasn’t even a mark left — the durability is impressive; this is helped by the knee reinforcement panels. And the ankles also have reinforcement panels — important given the rubbing between our legs that occurs as we walk.
Importantly — like the other brands in this list — Rab align with my environmental values and they offer a lifetime warranty. They say, “Our lifetime warranty is a promise that we make to yourselves. This promise ensures that should your item ever fail due to a manufacturing defect then we will repair or replace the item (at our discretion).”
When it came to buying a hat, I was after three things: one that doesn’t make me itch, warm — but not too warm, and one that didn’t impede the use of my hood — no bobble. After reading through a lot of product reviews, I purchased this hat. And it has met all these objectives, as well as being quick drying — really important when it comes to multi-day hikes in Scotland.
I also use this hat for my morning runs, demonstrating the breathability of the hat; most hats would leave me with a really sweaty head — this one doesn’t. It controls the temperature perfectly; never too hot, and never cold.
Like many of the other brands I’ve used, Smartwool stand by their product by offering a two year guarantee — if you’re not satisfied with the product, it can be returned to Smartwool.
Thin Gloves — Rab Power Stretch Contact Glove
Nobody likes cold hands; it’s really uncomfortable. In all but the best days in the Scottish hills, gloves are essential. Because the weather is so unpredictable, it’s worth putting these in your backpack regardless of the forecast. After all, it’s a small sacrifice for the benefits that will be realised if the weather changes for the worse.
These Rab gloves are not a great stand alone glove in windy or cold conditions — I learnt this the hard way! Because I use a drone on some of my hikes, as well as checking my position using my smart phone, I needed something that was touch screen compatible. And these gloves do that well, but there may be warmer alternatives out there.
However, as a liner glove inside my Rab Guide Lite gloves, they perform well. But ideally I was looking for something warmer that I could use as a standalone — these miss the mark on that front.
Down jacket (Optional — unless winter hiking) — The North Face Mens Thermoball Eco Hoodie
I wore a down jacket on several hikes, and I was always sweating — even in cold conditions. Put simply, unless it’s winter, these jackets are too warm; instead I now just wear a fleece as my second layer. But, when I’m wild camping or bothying, this type of jacket it ideal for sitting around.
For pure warmth to weight ratio, feather down remains the best material — as opposed to fleece. On the other hand, down is not a practical choice of active wear, apart from exceptionally cold dry conditions. It’s too warm for walking and it becomes virtually useless when saturated with water.
Shorts (Optional) — Patagonia Men’s Stretch Wavefarer® Walk Shorts – 20″
If you’re lucky, the weather might be so good that wearing trousers would lead to excessive perspiration; if that’s the case, it’s time to break out the shorts.
I chose the Patagonia Men’s Stretch Wavefarer® Walk Shorts – 20″ because they are designed to be used in or out of the water. And this means that they dry super fast — so if the heavens open and I get soaked, the shorts will dry quickly. Furthermore, I recently got into Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP); rather than purchasing two pairs of shorts (one for hiking and one for SUP), I just bought one to do both jobs — I’m attempting to become more of a Minimalist.
T-shirt (Optional) — Patagonia Men’s Capilene® Cool Lightweight Shirt
Throughout the height of summer, the temperatures may not warrant a base layer top — this can be replaced with a t-shirt; though I’d still bring a fleece and a waterproof jacket — the weather can change quickly. But, be sure to avoid a cotton t-shirt; if it’s warm enough to justify a t-shirt, then you’ll probably start sweating. Unlike synthetics that draw moisture away from your skin, cotton soaks up moisture and retains water next to the skin, cooling the body as it evaporates — if the temperature drops, you’ll get cold very quick.
The Patagonia Men’s Capilene® Cool Lightweight Shirt is by far the lightest t-shirt I’ve ever owned, and yet it does a great job at wicking moisture away from the skin — keeping me nice and dry. And it dries really quickly — important for my multi-day hikes, or when I get caught in an unexpected shower.
Waterproof Jacket — Patagonia Men’s Rainshadow Waterproof Jacket
Hiking in Scotland without a wateproof jacket — regardless of the weather forecast — isn’t advised! This is an essential piece of clothing; once we get wet, we can become cold very fast — water has a thermal conductivity twenty-four times that of air. The aim of wearing an outer layer of waterproof clothing is therefore to keep water out and simultaneously release the moisture created by the body.
With so many waterproof jackets on the market, it can be a challenge to pick the right one. After reading a number of reviews, I chose the Patagonia Men’s Rainshadow Waterproof Jacket. Of course — as with my other purchases — Patagonia’s environmental and societal values played a big role. But this jacket more than holds it’s own on a technical front.
Unlike many waterproof jackets on the market, Patagonia use their own H2No™ technology — as opposed to Gore-Tex; and of course this is backed by their Iron Clad Guarantee. Even after owning this jacket for almost a year, I’ve never been caught in a torrential downpour — so I won’t claim to say my one has been through it’s paces on this front.
The material used is also stretchy — providing unrestricted mobility. For me this was a key selling point — when I’m scrambling over rocks, or climbing steep slopes, I don’t want my movement to be restricted in any way; the jacket delivers on this front.
Finally, the hood is large enough to go over helmets or large hats, with a drawcord that can be pulled tight to provide an appropriate fit. And the cuffs have a velcro strap to tighten them — preventing water ingress around the wrists; I find this really valuable in winter as it prevents cold air going down and into my gloves.
Waterproof Trousers — Patagonia Men’s Torrentshell 3L Pants
Overtrousers — like a waterproof jacket — are used to keep us dry, and on a windy day, keep us warm. These again are an essential bit of kit in the rucksack in Scotland.
As with the jacket, I won’t claim to know how they perform in the worst conditions — as I’ve never used them in a torrential downpour.
What I can say is that these are great to take on and off — something that’s important when you need to put them on in a hurry. The side zips go all the way u to the waist, so no need to take off hiking boots to get them on.
And — as with my hiking trousers — I’ve taken a tumble in these on a gravel surface. I was expecting to look down and see ta the knees had torn, but they held up well.
The chances of getting caught in a rain storm in the Scottish hills is relatively high, so I opted for a GORE-TEX® glove — waterproof. After further research, mittens are a warmer glove. But I wanted the dexterity that I don’t think mittens provide. The weather can change quickly in Scotland, thick fog can shroud the mountains. With the dexterity I can use my map and compass with ease.
And a unique feature that I get great value from is the soft material on the outside of the thumb, providing a soft material to wipe my nose with — runny noses on the Scottish mountains are common.
Hiking Boots — Solomon Mens Quest 4 GTX Hiking Boot
Hiking in the Scottish mountains with trainers is possible — but not advisable; there are sections of walks that require one to scramble over large rocks — one misplaced step in the wrong footwear and a broken ankle could be the result. And rain is not an unlikely event in Scotland — nobody wants cold feet! Finally, although many paths are innocuous, many are not; without the right grip on the soles, you could take a tumble.
After some extensive online research, I purchased the highly rated Solomon Mens Quest 4 GTX Hiking Boot — I’ve been really impressed.
Even on really cold days in the hills, my feet have been kept super warm. And in terms of comfort, I didn’t even need to break these boots in — regardless of the terrain, these boots provide a comfortable ride.
I’ve had a few close calls where my foot placement hasn’t been optimal, but these boots — with a higher ankle — have provided great ankle support. And I’ve hiked through extensively boggy terrain — importantly my feet have been kept dry.
Backpack — Men’s Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack
You’re half way into your long day hike — or even worse, half way into a multi-day hike — and your back is killing you. This happened to me on a regular basis until I made the decision to invest in a quality backpack.
And because the weather in Scotland is so unpredictable, when I head out on a long hike into the mountains, I need to prepare for the worst — this means additional weight. Even on a warm day when the skies are clear, I still need to pack additional layers — especially my waterproofs. Not only does this result in additional weight, it requires space too.
There’s a theme throughout my selections — the brands stand by their products, and they’re aligned with my values when it comes to protecting the environment; it’s the environment that gives me so much fulfilment, and I want to do my part in protecting it for future generations.
Here’s what Osprey say, “Should you find any defect in the way your pack has been built, we will repair or replace it without any charge, within its reasonable lifetime…As part of our commitment to protecting the environment we always strive, whenever possible, to repair products rather than replace them”.
When hiking in Scotland between May and late September, thoroughly prepare yourself for the wrath of the midge — Scotland’s nippiest creature! Failing to protect yourself could result in hell as opposed to heaven; they ruined what should have been an incredible weekend for me — read about it here.
Midge repellant is no guarantee that you’ll avoid being bitten, but it’s better than nothing. To learn more about the dreaded midge, and how to best prepare yourself, I’ve found the Smidge website to be a great resource — they even run a midge forecast between May and September.
This simple piece of kit will keep the midges out of your face; not something I’ve found of great value when I’m actively walking, but when I sit down for a break, it allows me to rest in peace. And when I’m camping, this is a great way to protect myself as I pack away the tent — basically, if you’re not moving at a decent pace, it stops the midges from biting your face.
Map Case — Aquapac Waterproof Map Case
By no means an essential, but a waterproof map case is good to have when you need to navigate in the pouring rain.
Compass — Silva Compass Expedition 4-360
There’s no question that smartphones and other GPS devices are easier to use than conventional navigation skills. But, what happens if these devices run out of battery, malfunction, or are are lost? Just last week some water found its way into my iPhone and it didn’t turn on for a few hours.
Personally I use a compass and map to navigate, and then check my smartphone to confirm my decisions are correct.
My compass of choice is the Silva Compass Expedition 4-360. I use Harvey maps — designed specifically with the needs of walkers in mind, using a sophisticated range of symbols to provide the walker with additional information about the terrain. And these maps use a waterproof finish — really good for durability. As these maps use a 1:40,000 scale — unlike OS maps at 1:50,000 — I needed a compass that could be used for either or, and this compass achieves that.
Someone stranded is much easier to rescue when they can be clearly heard. With this whistle you can alert any potential rescuer or another member of your group to your whereabouts.
Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder — Osprey 2L Hydraulics Reservoir
Carrying water is essential — either a water bottle or a hydration bladder. Personally, I find it much easier to drink water using a hydration bladder — and if it’s easier to use, I’m more likely to drink enough water.
Water filter — Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Swift-running streams in the Scottish mountains provide water that is safe to drink — however, first check for any dead animals upstream. But because I camp on lower grounds — near other campers — I stay on the safe side and use a water filter. This prevents me having to use fuel to boil my water.
Survival Bag — Lifesystems Unisex’s Survival Bag
Because the weather in Scotland is so unpredictable, it’s important to prepare for the worst. The Lifesystems Survival Bag is lightweight but tough, bright orange plastic bag that is designed to offer protection from the elements in the event of an accident, trauma or exposed situation. It also helps radiant body heat and reduces wind chill.
The generous dimensions allow you to create a hood when wrapped around the head and at a push two people would fit within this bag. On the outer surface SOS instructions are printed across the bag and the bright orange colour will enable you to be seen in poor weather conditions. Alternatively, the bag is a useful storage aid for keeping hiking or climbing gear dry.
First Aid Kit — Lifesystems Trek First Aid Kit
This isn’t an essential until you really need it — I’ve carried one in my bag for over a year now and only had to use the blister plasters. However, it’s worth carrying because if you do need it, you’ll be glad you’ve got it.
I actually carry the Lifesystems Explorer First Aid kit, but in hindsight I would’ve preferred to own the Trek First Aid Kit — I think the Explorer kit is overkill, and it adds more weight and bulk. Ultimately this decision comes down to how much peace of mind you want.
Head Torch — PETZL Actik Core Headlamp
Most hikers don’t plan to be hiking in darkness, but it can happen unexpectedly; read about my experience with this here. And when you’re hiking in the dark — light is essential; we need it to navigate, get something from our backpacks, and communicate with search and rescue teams — hopefully not something you ever need to do.
I opted for this Petzl model because it can be powered using conventional batteries or a rechargeable lithium battery — charged using a USB cable; this is really useful for multi-day hikes.
Insulated Water Bottle — Yeti Rambler 36 OZ Bottle with Chug Cap
Although not an essential, a warm drink during a cold walk can really raise morale — and your temperature if you’re feeling cold. And an insulating water bottle also keeps cold drinks cold on a hot day.