Scotland

Gear I use: Scottish winter camping kit list

Camping in the snow beneath Sgorr Ruadh, a Munro in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. It took us 4 hours to wade 5km through deep snow to reach this spot, 500m above sea level. At 10:30pm, we were still 1.5km short of the bealach we intended to camp on, my tent pole had snapped whilst I was putting the tent up in strong winds and the pole ripped the fly sheet. Being able to deal with these type of things is one of the reasons I carry a decent amount of gear with me into Scotland’s winter hills.

Camping in the snow beneath Sgorr Ruadh, a Munro in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. It took us 4 hours to wade 5km through deep snow to reach this spot, 500m above sea level. At 10:30pm, we were still 1.5km short of the bealach we intended to camp on, my tent pole had snapped whilst I was putting the tent up in strong winds and the pole ripped the fly sheet. Being able to deal with these type of things is one of the reasons I carry a decent amount of gear with me into Scotland’s winter hills.

Note: This is not a lightweight winter camping kit list.

Far too early in the year, usually from October, I look forward to winter camping in Scotland. Folk often find this strange because I’m not talking about the deep, cold snowy winters of, say Alaska, but the bone chilling, ‘just-above-freezing and the sleet’s blowing sideways’ maritime climate that Scottish hillwalkers rejoice in.

Winter camping in Scotland can be cold and wet. We don’t live in a big country but it’s possible to get far away from the road and relative safety (some roads in winter have no traffic) and with the wind, snow and often freezing rain it would be easy to get hypothermia. It’s important to have the right skills, quality equipment and to be prepared.

Here’s a sample winter camping gear list for Scottish winter (with some kit thoughts and camping tips from 15 years experience thrown in).

WEAR

  • Underwear - try merino wool, it doesn’t stink as much after a few days out.

  • Trousers - I’ve tried lots and prefer Powerstretch leggings (thick, stretchy tights – not for the fashion conscious)

  • Socks - thick woollen socks (carry a spare pair). If you wear leather boots, waterproof/breathable socks are very good (look for ones with merino wool inside)

  • Boots - Scarpa Mantas win Trail magazine’s ‘Best in Test’ award most, if not every year. (I use La Sportiva Nepal Extremes, which I find keep my feet nice and warm).

  • T-shirt - merino wool (mixed reviews – I like it) or Patagonia’s capilene

WARMTH

  • Fleece top - lightweight fleece, 100weight.

  • Windshirt - invaluable. Wear it over the t-shirt or the t-shirt and fleece and it can keep you warm on the move in most weather. (I used a Patagonia Houdini for many years. These days it’s a Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket)

  • Fleece jacket - I run very warm so I only wear this when it’s bad weather up high. I could take a really light option (e.g. a thin Primaloft top such as Rab, Haglofs, Patagonia) but I find these compress too much in a winter hoolie and I’ve gotten cold. I prefer an old-fashioned 200 weight fleece pullover (Berghaus Spectrum)

  • Duvet jacket - I’ve spent a ton of money looking for a good, thick hooded ‘belay jacket’. Current one is Mountain Equipment’s Citadel and it’s super toasty. (I’ve tried down insulation and don’t like it in Scotland in winter for camping trips, even with a water-resistant shell. It gets wet too easily and I don’t like to risk wearing it through the day)

  • Hat - thin wool hat (thicker ones I find get too hot for walking in)

  • Balaclava - powerstretch or merino wool

  • Windproof hat - spare in case of very bad weather

  • Windproof neck gaiter - ditto - I get a cold, sore face when the wind is strong and it is around/below freezing

  • Fleece gloves - Powerstretch ones are good for lower down or when it’s not so cold. They will get wet but should dry (relatively) quickly

  • Ski gloves - great for poor weather but if you wear them all day you sweat in them and they usually stay wet for the duration

  • Pile mitts - lightweight pertex/pile mitts, usually taken instead of the ski gloves

  • Pile mitts - sheepskin mitts I keep for emergencies

  • Waterproof/breathable shell mitts (e.g. Paclite) - I can put these over any of the above

WET

  • Waterproof jacket - I like two layers of fabric for the front zip (or the wind/sleet/rain comes through it) and a hood you can disappear into (with strong bungee cord for cinching down – some jacket hoods un-cinch in strong winds).

  • Waterproof trousers - If you’re wearing thick trousers, you could get away with a lighter pair of shell trousers. (Caution lightness against robustness. I’ve trashed a pair of Paclite trousers in 2-3 trips (heel rubbing, crampons rips, etc.).

  • Gaiters - I use an old pair of Mountain Hardwear waterproof/breathable ones. Make sure the loop at the bottom is sturdy or it’ll break easily. (If you tuck your waterproof trousers inside them them you can negate the last point about robustness but you will end up looking like a German soldier).

SAFETY

  • Map - in Ortlieb waterproof case (essential)

  • Compass and GPS - essential (compass first, GPS as backup)

  • Mobile phone - in dry bag

  • Ice axe - Petzl’s Summit ice axe I’ve found to be a good all-rounder for what I do

  • Crampons - Grivel G12s (10-point ones would suffice for winter walking)

  • Ski poles – running poles (e.g. Black Diamond) are the lightest weight. I prefer their stronger Trail series for winter (flick-lock because I’ve had two Leki screw-tighten poles fail on me).

  • Headtorch - Petzl’s Nao head lamp is great when you’re looking for a tent spot or navigating off technical ground (take a spare battery). I also take a Petzl Bindi as a spare – handy for in the tent)

  • Bothy bag - this seems excessive when you’ve got a tent but if you’re planning to be far away from your shelter all day, you need an emergency option and this is 100% effective. It’s great for lunch stops too. (A 2-man one fits me and a dog. A 3-man one I’d suggest is better for 2 adults).

  • Blizzard bag - I’ve spent an unplanned Winter’s night out in a bothy bag and it wasn’t pleasant. I’d have preferred a second layer between me and the elements. Blizzard’s Active Range model I think is a good compromise between weight and protectability.

EATING AND SLEEPING

  • Tent - a 4-season dome or tunnel tent (I have a Macpac Minaret which has been bombproof, even when damaged - see caption at top of page)

  • Poles - there’s the option to double up on poles if you’re expecting very bad weather (I’ve never had to)

  • Pegs - long ones plus snow stakes if camping on snow (Useful to take poly bags then too – fill them with snow and attach them to the guy lines)

  • T-shirt, long johns, socks - it’s nice to have completely dry clothes to put on

  • Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Classic 750 down bag (much lighter options are available these days)

  • Sleeping bag cover (optional) – Mountain Equipment Ion is ideal (down bags are prone to get damp with condensation)

  • Sleeping mat - Cascade Design’s NeoAir XTherm is lightweight and packs down the same size as a 3/4 Thermarest I used to use. The comfort it provides is well worth the cost.

  • Pillow - I re-use an Exped dry bag. Stuff a fleece top and other clothes in it and you have a perfect pillow. (If you don’t like the slightly cold feeling of it on your face, the stuff sacks that Rab provides with their down jackets are a good alternative)

  • Glasses case - I’ve rolled over on my glasses a few times

  • Book - it’s a long night if you’re in bed just after it gets dark

  • Ear plugs - useful for tent partners but more for the wind

  • Stove, fuel, windshield - MSR Whisperlite (multi-fuel) or a MSR Windburner (gas). I like the latter as you can use it in between your legs

  • Water bottle - rigid 1l Nalgene with a wide mouth (doubles as a hot water bottle)

  • Vacuum flask - 0.5 litre seems a good combination of weight versus amount of use

  • Pot - 1.6 litre MSR pot (there’s smaller and lighter ones but I like to boil a big pot of water and use it to make dinner, fill a flask and fill a makeshift hot water bottle, all at the same time. Saves me re-boiling water)

  • Mug - it’s nice to have a drink whilst your tea’s cooking and you’ll appreciate your morning coffee more if it doesn’t taste of Thai Chilli Supernoodles

  • Spoon - Lexan

  • Lighter - Light my Fire

  • Pen knife - Swiss army knife

  • Water bottles - 1.5 litres worth of soft, roll-uppable water bottles, e.g. Platypus (It’s nice to not have to walk back and forth for water)

  • Hygiene - Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, handwash

  • Medicine - e.g. strong painkillers, loperamide

  • First aid kit

  • Repair kit

On top of this, I’ll also have a DSLR camera, a single lens (if not working), spare batteries and memory cards in a Lowepro Toploader Pro camera case.

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Gear I use: Mountain Equipment Citadel

Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket. (Product shot used with permission).

Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket. (Product shot used with permission).

I spend a lot of time outside in the winter season photographing athletes participating in hiking and mountaineering activities. I like a jacket that keeps me warm as, despite Scotland not having the coldest temperatures, it's easy to get dangerously cold outdoors.

During the Scottish winter season, the mountain thermometer commonly fluctuates between -5 and +5 degrees C, which is not cold in itself but when you add on strong winds and freezing rain hypothermia can be a real threat.

The world's best insulator for outdoor activities (if you discount animal hide and fur) appears to be goose down. If you're operating at high altitude or in the cold regions of the earth many experts say there is nothing better. Scotland's maritime climate however can kill down feathers in a matter of minutes and what was once a nice, fluffy, warm layer of clothing becomes an un-insulating soggy mess - even beneath a water-resistant shell - and dangerously ineffective. 

Whilst down is still useful for e.g. sleeping bags and very cold temperatures, synthetic insulation such as Primaloft is a more sensible approach for insulated clothing in maritime climates (being generally lighter, warmer and more functional than fleece for the same weight and more robust than down). Over the years, I've had a number of synthetically insulated jackets, including a Patagonia DAS parka, a Cloudveil Enclosure jacket and a North Face Redpoint Optimus (and a Wild Things belay jacket, two Berghaus Infinity Pros, a Berghaus Asylum Belay Parka, a Haglofs Barrier Zone Hoody, a Patagonia Nano Puff, a Rab Generator smock and a Rab Xenon X Hoody). I've not outworn them all - I tend to trade jackets in needlessly when I think something 'better' comes along - but I reckon I've used the type long enough to pass opinion on them.

My current 'I always take it' jacket for Scottish winter (which I will wear out as it is excellent) is Mountain Equipment's Citadel jacket. It has kept me warm during countless photo shoots in the Scottish mountains, in Patagonia, below freezing in Spain and the Alps, and on a cold ledge during an unexpected winter's night out.

For static warmth in damp and cold conditions I'd suggest the Mountain Equipment Citadel is perfect. It’s by far the lightest insulated jacket you'll carry (a size L weighs in at 890g) and it's far too warm too walk in but when you need to stop for any length of time in winter weather and retain body heat for a good length of time, it's excellent.

What I like about the Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket

  • 200g Primaloft One is very warm

  • Elasticated back helps stop cold spots

  • Thick insulated hood

  • Large inside pocket - I place a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water in it for a ready-made hot water bottle

  • Repairability - mine's has a big 'L' shaped rip on one of the front pockets courtesy of a careless dry cleaner in Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Down insulation would have exploded everywhere but I fixed it simply with some McNett Tenacious Tape (an excellent product worth a review in its own right)

  • The original Mountain Equipment Citadel I bought was small in its size, which I thought was odd for a belay jacket (climbers wear these type of jackets over all their clothes for warmth at a belay). Mountain Equipment's customer service however was excellent and I received a new one by return

What would I change?

  • Both velcro wrist straps have ripped off, presumably due to poor stitching

  • I'd remove the stretchy wrist gaskets - they get soaking wet and take longer to dry out than the jacket

  • When not wearing a helmet, I'd prefer the front collar of the jacket to be taller when zipped up so it covered more of my face (A Haglofs Barrier Zone Hoody jacket I have - sadly discontinued - has the best hood I've ever had on an insulated jacket)

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