Most regular hikers/backpackers/thru-hikers/hill-walkers have a pretty standard gear list that they have tried and tested, and use almost every time they go out (with some minor adjustments). Most of us don’t have tons of shelters and sleeping bags, but 2-3 at best; we also don’t have many stoves, or packs, or anything else. We tend to pack the same stuff over and over. I’m exactly the same – I have been using the same gear consistently, including for my Cape Wrath Trail trip in 2015. When I decided to try the trip again, but in less time, I had to create a new Cape Wrath Trail gear list – mainly because I had the experience to know exactly what to take to keep it all tidy and efficient.
Over the years, I have also become an avid believer of the lightweight (and even ultralight at times!) gear: the idea of carrying less gear, while keeping my skills at a higher level and using more multi functional items, seemed to make sense. Last time on the CWT, I took more than my share of comfort items, adding 2-3kg of unused or inefficient gear. The funny thing is that when I was working on this year’s gear list, I had to buy much less that I did last time, and actually ended up getting rid of some of it (thanks eBay!) to pay for the few bits I did need.
This year (2016), my Cape Wrath Trail gear list lives somewhere between the minimal gear used by multi day ultra runners and lightweight backpacking gear. I have trimmed and maximized as much as I can, putting more focus on the areas I learned are important. I was also aware about the dangers of going “stupid light,” and putting myself in danger, so I made sure I have redundancies where needed. This year footwear and foot care have taken a bigger part of my planning, too, since now I understand that my trip can succeed or fail based on how my feet perform. The 3 main goals of my gear are:
- Keep me safe
- Make sure I’m as efficient on the trail as possible
- Have optimal comfort in the night for recovery
Below is my Cape Wrath Trail gear list, broken down into the relevant functional categories and a short explanation about each item (if needed). For each item I’ve also added whether it is essential, optional or comfort, and I hope it can help you decide how to create your own gear list for a similar adventure. If you want just the times, their weight and a quick to read list, you can download it here.
For the carrying system I actually haven’t changed much, my main pack did have some broken seams after my previous CWT trip. I got great service from Elemental Horizon and had the bag replaced, so it goes on the adventure again.
- Backpack: Elemental Horizon Kalais pack (essential) – 40l with a coated finished fabric for slightly more water resistance. The roll top, light lumber system and the mesh pockets make for a very light and versatile pack.
- Frontpack: Ribz pack (optional) – my odd purchase from a few years ago that has become my companion for most trips. Holds all the food, emergency gear and navigation I might need, makes sure I am less likely to lose anything.
- Bag Liner: Thermarest NeoAir pump sack (comfort) – Not really fully waterproof, this is mainly to enjoy not blowing my mat up at the end of the day and adding some more rain protection
- Dry bags: Sea To Summit SilNylon bags (essential) – Mixed sizes (13L, 8L, 4L and 2L) to keep everything dry and safe, especially in the wet Scottish weather. Might need to get some new ones.
- ZipLock bags: (optional) – good to keep some smaller, more often used items dry such a notebook, phone etc.
My sleeping system is one of the most important parts of my gear; the ability to sleep well is a key element of recovery and can make or break a long distance expedition.
Tarp: MLD Trailstar (essential) – you must have a shelter when walking the CWT, but I found that bothies are my main night shelters. Opting for a light and versatile tarp shelter is to keep weight down and condensation low Ground Sheet: Double Tyvek Groundsheet (comfort) – light and simple groundsheet, just me being spoiled to feel more “enclosed” in my tarp
- Trap: Sea To Summit Nano Tarp/Poncho (essential) – this tarp is light, small and also doubles as my rain protection while walking. This is not the strongest or most robust tarp in the market, especially compared to the Trailstar I’m not taking, but with only one planned night of camping, it should be enough
- Bivy: Alpkit Hunka (Optional) – not a must, as I do have a tarp, but I’m using a down sleeping bag and I rather give it a second line of protection when sleeping in potentially cold and wet conditions
- Pegs: MSR Groundhogs (x10)
+ Hillerberg hooks (x4)
- Guy lines: 10×1 meter x2mm cord, 3×2 meter x2 mm cord
- Sleeping Bag: PHD Minim 400 (essential) – an excellent and effective down sleeping bag with a comfort temperature of -5°c
- Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neoair (essential) – I choose an air mat for comfort and insulation but a CCF mat will do the trick just as much. Please note: bothies have no mats
- Pyjama top: Janus Merino Designwool hoodie (optional) – This used to be my hiking top but the low density fabric and balaclava style hood makes it ideal for sleeping
- Pyjama bottoms: Old Craft tights made to capris (optional) – I’ve been trying to find looser Merino capris, but those are either heavy, very expensive or not the right fit, so I made my own. I took a pair of very old polyester leggings (about 10 year sold) and cut them to just under my knees. Those not Merino, those will do and they are very light with embarrassingly loose crotch area for airing in the night
- Night socks: Skins Essentials Men’s Active Compression Socks (optional) – really help me with leg and foot recovery, especially tired calves. I also found that they reduce the chances of shin splits.
- Night hat: Rab Logo Beanie (optional) – good to keep the head extra warm.
My cooking system has been shrinking in size and weight over the last year since I last walked the CWT. I started by using the MSR Reactor, then moved to use a light stove set up with a MSR Pocketrocket and an Alpkit titanium mug, and now I use an alcohol stove – from super fast, to standard, to slow. The reason for this change is that I have eliminated cooking during the day in exposed conditions, so better weather protection is less important. Also, weight is becoming an issue, especially as I will be carrying all my food and fuel for 9 days, so a simpler (and lighter) system was needed.
I was debating on whether to use my light gas stove system or opt for the alcohol stove, especially as I am going for a trip that is just on the trade off point between gas and alcohol efficiency. Also, I will be cooking almost exclusively indoors (bothy or tent), so the need for a non-gas stove to avoid monoxide suffocation became important.
- Stove: Speedster Backpacking Products 30ml Spill Proof Burner (essential) – Given I will only cook while camping or in bothies, alcohol stoves make more sense because they are lighter, more efficient and safer to use than gas stoves
- Stove stand: Speedster Backpacking Products ultralight stand (optional) – Allows me to use the stove to heat water in my cup; useful to make tea while eating dinner from my pot
- Pot: MytiMug 650 titanium cooking mug (essential) – light and durable, titanium cutlery is amazingly more long lasting than aluminium. Between my mug and pot, I can boil 900ml of water
- Cosy: Home made (comfort)
- Wind Shield: Trail Designs Caldera Classic Ti-Tri Cone (optional) – Increase the efficiency of the alcohol stove, increases safety and is also a pot holder. The titanium version is pricier but more durable
- Mug: Esbit 350ml aluminium mug (comfort) – I like having a cup while hiking, it is a little comfort of a item but I still like it. The cup has a plastic lip for preventing lip burns
- Spoon: Sea To Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon (essential)
- Fire starter: Light My fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 (essential) + BiC Mini lighter (optional)
Lately this part of my pack has been growing heavier as the need to communicate with home is vital and I’m using electronics more for navigation. I am planning on charging my devices when possible, but a spare battery is needed; I found that a solar charger is useless on the CWT so just take a battery with enough “juice” to charge for a few days. All the items in this category are either optional or comfort only and it really depends on your navigation, communication and interest preferences.
- Phone: Samsung Galaxy S4 – this is my day to day phone, not much to add. Can be used for navigation, taking pictures, reading and calling home
- Phone case: Can’t recall the brand, but it is big and robust, using rubber and with a metal frame. Not waterproof. I’ve added to this a set of lenses for my phone and a shutter remote for better photography options
- GPS watch: Garmin Fenix 2 – I believe GPS watches are the best tool for fast navigation in the outdoors; they are light, reliable and easy to use – what more do you need (just remember to upload your GPX files before leaving)
- Satellite communication device: DeLorme inReach SE – I got this second hand on eBay for about half the price, but it still needs a subscription plan
- Camera: Olympus Tough TG-2 – I have had this camera for a few years now and it is a great robust point and shoot camera: pictures are not the best but it always works, even in the worst conditions and after falls. Discontinued
- Tripod: Joby GorillaPod Original
- eReader: Amazon 6″ Paperwhite Kindle – I love zoning out for an hour or two before going to sleep, and a backlit eReader makes it really easy and saves on batteries. Great for the travel to and from the trail, too
- Battery pack: Veho Pebble Explorer 8400mAh – only 126g and offers 3 charges for my phone/9 charges for my watch. It has 2 USB outlets and fully charges from the main in about 5 hours – very useful in the modern age.
- Headphones: Standard earbuds for the travel or for easier conversations while walking
- Electrical plug: 5V/2A 2000mAh Universal Folding UK Adaptor – Can connect 2 USB cables in for a fast recharge
- Cables: 2x Short USB to micro USB cables, 1x Garmin charging USB cable
I am aware that some of these are redundant, but I do find that when trying to combine things, you get sub par performance. Using a dedicated camera insures you actually take pictures and using and eReader actually saves a lot of battery usage on the phone.
Using a Satellite communication device has become a must as one of my wife’s terms for my longer and more remote adventures. We are a young family, with a two year old and a newborn, so having away for me to know that everything is OK (or bail if needed at home) is a necessity. Also, being able to tell my wife that all is well a 3-4 times a day makes her much calmer and me feeling better for not stressing her – worth the weight!
Hygiene and First Aid
- Tooth brush: Travel brush from some airline (essential)
- Tooth paste: Any sample size paste works (essential)
- Floss: Oral-B Satin Tape (optional) – I like to keep high oral hygiene, especially with the amount of nuts I’ll be eating. Can also double as a very strong sewing thread
- Lip balm: Non flavour lip balm (essential) – can also be used as a skin moisturiser
- Deodorant: The Guv’ner by Lush (comfort) – Coal powder with no fragrance; light and effective in making me feel semi human
- General purpose soap: Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap (optional) – Bio-degradable and can be used for everything: shower, hair, wash clothes, wash dishes etc
- Foot Care: Joshua Tree Climbers Salve (optional) – If you are planning on going for the wet feet effect while hiking, an oil based ointment helps restore the skin and protect it from the wetness to come in the day
- Dry soap (gel): Lifeventure Dry Wash (essential) – Keeping your hands clean after doing your business is vital, especially outdoors as you will use your hands again to eat all the time
- Toilet paper: Half a roll for 8 days should be enough (essential, to me at least…)
- Towel: Lifeventure HydroFibre Travel Towel Large (comfort) – I was missing a towel when hiking last time to dry feet, have a shower in campsites etc. Just a comfort item
First Aid 1 (carried in front pack)
- Blister care: Compeed (essential) – I will be carrying 2 for immediate use
- Skin care: Athlete’s tape, mini size (essential)
- Wound care: Plasters (optional) – 3 standard size
- Water purification: Lifesystems Chlorine Dioxide Tablets (essential) – 4 tablets to make 4 liters in case of emergency or to clean wounds etc
First Aid 2 (with the hygiene bag)
- Anti inflammatory pills: Naproxen (comfort) – I have a history of knee inflammation from an old injury and I know it will flare up on the CWT, so this is preventative
- Skin treatment ointment: Novartis Fenistil Gel (optional) – General purpose gel to treat any skin issues, get rid of any rashes overnight
- Pain medication: Ibuprofen (essential)
- Fever medication: Paracetamol (optional)
- Blister care: Compeed (optional) – Extra 6
- Water purification: Lifesystems Chlorine Dioxide Tablets (essential) – 12 tablets
- Skin care: Athlete’s tape, regular size (optional)
- Sterile gloves (x1 pair)
- Sterile wipes (x1)
Other Carried Items
- Compass: Silva Explorer (essential) – You have to have a map in such a wilderness, and know how to use it. The original Explorer is discontinued but the Field is similar
- Maps: Self made OS maps in a combination of 1:25000 scale and 1:50000 scale (essential)
- Maps case: Simple poly resealable bag in the right size (A4/A3) (essential)
- Space blanket: Lifesystems Thermal Blanket (essential) – When the weather turns bad and you are stuck, a shelter is not always feasible and the thin foil style blankets are great
- Whistle: Lifesystems Mountain Whistle (essential) – Increases the chance of being found in case of an emergency, much louder than a shout
- Pocket knife: CRKT Pazoda 2 (essential) – cut straps off in a river crossing gone bad, open food packets etc
- Petroleum gel balls: Self made using solid gel and cotton balls (comfort) – highly useful in starting a fire in a bothy when the wood is damp, can be a life saver on the CWT
- Sewing kit: Self made (optional) – thick thread and 3 needles, 5cm x 5cm patch of tensile, duct tape in various tubes
- Walking poles: Black Diamond Distance Z Poles (optional) – I may put it as optional as it is not strictly needed, but I highly, highly recommend taking a pair
- Water filter: Sawyer Mini Water Filter + 1L Squeeze Pouch (optional) – Many say that you do not need to filter water in the Scottish Highlands, but I would rather filter and be sure than get “liquid bowels” on my trips
- Water Containers: Platypus Platy+Plus Bottle (essential) – at least 1L to carry, I also have an empty 2L container for the evening and morning
- Headlamp: Silva Siju (essential) with extra batteries – light, simple and not the strongest, this is strictly an emergency headlamp as the days are so long that walking in night is not needed on the CWT in spring/summer. Discontinued
- Camp lantern: Alpkit Glowe (comfort) – can be a lantern or a hand held torch. Bothies tend to be very dark and I enjoy having light without the glare of a headlamp
- Notebook: Standard Aquascribe Original Notebook (comfort) – I like making notes, writing daily reports on my trip, gear notes and just jotting down ideas. A waterproof notebook makes it easier when outdoors in the UK
- Pencil: Pick your choice (comfort) – I like a half-length standard HB – easy to sharpen and robust
- Synthetic insulated jacket: Arc’tryx Atom LT Jacket (essential) – a belay jacket for any kind of break or stop. Can be put over any shell, wet or dry, and still function
- Down sweater: Stoic Hardon down sweater (optional) – Added warmth for the camp. I found the Highlands can get pretty cold and I need more insulation
- Rain gear: Sea To Summit Nano Tarp/Poncho (essential) – Using a poncho is new for me, but I find that when it is really pouring in Scotland, even the best jacket won’t stop it, so having better breathability with a poncho is better. Also, on the CWT there is very little need to use your hands
- Spare underwear: UA Original 9” Boxerjock Boxer Briefs (essential) – Keep good hygiene by rotating and cleaning your underwear regularly
- Spare Socks: Injinji Outdoor 2.0 Midweight Nuwool Mini Crew (optional) – I hate getting into wet socks first thing in the morning, so I rotate socks to keep them dry
- Shorts: Under Armour Running Shorts (comfort) – in case it is hot or when I’m in a hotel/hostel and not sure the rest of the patrons enjoy seeing me in tights only. Discontinued
Footwear and Foot Care
Probably the most important part of my trip, and should be for anyone who is going for a fast and long trip over hard conditions. I am staying with the trail running concepts, opting for a pair of light, non waterproof trail running shoes. On my last CWT trip I used the Inov-8 Trailroc 235, a great minimalist shoe for trail running; but I took them when they were already over used (should have bought new ones!) and they didn’t provide enough foot protection from the Scottish highlands.
I also changed is my socks system: after many years of insisting that a single sock system is enough, I have been experimenting and found that a double layer sock system containing mid weight Merino toe socks and thin regular Merino socks work brilliantly. No chafing nor blisters, great when spending 12-16 hours in wet, muddy socks. The Cape Wrath Trail is a very boggy and wet trail with many river crossings that might be in spate, so keeping feet dry is almost impossible; your feet will get wet. What some choose to do is use waterproof socks and just carry a couple of them, but if water gets in the socks, your foot is in danger of Trench Foot after a long day. Instead, light and thin socks, Merino specifically, will provide some insulation, will dry quickly and can get soaked repeatedly.
For foot care I have a simple set of tools and habits:
- Use toe socks under regular socks all day
- After setting up camp/getting in, remove socks and put on compression knee high socks
- Use light sandals as camp shoes
- Before bed, lotion your feet with some climber’s salve
- Put wet socks in the sleeping bag (after squeezing as much water out) to dry
- In the morning, use different toe socks (2nd pair) and semi dry regular Merino socks
- Shoes: Altra running Lone Peak 2.0 (essential) – good cushion and zero drop to keep a natural gait. Discontinued
- Toe socks: Injinji Outdoors 2.0 NuWool Midweight (optional) – non stink and carry two to rotate. These are my liners and my blister prevention trick for very wet and soggy toes.
- Merino socks: Ulvang Ultra Merino socks (essential)
- Camp shoes: Luna Mono Sandals (comfort) – I was missing a change to use other shoes last time and I find the weight cost low. I can also hike in these sandals as I’ve done it in the past.
- Underwear: UA Original 9” Boxerjock Boxer Briefs (essential) – light, synthetic, dry super fast and protect my thighs from chafing.
- Base shirt: Janus Summerwool T-Shirt (essential)
- Base socks: Injinji Outdoor 2.0 Midweight Nuwool Mini Crew (optional) – I like having liner socks, see above in footcare
- Trousers: Mountain Equipment Ibex Softshell Pants (essential) – For me it is about wind protection, breathability, robustness and drying fast; a softshell is the best solution I have found for most conditions
- Midlayer top: Trekmates Merino Contrast Men’s Hooded Top (essential) – It can get very cold on the CWT and having some more insulation that dries fast is important. Merino is best for repeated use, also has a hood and a zipper to allow full protection or maximum ventilation
- Outer socks: Ulvang Training socks (essential) – Thin Merino socks will be low on stench after being wet all day, dry over night and will retain some insulation during the day when wet
- Wind shirt: Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody (comfort) – if you have a rain shell, a wind shell is a spoil. I like the extra breathability I get from a wind shell and the Squamish feels robust and has a great hood
- Hat (summer): Inov8 Hotpeak 40 (optional) – I like having a baseball style cap to allow better control of my jacket’s hood, it forces it to move and stay out of my eyes. Also useful for rain and sun….Discontinued
- Trail shoe gaiters: Dirty Girl gaiters (comfort) – Keeps stones and mud out of my shoes, protects my trousers better, keeps me looking silly and makes sure taking shoes on and off the camp is easier with clean laces
- Neck gaiter (used as handkerchief): Summer UV Buff (comfort) – I get snotty when it is windy and if I need to carry something to blow my nose, might as well carry a multi purpose item
Clothing Accessories (Carried at times)
- Liner gloves: Outdoor Research PL 100 Sensor gloves (essential) – touch screen friendly and will keep the worst of the bite from your hands. Fleece based so will still function if wet
- Insulation gloves: Montane Prism gloves (comfort) – warm and light using primaloft, great to fully layer the hands when the temperatures drop
- Shell gloves: Haglofs Gore-Tex Gram shell mittens (optional) – Wind breaking, waterproof and light; can be easily thrown on when the weather turns. Discontinued
- Menu – The final menu was created to maximize calories, recovery and great weight to calories ratio. It is also suppose to tasty and came down to just over £70 and just under 8kg – not too bad.
- Fuel: Methylated – Using an alcohol stove means simple fuel source, and less of it. I have calculated the burning time of my new stove and based on 2 meals a day (about 1.4 L water a day), I will be using 50ml of methylated
How it all comes together
As you can see, I like to think of my kit list in a functional way rather than some random list – what do I do at each stage? What will I need for that?
With my Cape Wrath Trail gear list I was aiming to have as much as I need and want (my comfort items), while still keeping weight as low as I can. The goal is to keep the base weight under 8kg, which is not much, but it is a lot when you plan on walking 30-45 miles per day, for 8 days straight, over rough terrain. This list is by all means not an extreme ultra light list: all my electronics could easily stay at home, but I enjoy the function and comfort they provide.
If you are interested, you can download the full list, with weight per item to show how I managed to get my base (“Dry” carried weight) to just over 8.5kg. With water, fuel and food for my whole trip (this is an unsupported attempt) my bags will weigh just under 19kg, depleting as I progress on the CWT. Get the list here and let me know your thoughts on it.
Going on your own CWT adventure? Press the image to get the ultimate planning guide
Now that the trip is all done and over, you can see how the gear fared in my gear debrief.