Author: Emily@TMBtent

10 Essentials for the GR20

The GR20 is an intimidating trek. Between the complicated logistics and the serious physical challenges, traversing the rugged spine of Corsica is no small feat. The GR20 doesn’t allow much…

The GR20 is an intimidating trek. Between the complicated logistics and the serious physical challenges, traversing the rugged spine of Corsica is no small feat. The GR20 doesn’t allow much room for error or easy outs; little oversights can quickly become big issues on the trail. The reward for all of your toil? An unforgettable adventure like nothing else.

You’ll work hard enough on the trail without having to deal with avoidable snafus that result from poor preparation. We were infinitely glad that we did our homework ahead of time, and now we want to share our experience with others. Below we’ve listed our best, most essential advice for anyone hoping to tackle the GR20. It’s in no particular order, but it’s all guaranteed to help you have a smoother, safer, and more enjoyable experience on the GR20.

 

Trail in the foreground with a peak in the background on the GR20.

Your GR20 adventure awaits!

 

1. Start Early

Morning people rejoice! There are so many reasons why it’s important to get on the trail at daybreak each day.

First, as most hikers will be trekking the GR20 in the summer season, it is imperative to minimize your exposure to the intense Corsican heat.

Furthermore, the afternoon thunderstorms on the GR20 (an almost daily occurrence in July and August, but common throughout the year) need to be taken seriously. Getting caught in a storm on high, exposed peaks or ridgelines is extremely dangerous. Starting early will allow you to get off these sections of trail before the storms roll in.

Beyond the crucial safety reasons for hitting the trail early, there are some additional perks. These include getting your pick of the best bunks and campsites before the crowds (and avoiding the long line for the shower!), witnessing incredible sunrises from the trail, and having ample time to relax and recover in the afternoons. Your exact starting time will depend on your hiking pace, the time of year, and your daily distance goal, but many hikers choose to start just before sunrise (somewhere between 5:30-6:30 am). If you’re starting in the dark, don’t forget your headlamp!

Sunrise over a rocky outcropping on the GR20

Just one of the many incredible sunrises we enjoyed on the trail!

 

2. Carry Plenty of Cash

We wrote more extensively about GR20 money and budgeting in this post, but this advice is important enough to earn a spot on the Essentials list too. You will not find ATMs or banks at any point along the GR20, and very few shops, refuges, hotels, and restaurants accept credit cards. Therefore, you need to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for your entire trek.

Running out of money can completely sabotage your trek, as you’ll need to leave the trail to find an ATM (which will take a full day or more). Even if you plan on traveling frugally, you’ll need to restock food and other supplies along the route. It is also important to have some backup funds in case unexpected emergencies arise. Make sure you check out our How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article to estimate your expenses and avoid this common GR20 pitfall.

 

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

The well-stoked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio- You never know when you’ll need to resupply on cookies and crisps!

 

3. Think Through Your Logistics

Corsica is known for many wonderful things (incredible beaches, rugged mountains, rich history), but excellent tourist infrastructure isn’t one of them. It can be quite difficult to get to and from the GR20. This is due to limited and infrequent transportation connections, unclear and constantly-changing schedules, and a general lack of accessible information.

It’s a very good idea to plan ahead of time for how you will get to and from the GR20, as you’ll need to make sure that busses/trains are running when you want to start and finish your trek. Additionally, we highly recommend booking your lodging in advance and researching any luggage storage or transfers you may need.

Fortunately, our in-depth GR20 Logistics article covers all of this and more. It’s an excellent place to start sorting through all of the important nuts and bolts of your trip.

 

Bus ticket for Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia

Most buses and trains use high-tech ticketing systems like this one 😉

 

4. Ditch Your Ego

When it comes to the GR20, all previously held notions of your hiking speed will need to go out the window. When looking at the time estimates for certain stages in your guidebook, you might be inclined to think there’s been a mistake, but indeed they are accurate (or perhaps even underestimated). The GR20 requires so much scrambling and careful navigation of technical terrain that it can take several hours to cover even a couple of miles.

Here’s the thing: it’s okay to move slowly. The rugged nature of the trail is exactly what makes it so fun and rewarding; make sure to give yourself enough time to actually enjoy it. Furthermore, it is incredibly unwise and unsafe to try to move faster than you can realistically manage. We met so many hikers who thought they could “double-up” on stages only to end up burnt out, nursing injuries, or just downright miserable. If you don’t have enough time to complete the entire trek, it’s better to simply cut out a stage or two instead of trying to rush through all of it.

Read More: How to Train for the GR20

 

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

Some sections require you to slow down quite a bit!

 

5. Book Ahead

Unless you plan on carrying your own tent, it is pretty much essential that you reserve your accommodation in advance. During the peak season (June-September), the refuges are full every night. While you can try to show up early and score a bed without prior booking, it is unlikely that you’ll get lucky every stage of the way. Bookings are strongly encouraged for the refuges, and they are just as necessary if you plan on renting a tent. Additionally, it’s a good idea to reserve your accommodation in Calenzana, Conca, and Vizzavona, as these towns are quite small and the lodging options are limited.

Another important note on bookings: At many of the refuges, the warden will want to see a printed copy of your reservation. It’s not uncommon for people to lose their spot or pay twice if they don’t have a printed booking. If your itinerary changes due to weather or other issues, you can call ahead to the refuges and try to modify your reservation.

Check out The Ultimate Guide to the GR20 for details on how to reserve refuges and tents. 

 

Tents outside the Refuge de Matalza

A full campground on the GR20. The refuge was even more packed!

 

6. Feast on Local Delicacies

Because the GR20 doesn’t pass through many villages, hikers have very few opportunities to experience traditional Corsican culture during their trek, which is a shame. However, you can get a [literal] taste of Corsica through the incredible culinary delights you’ll encounter along the trail. Not only are these foods fresh, local, delicious, and reasonably-priced, but they are a great way to learn a little more about the place you’re lucky enough to be exploring. Here are a few can’t miss items:

  • Charcuterie: Known worldwide as some of the best, many of the refuges serve up uber-local varieties.
  • Cheese: Most of the traditional Corsican cheeses are made with goat and/or sheep’s milk, including Brocciu, arguably the most popular and widespread varietal. Be sure to sample the local cheeses whenever you get the chance!
  • Canestrelli: These treats are very similar to biscotti and they come in a wide range of delicious flavors. They’re available at nearly every refuge and they make an excellent hiking snack.
  • Pietra Beer: Made with chestnuts from the island, Pietra beer has a complex, slightly sweet, and entirely unique flavor. Even though beer is shockingly expensive across Corsica, we think you’ll find that enjoying a cold Pietra after a big day in the mountains is money well spent.

 

Block of Corsican cheese.

That block of local cheese may be calling your name after a long day!

 

7. Take A Rest Day

As we mentioned earlier, the GR20 is a very difficult endeavor. It will put both your physical and mental endurance to the test. Throughout your trek, it will be imperative that you make a conscious effort to take care of yourself in order to prevent injury and burnout. One of the best ways to do this is to plan for a day off in your itinerary. Obviously we know that the GR20 is already very long, and not everyone will have the time to make this work. However, if it’s at all possible, we strongly recommend that you take a rest day. Not only will you give your body time to recover and rejuvenate, but you’ll have a chance to explore Corsica in ways that don’t involve hiking.

Vizzavona, located halfway through the route, is arguably the best place to spend a rest day. There are a couple of good shops where you can restock supplies, and there are several lovely restaurants and hotels where you can indulge in some creature comforts. Our GR20 Logistics article has tons of helpful information on rest day options and considerations.

Woman with a glass of wine in front of Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona Corsica

Living it up on our day off in Vizzavona!

 

8. Make New Friends

Many people are drawn to the GR20 because it offers the opportunity to experience solitude while trekking in wild and rugged landscapes. This is without a doubt one of the best parts of the trek, and you’ll certainly get to savor many moments alone in the mountains. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that time spent socializing with other people is one of the most memorable parts of many GR20 hikers’ experiences.

Since you’ll be starting and ending at the same refuges as many others each day, you’ll become familiar with those following a similar itinerary. You’ll have ample opportunities to chat along the trail, share a beer and a picnic table at sunset, cook your meals alongside your camp mates, and swap stories with new friends. Don’t pass up these opportunities! Meeting people from all over the world who share your love of the outdoors will make your experience so much richer. It was definitely one of the most fun, rewarding, and memorable parts of our GR20 adventure.

Trekkers sitting on rocks at Refuge de Manganu.

Kicking back and making friends at Refuge de Manganu.

 

9. Practice Your French

We’d be lying if we said it was utterly impossible to trek the GR20 without knowing any French. You could likely get yourself to and from the trail, navigate refuge check-ins, purchase food and supplies, and muddle your way through any unexpected issues that might arise. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should try. You’re going to have a much, much easier and more enjoyable experience if you take the time to brush up on your French skills before your trek. Not only will people appreciate your efforts (and therefore be more friendly and helpful), but there will undoubtedly be situations where English isn’t spoken and you need to communicate something.

You don’t need to be fluent, but you should learn some basic phrases relating to accommodation, weather, navigation, transportation, and food and drink.

 

Chalkboard menu at Refuge de Carozzu

Learn how to order food and drinks in French before your GR20 trek.

 

10. Leave No Trace

The GR20 traverses some truly stunning wild places. It is our responsibility to respect these places so that others can enjoy them now and many years into the future. This might seem unnecessary to discuss; after all, as hikers we have shared passion for the outdoors. However, if I had a Euro for every piece of trash or used toilet paper I saw on the trail, I would easily have enough money to take a luxury vacation. It’s simple: pack it in and pack it out. Stay on the designated trail. Don’t pick flowers or other vegetation. Furthermore, carry a small bag with you so you can pick up any trash you find along the trail, leaving it even more beautiful for those who come after you. Do your part and the mountains will reward you with their awe-inspiring beauty. 

Do your part to protect this incredible place!

 

That’s it!

We hope you found this list to be helpful and we genuinely believe following this advice will allow you to have a less stressful and more rewarding experience.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out all of our other great GR20 content: 

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How to Train for the Laugavegur Trail

So you’ve decided to trek the Laugavegur Trail. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started creating your itinerary, putting together a packing list, and booking…

So you’ve decided to trek the Laugavegur Trail. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started creating your itinerary, putting together a packing list, and booking your accommodation, but have you thought about your physical preparation? Obviously, you’ve at least taken the first steps since you’ve found your way to this post, and for that your future self will thank you. That’s because being physically prepared for a tough trek like the Laugagevur is the single most impactful action you can take to ensure your trip will be as enjoyable as possible. 

Training for the Laugagevur will make your experience exponentially more rewarding for a number of reasons, including…

  • 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 rewarding.
  • You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.

Keeping reading to learn how to feel strong and prepared for your Laugagevur Trail adventure.

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

Whether you prefer mountain huts or tents, fastpacking or meandering, or something in between, we’ve got you covered. Our downloadable Guide to Trekking the Laugavegur Trail is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip. Pick your digital guide for under $20 below:

Laugavegur Trail Guide

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The 50+ page guide contains resources you won’t find anywhere else, including:

  • Custom GPS files for the entire trek
  • Three unique stage-by-stage itineraries
  • Complete packing list for campers and those staying in huts
  • Detailed information on getting to/from the Laugavegur
  • A 15-week training plan to ensure you’re prepared for your hike

We truly believe this is the best guide available for the Laugavegur.  Pick up your guide below and if your not satisfied for any reason we’ll give you a full refund!

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What’s in this post?

landscape near Hvanngil on the Laugavegur Trail
Beautiful landscape near Hvanngil. The views make all of the training worthwhile!

How Difficult is the Laugagevur Trail?

As far as long-distance hiking trails go, the Laugavegur is very approachable in terms of difficulty. There are several factors that impact the challenge of this hike, including the distance covered in each day (see our itineraries for more on this), the weight of your backpack (it will be much larger if you choose to camp), the direction you hike in (there is significantly more uphill walking if you trek from south to north), and the weather and trail conditions.

Therefore, someone carrying camping gear and hiking northbound in two days will have a much different experience than someone staying in huts, heading southbound, and completing their trek in four days. Most reasonably fit hikers with some trekking experience will have no problem completing the Laugavegur in three days. 

Beyond the physical challenges of the Laugagevur, there are a few other factors to keep in mind when understanding the difficulty of this trek.

River Crossings: You will encounter several river crossings along the Laugavegur Trail. These can very from ankle-deep to waist-deep depending on the time of year, recent rainfall, and weather conditions. We can’t stress enough that you need to check with the wardens at each hut about the current condition of the rivers, and always cross in the designated areas. Also, you’ll want to bring a pair of sturdy sandals or other water shoes to make these crossing. Flip-flops will be pulled right off your feet by the swift currents and walking across barefoot is a dangerous endeavor.

A river crossing near the Alftavatn Hut on the Laugavegur Trail
River crossing after Álftavatn. Be prepared for lots of these!

Weather: Icelandic weather should not be taken lightly. Weather conditions are a major factor that can greatly increase the difficulty of your trek.   Whiteout snowstorms can occur any time of the year on the Laugavegur, as can gale-force winds and freezing temperatures. It is imperative that hikers check the weather conditions before setting out. The easiest way to stay up to date on the weather is to talk to the wardens at the huts. Weather updates are usually posted outside, but you can also ask the warden for more information. If they advise you not to hike in the conditions, be sure to listen to them! Additionally, the Icelandic Met Office’s website provides quality forecasts for wind, precipitation, and temperature in specific areas. 

Read more: Check out our Trip Report to get the full scoop on what the Laugavegur was really like!

Fimmvörðuháls Trail Extension: Many hikers opt to extend their hike by taking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which connects Þórsmörk and Skogar via a very difficult 15-mile trek. The Fimmvörðuháls trail is quite a bit more technical and challenging than the Laugagevur. There are some very exposed and steep sections that require the use of cables, chains, and holds to navigate them. Depending on which direction you choose to hike, you’ll either start or end your trek with a very big day which will add to the overall difficulty of your experience.

A large section of snow on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail.
A long and tiring snow crossing on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail.

The Laugavegur Trail in Numbers:

Laugavegur Trail Only

Total Distance: 55 kilometers (34 miles)
Total Elevation Gain: 1450 meters (4758 feet)

Laugavegur Trail + Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Total Distance: 79 kilometres (49 miles)
Total Distance: 2428 meters (7967 feet)
A deep canyon on stage 2 of the Laugavegur Trail
Fortunately, you can enjoy these views without too much climbing!

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 Laugagevur, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like a great many people who aspire to trek the Laugavegur Trail, 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 Laugagevur.
  • 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.

A hiker walks on rocky terrain on the Laugavegur Trail
WAY better than the stairclimber machine!

Basic Laugagevur Trail Training Plan

Six Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Endurance Base

Even if you’re taking four days to complete the Laugagevur, you can expect to spend long days on the trail. Most walkers complete their trek in 2-4 days, meaning they’ll need to average well over 15 kilometers (10 miles) per day. 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 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 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!

Build your endurance base to cross vast landscapes like this one.

Three Months Before Your 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 Laugagevur-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.

A trail sign on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail.
Your leg strengthening routine will certainly pay off on this difficult section of the Fimmvörðuháls.

Two Months Before Your Trip: 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 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.

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 Laugagevur trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike at least once a week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your Laugagevur Trail hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometers (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.

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. 

A hiker walks through a large snow field on the Laugavegur Trail
You can still expect to encounter lots of snow on the trail in July!

One Month Before Your Trip: 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 Laugagevur, 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. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your Laugagevur trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!

Camping at Alftavatn.
If you plan on camping along the Laugavegur, try to do a test run before your trek.

Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels

Unfortunately, the Laugagevur Trail is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations.  Detours and shortcuts are nearly impossible, as there are few road connections along the route.  That being said, there are actions you can take to minimize the difficulty of your Laugagevur trek. 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:

  • Hike from north to south to minimize elevation gain and avoid the most strenuous climbs.
  • Skip the Fimmvörðuháls Trail extension, as it is much more difficult than the Laugagevur Trail.
  • Carry as light a pack as possible to reduce the strain on your body. You can store additional luggage in Reykjavik if needed. Check out our Laugagevegur Trail Logistics article for more details on luggage storage.
  • If possible, allow yourself four days to complete the Laugagevur. With this itinerary, you’ll never have to walk more than ten miles in a single day. See our Itineraries article for details.
Hvanngill Hut Laugavegur Trail
Staying in huts like this one will allow you to carry a lighter pack and reduce the overall challenge of the trek.

The Bottom Line

Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the Laugagevur Trail, and I hope these training tips can help you have your best possible trip.

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.

Snow covered mountains on the Laugavegur Trail

What’s Next?

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

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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?

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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:

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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!

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

 

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

 

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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

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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!

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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!

 

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How to Train for the Walker’s Haute Route

So you’ve decided to trek the Walker’s Haute Route. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started planning your itinerary, putting together a packing list,…

So you’ve decided to trek the Walker’s Haute Route. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started planning your itinerary, putting together a packing list, and booking your accommodation, but have you thought about your physical preparation? Obviously, you’ve at least taken the first steps since you’ve found your way to this post, and for that your future self will thank you. That’s because being physically prepared for a tough trek like the Haute Route is the single most impactful action you can take to ensure your trip will be as enjoyable as possible. 

 

Looking down into the Matteral Valley on the Walker's Haute Route.

Looking waaay down into the Mattertal Valley. You’ll want strong legs to tackle ascents and descents like these!

 

Training for the Haute Route will make your experience exponentially more rewarding for a number of reasons, including…

  • 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 rewarding.
  • You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.

Keeping reading to learn what you need to do to feel strong and prepared to conquer your very own Walker’s Haute Route adventure.

What’s in this post?

Hiker climbs a ladder to reach Pas des Chevres on the Walker's Haute Route

The ladders may look intimidating, but they’re actually not the most challenging part of the Haute Route.

 

How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?

The Haute Route does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. For one thing, it is a very strenuous endeavor. Expect to cover around 15km and 1,000m of elevation gain each day. Much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain.

In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also some sections that are technically difficult. Parts of the trail along the Europaweg and on the approach to Pas des Chevres are very exposed and come with a small risk of falling rocks.  There are ladders and chains to negotiate at a few points along the trail as well, with the toughest being near Pas des Chevres. Additionally, some hikers opt to take a variant that involves a short glacier crossing, but that can be easily avoided.

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

If you approach it with a solid fittness base and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the Haute Route. 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 judgement in the mountains.

The Walker’s Haute Route in numbers:

Total distance: 225 kilometers (140 miles)

Total elevation gain: 14,000 meters (45,932 feet- that’s about the same as climbing to the top of Mt. Everest from base camp four times!)

Average Daily distance*: 19 kilometers (11.5 miles)

Average daily elevation gain*: 1,166 meters (3,827 feet)

*Averages are based on a traditional 12-day itinerary

 

Beautiful wildflowers along the trail near Arolla on the Haute Route.

Beautiful wildflowers along the trail near Arolla.

 

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 Walker’s Haute Route, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like a great many people who aspire to trek the WHR, 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’s 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 Haute Route.
  • 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.

 

Basic Training Plan for the Walker’s Haute Route

Top of a mountain pass on the Walker's Haute Route

You’ll be glad you used this training plan when you’re climbing up steep mountain passes like this one!

 

Six Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Endurance Base

As we alluded to earlier, you can expect to spend long days on the trail while hiking the Haute Route. Most walkers complete their trek in 12-14 days, meaning they’ll need to average around 15 kilometers (10 miles) per day. 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 to-you guessed it- regularly move for extended periods of time. You can achieve this 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 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!

 

Three Months Before Your 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 Haute Route-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.

 

Hiker with large blue backpack walks on a trail surrounded by wildflowers.

As your trek draws nearer, it’s a good idea to start hiking with a weighted pack to simulate what you’ll carry on the WHR.

 

Two Months Before Your Trip: 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 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.

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 Haute Route trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike at least once a week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your Haute Route hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometers (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.

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. 

 

One Month Before Your Trip: 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 Haute Route, 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. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your Haute Route trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!

Hiker walks uphill on the Walker's Haute Route.

Ultimately, walking long distances on hilly terrain is the best way to prepare for the Haute Route.

 

Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels

Unfortunately, the Haute Route is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations.  There are sections that don’t allow for shortcuts, and some of the detours 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 Haute Route)
    • Use public transportation to avoid the more challenging stages of the hike.
    • Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Les Haudères and Zinal make great options.  See our Haute Route 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 Alpine scenery from the road.

Clouds parting to reveal stunning views on the way to Cabane du Mont Fort.

Clouds parting to reveal stunning views on the way to Cabane du Mont Fort.

 

The Bottom Line

Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the Walker’s Haute Route, and I hope our experience can help you have your best possible trip.

 

But wait…there’s more!

If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Haute Route, we can help! Learn more about our personalized coaching services. 

Be sure to check out our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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