Jim and I are planning our next big hike - five weeks in Scotland. I'm sharing our info in case it's useful to others, and in case there are Scottish Hill experts out there who can give us advice.
This post is sort of a brain dump. (I'll post specific questions on the UK/Scottish forums, where there are many local experts.)
We've been backpacking in US Wilderness areas 40 years (Amy) and 50 years (Jim), with plenty of miles of off-trail travel. Ten years ago we started also taking "town to town" hikes overseas, and have now taken 10 or 15 hikes of about five weeks each (England, Wales, France, Spain, Turkey, Australia). Five weeks on the trail is our sweet spot. This will be our first hike in Scotland -- we're scared of the weather there, but so many people have told us it's spectacular that we are taking the plunge.
0) Walk the Kelvin Walkway from Glasgow to the start of the West Highlands Way
1) Walk the West Highlands Way (aka WHW) to Fort William
2) Walk some variant of the Cape Wrath Trail (aka CWT) to Cape Wrath
3) Walk the north coast east from Cape Wrath as far as we get, ideally all the way to the train station at Wick.
West Highland Way is straight-forward popular National Traill with way-marks and guidebooks. Planning is easy, navigation is easy, and there are services all along the route.
Cape Wrath Trail is not a trail per se, but a bunch of routing options. We've got the 1999 Cicerone Guide, the info from the 2013 Cicerone Guide (which will not be published in time for us). We've downloaded track info from trip reports at walkhighlands.co.uk and from capewrathtrailguide.org. We've got all the routing options from both Cicerone editions loaded in Google Earth and in the OS mapping tools in WalkHighlands.co.uk. We've ruled out some of the alternatives, chosen some stretches we intend to walk, and have a collection of alternates we will use if the weather conditions preclude our intended route. The level of planning for this route is a different league from walking a National Trail :)
North Coast routing is derived from gpx tracks and trip report from the fellow who walked the entire coast of the island (England/Wales/Scotland). Jim did the research and I can't find the website, but will update this post when I find it.
http://capewrathtrailguide.org/ (excellent site from the author of the 2013 Cicerone guidebook, complete with gpx files)
http://backpackinglight.co.uk/page116.asp (I've listened to the podcasts from several years of TGO Challenges)
We'll continue with our long-standing method -- hot meals at every opportunity (pubs, cafes, B&Bs) and cold food in between. We won't carry a stove, and we won't ship parcels to points along the trail. We've found that even the tiniest shops carry our staples -- cheese, bread/crackers/muffins, meat (salami, jerky, canned tuna), nuts, dry fruit, chocolate, cookies, carrots, apples, yoghurt, potato chips, granola/cereal bars. Seventy-five miles is the longest distance between shops (on the CWT between Ullapool and Kinlochbervie), and there are a couple hotels in that stretch where we'll be able to eat a sit-down meal and hopefully buy some hard-boiled eggs and other food to take along for the following days. I expect that we'll end up carrying 8-10 pounds of food per person max once or twice, but for most of the trip we'll get by carrying just 1-3 days worth of food. This no-cook and no-ship method is not the norm, but it works well for us.
We'll rough camp, we'll use bothies, we'll use B&Bs and hotels, we'll use bunk houses. We're open to all options, and each night will depend on where we are at the end of the day and what the weather is like. Historically we've spent nearly all nights on our trips wild camping. But the Scottish bothies offer a great alternative. We've heard the message loud and clear that what looks like it will be a good campite on a topo map is in fact a boggy or tussocky site impossible to use; many people have reported spending a few hours walking before finding a suitable site -- it sure isn't like hiking in the Sierra or in southern Utah, or the Great South Path in Australia, where there are frequent 5-star campsites.
For the WHW we will carry a guidebook (Cicerone or Aurum Press) that contains maps. The National Trail is on clear paths and is waymarked, so the maps in the book should be adequate.
For the CWT and the North Coast, we have superimposed our route info onto the OS 1:50K maps using http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/maps/, captured those images, arranged them into wide strip maps using Adobe Illustrator, and will print them onto 11x17" DuraCopy waterproof paper. For the tougher off-trail sections we'll also print the 1:25K maps.
We'll carry an iPhone to use as a gps device. All track and waypoint info and maps will be pre-loaded so we won't need WIFI or data service. We'll recharge in shops and cafes, and a charge should last us 3-4 days. We'll be using two apps:
ViewRanger, preloaded with OS 1:50K and 1:25K maps for the whole route.
Gaia GPS, preloaded with satellite imagery, OpenCycleMap maps, and 1950s OS maps. Current OS maps are very expensive and not available from Gaia. The 1950s OS maps are out of copyright, and therefore available at no charge. Obviously they aren't as useful as the current maps.
We've used Gaia GPS for long walks in Turkey, Spain and Australia and it has worked very well for us. We haven't used ViewRanger yet, but I've been using it as I prep our route information and so far it seems AOK.
We'll use a LifeProof case for the phone. This is a 30 gram waterproof case that has the same form factor as a normal iPhone case. I've had it for only on week and haven't used it in the rain yet, but I'm pleased with it's form and weight. In addition we'll carry an Aloksak and a few pint size freezer ziplocks.
And the iPhone is attached to my pants, so I won't drop or lose it.
Packs: ULA Ohm2 (Jim), and either ULA Circuit or GG Mariposa (Amy)
Sleeping: REI QuarterDome, NeoAir pads with pad couplers, home-made double down quilt. Cuben ground cloth which will double as a mini tarp for use during the day. (total weight = 128 oz = 8 pounds). Some day we'll switch to lighter tent, but we're pretty darn happy with the Quarter Dome.
Amy's Trail Clothes:(Jim's will be similar)
Montrail AT Plus trail runners (I've used this model for several years)
REI Desert Gaiters
Darn Tough 3/4 mesh socks (3 pairs)
Pants - either Arcteryx Palisade or Cloudveil Spinner zip-off softshell pants
Sunday Afternoons Sport Hat (wide brim, but fits under a raincoat hood)
Marmot Chinook hooded windshirt (the old lighter model, sadly no longer available)
Montbell Thermawrap vest
Marmot Essence raincoat
GoLite rain pants (I remove the elastic band from the waist to save a half oz and associated bulk)
OR Flurry mitts with TerraNova Extremeties TuffBags waterproof overmitts
Amy's dry clothes for evening
2nd merino hoody (may use during day if necessary)
Icebreaker 150 long johns (may use during day if necessary)
mid-weight wool socks that always stay dry
Smartwool cuffed beanie (to double up with hoody since our quilt doesn't wrap over our heads)
BPL Thoroughfare windpants
Crocs Cleo model (lighter and more compact than most models, gives my feet a chance to air and dry)
Nunatak Skaha down pullover.
Ditties and Other Gear
Waterproof stuff sacks (Zpacks cuben fiber and/or trash compactor bags and/or Sea to Summit UltraSil.)
2x micro towels
2x soda bottles
Black Diamond z-poles (Amy only, Jim doesn't use poles)
GoLite Umbrella (Jim only, Amy can't use one due to hiking poles)
2x Reading Glasses, 2x Sunglasses
Camera (in addition to iPhone, better quality images and doesn't drain the iPhone battery)
Food kit (2 spoons, lexan knife, can opener)
Maps, route notes, pencil
1x Petzl e-lite
Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, dental floss, earplugs, tiny liquid soap, tiny bug juice, pocket pack Kleenex, matches, whistle, chapstick with Leukotape wrapped around it, 1 oz sunscreen, deodorant, Body Glide, Clotrimizole anti-fungal foot ointment (deodorant, Body Glide and Clotrimzole repackaged into tiny pill containers).
Maybe Aqua Mira (but most scottish hikers don't treat water)
iPhone charging cable. Possibly a small 1-2 oz external recharge battery.
First Aid and Repair kit.
Total pack weight (not including binocs and base clothing we always wear) is currently at 13.9 pounds per person. Biggest weight savings we're considering would be 1 pound of bird book, and switching to a 2.5 pound (vs 4 pound) tent. I don't think we'll change tents for this trip, as we are not inclined to experiment with new tent given Scottish weather. But we might sacrifice the bird book and just use bird apps on the iPhone.
We're both comfortable tackling the off-trail sections. We're both comfortable being on the trail for five weeks and the lifestyle issues that entails (all day every day hiking, many days without hot water or hot food, finding a campsite at the end of a day with no predetermined destination). We've hiked in wet boggy terrain, and although it's not particularly pleasant I think we know what to expect.
The big unknown is the weather. We have plenty of experience hiking when the temps are at or below freezing (autumn mornings in the Sierra or winter mornings in Coe or Big Sur) and we know how to dress for that. In Wales we had 14 days of rain and wind (fortunately followed by 3 weeks with NO rain!), so we've had the experience of walking in the rain, in wet shoes through wet boggy ground, day after day. But in Wales the temps were mild, so we could hike in shorts and a merino zip-t plus rain coat and pants and stay very comfortable. And we've had a few trips that had a day at a time of cold and wet weather. But we've never taken a hike where it was cold and wet day after day. Reading trip reports, and having listened to all of the "TGO Challenge" episodes from "The Outdoors Station", I can see that we might be lucky and have as much sun as rain, or we might be unlucky and have consecutive days of windy coldy wet weather with no sunny interludes. We keep our fingers crossed - prepare for the worst and hope for the best.