Calmac website search form
CalMac Blog

The ultimate packing list for your trip to Scotland's west coast and islands

9 essentials for your trip to Scotland's west coast


Packing is a personal thing. For some it's a last-minute dash around the house, grabbing everything in sight. For others it's a careful process of selection, whittled down with military precision. Whatever your style, here are a few essentials for a trip on the west coast and islands that you really shouldn't leave home without.


1. Midge repellent

Midge repellent is the only thing you really, really should have on the islands. With any luck there'll be a breeze or a bit of rain to keep the midges off. But if it's a still, warm and sunny evening you'll need to cover every inch of exposed skin in the stuff.

Our personal recommendation? Avon Skin So Soft. The dry oil spray is an excellent moisturiser, and just happens to be the one thing that midges don't like the taste of. Standing right next to the barbecue also helps - as does a hip flask of your favourite dram.


2. Sun cream

Don't trust the weather forecast. It can change in a moment, from dark clouds and rain to bright, fierce sunshine. Make sure you pack plenty of sun cream, and avoid the classic red-faced look of someone caught out by the Scottish sun.


3. Waterproofs

It's bound to be sunny for your trip to the islands - but on the off-chance that it rains, you'll need a decent waterproof jacket. Beware anything that calls itself 'water resistant' or 'weatherproof': these things mean nothing to the howling, lashing, sideways rain that the islands can serve up.


4. Something warm

Pack shorts, t-shirts, floaty summer dresses, of course - but don't forget to include something warm. It could be another layer to pull on at the top of the hill, or a down jacket to shrug on for an evening round the campfire.


5. Swim kit

Run into the sea. Jump into a loch. Dip into the Fairy Pools on Skye. There are many opportunities for wild swimming on the west coast islands, so swim kit is essential. Take trunks or a bikini for a cold plunge and a shriek, or pack a wetsuit to head out for longer swims in Scotland's fine waters.  There are loads of organised water based activities that you can do on your trip. Check out our Days Out page for more details.

Tip! Remember to take note of any local safety signs along Scotland's coastline before taking a dip!


6. Walking boots

Whether it's the familiar profile of Arran, the Paps of Jura or Skye's daunting collection of Munros, you'll want to explore the west coast islands on foot. It doesn't have to be about bagging the Munros either: try the hills of Harris or Rum. Whatever your level, you'll need sturdy walking boots, although you'll see plenty of hardier types running up mountains in trail shoes.


7. Binoculars

It doesn't matter if you're a seasoned twitcher or a total newbie, pack a pair of binoculars to get closer to the wildlife on the islands. It makes the difference between spotting a black splodge in the distance to watching a sea eagle soar and bank across the Sound of Mull. Caught the birdwatching bug? Head for Islay for golden eagles, chough, and elusive corncrake.


8. Maps, and a compass

Don't rely on your phone for maps, because reception can be patchy. A GPS can be handy, but nothing beats a good old fashioned paper map. Go for the orange OS Explorer versions if you're planning any hiking, biking, or other wild adventures. And take a compass too: it's easy to get lost in the hills and the moors.


9. Net, bucket and spade

No trip to the islands would be complete without a bit of beach fun - and there are plenty of beaches to choose from (try Harris). Head for the rocks at low tide to see what marine life you can find with a net. Or spend the day finding the perfect location for elaborate moated sandcastles: if you can't make it to the astonishing Kiloran Beach on Colonsay, you could always nip over to Cumbrae or Bute for the afternoon.


Anything else?

A picnic blanket? Thermos flask? The dog? If we've missed out the essentials on your list, let us know in the comments section below...


Close Don't show again