How to Train for the GR20

While the GR20 gets a lot of hype for its spectacular beauty (and it doesn’t disappoint), it’s perhaps even better known for earning the title of being the “toughest trek…

While the GR20 gets a lot of hype for its spectacular beauty (and it doesn’t disappoint), it’s perhaps even better known for earning the title of being the “toughest trek in Europe.” There is no doubt that hiking the GR20 is an exceptionally challenging endeavor, but it’s not one that is reserved only for the superhuman elites. Nearly any healthy hiker with a decent fitness base can successfully complete the GR20, given they are willing to put in the work to get physically prepared.

Let’s be really clear about this: the GR20 is not a trek that you should attempt without proper training and preparation.

A rocky mountainside on the GR20
You’ll be glad you trained your body and mind to handle tough terrain like this.

 

Trying to “wing it” on the GR20 will set you up for a miserable and potentially unsafe experience. On the other hand, put in the work ahead of time and you’ll have an exponentially more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Here’s a few reasons why that’s true:

  • You’ll be able to focus on the beauty of your surroundings instead of the pain and fatigue in your body.
  • You’ll eliminate the unnecessary stress of falling behind schedule due to spending longer-than-anticipated days on the trail.
  • By taking the time to prepare in advance, you’ll enjoy the anticipation of your upcoming trip and completing your trek will be immensely more rewarding.
  • You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.

So keep reading to learn how to train for the GR20, and then get started! Your future self will thank you.

What’s in this post?

A high rocky path on the GR20
High up on the GR20.

How difficult is the GR20?

There’s no doubt about it- the GR20 is a challenging trek. Some of the major factors that contribute to its difficulty are the large amount of scrambling, steep ascents and descents, overall distance, heat and weather, and exposed nature of the trail. We believe that most reasonably fit people can complete the GR20, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should.  You’re much, much more likely to actually enjoy it if you are in good hiking shape and have backpacking experience. Most of the scrambling is pretty manageable; it is just tricky and awkward at times and can become tiring after you’ve been at it for awhile. If you are judicious about avoiding storms and careful on exposed sections, it really isn’t much more dangerous than other hikes. 

For an in-depth look at the various challenges of the GR20, be sure to check out this post.

A hiker uses a fixed chain to scramble up a rocky section of the GR20
Fixed cables and chains like this one can help on tricky sections.

I don’t live near mountains…Will I be able to get fit enough?

Okay, so hopefully the first section of this post convinced you that yes you CAN complete the GR20, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like many people who aspire to trek the GR20, you don’t have trails in your backyard on which to complete said training. If that’s your situation, don’t despair. We’ve known plenty of people who’ve become incredibly strong hikers without the benefit of mountain training. Here are some ideas for flatlanders:

  • Use the stairclimber machine at your local gym. Go slow, as this torture device machine definitely induces greater perceived exertion than most sections of the GR20.
  • Walk or run up and down the stairs at a nearby high school stadium or similar venue.
  • Get on a treadmill and walk at a brisk pace. Play around with setting the incline to a variety of levels, ranging from 5-12%.
  • Many bridges make excellent artificial hills. Make sure the one you choose has a safe pedestrian area and then walk back and forth across that sucker a bunch of times. Sure, it’s not the most exciting option, but consider it an opportunity to build both physical strength and mental fortitude.

As much as possible, complete the above activities while wearing a weighted pack similar to the one you plan on hiking with. Commit to one or more of these moves and you might be shocked at the high level of hiking fitness you can build without ever leaving sea level.

Lac de Nino
Lac du Nino makes a lovely lunch stop and provides a very rare flat stretch of trail.

Adapting the GR20 for Varying Ability Levels

Unfortunately, the GR20 is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations.  Most sections that don’t allow for shortcuts or detours and the ones that do exist can be less than perfect.  That being said, it is still possible to complete significant portions of the hike, even if you’re not able to do the whole thing. If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If possible, consider adding an extra day or cutting out a segment to reduce the average distance you’ll need to cover each day.
  • Use a luggage transfer service to eliminate the extra demands of carrying your heavy pack (note that these do not service all stops along the GR20 and require you to take a different route at times)
  • Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Vizzavona is the best option.  See our logistics article for more information about luggage transfers, rest days, and detour options.
  • Enlist a few friends or family members to come with you and rent a car. You can alternate between hiking and driving the support vehicle to customize the amount of time spent on your feet.  Plus, you’ll still be able to enjoy much of the same spectacular Corsican scenery from the road.
  • Plan to only complete the GR20 Sud. While still plenty challenging, the southern half of the GR20 is generally less strenuous and closer to civilization than the GR20 Nord
A rocky ridge on the GR20 Nord.
A typical section of “trail” on the GR20 Nord.

Basic GR20 Training Plan

Six Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Build Your Endurance Base

You should be prepared to spend many long days on the trail while hiking the GR20. Most walkers complete their trek in 13-16 days, meaning they’ll need to average around 11 kilometres (7 miles) per day. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, remember that it is slow and tiring to move across much of the terrain encountered on this trek. To prepare for extended periods of hiking, you should try to build a solid foundation of aerobic endurance. So what does that actually mean? Simply put, your body needs to be accustomed to sustaining low(ish)-intensity exercise for longer than an hour.

Like a lot of training, the best way to get your body used to moving for a long time is -you guessed it- to regularly move for extended periods of time. You can achieve this in a lot of different ways, but the important factor is that you’re frequently and consistently doing cardio exercise. Aerobic activity (AKA “cardio”) includes things like jogging, cycling, walking, swimming, using the elliptical machine, or anything else that requires moderate, sustained exertion (your heart rate should be elevated, but you should be able to maintain a conversation and keep up the activity for at least 30 minutes).

Starting six months prior to your GR20 trek, aim to complete 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-5 times per week. If your fitness regimen already includes this kind of thing, just keep on keeping on!

Hiker crosses a large rock slab on Stage 14 of the GR20
All smiles and fresh legs 11 days into the trek!

Three Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Build Your Strength

In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should begin to increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to continue to build your aerobic endurance while also training your leg muscles for long-distance hiking. If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline; bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline (4-12% grade), or spend some time on the step machine at your gym.  Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to.

Additionally, now is the time to start incorporating a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Many hikers neglect strength training for any number of reasons; they don’t think they need it, they don’t know how, they don’t have time, or they just find it boring (this last one is the favorite excuse of yours truly!) However, strength training plays a huge role in giving you the power needed to tackle hard climbs, build stability, stay light on your feet, and prevent injury. You don’t need to spend a ton of time in the gym to get results, either. Even just a few minutes a week in the comfort of your home can make a world of difference.

Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build GR20-ready legs:

  • 10 goblet squats (with medium weight)
  • 10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase the challenge)
  • 10 step-ups on each leg (weights optional)

Complete three sets of each exercise. For extra credit, try to incorporate some core strengthening exercises (such as planks) into your routine.

Clouds surround a peak on Stage 15 of the GR20
The pay-off for all of that training? Enjoying views like this!

Two Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Put on Your Pack

Remember all of that brand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try to get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible.  Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack.  If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight. This is especially true when it comes to navigating the awkward scrambles that are plentiful on the GR20.

Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack. The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! In the two months before your GR20 trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike every week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your GR20 hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometres (5-10 miles) long with 500 meters (1,500 feet) of elevation gain. If that’s not possible, try to complete a weekly long walk (5-10 miles) while wearing your pack and with as many hills as possible (see the previous section for more ideas on this). As an added bonus, these hikes/walks are a great opportunity to start breaking in new hiking boots and other gear.

Important Reminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections, simply replacing one of your weekly aerobic workouts with a long hike. 

Goats on the GR20 trail
Optional training exercise: channeling your inner Corsican mountain goat.

One Month Before Your GR20 Trek: Time for a Test Run (Hike)

This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods.  If you aren’t planning on camping along the GR20, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking.

This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to hiking consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.

Keep up your established aerobic and strength training until 10 days to one week before the hike. In the last week before your trip, continue doing some light cardio and strength, but take extra rest days and don’t do any big, challenging hikes so your body is fresh for your upcoming adventure. Upon arriving in Corsica, try to give yourself a day or two to rest and acclimate before starting your trek. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your GR20 trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!

Disclaimer: This training plan  is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor is it a replacement for seeking medical treatment or professional nutrition advice. Do not start any nutrition or physical activity program without first consulting your physician.

The mountains are waiting for you!

Ready to keep planning your GR20 adventure?

No Comments on How to Train for the GR20

The GR20: How Difficult is it?

So how tough is Europe’s toughest trek? Short answer: pretty tough. And what about the GR20 makes it hard? Short answer: lots of things. Medium answer: the physical challenges, the…

So how tough is Europe’s toughest trek? Short answer: pretty tough. And what about the GR20 makes it hard? Short answer: lots of things. Medium answer: the physical challenges, the sheer length of the trek, the weather conditions, and the technical nature of the trail (Keep reading for the long answer).

What’s in this post?

 

Map of the GR20 in Corsica.

The GR20 takes trekkers across the island of Corsica.

 

The GR20 in numbers:

Total distance: 182 kilometers (113 miles)

Total elevation gain: 10,500 meters (34,500 feet- that’s about the same as climbing to the top of Mt. Everest from base camp three times!)

Average Daily distance*: 11.3 kilometers (7 miles)

Average daily elevation gain*: 655 meters (2,150 feet)

*Averages are based on a traditional 16-day itinerary

Read More: GR20 Maps

 

Hardest Sections of the GR20

On long treks, sometimes the toughest times come when we’re least expecting them: the “easy day” that feels endless, the downhill cruise that crushes our knees, or that chilly morning that we can’t summon up the willpower to unzip our sleeping bag. Those moments will undoubtedly occur on your GR20 adventure, adding a little spice and character-building to the experience (how’s that for a positive spin?) That being said, in addition to the parts that are personally challenging, there are sections of the GR20 that are universally tough for everyone.

It’s important to get physically and mentally prepared for these sections, but you shouldn’t be too intimidated. The purpose of sharing this information is certainly not to scare you, but to give you an idea of what to expect so you can approach your trek feeling prepped and confident. We’ve listed these in order by stage (not toughness), assuming you’re hiking in the traditional north-south direction.

Read More: Check out our Trip Report for an honest, in-depth account of our experience on the GR20.

The ridge walk between Bocca Piccaia and Bocca Carozzu (Stage 2): This is the first of many long, slow, and undulating ridge walks and arguably one of the hardest. Be prepared for lots of scrambling.

The Spatismata Slabs (Stage 3): Perhaps the most infamous of the entire trek, the so-called “Slabs of Doom” have the reputation for being sketchy and vertigo-inducing. These large, steep rock slabs are fitted with cables in many places. If you’re heading uphill, they actually aren’t too scary, but downhill hikers have reported feeling uncomfortable with the steep grade. The slabs can be extremely slippery and dangerous when wet.

Ascent to Pointe des Eboulis (Stage 4): Pointe des Eboulis is the highest point on the entire GR20 trek, and getting to it is no small feat. The ascent is long, very steep, and requires some pretty technical scrambling on the final push to the top. Additionally, in our opinion Stage 4 is the toughest stage overall, so your effort on the ascent is compounded by the other challenging aspects of the day.

View from Bocca Piacca Stage 2 GR20

The view from Bocca Piacca.

 

Ascent to Bocca a e Porte and ridgewalk to Bocca Muzzella (Stage 7): These sections are very characteristic of the GR20 Nord. Expect a very steep and strenuous climb followed by a long, slow ridge walk with lots of scrambling.

Descent into Vizzavona (Stage 9): If you don’t think hiking downhill can be hard, think again. Stage 9 entails nearly 5,000 feet of elevation loss, much of that on steep and stony paths. It’s a physical and mental grind, but the small luxuries waiting in Vizzavona make it all worthwhile.

Monte Renosu high-level variante (Stage 11): This optional alternate route is pretty straightforward on the initial ascent to the summit of Monte Renosu, but the following section requires some pretty technical scrambling and good navigation skills (the route is not well-marked).

Stage 12: Those who claim that the southern half of the GR20 is easy fail to take this stage into account. If you didn’t make it to Refuge de Prati on the previous day, you have a big ascent to start the day. Then there is a long, slow ridge walk in the middle, followed by yet another challenging climb and a final, maddeningly rocky descent.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to the GR20

Sunrise on the Spasimata Slabs

Sunrise on the way up to the Spatismata Slabs.

 

Does it matter which direction I hike the GR20?

The traditional GR20 route starts in Calenzana in the north, passes through the midpoint in Vizzavona, and finishes in Conca in the south. However, it is possible to hike in either direction. The northern half of the GR20 has a reputation for being the toughest, while the southern half is a bit gentler. Some trekkers prefer to start in the south to get accustomed to the trail before tackling the tougher sections in the north. Others would rather start in the north in order to put the biggest days behind them early and do so with fresh legs.

So in terms of difficulty, one way isn’t significantly more or less challenging than the other. It is totally a matter of personal preference, although we hiked from north to south and would definitely recommend it. We benefited from the confidence boost that came with conquering the most challenging sections early on, and we felt the ascents and descents were more manageable in this direction. While slightly less people hike in the northbound direction, you probably won’t notice a significant difference in crowds since hikers headed both ways stay at the same refuges. 

Views of a sheer rock face from Refuge d'I Paliri

Views from Refuge d’I Paliri…Not a bad way to spend your last (or first) night on the trail!

 

Physical Challenges of the GR20

The GR20 does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. It is a very strenuous endeavor, with a staggering 34,500 feet or 10,500 meters of elevation change. When averaged out over the 16 stages, hikers have over 2,150 feet or 655 meters of elevation change to tackle per day. Many trekkers will complete the GR20 in fewer days, meaning they’ll have an even greater challenge! You’ll be carrying all of your necessities on your back and much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain, all of which add to the toll on your body.

One other consideration involves the health of your knees and overall leg strength. There are very long, steep descents on nearly every stage of the GR20, and these can create problems and irritate chronic injuries for those with sensitive knees, backs, and hips.

Read More: How to Train for the GR20

Hiker scrambling up a rocky gully on stage 2 of the GR20

Scrambling up a steep section on Stage Two.

Distance/Duration Challenges of the GR20

With a few exceptions (say, relaxing on a beach), it is difficult to get up and do the same activity all day every day for two weeks straight. Whether you complete the GR20 in twelve days or sixteen, that is a long time to be out there. Not only can the repeated long days on the trail wear you down physically, but they can also impact you mentally. Don’t despair- although the GR20’s length presents a major challenge, it is also one of the best parts. There is a beautiful and gratifying simplicity in the routines of life on the GR20, a simplicity you’ll likely yearn for long after your adventure ends.

Food and drink on the GR20

Enjoying the simple things on the GR20.

 

Weather Challenges of the GR20

No matter what time of year you choose to trek the GR20, weather conditions are more than likely to add to the challenge of your experience. The vast majority of hikers complete their trek in the summer months, which certainly has advantages (such as snow-free trails and stocked refuges). However, the heat can be absolutely brutal. Much of the trail is very exposed, meaning you’ll be laboring under the very strong Corsican sun. This increases your risk of dehydration and heatstroke and will totally sap your energy.

Additionally, the afternoon thunderstorms in July and August are nothing to take lightly. Lightning is especially dangerous when you’re on a high ridgeline or exposed peak. Fortunately, if you’re willing to get an early start, you can avoid the worst of the heat and get off the most exposed parts of the trail before the storms roll in.

Regardless of whether you choose to trek in May, July, or September, you will encounter weather elements that add to the challenge of the trek, be it gale-force winds, frigid mornings, glaring sun, or torrential storms. Get on the trail at sunrise, use good judgment, give the mountains the respect they deserve, and you’ll be just fine.

Sunrise on the GR20

One upside of unsettled mountain weather? Dramatically beautiful sunrises!

 

Technical Challenges of the GR20

In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also many sections of the GR20 that are technically difficult. This reality really begins to sink in when you look at the time estimates for some stages of the trek. For example, the time estimate for completing Stage 3 is 5.5 hours, and yet the distance covered is just 3.75 miles. How is it possible that it could take such a long time to go such a short distance? you might ask. Welcome to the GR20.

The GR20 is a very technical hike, but it is still a hike. There are no points where you’ll need to use ropes or climbing implements, but there are a few things that make it technical. First and foremost, many stages require quite a bit of scrambling. Think of scrambling as slightly less vertical rock climbing. It’s not like you’ll need to shimmy straight up a sheer rock wall, but you’ll need to use your hands and really lean into the rock to get up or down certain sections. Additionally, there are cables and chains fixed to the rock to help you navigate some areas. These can seem intimidating, but they’re actually not so bad. Finally, the trail conditions add to the overall technicality of the GR20. Much of the rock can become slippery and treacherous if wet, and other sections of trail are quite loose and stony.

A hiker uses a fixed chain to scramble up a rocky section of the GR20

Fixed cables and chains like this one can help on tricky sections.

Many stages of the GR20 (particularly on the GR20 Nord) follow a similar pattern: long steep ascent, undulating ridge walk with lots of scrambling, long steep descent. Despite the fact that the ascents can be tiring and the descents knee-crunching, they are relatively straightforward. The ridge walks, however, can be very slow and arduous, due to the amount of scrambling involved. If you keep your mental game strong, you will discover that scrambling is actually really FUN and one of the most unique and wonderful parts of the GR20 experience!

 

A GR20 hiker silhouetted in the sunset

 

The bottom line…

If you approach it with a solid fitness base and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the GR20. There’s no need to be too intimidated by this trek, but it’s a very good idea to train ahead of time, be realistic about your abilities and expectations, and use good judgment in the mountains.

Check out all of our great GR20 resources:

No Comments on The GR20: How Difficult is it?

West Highland Way | Maps

The West Highland Way meanders its way through the best of the Scottish Highlands. The route is typically completed in 8 stages, beginning in the town of Milngavie and finishing…

The West Highland Way meanders its way through the best of the Scottish Highlands. The route is typically completed in 8 stages, beginning in the town of Milngavie and finishing in Fort William. Covering 94 miles, the West Highland Way is a truly can’t miss experience in Scotland!

This post will provide all of the West Highland Way map and navigation resources you will need to familiarize yourself with the route, location, and all things map-related so you can be sure you’re ready to tackle this epic adventure!

In this post

Where is the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way winds from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, all the way to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. The route covers 94 miles and passes countless green pastures, serene lochs, and dramatic Highland scenery and is typically completed in 8 stages. Starting just outside of Glasgow makes getting to and from the trek a breeze. You can learn more about getting to/from the West Highland Way in our logistics article here. 

The West Highland Way is traditionally walked from south to north, although it is certainly possible to hike it from north to south. Following the traditional route, you’ll pass the iconic Loch Lomond, watch the landscape transform as you enter the Highlands, pass though the stunning Glencoe region, and finish near the base of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. The stages for the traditional south to north route are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Milngavie to Drymen
  • Stage 2: Drymen to Loch Lomond (Rowardennan)
  • Stage 3: Loch Lomond to Inverarnan
  • Stage 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
  • Stage 5: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
  • Stage 6: Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
  • Stage 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
  • Stage 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Did you know we offer West Highland Way trip planning support? Check out how we can help you below!

 
Map of the West Highland Way
 
 

Interactive West Highland Way Map

The interactive West Highland Way map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route. The map also displays the common alternate routes that are a part of the West Highland Way. You can click on each stage to see its total length, listed in both kilometres and miles.

 

How long is the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is approximately 94 miles or 151 kilometers long. This is based on following the traditional route from Milngavie to Fort William and not taking any of the possible alternates. Of course, many trekkers will opt to take side trips or shortcuts, which will lengthen or shorten the total distance, depending on the routes chosen. 

The maps below show the approximate distance of each stage in both miles and kilometres, giving you a sense of the distances encountered on each section of the West Highland Way. For more detail on each stage be sure to check out our interactive map in the section above!

West Highland way map miles

Approximate stage distances of the West Highland Way in miles.

 

West Highland Way map kilometress

Approximate stage distances of the West Highland Way in kilometres.

 

What is the elevation profile of the West Highland Way?

Over the 94 miles it takes to complete the West Highland Way, you’ll traverse nearly 13,000 feet or 3,960 meters of elevation change! Given that most trekkers will take 8 days to complete the trek, you’ll average around 1,625 feet or 500 meters of elevation change per stage.

Looking for a custom itinerary for the West Highland Way? We can help!

LEARN MORE 

Of course, the elevation gain and loss isn’t spread out evenly from stage to stage. You’ll have days with a tremendous amount of climbing and you’ll also have days with much less (although always some!). Surprisingly, the section of trail along Loch Lomond has some of the most elevation change of the entire trek, as the shoreline is constantly climbing or descending.

Given that the West Highland Way is a point to point trail (meaning it does not start and finish in the same location) you’ll lose a tad more elevation that you’ll gain over the course of the entire route.

The elevation profiles below, displayed in both imperial and metric units, will give you an overview of what each stage of the West Highland Way is like in terms of total elevation change and distance. Elevation is shown on the left side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 8-stage West Highland Way route, with the stop name shown at the top.

The steepness of the line between any two points reflects the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. So for instance you can see that the stage from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy is rather short in distance, while the stage from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven has a lot of elevation change.

When thinking about how many days or stages you’ll take to complete the West Highland Way be sure to reference these elevation profiles. They’ll give you a sense of how hard each day is and will let you see which stages may make sense to combine. Don’t forget, we can also help create a custom itinerary for your trip!

West Highland Way elevation profile

Elevation profile for the West Highland way in feet and miles.

 

West Highland Way elevation profile

Elevation profile for the West Highland way in meters and kilometers.

 

Which maps should I carry on the West Highland Way?

On the whole, the West Highland Way is very well marked and relatively easy to navigate. There are signposts bearing the trail icon at frequent intervals and at most junctions.  However, it can still be easy to get turned around, mixed up, and generally off the main trail in some capacity. You may find yourself walking in a steady rain, struggling to look up to find the trail, or simply have taken a wrong turn at the last trail junction. For this reason we highly recommend that all trekkers have some form of wayfinding for the West Highland Way.

When we hiked the West Highland Way we did not rely on traditional, paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred utilizing GPS maps on our phones to ensure we knew where the trail was as well as where we were in relation to it. Cell phone service is very limited along sections of the West Highland Way, so it is critical to have a good offline mapping app such as Gaia GPS to ensure you’ll be able to view the map at any point along the route.

With all this considered, we still recommend carrying a paper map, or map booklet. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery or you drop it in a puddle along the West Highland Way you’ll be glad you had your handy paper map to rely on.

There are several options available to ensure you have the entire West Highland way route covered via paper maps. 

We recommend the Cicerone West Highland Way map booklet, a convenient booklet that includes the entire West Highland Way in a pocket-sized book, or the West Highland Way Footprint Map, a more traditional folding map.

For those who have trekked in the United Kingdom before you’ll likely have used Ordnance Survey maps. These detailed maps provide an excellent level of detail for the West Highland Way, although you’ll need to carry six maps to cover the entire route:

Alternatively, the Ordnance Survey also offers a package of all six maps for a significant discount here.

In addition, a weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

Want custom GPS maps for your West Highland Way adventure? Learn more here!

LEARN MORE 

West Highland Way GPS/GPX

If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our West Highland Way GPS files for only $4.99. When you download the GPS files, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the West Highland Way as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.

If you want to learn how to use the GPS data to navigate on the trail, be sure to check out our post on How to Navigate on the West Highland Way.

You’ll be able to load the GPS file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!

Map of the West Highland Way

BUY NOW

West Highland Way map app/offline mapping

As mentioned above we utilized offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while hiking the West Highland Way. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also isn’t reliant on a cell phone signal to display the map.

Our How to Navigate on the West Highland Way post has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your West Highland Way map. This step-by-step article will teach you how to quickly and easily turn your phone into a GPS device.

Want more West Highland Way content?

Be sure to check out all of our great West Highland Way content including packing listscamping guides, and much more. We also have a FREE West Highland Way Starter Kit and comprehensive West Highland Way planning service that we know you’ll love!

LEARN MORE

 

No Comments on West Highland Way | Maps

Get Your FREE TMB Starter Kit!

This 10-page booklet will help you jumpstart the planning process for your Tour du Mont Blanc adventure. Our printable guide covers all of the need-to-know basics about the trek, including…

TMB Starter Kit cover page

This 10-page booklet will help you jumpstart the planning process for your Tour du Mont Blanc adventure. Our printable guide covers all of the need-to-know basics about the trek, including accommodation, when to hike, food and drink, typical costs, packing lists, and more!

Enter your email address to receive our awesome starter kit.

No Comments on Get Your FREE TMB Starter Kit!

Get Your FREE West Highland Way Starter Kit!

This 10-page booklet will help you jumpstart the planning process for your West Highland Way adventure. Our printable guide covers all of the need-to-know basics about the trek, including accommodation,…

This 10-page booklet will help you jumpstart the planning process for your West Highland Way adventure. Our printable guide covers all of the need-to-know basics about the trek, including accommodation, when to hike, food and drink, budgeting, packing lists, and more!

Enter your email address to receive our awesome starter kit.

No Comments on Get Your FREE West Highland Way Starter Kit!

How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

If you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure, you’ve got a lot to think about.  You’ll need to pack the right gear, get in shape for the long days of…

If you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure, you’ve got a lot to think about.  You’ll need to pack the right gear, get in shape for the long days of walking, make an itinerary, and figure out your travel logistics.  Before you start all of that, however, you may be a little anxious about how much it’s all going to cost. Traveling in the United Kingdom has the reputation for being very expensive, and that’s generally true, but it is still very possible to have an amazing West Highland Way trek without selling your firstborn child to be able to afford it.

One of the best parts about the West Highland Way for walkers on a tighter budget is that there are camping options on every stage of the trek, a few of them even being free. True, some of the campgrounds charge a rather steep fee for the ability to pitch your tent on their midgy, bumpy plot of grass, but relative to other accommodation options, camping is by far the best option and will allow you to keep your overall costs quite low. And, to be fair, the campgrounds are quite lovely; many offer hot showers, nice restaurants, wifi, drying rooms, and other amenities. If camping, you can also stay within a small budget by cooking most of your meals. If sleeping indoors in a bed is more your style, the West Highland Way offers a wide range of accommodation for budgets of all sizes.  The same goes for food and other services.

Below we’ve outlined what we spent on our West Highland Way adventure (updated for 2020 prices). We hope that by sharing this information, our fellow hikers will be able to plan and budget more accurately for their own trip. Additionally, you might find that a trip like the WHW is more within reach than you originally thought if you just make a few intentional decisions when planning your travel. So grab your tent and get out there!

If you’re interested in camping on the WHW, be sure to check out our ultimate camping guide. It’s guaranteed to save you tons of time and money!

West Highland Way camping guide

LEARN MORE
 

Accommodation

We chose to camp every night of the West Highland Way and highly recommend it for a number of reasons. Many of the campgrounds were quite luxurious, with amenities such as hot showers and wifi. We preferred the privacy of our tent over the dorm-style sleeping arrangements of bunkhouses and hostels. And of course, the price of camping can’t be beat! Depending on how your itinerary shakes out, there are also several bothies that provide a free and authentic WHW accommodation option. Finally, we stayed in Airbnb’s the night before we started our hike and the night we finished.  If it works with your budget, you’ll greatly appreciate these little slices of luxury on the bookends of your hike.

  • Average campsite: £10 (per person)
  • Bed in a bunkhouse or hostel: £20 (per person)
  • Private room in a guesthouse & breakfast: £50 (per person)
  • Airbnb in Edinburgh before the hike: £100 per night
  • Airbnb in Fort William: £80 – £100 per night

 

West Highland Way lodging

Lodging options abound on the West Highland Way

Transit

It’s a quick and easy trip to get from Glasgow to the start of the walk in Milngavie. We traveled to the hike from Edinburgh, which was also very efficient. Upon finishing in Fort William, if you’d like to return to Glasgow, you can either take a bus or a train. The bus is cheaper, but the train is very scenic, as it follows the West Highland Way for much of the way. If you choose to splurge on the train, make sure to buy your tickets well in advance. The price increases significantly as you get closer to your departure date.

  • Train from Edinburgh to Milngavie: £14 (per person)
  • Train from Glasgow to Milngavie: £5 (per person)
  • Bus from Glasgow to Milngavie: £3 (per person)
  • Train from Fort William to Glasgow: £25 (per person, purchased 90 days in advance)
  • Bus from Fort William to Glasgow:£20 (per person)

Flights

We strategically used credit card points and miles in order to fly from Denver to Edinburgh for nearly free. Read more about how we did it here.

Airline Taxes and Fees (roundtrip): $189.36 (for two people)

Food and Drink

Instead of spending a small fortune on restaurant dinners or fancy freeze-dried backpacker meals, we preferred to stock up on lightweight, nutritious, and tasty dry goods from the local grocery stores to fuel us along the West Highland Way. We tended to eat ramen noodles, mac’n cheese, or instant curry pots for most dinners. The shops we encountered along the trail had excellent cheap, fresh sandwiches, which were a welcome treat when we were able to get our hands on them.   For lunches, we snacked on a trail mix blend that we made from salted peanuts and raisins that stockpiled whenever we found them at a reasonable price along the route. For breakfast, we ate muesli with powdered milk and instant coffee.

Occasionally, we’d pick up some fruit from a local shop, and we also enjoyed our fair share of post-hike french fries. These foods kept us feeling full throughout long days of hiking, and we found them to be more enjoyable than the space-age style backpacker meals. Plus, they were a fraction of the price!

On average, we spent about £9-13 per person, per day on our food and drink.

Of course, we allowed ourselves frequent treats along the way, too. Here’s what you can expect to pay on average for the following indulgences:

  • Pint of Beer:£5 – £7
  • Meal at a local pub: £15
  • Coffee/Tea: £3

Many of the campsites have lovely bar/restaurants

Miscellaneous

  • Stove Fuel: £7
  • Laundry: £4 (for wash and dry)

 

LEARN MORE
 

What’s next?

Ready to keep planning your West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

6 Comments on How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

How to Navigate on the West Highland Way | GPS Maps

The West Highland Way winds through some of the most spectacular and varied scenery that Scotland has to offer. You’ll pass through green pastures, walk along the beautiful Loch Lomond,…

The West Highland Way winds through some of the most spectacular and varied scenery that Scotland has to offer. You’ll pass through green pastures, walk along the beautiful Loch Lomond, and take in incredible Highland vistas. While this incredible variety of landscapes undoubtedly has you excited for your adventure, it might also make you wonder how you’ll ever navigate the West Highland Way. Should you bring a map? Is the trail well marked? How will you find all the campgrounds you’re staying at?

This post will explain how we navigated on the West Highland Way, including which maps to bring, the tools we used, and even some custom resources for those using our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way. Let’s get started.

Map of the West Highland Way

The West Highland Way winds its way north from Milngavie to Fort William

 

In this Post

LEARN MORE
 

Should I bring a map?

This is one of the questions we get most often from readers who are getting ready to head out on the West Highland Way. They’ve heard that the trail is very well marked, well maintained, and that hikers are rarely far from a road of town (all of which are true). However, our answer is always a resounding YES- you should bring a map with you on the West Highland Way!

As you’ll read below we relied heavily on our smartphone’s GPS features and a handy app that allows you to navigate even without cell phone service. It’s a great system and one we highly recommend, but we would have been out of luck if our battery died or a torrential downpour rendered our phones useless. In some situations, there is nothing more useful than an old fashioned paper map to help you find your way and ensure that you have a great West Highland Way experience. We recommend the Cicerone West Highland Way map booklet, a convenient booklet that includes the entire West Highland Way in a pocket-sized book, or the West Highland Way Footprint Map, a more traditional folding map.

Now that you’ve got your maps safely tucked away in your pack in case of emergency, let’s get started learning how to harness the power of your smartphone to navigate your way to a successful West Highland Way walk!

Offline GPS maps for the West Highland Way

An offline mobile map of the West Highland way is one of the easiest ways to navigate while you’re on the trail. You’ll simply open up your chosen GPS app (more on that below) and be able to view your location as well as the trail, alternate routes, and stopping points along the West Highland Way. We utilized this to find our campgrounds, check that we were still on the route, and know how far we had hiked at any point in the day.

We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the WHW and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your own trek. Keep reading below to learn more about how your phone can work as a GPS and how we can help you feel confident using this navigation method.

Using your smartphone as a GPS

If you’re anything like us, you use your smartphone’s mapping capabilities on a daily basis. Whether it’s checking how bad the traffic is, consulting the bus schedule, or looking up the best bike route, apps like Google Maps provide tremendous value for navigating our world.

These apps work by using the GPS location data that your phone provides, combined with a base map that shows you the surrounding context. You need both of these features (the GPS location + the base map) in order for the mapping app to be useful. Normally, your phone is able to source the base map information by utilizing  an internet connection or cellular data. This works great in most situations, but won’t help you when you’re hiking along the shores of Loch Lomond without cell phone service. In that case, all Google Maps will be able to show you is this:

Blank TMB map

Not a very effective way to navigate

In order to use the incredibly useful GPS functions on our phones to navigate in more remote areas (like the West Highland Way) we have to solve the base map problem.

The solution?

GPS navigation apps that allow us to download base maps ahead of time. These apps allow you to select the area you’ll need to access and download the base map directly to your phone. Then, when you’re without cell phone service, the app will pull up the downloaded base map and be able to show you exactly where you are on the trail!

Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work without incurring any “roaming” charges. In the next section I’ll show you exactly how to set up your phone to navigate on the West Highland Way.

West Highland Way Maps – What we provide

For those looking for West Highland Way GPS resources, we offer a complete mapping digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire West Highland way route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional, 8-day itinerary.

For those who aren’t following this standard 8-day itinerary, we offer a number of solutions to help you navigate on the West Highland Way. From our detailed Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way to custom itineraries we’re here to help!

LEARN MORE

 

Which app should I use?

There are two main offline GPS navigation apps that we recommend for those hiking the West Highland Way: Maps.me and Gaia GPS. The main difference between the two apps is that Maps.me is free to download and use, but has limited base maps. On the other hand, Gaia GPS requires a $19.99 annual subscription to use but has superior offline base maps and more robust navigational tools. Check out the comparison below to see how a specific section of the West Highland Way displays in each of the apps.

As you can see, Maps.me can easily display the route as well as location markers along the way. However, the same section of trail displayed in Gaia GPS gives the user much more information such as adjacent trails, topographic lines, and elevation shading. For this reason, we highly recommend you invest the $20 to use Gaia GPS, although we certainly understand those who prefer to use a free option. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the West Highland Way for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.

Using Gaia GPS for your West Highland Way map

The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom West Highland Way GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.

Step One – Download the West Highland Way GPS file (either .kml or .gpx)

When you purchase our West Highland Way GPS download or one of the premium versions of our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .GPX or .KML file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Gaia GPS, which you should do.

Gaia GPS will then import the data and you should see the West Highland Way route and waypoints for your specific itinerary displayed on the map.

West Highland Way - Gaia GPS

Success! You’ve imported the West Highland Way GPS data in Gaia GPS.

 

Step Two – Choose your map source
Next, you’ll want to select your base map. This will be the background map that you will eventually download and use to navigate while hiking, even without cell phone service. There are tons of background maps available for download, but we highly recommend the “Outdoor” layer for those hiking the West Highland Way. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.

 

Step Three – Navigate to the West Highland Way and download your background map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the West Highland Way. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know your exact location on the trail when you don’t have cell phone service. To download the map background data, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the West Highland way in Gaia GPS
  2. Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right hand corner)
  3. Select ‘Download Map’
  4. Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire West Highland Way
  5. Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
  6. Name your map ‘West Highland Way’ and select ‘Save’
  7. Allow the download to complete and you’re done! (you’ll want to be connected to WiFi for this)

That’s it! Now you’re all set to navigate on the West Highland Way like a pro with an offline GPS map in Gaia GPS. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the campgrounds along the route!

Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail

The final step for navigating like a pro on the West Highland Way is to know how to utilize the Gaia GPS app when you are out on the trail. To view your current location, simply select the location button on the top menu. At this point your phone will activate its GPS, and (providing you have a fairly clear view of the sky) in a few moments it will show you exactly where you are by displaying a yellow arrow.

Use this whenever you want to see how far you’ve gone, how much further you have left until your next stop, or if a fork in the road has you questioning the correct way.

NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you where you are, but will not necessarily point towards the direction you are actually facing. This is important to remember when you are orienting yourself!

Interested in camping along the West Highland Way? Our Premium Guide includes custom GPX data for your itinerary!

LEARN MORE
 

Maps.me GPS for your West Highland Way map

The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom West Highland Way GPS data we’ve created in Maps.me. Maps.me is an excellent free navigation app that allows you to download offline background data. As we noted above, downloading background data is the the key to successfully utilizing GPS to navigate on the WHW.

The primary shortcoming of  using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data. You won’t find detailed topographic lines, terrain shading, or other helpful features. However, we know that many trekkers will be just fine with Maps.me and you can’t beat the price! Here is your step-by-step guide to utilizing our West Highland Way GPS data with Maps.me:

Step One – Download the West Highland Way GPS file

When you purchase our West Highland Way GPS download or one of the premium versions of our Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the .KML file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. Be sure to select the .KML file as Maps.me cannot read .gpx files. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Maps.me, which you should do.

After opening the GPS file with Maps.me, the app will navigate to your current location and will also display a message stating that your bookmarks have successfully been loaded. You’ll need to move the map from your current location to the West Highland Way and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.

Step Two – Download the West Highland Way background maps

Once you have successfully loaded the West Highland Way GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the route as a base map in Maps.me. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know where exactly you are on the trail. To download the background map data in Maps.me, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the area of the West Highland Way in Maps.me
  2. Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
  3. You’ll need to download two distinct regions in Maps.me to cover the entire route. They are:
    1. Scotland – South
    2. Scotland – North
  4. Continue to zoom in on different segments of the trail until you have downloaded both of these regions
  5. Verify that you’ve downloaded all of the required base maps by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
  6. Once you’ve checked that both regions have been successfully downloaded you’re all done!

To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded both of the required base map regions in Maps.me follow these steps:

  1. Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
  2. Select ‘Download Maps’
  3. Select ‘United Kingdom”
  4. Select each country and verify that you have both of the following maps downloaded:
    1. Scotland – South
    2. Scotland – North

 

That’s it! You’re all set to navigate on the West Highland Way like a pro with an offline GPS map utilizing Maps.me. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the stopping locations along the route!

A note on battery life

One of the easiest ways for the app-navigation method to go awry is for your phone battery to die. I recommend two strategies to help prevent an unexpected dead battery from sabotaging your trip. The first is to ensure that you always exit the app before locking your phone. This will prevent the app from continually locating you, and thus draining your battery. You can also keep your phone on “airplane mode” to prevent it from wasting battery life while searching for cell service.

The second way to prevent a dead battery from causing problems is to carry a backup battery system. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth their weight in gold when you find yourself with a dying battery. I like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but any decent option should do.

LEARN MORE
 

What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

No Comments on How to Navigate on the West Highland Way | GPS Maps

Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel. For…

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel.

For our next adventure, we chose the West Highland Way (WHW), a 94-mile (151 km) trek that begins just outside of Glasgow, winds its way past the iconic Loch Lomond towards rugged moors and emerald hillsides, and ends in the stunning Highlands at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Ben Nevis, West Highland Way

The clouds parted momentarily to allow for a rare glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final stage of the WHW.

 

In addition to its dramatic beauty, the West Highland Way offers some other great perks:

  • Both ends of the hike are easily accessed by public transportation.
  • It can be completed in just over a week.
  • Services are widely available along the route, simplifying resupply and logistical considerations.
  • It’s possible to camp every night (many long-distance treks require at least one or two expensive hut stays).

If you haven’t considered camping, we are here to tell you that you should! Camping along the West Highland Way allowed us to meet so many great people from all over the world, sleep in stunning locations, keep our trip expenses very low, and earn the satisfaction of carrying everything we needed on our backs.

Convinced? Keep reading for everything you need to know to camp on the incredible West Highland Way!

 

Two tents and two chairs at a campground on the West Highland Way

Camping on the West Highland Way=living the good life!

 

For those who want the best information all in one place, you can purchase our printable Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way for less than $10! The Guide includes everything you’ll need to have an awesome experience on the WHW. Save yourself time and money with this amazing resource! 

Purchase your digital Guide for under $10 here

BUY NOW

What’s in this guide?

 

A hiker walks along the West Highland Way with views of Beinn Dorain in the distance.

The West Highland Way traverses a wide range of rugged and beautiful landscapes.

 

About the Hike

Many consider the West Highland Way to be one of the best long-distance hikes in all of Europe. This 94-mile (151 km) trek begins in Milngavie and stretches north to Fort William, encompassing an impressive variety of landscapes in between. The southern portion of the walk is characterized by bucolic pastoral landscapes, rolling green hillsides, and peaceful woodlands. The middle section of the walk traces the entire length of the storied Loch Lomond, allowing walkers to experience its wild, tangled shoreline. In the north, the Way traverses the best of the Scottish Highlands, one of Britain’s last remaining expanses of true wilderness. History, culture, natural beauty, and adventure-the West Highland Way truly has it all!

 

How long is the West Highland Way?

Distance: 94 miles (151 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: 13,000 feet (3,900 meters)

How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?

Most walkers take 6-9 days to complete the West Highland Way. If you want to hike the entire route in a week or less, be prepared to cover at least 15-20 miles each day. If you prefer to move at a more relaxed pace, your longest day need not exceed 15 miles with most days averaging around 10 miles. Our stage-by-stage camping guide (below) is written for a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary, but could be easily adapted for other lengths. We’ve made note of places where you could lengthen or shorten your itinerary in the stage-by-stage guide.

Read more: West Highland Way Trip Report

 

The path from Milngavie to Drymen on the West Highland Way

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Still trying to figure out your itinerary? Let us help!

LEARN MORE
 

When is the best time to hike the West Highland Way?

Although some hardy souls brave the wind, rain, cold, and snow to walk the West Highland Way during the winter months, most will prefer just the wind and rain of the spring/summer/autumn…and hopefully some sunny days too! When it comes to deciding when to complete your trek, you’ll need to consider factors such as weather, midges, and crowds.

April

Unpredictable weather, but few crowds and midges. Snow will likely remain in some areas. Be prepared for shorter days and therefore fewer daylight hours for walking.

May

May is a very busy time on the trail. Expect warm temperatures, wildflowers, relatively little rain, and few midges. You’ll need to book (non-camping) accommodation in advance.

June

Good weather, tolerable midges, and generally less crowded on the trail (compared to May). However, try to avoid walking during the Caledonian Challenge and the West Highland Way Race, both of which take place in June.

July & August

Crowds, midges, and rain are all plentiful during peak summer these months. It’s still very possible to have a wonderful time if you trek in July or August, just make sure you book your (non-camping) accommodation in advance and pack rain gear and a midge net!

September

This is a fabulous time to walk the WHW, although it can be quite wet. The trail is relatively quiet and the midges tend to be less of a problem later in the season. Be aware of the increasingly shorter days as the month progresses.

October

Early October can be a lovely time to trek, with beautiful fall colors painted across the woodlands and hillsides. However, the chance of colder, wetter weather increases with each day that passes. By the end of the month, the days will be short and the conditions are likely to be pretty rough.

Read more: Pack right and be prepared for all of the elements the WHW might throw at you!

 

A snow capped mountain on the West Highland Way

It’s possible that you’ll encounter snow in the Scottish Highlands from October through April.

 

How Difficult is the West Highland Way?

Because of its relatively low elevation and minimal technicality, the West Highland Way is a very approachable long-distance trek for the casual hiker. That being said, it’s still a serious feat of endurance that will push you to new limits. You won’t be required to traverse over high mountain passes or navigate steep ascents and descents each day, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy!  You’ll be covering long stretches of undulating terrain with a variety of underfoot conditions. The rough and rocky paths can be taxing on leg muscles and create a hotbed for blisters. However, if they train ahead of time and keep reasonable expectations, walkers of all ability levels should be able to complete the West Highland Way – and enjoy themselves while doing it!

What makes the West Highland Way a challenging trek?

  • Long distances covered each day
  • Potentially difficult weather conditions (wind, rain, heat, cold)
  • Rough underfoot conditions (such as large stones or wet paths)
  • Undulating hills

What makes the West Highland Way a beginner-friendly trek?

  • No major ascents or descents
  • Low elevation throughout (plenty of oxygen, unlike higher altitudes)
  • Frequent and plentiful services and accommodation
  • Options for transportation and luggage transfer

On a final note, believe us when we say that you will enjoy your trip infinitely more if you train ahead of time. This is even more true if you plan on camping (and carrying the heavier backpack that goes with it).

Check out our in-depth article on how to train for the West Highland Way. 

 

Approaching the Devil's Staircase climb on the West Highland Way

Approaching the Devil’s Staircase, the arguably the toughest climb on the trek.

 

Which Direction Should I Hike the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is traditionally walked from south to north, but you can easily trek in either direction. Advantages of the traditional south-north direction include having the wind at your back and finishing at the dramatic Ben Nevis. Riding the southbound train through the rugged Highland scenery upon completion of the WHW is a highlight for many trekkers.

Some walkers prefer to head from north-south to meet more new people on each stage and avoid crowds on the trail. Either direction you choose to walk, you’ll have plenty of accommodation options and easy connections to and from the trail. Our stage-by-stage camping guide is written for south-north trekkers, but can easily be reversed.

 

LEARN MORE

Weather

Where do we even begin when discussing the famous (er, infamous) Scottish weather? The temperamental and variable weather conditions are a quintessential part of any West Highland Way experience. Regardless of when you complete your trek, it is almost guaranteed to rain at some point. Even in the summer months, it’s common to encounter cold, gray, windy conditions, especially at higher elevations and further north along the trail.

Honestly, you should hope you’re lucky enough to experience some of these steely conditions; the rugged landscape looks its best when shrouded in a layer of dramatic clouds. That being said, don’t rule out the possibility of warm and sunny days. In July and August, it can get quite hot if the sun is shining.

Remember to give the elements the respect they deserve. From hypothermia to heatstroke, the conditions can be dangerous for unprepared walkers. Always check the weather forecast before you begin walking each day and air on the side of caution if you’re not sure if you should attempt to walk. There are plenty of local transport connections available if you need to detour or skip a section due to adverse conditions.

The old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to the West Highland Way.  If you have good waterproofs, plenty of layers, and some common sense, you’ll be able to savor all of the different elements the Highland weather gods throw at you.

The Met Office website is a good resource for detailed and accurate forecasts.

 

The walk towards Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Brooding skies on the walk towards Kinlochleven.

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the West Highland Way is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eight days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. You’ll be able to find food shops and/or restaurants on nearly every stop of the Way. We’ve noted the availability of these in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Even though food is abundant, make sure you plan accordingly, as there is quite a bit of variation in terms of what is available.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater with goods from the many shops you’ll pass. This will keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the West Highland Way.

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, guesthouses, and pubs serve meals. If staying indoors, check with your accommodation provider to see what they offer.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, be sure to enjoy a pint of ale, a hearty Scottish breakfast, a good cuppa, or any of the other numerous local specialties you’ll encounter along your trek.

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the West Highland Way are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs (make sure to ask in advance), that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.

Water

All of the hotels, guesthouses, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains or cafes that will fill your bottles for you, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first. We love using hydration bladders when walking, as they distribute the weight much better and encourage frequent and consistent hydration.

 

Glasses of beer on the West Highland Way

One of our favorite parts of hiking the West Highland Way!

 

Getting To and From the West Highland Way

Glasgow is the most common entry point for West Highland Way walkers traveling from abroad. While it’s possible to travel by foot from Glasgow to the official start in Milngavie, most hikers will opt for a faster method of transit. The easiest way to get from Glasgow to Milngavie is by taking one of the frequent trains that run between the two, but you can also take a public bus or a taxi.

On its northern end, the West Highland way terminates in Fort William. There are buses that run between Fort William and Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other popular destinations, but if you’re traveling to Glasgow we recommend taking the train. The railway between Fort William and Glasgow closely follows much of the West Highland Way, allowing hikers to retrace (or preview) their scenic journey.

For tons of detailed information about getting to and from the WHW (and other practical tips), be sure to read our West Highland Way Logistics article.

 

Wayfinding

On the whole, the West Highland Way is very well marked and relatively easy to navigate. There are signposts bearing the trail icon at frequent intervals and at most junctions. That being said, you absolutely need to bring a map. Furthermore, we strongly suggest using GPS to make your life easier and less stressful.

The trail passes through farmland, tangled forests, wild moors, and villages, with each landscape presenting its own wayfinding challenges. It’s remarkably easy to wander off course when you’re captivated by the scenery or deep in a daydream! Be prepared, pay attention, and you’ll be just fine.

The first step to being prepared? Read our awesome articles about navigating on the West Highland Way! We’ll even teach you how to turn your phone into a GPS device (no data required!)

How to Navigate on the West Highland Way

How to Find All of your Campgrounds on the West Highland Way

 

A wooden West Highland Way trail sign

The trail was well marked throughout.

 

Did you know that our Premium Camping Guide includes custom GPX files for your camping itinerary?

West Highland Way camping guide

LEARN MORE
 

Budgeting and Money

Cash, Credit, and Currency

Scotland uses the British pound and cash is king on the West Highland Way. There are no banks or ATMs directly along the route between Drymen and Tyndrum, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. Most small shops, pubs, and campgrounds require cash, although some larger supermarkets will accept major credit cards.

It will be important to estimate your daily expenses (allowing yourself a healthy cushion for unexpected costs) and to make sure you have enough money to cover you until the next ATM. Generally speaking, the West Highland Way is quite safe, but you should still make sure you carry your money on your person at all times and use common sense.

How much will this cost me?

While it’s true that Scotland is expensive, your West Highland Way adventure doesn’t have to be. Camping is by far the most economical way to trek the WHW. Hikers may be a little shocked by the high prices of some of the campgrounds along the Way, but they are still the best value around. Plus, many include hot showers, indoor lounges, and other small luxuries (and for the purists shaking their heads at this level of “glamping,” just see how you feel after walking in freezing rain all day or being attacked by midges!).

In addition to accommodation, food is the other major expense that can make or break a budget. If you mostly self-cater, you can keep your costs quite low. On the other hand, restaurant meals are very expensive and if you rely on them for most of your sustenance, you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny. Many campers are happy to strike a happy middle ground, cooking most meals but allowing themselves the occasional (or in our case frequent) pint and a well-earned Scottish delicacy (bannocks, anyone?) from time to time.

Read more: How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

A stone Bothy on the West Highland Way

Low budget accommodation on the West Highland Way!

 

What to Pack for the West Highland Way

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the inns, campgrounds, and villages along the way.

For a complete packing list, check out this comprehensive article on packing for the West Highland Way

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. If you’re new to backpacking and/or have chronic injuries, it’s especially important to keep it as light as possible. Fortunately, there are frequent re-supply points along the WHW, so you shouldn’t need to carry much food and water, even if you plan on self-catering. It is possible to use a transfer service to deliver your pack to each stopping point along the trail, although that kind of defeats the purpose of camping (check out our logistics article for more on luggage transfers).

 

A hiker on the shores of Loch Lomond, West Highland Way

Don’t forget to pack a pack cover and your trekking poles!

 

WHW MVG (most valuable gear)

Footwear

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the West Highland Way, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them before your trek in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the WHW! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly, muddy terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game-changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

The trail conditions on the West Highland Way are notorious for causing blisters. If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several practice hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the West Highland Way. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying indoors will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new pack, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Trekking Poles

These are a total game-changer on a tough walk like the West Highland Way. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Good Waterproofs

You are going to get rained on at some point while walking the West Highland Way- this is Scotland after all. We think the brooding weather adds to the magic of the hike. However, it can be pretty hard to fully appreciate that special type of magic when you’re trudging along for hours completely soaked to the bone. A good pair of rain pants and a quality, lightweight jacket can be the difference-maker between loving (or at least tolerating) and hating those damp, Scottish days.

Midge Net Hat

Midges, those tiny biting flies that come out in massive swarms that come our at dusk and in cloudy, still weather conditions, are an unfortunate reality on the West Highland Way. When they are bad, they are really, really bad. If you’re caught unprepared, they can drive you mad and threaten to ruin your day. Don’t let them! A good midge net is essential for keeping the nasty little guys out of your face. We particularly liked the wide brim hat model because it kept the net from touching our faces, giving us more breathing room and keeping the midges further away.

Whatever you do, get a good quality net that is specifically designed for midges. Our friends bought cheap insect nets and the holes in the mesh turned out to be too big. They ended up with midges getting trapped inside their nets! Learn from their mistake and make sure you invest in the right gear when it comes to this one.

Don’t forget to check out the ultimate West Highland Way packing list!

 

Our trusty packs and poles.

 

Electronics

Charging

Nearly all of the campgrounds along the West Highland Way will allow you to charge phones and other devices for free, as will many pubs and guesthouses. Outlets can be in high demand at campgrounds, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for your chance to charge. If you’re coming from outside of the United Kingdom, you’ll need to use a travel adapter. We like the kind with two USB ports built in to maximize our charging time. It’s not a bad idea to pack a battery backup if you will be relying on your phone for the GPS and camera.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the West Highland Way, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas, but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds, guesthouses, and pubs along the WHW now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it.

 

Wild Camping on the West Highland Way

Here’s what the walk’s official site, westhighlandway.org, says about wild camping:

“Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is permitted. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. Avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Leave no trace by: taking away all your litter, removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire and not causing pollution. Please also note that within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park camping byelaws operate between March and September.”

So to sum it up, wild camping is possible in many places along the Way. You don’t need a permit. However, keep a few things in mind:

  • It would be difficult to camp wild on the first stage of the walk, as there isn’t much public land in the southernmost section that would be suitable (most of the open land is working farmland). If you do decide to discreetly pitch a tent, try to get permission from the landowner first.
  • You cannot wild camp on the stretch of trail that runs along the shore of Loch Lomond between March and October. This is inside the national park and therefore has different rules.
  • The Rowchoish and Doune Bothies are simple, free options that may be appealing to campers. While not the same as the solitude of your tent, they offer many of the advantages of wild camping.
  • Always abide by Leave No Trace principles and show respect for the environment and local communities.

For more information, check out The Scottish Outdoor Access Code website, which has a ton of great guidelines for wild camping in Scotland.

 

Glengoyne Distillery along the West Highland Way

Always ask permission before pitching your tent on farm or pastureland.

 

Stage-by-Stage Camping Guide

This guide is based on a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary that begins in Milngavie and ends in Fort William. There are a few sections that would be relatively easy to modify, and those have been noted in the guide. Reservations are not necessary for the campsites, unless explicitly stated. Prices listed are per person.

 

A backpacker walks along the West Highland Way

Stage Zero- Milngavie

Camping Availability: West Highland Campsite (detour required)

The West Highland Way officially starts in the town of Milngavie, which is located about 30 minutes by train from Glasgow. Given you get an early start, it’s not necessary to stay in Milngavie the night before starting your trek, as transportation is quick and frequent from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the walk to Drymen shouldn’t take more than five hours. Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds in central Glasgow, nor in Milngavie, so you’ll need to stay indoors prior to starting the WHW.

While not the most convenient, there is camping about four miles along the trail at the West Highland Way Campsite (although they advertise that it’s located just “steps” away from the official start, which is a bit misleading). This could be a good option for those starting late and/or those who really want to camp at all costs.

Campsite near Milngavie, Scotland

Camping options near Milngavie.

 

Services at West Highland Way Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi
  • Breakfast included

Price: £25 per person

West Highland Way Campsite Website

Nearby in Milngavie

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacy
  • Banks/ATMs
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • Train and bus connections
  • Taxi service

Take your planning to the next level with our ultimate camping guide!

LEARN MORE
 

 

Stage One- Milngavie to Drymen

Camping Availability: Drymen Camping

This small campground is surrounded by rolling hills and picturesque farmland. You’ll see it on the lefthand side of the road about a mile and a half before reaching the town of Drymen. The facilities are basic but functional, and the views more than make up for it. Leave your payment in the honesty box inside the sheltered cooking/bathroom area.

Drymen Camping

Drymen Camping is approximately 1.5 miles from the town of Drymen.

 

Services at Drymen Camping

  • Toilets (Bring your own TP!!!)
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Dishwashing sink
  • Electronics charging
  • Covered cooking area

Price: £8

Drymen Camping Website

Nearby in Drymen: The nearest services are in the town of Drymen, another 1.5 miles up the road. If you don’t want to make the trek into town after a long day of walking, it makes for a nice stop on the morning of your second day, as you can pick up any forgotten supplies and maybe even a freshly baked breakfast treat. Moreover, Drymen is your last opportunity to visit a full grocery store along the trail until you reach Tyndrum.

  • Grocery store
  • Library (with free wifi)
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • ATM
  • Post office
  • Health center/dentist
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

Drymen Camping is located in a peaceful, pastoral setting.

Stage Two – Drymen to Loch Lomond

Camping Availability: Milarrochy Bay Campsite, Cashel Caravan and Campsite, & Sallochy Campsite

The second stage of the West Highland Way presents many options for camping, all of which offer beautiful lochside views.  As you walk north along Loch Lomond, you’ll reach the Milarrochy Bay campsite first, then you’ll see Cashel about a mile further, and if you keep going for another mile or so, you will reach Sallochy.

We chose to stay at Sallochy and highly recommend that you do the same for a number of reasons.  First, the lochside campsites are secluded, peaceful, and totally gorgeous. While this is the most basic of the three camping options, the lack of major facilities means that you get an experience that feels more connected to the amazing natural surroundings of the Loch Lomond area.  Additionally, Stage 3 of the WHW is the longest and most strenuous day of the entire trek, so make it all the way to Sallochy on Stage 2 and you’ll have a head start for the day ahead.

**Remember, wild camping is not permitted on this section of the WHW.**

Campground near Loch Lomond

Camping options along Loch Lomond.

 

Services at Milarrochy Bay Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Cooking room
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £7-10 per person

Milarrochy Bay Campsite Website

Services at Cashel Caravan and Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Electronics charging
  • Dishwashing area
  • Laundry
  • Small shop
  • Children’s play area

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £9-15 per person

Cashel Caravan and Campsite Website

Services at Sallochy Campsite

  • Composting toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Firepit and firewood rentals (£5 each)

Heads up: You must make reservations in advance for this campsite (the website makes it quick and easy). Make sure to book a lochside site, as the main camping area can get noisy and crowded. As you approach the campground, you’ll see the higher numbered lochside pitches first.  The higher the number, the further away from the toilets and water tap you’ll be, but you’ll also be further from the noise of the main campground.

Price: £7

Sallochy Campsite Website or email sallochy.wardens@forestryandland.gov.scot

Nearby the Loch Lomond area: The town of Rowardennan is about three miles up the trail past Sallochy. There you’ll find a pub, a hotel, and a hostel with a basic shop.

Your lochside site at Sallochy comes with its own private beach just a few steps away!

 

Stage Three – Loch Lomond to Inverarnan

Camping Availability: Doune Bothy, Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid Hotel & Beinglas Farm

For those completing the WHW in eight days, stage three is a loooong one. Beinglas Farm is the traditional stopping point, and will be a welcome sight for those who walk the entirety of stage 3 to reach it. If you’d like to stop a bit earlier in the day, Doune Bothy is the best option. 

Alternatively, if you have more time and want to break up this strenuous (15 miles, 8-9 hours) stretch, Inversnaid Bunkhouse and Inversnaid Hotel both offer camping and are located about halfway through stage 3. If you do choose to stop at one of these, simply stay at Beinglas Farm the following night.

Beinglas Farm Camping

Camping options near Inverarnan.

 

Services at Doune Bothy

Doune Bothy is a simple and lovely stone structure with a fireplace. You’ll need to bring/filter your own water and utilize Leave No Trace practices when it comes to your rubbish and bathroom needs. The Bothy is about three miles past Inversnaid.

Price: Free

Doune Bothy Website

Services at Beinglas Farm

We loved camping at Beinglas Farm! Perhaps it was because of the cold beers they sold us after nine hours of hiking, or the excellent and clean hot showers, or the friendly staff. This was the most midgy place we camped, however, so be prepared to get out your net and bug spray as soon as the sun starts to set. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Beinglas Farm to the village of Inverarnan.

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking area
  • Laundry facilities
  • Restaurant/bar
  • WiFi
  • Electronics charging

Beinglas Farm Website

Price: £8

Nearby Inverarnan*

  • Hotels
  • Pub
  • Transportation connections

*In addition to what you’ll find in Inverarnan, you can detour to Crianlarich (15 minutes from the trail each way) halfway through your walk tomorrow (Stage 4). This detour is highly recommended if you’d like to resupply at a proper supermarket.

Services at Inversnaid Bunkhouse (alternative option)

This is the first of two options that will allow you to split up stage 3 across two days by stopping in Inversnaid. You’ll need to detour about 10 minutes uphill off the trail to reach the Bunkhouse, but they do offer a free pickup service.

  • Toilets
  • Potable Water
  • Hot showers
  • Free WiFi
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Hot tub

Price: £10 per person

Inversnaid Bunkhouse Website

Services at Inversnaid Hotel (alternative option)

Keep walking about five minutes north of the hotel (beyond the boathouse) until you reach a small clearing. The hotel allows campers to pitch a tent for free here. You can use the facilities in the hotel bar during opening hours.

  • Toilets (at hotel bar)
  • Potable water (at hotel bar)
  • WiFi (at hotel)
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Bus connections

Price: Free

Inversnaid Hotel Website

Nearby Inversnaid: Besides the bunkhouse, hotel, and accompanying restaurants there are no other services (except for bus and ferry connections from the hotel).

 

For a shorter day, stop at the spectacular Doune Bothy.

If you want more information about your many options on Stage Three, our Camping Guide is the perfect resource.

LEARN MORE
 

Stage Four – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Camping Availability: Strathfillan Wigwams, Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping, By the Way Hostel and Campsite

There are three good options for camping on Stage 4, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Strathfillan Wigwams is two miles short of Tyndrum, meaning you won’t have easy proximity to the services in town. Some might appreciate stopping a bit earlier in the day, however, and the surroundings at Strathfillan are downright spectacular. Pine Trees Caravan Park is massive, considerably less scenic, and mostly dominated by motorhomes, but it’s conveniently located in the center of Tyndrum. Finally, By the Way Hostel and Campground is another well-located option, but be advised that they will only accept one or two-person tents and they will not accept any campers if there has been a significant amount of rain, due to the ground being too water-logged.

Tyndrum Camping

Camping options near Tyndrum.

 

Services at Strathfillan Wigwams

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Hot Showers (£1 for eight minutes)
  • Indoor cooking/lounge area
  • Laundry
  • Electronics charging
  • Small shop
  • WiFi (£3 for 24 hours)

Price: £8

Strathfillan Wigwams Website

Services at Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person (plus £5 for an additional adult)

Pine Trees Caravan Park Website

Services at By The Way Hostel & Campground

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Heated drying room
  • Indoor dishwashing area
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

By The Way Hostel and Camping Website

Nearby Tyndrum*

  • Supermarket
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Post office
  • ATM
  • Train station

*Make sure to stock up on food and supplies while in Tyndrum, as you won’t have another chance until you reach Kinlochleven on the final night of the WHW**

**Also, be sure to check out the ruins of St. Fillian’s Priory and the adjacent graveyard for some fascinating history! You’ll see these just before approaching the Strathfillian campground.

 

Quintessential Highlands camping at Strathfillan.

Stage Five – Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Camping Availability: Free camping behind the Bridge of Orchy Hotel

When you arrive at Bridge of Orchy, continue past the hotel and across the bridge to the free camping area.  There are no facilities here, but there is a potable water tap next to the main entrance of the hotel. In terms of your bathroom options, there’s a wooded area directly behind the campsite.  Unfortunately, you won’t be the first person to use these natural facilities, and they were a bit polluted with human waste when we were there.  Bring your trowel and a positive attitude, and you’ll be fine.

Alternatively, you can use the hotel restroom if you purchase something at the bar/restaurant or if you leave a donation on the tray by the bar. If the weather is nice, make sure to soak your tired feet in the river while you take in the views of the quaint stone bridge and the green hills beyond.

Bridge of Orchy Camping

Camping at Bridge of Orchy.

 

Services at Bridge of Orchy

  • Potable water (just to the right of the hotel entrance on the outside of the building)
  • Toilets (with purchase, when the hotel bar is open)

Price: Free

Bridge of Orchy Hotel Website

Nearby Bridge of Orchy

  • Restaurant/bar
  • Train and bus connections
  • Post office

For those wanting to extend this stage, the Inverornan Hotel is three miles past the Bridge of Orchy, and it offers free camping, a water tap, and a restaurant.

 

Soak your tired feet under the Bridge of Orchy before enjoying your free campsite.

Stage Six – Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe/Kingshouse

Camping Availability: Glencoe Mountain Resort & Kingshouse Hotel

You’ve got two nice options for camping on Stage Six, depending on how much luxury you’re looking for. The first camping area you’ll come across is the Glencoe Mountain Resort, reached via a very slight detour off the main trail. For a small fee, you’ll enjoy modern amenities and flat, grassy pitches.

If more basic and free accommodation is what you’re after, keep walking a bit further to reach the Kingshouse Hotel. Wild camping is permitted just over the stone bridge from the hotel, and campers have access to public toilets behind the bunkhouse. Be advised that the area can be a bit boggy and level spots are hard to come by. However, you can enjoy the hotel’s bar and restaurant, so you needn’t rough it too much if you don’t want to!

Glencoe Camping

Camping options near Glencoe and Kingshouse.

 

Services at Glencoe Mountain Resort

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Sinks
  • Electronics charging
  • Cafe/bar
  • WiFi

Price: £6 per person

Glencoe Mountain Website

Services at Kingshouse Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Restaurant/bar

Price: Free

Kingshouse Hotel Website

Nearby Glencoe Mountain: Besides the ski resort and the Kinshouse Hotel, there are no other services close by. If needed, you can catch a bus or hitch a ride from the A82 to Glencoe Village (9 miles away). There you’ll find a grocery store, ATM, and a medical center.

Beautiful views of Buachaille Etive Mòr from the Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Stage Seven – Glencoe/Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Camping Availability: MacDonald Hotel & Blackwater Hostel

Once again, you have two excellent choices for where to pitch your tent on this stage. You’ll pass the Blackwater Hostel first, almost immediately upon entering Kinlochleven. It is located on a lovely spot alongside the river and also conveniently located in the center of town. Reservations aren’t needed, but keep in mind that they only allow two-person tents or smaller.

The MacDonald Hotel is at the far end of town and can feel quite tedious to get to after a long day of hiking.  It’s worth the extra walking though! The staff is very friendly, the views of the loch are magical, and you’ll start right next to the trail in the morning. There are only 11 pitches, so reservations are recommended in peak season. Tents must be two-person or smaller at MacDonald.

Kinlochleven Camping

Camping options in Kinlochleven.

 

Services at MacDonald Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking and washing hut
  • Heated drying room
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

MacDonald Hotel Website

Services at Blackwater Hostel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Covered cooking area
  • Drying room
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Blackwater Hostel Website

Price: £10 per person

Nearby in Kinlochleven

  • Supermarket
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/pubs/cafes
  • Library (with free WiFi)
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

The MacDonald Hotel campground is located on the idyllic shores of Loch Leven.

Stage Eight – Kinlochleven to Fort William/Glen Nevis

Camping Availability: Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

Upon completing the West Highland Way, many hikers treat themselves to accommodation that features four walls and a real bed, but there is an option for the hardcore campers out there. While the hike officially ends in the town of Fort William, you can stop a couple of miles earlier in the town of Glen Nevis and pitch your tent at the Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park. This is also a convenient option for those hoping to tack on a climb up Ben Nevis, as the trail is just steps from the campground.

Fort William Camping

Camping options near Fort William.

 

Services at Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry
  • Dishwashing area
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi (£2.00 per hour/£5.00 per day)

Price: £10.50

Glen Nevis Camping Website

Nearby Glen Nevis and Fort William:  There is a visitor center and a few restaurants in the village of Glen Nevis. Fort William is another 2.5 miles up the trail. There you’ll find supermarkets, banks, a pharmacy, a hospital, restaurants/bars, an outdoor retailer, a post office, a library, and bus and train connections. 

LEARN MORE
 

 

What’s Next?

You’re well on your way to an incredible camping experience on the West Highland Way. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know for your trip!

 

8 Comments on Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

How to Navigate on the GR20 | GPS Maps

It is often said that if you walk more than 20 feet on the GR20 without seeing one of the famous red and white paint flashes that you’ve gone off…

It is often said that if you walk more than 20 feet on the GR20 without seeing one of the famous red and white paint flashes that you’ve gone off the trail. In reality, navigating on the GR20 is a bit more complicated than that, especially given the multiple variants, difficult terrain, and exposed nature of the route. The last thing you want while tackling this famously difficult trail is to have to think too hard about navigating. That’s why we recommend all trekkers think about how they’ll find their way on the trail before arriving in Corsica.

Map of the GR20 with common trail variants.

We think that with the proper tools and preparation you’ll have no difficultly navigating on this incredible trail. In this post we’ll walk you step-by-step through exactly how we navigated on the GR20 utilizing offline GPS maps on our smartphones. We’ve even got some great resources for those who would like to do the same. Let’s get started!

In this post

Do I need a paper map for the GR20?

The GR20 presents some unique challenges when it comes to bringing physical maps. The route is so long that in order to cover it in its entirety you would need to bring no less than seven IGN maps. All this for a hike that you should be packing as light as possible! We did not rely on paper maps during our GR20 hike, instead choosing to utilize the GPS maps described in this article. That being said, we always recommend that trekkers carry some form of paper maps with them. There are just too many opportunities for you to run out of battery, break your phone, or have some other technical malfunction that renders your GPS map useless.

To cover the entire GR20 at a good scale (1:25,000) we recommend bringing the following IGN maps:

If you’re like us and don’t want to carry SEVEN IGN maps we would recommend picking up the 1:100,000 scale maps that IGN publishes for Corsica:

While these maps won’t provide great detail on the trail, they will at least help you orient and understand your surroundings.

A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

Read more: Be sure to familiarize yourself with the route, elevation profile, and more by checking out our GR20 Map Resource.

Offline GPS maps for the GR20

Offline GPS maps for your smartphone are one of our favorite insider tips for those trekking the GR20. These maps make navigating the route a breeze by showing you exactly where you are on the trail as well as the surrounding terrain, next stopping point, and other important data. We utilized these features frequently on our own GR20 hike to know how far we had hiked at any given time, check that we were still on the trail, and know-how close we were to the next refuge on the trail.

Setting up these apps takes little effort on your part, but will make your GR20 much less stressful! Once you’ve selected your app of choice (more on that below) you simply download the necessary GPS files onto your phone, download some background maps, and you’ll be navigating like a pro in no time!

We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the GR20 and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your own trek. Keep reading below to learn more about how your phone can work as a GPS and how we can help you feel confident using this navigation method.

Turn your phone into a GPS

Did you know your phone can do much more than just send email, take great photos, and video chat with someone halfway around the world? Our favorite feature that is often overlooked is the modern smartphone’s ability to act as a GPS device. This is especially useful for long-distance treks with limited cell phone service like the GR20! You regularly use this feature when navigating with Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other mapping software that comes standard on most phones these days.

The problem you run into while hiking is that your phone relies on having an internet connection in order to download the background mapping data that needs to be displayed for you to know where you are. You see, the GPS in your phone only provides a location point, but the really valuable data is the background map that shows the various streets, businesses and even traffic conditions around you.  Without an internet connection to show the background map, your Google Maps app will look something like this:

Blank TMB map

Not a very effective way to navigate

 

Solving the background map problem

Given the excellent cell phone and internet coverage in cities and town, this typically isn’t an issue. However, this can be very problematic when you’re nearing the top of Monte Cinto on the GR20 without cell service! So what’s the solution?

GPS Navigation apps that allow for downloadable background maps. These apps allow you to select a predefined area, in our case the entirety of the GR20, and download the background map to your phone.

This allows you to access the map data without a cell phone connection and still know exactly where you are! Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work and give you accurate location information. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll show you exactly how we did this for the GR20 below.

GR20 maps – How we can help

For those looking for GR20 GPS resources, we offer a complete mapping digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire GR20 route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional itinerary.

These custom maps can be used on Android and Apple devices and works with both paid and free GPS navigation apps.

Which app should I use on the GR20?

There are countless GPS app options available for you to choose from. Of those we’ve used and recommend two options for GR20 hikers: Maps.me and Gaia GPS. The main difference between the two apps is that Maps.me is free to download and use, but has limited base maps. On the other hand, Gaia GPS requires a $19.99 annual subscription to use but has superior offline base maps and more robust navigational tools. Check out the comparison below to see how a specific section of the GR20 displays in each of the apps. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the GR20 for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.

Comparison of Maps.Me and Gaia GPS for the GR20

 

As shown above, both apps do a fine job of displaying the route and location points along the way. The major difference is that Gaia GPS provides much more in-depth information such as adjacent trails, topographic data, and elevation shading. It is for this reason that we highly recommend you spend the $20 to use Gaia GPS. However, we definitely understand those who prefer to use the free option. If you decide to go that route it is even more important for you to carry paper maps as you may need more detailed information than what Maps.me provides.

Gaia GPS for the GR20

The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.

Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file

When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to open the email and download the .KML (or . GPX) file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. If you do happen to download the file to your computer you’ll need to transfer it to your phone. The easiest option for this would be to simply email it to yourself.

After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Gaia GPS, which you should do.

 

Gaia GPS will then import the data and you should see the GR20 route and waypoints for your specific itinerary displayed on the map.

Success! You’ve imported the GR20 GPS data into Gaia GPS.

 

Step Two – Choose your map source

Next, you’ll want to select your base map for the GR20. This will be the background map that you will eventually download and use to navigate while hiking, even without cell phone service. There are tons of background maps available for download, but we highly recommend the “Outdoor” layer for those hiking the GR20. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.

 

Step Three – Navigate to the GR20 and download your base map

Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 – which is almost the entire island of Corsica! Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know your exact location on the trail when you don’t have cell phone service. To download the map background data, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Gaia GPS
  2. Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right-hand corner)
  3. Select ‘Download Map’
  4. Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire GR20
  5. Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
  6. Name your map ‘GR20’ and select ‘Save’
  7. Allow the download to complete and you’re done! (you’ll want to be connected to WiFi for this)

 

That’s it! Now you’re all set to navigate on the GR20 like a pro with an offline GPS map in Gaia GPS. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the refuges along the route!

Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail

The final step for navigating like a pro on the GR20 is to know how to utilize the Gaia GPS app when you are out on the trail. To view your current location, simply select the location button on the top menu. At this point your phone will activate its GPS, and (providing you have a fairly clear view of the sky) in a few moments it will show you exactly where you are by displaying a yellow arrow. Use this whenever you want to see how far you’ve gone, how much further you have left until your next stop, or if a fork in the road has you questioning the correct way.  NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you where you are, but will not necessarily point towards the direction you are actually facing. This is important to remember when you are orienting yourself!

Maps.me for the GR20

The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 GPS data we’ve created in Maps.me. Maps.me is an excellent free navigation app that allows you to download offline background data. As we noted above, downloading background data is the the key to successfully utilizing GPS to navigate on the GR20. The primary shortcoming of  using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data.

You won’t find any topographic lines, terrain shading, or other helpful features. However, we know that many trekkers will be just fine with Maps.me and you can’t beat the price! Here is your step-by-step guide to utilizing our GR20 GPS data with Maps.me:

Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file

When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the GPS file directly onto your phone to simplify the process. Be sure to download the .KML file as Maps.me cannot read gpx files. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Maps.me, which you’ll want to go ahead and do.

 

After opening the GPS file with Maps.me, the app will navigate to your current location and will also display a message stating that your bookmarks have successfully been loaded. You’ll need to move the map from your current location to the GR20 and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.

 

Step Two – Download the GR20 base maps

Once you have successfully loaded the GR20 GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 as a base map in Maps.me. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know where exactly you are on the trail. To download the background map data in Maps.me, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Maps.me
  2. Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
  3. You’ll need to download the Corsica map in Maps.me to cover the entire GR20. 
  4. Verify that you’ve downloaded the required base map by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
  5. Once you’ve checked that the Corsica map has been successfully downloaded you’re all done!

Zoom in on the trail until prompted to download the ‘Corsica’ map.

To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded all of the Corsica base map in Maps.me follow these steps:

  1. Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
  2. Select ‘Download Maps’
  3. Select ‘France’
  4. Verify that the ‘Corsica’ map is downloaded

 

 

A note on battery life

One of the easiest ways for the app-navigation method to go awry is for your phone battery to die. I recommend two strategies to help prevent an unexpected dead battery from sabotaging your trip. The first is to ensure that you always exit the app before locking your phone. This will prevent the app from continually locating you, and thus draining your battery. You can also keep your phone on “airplane mode” to prevent it from wasting battery life while searching for cell service.

The second way to prevent a dead battery from causing problems is to carry a backup battery system. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth their weight in gold when you find yourself with a dying battery. I like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but any decent option should do.

Want more GR20 content? Keep reading!

Be sure to check out all of our GR20 posts below:

No Comments on How to Navigate on the GR20 | GPS Maps

Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and…

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and capping it all off by cozying up in your tent  under the stars as the crisp evening chill sets in? Maybe you’ve never considered it before. We didn’t know we wanted such a thing either…and then we learned about the TMB and that all changed.

Water and steep mountains on stage 4 of the TMB

We’re not exaggerating when we say this is one of the prettiest trails in the world!

 

We first hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017. We camped most nights and stayed in a few huts. Even after experiencing several more incredible thru-hikes across Europe, the TMB still stands out as the most unique and rewarding.  We created this guide in hopes that it will inspire more people to camp along the route, which was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. Ever since completing our own trek, we’ve spent the past few years researching the best campsites and most essential information to share with our fellow tent-dwellers. We even hiked much of the trek again in 2019 to ensure that our guide is accurate and up-to-date (and because we couldn’t help but return to one of the most beautiful trails in the world!)

Thanks for using our guide and we wish you a wonderful trip! As always, we’d love to answer your questions and hear your feedback in the comments below.

Happy Trails,

Emily & Ian

What’s in This Guide:

 

Everything you need to to plan your TMB – all in one place.

Whether you prefer mountain huts or tents, fastpacking or meandering, luxury, dirtbag or something in between, we’ve got you covered.From custom itineraries to maps created specifically for campers we can help you plan your perfect TMB adventure! Learn more below:

LEARN MORE

About the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates  Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. The trail passes through seven unique and beautiful valleys, where charming hamlets and regional delicacies abound. Between the valleys, the route traverses rugged mountain landscapes and stunning high alpine scenery. The TMB is one of the most popular long-distance treks in Europe and is considered to be a classic walk that belongs on any passionate hiker’s bucket list.

The Mont Blanc massif covered in glaciers and seen from stage 11 on the TMB

The Mont Blanc Massif in all of its glacier-covered glory.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Distance: 170 kilometers (105 miles)

Elevation Gain: 10,000 meters (32,800 feet)

 Check out our extensive collection of TMB Maps to get a better sense of distance, stages, elevation, and more! 

How long does it take to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?

It typically takes walkers between 8-11 days to complete the TMB. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the TMB. We’ve structured this camping guide for the classic 11-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine or reduce stages.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the TMB:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the TMB is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.

Signpost with several yellow trail signs pointing in two different directions.

There are lots of variants and shortcuts that can be used to customize your trek.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

LEARN MORE
July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the TMB. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race of the entire circuit typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators – not the best time to be trekking!

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

Crossing a snow field on the TMB

An easy snow crossing in July.

 

How difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

If you are reasonably fit and have some backpacking experience, you should be well-suited to the physical challenges of the TMB. It is a tough trek that involves long, steep ascents and descents on nearly every stage, but it isn’t too technically demanding. Make sure you have healthy knees, as the downhill sections can take their toll! Keep in mind that carrying a heavier pack will greatly increase the physical demands of a trek like the Tour du Mont Blanc. If camping, some extra weight is inevitable, but if you’re strategic you can avoid carrying too big of a backpack.

Read More: How to Train for the TMB

Everything you need to plan your perfect TMB – all in one place.

LEARN MORE
 

Which Direction?

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counterclockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. Below we’ve outlined some pros and cons of hiking in each direction:

Counterclockwise

PROS:

  • Follows the classic route, good if you’re a sucker for tradition.
  • Begins in Chamonix, which is easier to get to from the Geneva Airport than Champex.
  • Rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc on the final stage.

CONS:

  • More people hike in this direction, so the trail could feel more crowded throughout the day.

Clockwise

PROS:

  • Fewer hikers walking in the same direction as you.
  • The first few stages are a bit mellower, allowing you to get acclimated before tackling the tougher sections.

CONS:

  • You’ll pass a large wave of people walking in the opposite direction each day, which can get tight on narrow trails.
  • Champex (your starting point) has less amenities and is less conveniently connected by public transport than Chamonix. If you want to start in Chamonix and hike clockwise, be warned that the first day involves a doozy of a climb, which could be a major shock to the system.

Our stage-by-stage guide is organized for hikers walking the circuit in the traditional counterclockwise direction, but would be just as useful for those hiking in the clockwise direction.

Red boats on the shore of Lac Champex

Those who choose to hike clockwise will start in the pretty town on Champex.

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Tour du Mont Blanc is no different. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. Expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and not too much rain. However, you also need to be prepared for very hot temperatures, very cold temperatures, rain, and storms (and you could even see all of these in the same day!)  Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm or without the right gear is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting the weather. It allows you to see the forecast for specific peaks or coordinates, plus it has excellent radar displays and wind predictions. Check it every time you have cell service.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.

Gray clouds partially obscure the mountains on the TMB.

Weather can change quickly on the trail!

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the TMB is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eleven days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the TMB. 

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, gites, and refuges sell meals and offer the option of purchasing meals. You can just show up for lunch, but you’ll need to order ahead of time for dinner.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, we think you’ll find that trekking in the Alps is every bit as much a culinary delight as a natural one! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the TMB are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.  

Water

All of the hotels, gites, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first.

Bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of wine.

Who says self-catering can’t be delicious?

 

Ready to start planning? Let us create your custom itinerary!

LEARN MORE

Getting to and from the TMB

The circular nature of the Tour du Mont Blanc keeps logistical puzzles to a minimum, as you’ll start and end your hike in the same place. This makes it easier to store extra baggage and book round-trip transport to and from the trail. If you are travelling from further afield to reach the TMB, you will likely fly into the Geneva Airport (GVA). Depending on where you plan on starting your hike, you’ll either take a bus from GVA to Chamonix or a train/bus combination  from GVA to Champex.

We wrote an entire article with the sole purpose of providing you with in-depth information on TMB logistics. Check it out here! 

The bus stop in Les Houches, surrounded by pink flowers.

The worlds prettiest bus stop? This one in Les Houches has got to be a top contender!

 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the TMB is an extremely well-marked trail. You’ll see a variety of trail markers along various sections of the route, ranging from the iconic yellow and black diamond to the more modern bright green TMB logo. Generally speaking, if you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite its helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the TMB if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

No fancy GPS device? No problem! In this post we’ll walk you through exactly how to turn your regular old smartphone into a bonafide GPS– and you don’t need to use your precious data to do so!

Additionally, check out this post on how to find all of your campgrounds on the TMB and this one if you want to see our range of helpful maps and/or download the GPS waypoints for the hike.

Screenshot of GPS locations on a smartphone

You can easily turn your smartphone into a handy GPS device for the trail!

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the TMB. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages. 

Currency

The TMB crosses the borders of three different countries, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland then back to Euros upon entering Italy. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. 

Typical Costs

Although it has the reputation for being one of the more expensive and luxurious thru-hikes, it is still very possible to hike the TMB on a tight budget (camping helps tremendously with this!) Furthermore, you can even eat delicious foods and drink some tasty beverages without breaking the bank.

The two keys to saving money on the TMB? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

In terms of food, the best thing you can do is to avoid eating meals at restaurants and refuges. Sure, stop for a coffee and a pastry, enjoy a post-hike beer, and definitely pick up some local cheese, but if you cook your own meals you will greatly, greatly reduce your overall spending.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Hikers take in the views from the top of a pass on the TMB

Fortunately, the best parts of the TMB-like the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the top of a pass- are completely free!

What to Pack

Packing for the TMB is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Did you know we can help you create the perfect packing list? Learn more here!

LEARN MORE
Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the TMB, you can store your extra luggage in Chamonix. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Caution sign showing a person falling off a cliff.

This poor fellow didnt follow our packing advice….

 

TMB MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the TMB, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the TMB. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hikers making their way down to the Vallee de l'Arve.

Big shout out to our trekking poles and pack covers!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the TMB. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the TMB (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the TMB: An excellent resource.

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the TMB here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the TMB now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the TMB do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

Hikers sitting in chairs and enjoying the views outside Refuge de la Flegere

No wifi? No problem! The views and camaraderie provide more than enough entertainment along the TMB.

 

Wild Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Wild camping along the TMB is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through three countries and several local municipalities, each with their own specific rules and regulations. Generally speaking, wild camping may be allowed in France at high altitudes between sunset and sunrise, it may be permitted above 2,500 meters (from dusk until dawn) in Italy, and it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the TMB. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. Furthermore, there are quite a few opportunities to pitch your tent in free sanctioned wild and semi-wild camp spots along the TMB (see the guide below for specific details). If you choose to wild camp outside of these areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

Wildflowers on stage 4 of the TMB

This might look like an ideal place to camp, but it’s definitely not legal!

40 Comments on Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search