Hillwalking in Scotland opens up mega views, challenge, history and wildlife.
This guide gives you an overview of hillwalking in Scotland – recommended gear, skills, routes and more! After this, you might want to check out Arc Guiding’s guided hillwalking options.
Just one look at a large-scale map will show you just how much hill walking is available in Scotland. With miles and miles of remote mountain terrain, including on far-flung islands, there is a huge variety of routes and summits.
Hillwalking in Scotland is also big business, with many outdoor companies, guides and gear shops offering services to walkers. There’s also plenty to discover, too, with ancient landscape, vibrant Gaelic culture, rare Scottish wildlife, fascinating geology and, at times, challenging weather!
Hillwalking for beginners
If you are new to hiking, you are in good company. During the pandemic lockdowns, many people took up walking more seriously. Partly, this was for their own physical and mental health. But also, because of reduced international travel, people were discovering the many beautiful places in their home countries. Here’s an overview of what you need to consider when going for a hillwalking in the Highlands of Scotland.
Take time to plan your walk carefully. It may seem like a drag, but too often, hillwalkers plan an over-ambitious route and don’t turn back in time, or just get unlucky.
Consider the terrain and length of the route, together with the weather forecast and any hazards or access problems on the way (eg: deer stalking or river crossings). Knowing these things will help you decide if your fitness, skills, clothing and gear are up to the job!
Access for hillwalking in Scotland
The ‘right of responsible access’ applies when walking in Scotland’s hills and mountains. It means that, as long as you are behaving responsibly, then you have the right to walk there. Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious what ‘responsible’ is.
Obviously, not dropping litter is key, together with not starting fires. But there are plenty of other situations where wildlife disturbance, or damage to businesses can occur if we are not careful as walkers. Gen up on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and have a look at the Hillphone service for updates on what routes may be closed.
So, what skills do you need for walking? The distance, terrain and weather will determine what hiking skills and fitness you need for your planned route. Beginner-level hiking skills include being able to navigate along obvious line features and cope with easy terrain.
Scottish mountain rescue
Mountain rescue in Scotland is provided entirely by volunteers, coordinated by the Police, with helicopter support from the Coastguard.
Advanced-level hiking skills include, for example, navigating in difficult terrain, walking on rough or steep ground and emergency procedures. Beware though: the visibility on Scotland’s mountains can drop to zero with little warning, making hillwalking navigation tricky!
The right clothing is essential for safety and comfort.
When hill walking in damp and changeable climates (such as in the Highlands of Scotland) a wicking base layer, followed by thinner layers is recommended. The outermost layer should be wind and waterproof. Check out this post on this so-called Layering principle and the post on What to wear for hiking for some detailed advice.
Carry the right equipment to keep you safe and comfortable. For hillwalking in Scotland, a few spare personal and safety items are a very good idea.
Amongst these items will be map and compass, emergency shelter, spare food and clothing and small first aid kit. Check out the Hiking kit list post for detailed info. You can also check out gear reviews for tips and advice on walking gear and clothing.
Arc guiding provides a range of guided walking throughout the Highlands:
Explore the Scottish Highlands on foot with Arc Guiding…
Hill walking weather
As mentioned above, weather is an important thing to consider when planning a hillwalk. It is really important to find a mountain weather forecast. This is because a regular forecast for, say, the nearest town, will be for conditions in the valley or at sea level. A recommended source of forecasts is the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS). Don’t ever underestimate the weather when walking in the hills and mountains of Scotland. The weather in the Scottish Highlands is famously fickle and mountain weather even more so!
Hill walking Munros
The ‘Munros’ consist of the 282 mountains in Scotland over 3000ft (914m) in height. Many people enjoy the challenge of walking to these summits and, perhaps, completing the whole list. They usually involve a good day’s walk, with some summits requiring far more skill, effort and time to reach than others. Certainly, if you like list-ticking and fancy a hillwalking challenge, then this is a biggie.
Winter Hill walking in Scotland
Hill walking in winter requires a higher level of equipment, skill and fitness than in summer. Check out this Winter Hillwalking Kit List to get an idea of what may be needed. Winter hillwalkers also need to up their clothing game with highly protective, but versatile and well-designed clothing layers (the post What to wear for winter hillwalking will give you some tips). Short days, poor visibility and harsh weather present big challenges, together with the risk of avalanches. Therefore, walkers should learn winter mountaineering techniques such as navigating in whiteout, avalanche avoidance, cramponing and ice axe arrest. For a primer, check out the Beginners Guide to Winter Hillwalking.
Learn skills for the winter mountains with Arc Guiding…
As we have seen, hillwalking in Scotland is big on interest, challenge, scenery and weather! However, it is important to go prepared, to get the most out of the day. Whether you are just starting out on bagging your first Munros, or planning a busy season of winter ascents, there is plenty of walking to enjoy!
Explore the Scottish Highlands on foot with Arc Guiding…
282 Munros are currently recognised by The Munro Society.