Winter walking tips for Scotland

It may be cold outside, but that's no excuse to stay inside when you could be enjoying Scotland’s amazing outdoors!  A brisk walk of 30 minutes five days a week (or 60 minutes for children) is the best way to meet recommended levels of physical activity.  Have a look at our walking tips before you go to make sure you get the most out of going for a walk in the winter.

Health benefits

  • Try and get out most days to make the most of winter sunshine and soak up that Vitamin D!
  • A walk at lunchtime, even if just for 15 minutes, will help to banish SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and general winter blues.

Route planning

  • For an easy stroll, plan a walk which has a café or pub en route to get warmed up in, or find a sheltered bench for a rest halfway around.
  • Be prepared!  Scottish weather can change quickly, particularly in upland areas, and winter days are short so you can sometimes find yourself inadvertently walking home in the dark.
  • If you're new to walking, go with someone else to build up confidence.
  • On windy days, look for a walk in woodlands or forests which will be more sheltered than hills or coastal walks.  But try to avoid areas with trees if a gale is blowing – branches might snap off and land on you!
  • On a linear route try to plan to walk with the wind behind you.
  • Scottish mountains in winter can be a serious proposition so make sure you have (and can use) a map and compass, and wear proper boots, warm clothes and waterproofs.  Take a head torch and spare batteries, plenty of food and a hot drink in a flask.
  • Scotland is windy and on high ground wind chill can be a serious issue, so make sure you're properly equipped with warm, windproof clothing, and avoid exposed ridges.
  • Don’t go beyond your limits – if you're not used to walking on snow and ice and don’t have the right equipment (or knowledge of how to use it), turn back.

Safety

  • If you’re heading into the hills, check the forecast before you set out (two good sources are the Mountain Weather Information Service and the Met Office) – snow, rain, mist or fog and cold temperatures are the obvious hazards but strong winds can be a problem too.
  • Scottish mountains in winter conditions can be very challenging. Make sure you know when ice axe and crampons are needed and how to assess avalanche conditions.
  • In winter, the Scottish Avalanche Information Service gives details of snow conditions.

  Equipment & clothing

  • Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy, comfortable footwear suitable for the conditions and terrain.  
  • Several thin layers of clothing are better than one thick layer. You can take off layers as you warm up, or add them if you get cold.
  • Take a good waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers.
  • Wear a hat and gloves, and take a scarf – the Scottish wind can find its way into every gap!
  • A small backpack is more comfortable to walk with than an ordinary bag.
  • For longer walks, take food with you or high energy snacks like flapjack, chocolate or dried fruit and nuts, and possibly a flask with a hot drink.
  • Consider taking a mobile phone (charged and switched on) and/or make sure someone knows where you’ve gone and when you expect to be back.
  • Consider wearing some reflective clothing if you are walking on roads after dark and remember to walk facing the traffic.
  • A watch is always handy as a back up to your mobile phone.