Packing for trips to colder climates is quite a bit more challenging than throwing together a summer wardrobe for the Caribbean or South-East Asia… Scotland, in particular, is famous for often experiencing all four seasons in one day, more or less year-round. So, how do you pack the right clothes and equipment for any occasion, while at the same time looking good AND potentially minimising costs by fitting it all into a carry on? This post includes my top Scotland packing tips for every season, which essentials to bring with you, how to pack everything in a carry on (and why you should) and my ultimate packing list for Scotland. It will help you pack efficiently and be prepared for anything, without breaking your luggage allowance!
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Of course, what you pack and how much you should bring of everything, depends a lot on how many days you will spend in Scotland, where you are going and what kind of activities you’ve got planned. Packing for a city trip requires different skills than putting together a hiking wardrobe. If you haven’t made these major decisions yet, you should definitely start by reading my guide for planning your trip to Scotland.
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Once you are clear about the details, it’s time to plan your wardrobe. Packing for Scotland can be challenging, especially if you come from warmer climates, or somewhere with more stable weather conditions. As the American journalist Raymond Bonner once said,
“If you don’t like Scottish weather, wait thirty minutes,
and it is likely to change.”
The most important thing to keep in mind when packing for Scotland is, that you want your clothes to enable you to enjoy your trip, even if it is raining sideways. This guide will tell you how that’s possible, but if you already know that you need more tips on how to get that “there is no bad weather”-attitude, check out my post on how to deal with Scottish weather.
But let’s get started now!
Packing tips for every season
Whether you travel to Scotland during the summer or in the winter, you should be prepared for everything. This means to be prepared for a warm summer day of 25C as well as carrying some warm items with you at all times.
While I wouldn’t suggest packing summer dresses and sandals for your trip to the Highlands, I learnt to pack in LAYERS in order to enjoy extraordinarily warm and unusually cold days during the same trip. Most summer outfits can easily be worn as base layers or turned into warmer outfits with extra tights and jumpers. Get creative with your travel wardrobe!
What to Wear in Scotland in Spring
Spring is a wonderful time to travel Scotland because the flowers are blooming, it’s lambing season, people are extra friendly because the days are finally getting longer, but the crowds are still far away in their cosy homes.
During the Spring months, roughly March to May, temperatures can vary – in March it can still snow, while in May you might go for a hike in shorts and a t-shirt. I’d suggest packing for anything between 0 and 15C. If you wonder what jacket you should bring – I’ll talk the only jacket you need for Scotland year-round below!
If you plan to go hiking during this time of the year, remember that it is likely going to be extra muddy, since the snow is melting in the hills, causing rivers to overflow further down in the valleys. Gaiters can be useful to keep your feet and legs dry, and proper hiking boots are a must if you want to do anything but a city or road trip.
Should I pack wellies and an umbrella?
Instead of weighing down your luggage allowance with wellies and umbrellas, I recommend investing in a high-quality rain jacket – more on that further down. In my opinion, wellies are pretty useless and so are umbrellas. Wellies are slippy and not warm enough; umbrellas just can’t deal with the wind and sideways rain you will almost inevitably experience in Scotland.
What to Wear in Scotland in Summer
Whenever someone asks me what to pack for Scotland in summer, I think of about my favourite Scottish saying:
“I love summer in Scotland. It’s my favourite day of the year.”
“Summer” becomes a relative term here in Scotland, and coming from a place where summer temperatures easily rise about 35C, I’m pretty convinced that “summer” does actually not exist in this country…
If you visit Scotland during the summer months, June to August, you should expect temperatures to be anywhere between 12 and 25C – more often closer to the former, than the latter. Mind though, that the wind can chill that down about 5 degrees, so if you are near the coast or it’s just a windy day, it will feel even chillier.
Here are some things you probably won’t need during the Scottish summer: sandals, flip flops, hot pants, and sundresses.
And here is what you should bring: sunglasses, something to cover your head (a hat or a buff would be great), a warm jumper, short-sleeved t-shirts, sun lotion, midge spray and a swimsuit for when you feel brave.
What to Wear in Scotland in Autumn / Fall
Very similar to Springtime, the Autumn months from September to November are a great time to visit Scotland. Temperatures drop again to somewhere between 0 and 15C and you should always be prepared for showers and colder days.
The days are getting shorter, and visiting in November might be significantly colder than September, but your packing list will look pretty much the same throughout this season. Lots of layers, at least one warm jumper to wear under your waterproof jacket and some knitwear to keep your head, neck and hands warm.
What to Wear in Scotland in Winter
Scottish winters are generally speaking fairly mild. Unlike central Europe where temperatures can drop to -15 or -20 on a regular basis, you would expect it to remain between -5 and 10C between December and January. And to be honest, below 0 is fairly uncommon – it might last for a few days, but hardly ever for longer than that.
Of course, there can be quite a lot of snow all over Scotland. Snow is most likely to fall and stay in the Highlands and sometimes roads can be closed and trains cancelled due to heavy snowfall. Again, usually that doesn’t really last longer than a few days, so it’s all about being flexible with your route or sitting out the storm until it’s over.
Unless you plan to go skiing, you won’t need padded ski trousers, but I suggest packing a warm padded jacket and either fleece-lined winter trousers or a warm base layer to wear underneath your normal trousers to stay warm.
Your number one priority is to keep your feet warm, so bring shoes that are waterproof and lined to ensure your toes stay nice and toasty.
Why should you visit Scotland with a carry on?
Now, you might wonder why on Earth you should try to fit everything you need to be prepared for everything, in a carry on bag! Here are three very good reasons why:
- It’s more cost-effective when you fly. Many airlines charge you extra for checked luggage, especially arriving from Europe. It is simply cheaper to travel with a carry-on.
- It is way easier to move your luggage. Did you ever enjoy dragging a big suitcase up and down cobbled lanes? No? I thought so. In most cases, you will be able to lift your carry on bag very easily, which makes it easier to climb stairs or transport it on unpaved roads. If you use a carry-on backpack (I always travel with my Pacsafe 50L weekender backpack) you even get the benefit of travelling handsfree!
Find out more about the best travel backpacks!
- You don’t have to worry about the maximum luggage allowance. If you plan to join a guided tour while you’re in Scotland or want to maximise your time by taking small planes around the country, you might find that they only allow one small bag of up to 15kg per passenger. No problem, if you’ve packed in a carry-on!
If you need a couple of tips to get you started on easy hand luggage packing, check out these packing tips.
Essentials for carry-on packing from Amazon:
- Pacsafe 50L weekender backpack
- Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack
- A set of packing cubes from Pro Packing Cubes
- TSA-approved clear toiletry bag
- Solid toiletries, like a shampoo bar
- TSA-approved refillable toiletries containers
Packing for different activities
What to pack for hiking in Scotland
If you plan to do some hiking while you’re in Scotland, please prepare accordingly by bringing the right equipment with you. This includes shoes, clothes and items like maps or compass.
There are very few hiking trails in Scotland that I would hike without a map and compass (the Grey Mare’s Tail during summer is one of them). Weather conditions can change rapidly in the hills, and both can become essential lifesavers in an emergency. Bring and learn how to use them!
Proper hiking boots are essential when you hike in Scotland. During the summer you might get away with low top trekking shoes, but for ultimate protection and grip, I recommend always to hike with boots that support your ankles. If you’re worried about space in your carry on – simply wear these on your flight over!
A backpack with a hip belt is a lot more comfortable to carry than a normal city backpack. I usually use my 30L pack for day tours and my 40L for short treks. The hip belt means that I carry the majority of the weight on my hips rather than my shoulders, which saves me quite a bit of suffering.
Finally, wearing breathable and quick-dry clothes is the key to feeling comfortable on the trail. On day tours, I prefer to hike in leggings over trekking trousers, but one thing I definitely won’t wear on the trail is jeans – once they’re wet, they add unnecessary weight to your load and take forever to dry. One of my favourite brands of functional outdoor clothing is Fjallraven, because their clothes have nice cuts and patterns, that don’t look geeky. However, I also love my Craghoppers fleece jumper, which is made from recycled plastic bottles!
My hiking essentials on Amazon:
- Osprey Tempest 30L for day hikes
- Deuter 40L for multi-day hikes without camping
- Zamberlan hiking boots (similar to mine)
- Fjallraven rain jacket + padded pullover
- The North Face tri-climate jacket
- Fjallraven Fleece (cardigan)
- Craghoppers Fleece (jumper)
- Fjallraven trekking trousers
- Fjallraven trekking t-shirt (I’ve got two and they’re so comfortable)
- A decent compass
- OS Explorer Maps for Scotland
Road trip essentials
Packing for a road trip does not necessarily require any particular clothing items, but there is one thing you should consider: patchy signal.
That means, not only will your phone fail on you, but also your car’s radio. Bring music and check whether your rental car will have a CD deck or an AUX-in to connect your phone. Also, pack maps or download them to your phone in advance, as Google Maps will give up on you when you need it most!
What to wear in Edinburgh and Glasgow
If you spend a significant amount of time in the city or visit Scotland for a city trip to Edinburgh or Glasgow, you will probably pack a little differently. All that chat about functional and quick-dry clothing – forget about it, or you will look like the over-prepared tourist you are.
To blend in with the locals, bring the kind of “normal” clothes you would wear at home. I wear a different raincoat in the hills than in the city (it’s longer and bright yellow); I still recommend water-resistant shoes, but maybe Chelsea boots are more suitable than outdoorsy trekking shoes.
As long as you keep the rough temperature guide from above in mind, you will most likely be fine wearing a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a jumper and a jacket.
What kind of jacket you might ask? During the summer, I often just wear a denim jacket, but as a traveller, that should only be in addition to a rain jacket in your backpack! Wool (or a synthetic alternative) and padded jackets are both fine during the winter – if you get cold easily, a padded jacket might be more your thing.
5 essential items to pack for Scotland
#1 A great travel rain jacket
Travelling to Scotland without a good rain jacket would be like leaving your passport at home. You won’t get very far. While Scotland gets its fair share of gorgeous sunny days, it is very likely that you will encounter rain in one way or another – a light drizzle or a heavy shower, from above, sideways or sometimes even from below…
The best rain jacket for travel is not only waterproof, but it’s also breathable and lightweight, has practical pockets, looks good in photos and folds up small enough to fit in the bottom of your day bag.
A triclimate jacket from The North Face (I reviewed the previous model of this jacket here) is my personal recommendation! It is THE ONLY JACKET you need in Scotland ALL YEAR-ROUND, as you can wear the two parts separately or combined to keep your warm, dry or sheltered from the wind.
Jackets for Scotland on Amazon:
- The North Face triclimate jacket
- Trespass padded jacket
- Jack Wolfskin waterproof winter coat
- Vegan winter parka by Alpine North
#2 The right shoes for Scotland
The ideal shoes for Scotland are waterproof and give you good grip on unpaved roads. While you might not need hiking boots for a regular city trip, a pair of sturdy waterproof boots is an absolute must on your packing list for Scotland.
As soon as you plan to leave the pave roads behind though, bring hiking boots or at least low-top trekking shoes. My personal recommendation for long-lasting, comfy and fairly lightweight hiking boots are the Zamberlan Ultra Lites, which I reviewed here.
Shoes for Scotland on Amazon:
- Zamberlan hiking boots
- Dr Martens chelsea boots (for city and road trips)
- Chelsea boots from Will’s Vegan Shoes (for city and road trips)
- Palladium ankle boots (for city and road trips)
- Vegan ankle boots by NAE (for city and road trips)
- Will’s Vegan Shoes lace-up ankle boots (for city and road trips)
- Winter boots by JBU by Jambu (for winter trips)
- Kamik Snow Boots (for winter trips)
#3 A spray to keep midges away
If you visit the Scottish Highlands during the summer months, you NEED to bring insect repellant to protect you from the dreaded Scottish midge. They are tiny black flies that get through any gap and bite you to suck your blood. While not everybody reacts to them in the same way, chances are high, that their bites will itch like crazy! They come out during sunset and in the morning and when it’s particularly bad, they form a big black cloud around you.
I recommend Smidge, which is a repellant that was specifically designed to fight off the Scottish midge – you buy it on Amazon in the UK or any shop in the Scottish Highlands. Also, wear long sleeves when you’re out and about during the midges’ active hours and keep away from standing water. Midges don’t like wind, so pray for a breeze to help keep them away!
#4 Gloves and a hat to stay warm
Surely you won’t require gloves and a hat when you visit Scotland in summer, right? Wrong! I can’t think of any time of the year when you won’t require gloves and a hat in Scotland!
You might not need them on a sunny day in the city, but as soon as you climb a mountain or get near the coast and the wind picks up, you’ll be happy I told you. I usually bring my buff, because it works as scarf and hat or headband to keep my neck and ears warm at the same time. Gloves are great when it’s windy or rainy, but you still need your hands outside to take pictures.
#5 Waterproof trousers as a backup
Finally, pack a good pair of waterproof trousers. They are not only for hiking but literally for any activity that requires you to be outside in the rain. It comes in handy on the mountain, but also on your way from your B&B to the pub or visiting a castle garden.
Waterproof trousers are my secret ingredient to a rain-proof attitude because when you wear the right clothes (to stay dry and warm), there is simply no such thing as bad weather! I used a cheap pair for years, but have recently upgraded to a pair of Fjallraven Eco Shell trousers and they’re sooooo comfortable to wear!
A Complete Packing List for Scotland for women+
To make this packing list for Scotland as realistic as possible, I have based in on a combination of trips I have taken around the Scottish Highlands between April and October, which hopefully covers the travel time of the majority of my readers.
If you travel during the colder months, check out my packing tips for winter above, or drop me a line with your questions in the comments!
I am providing my full packing list below, but in my free resource library, you can find a downloadable and printable version of this, to make ticking off while you pack much easier!
I generally pack using my Pro Packing Cubes to keep my things organised. If I combine different activities (e.g. hiking and a city trip) in one holiday, I organise my stuff into themed packing cubes, so that all my hiking gear is in one place and stored separately from my nice city clothes.
To make packing in a carry on easier, I use a colour scheme to ensure I can mix and match all of my clothes. Additionally, I’ll throw in a piece or two of statement jewellery to style up any outfit for the evening (usually one necklace and one pair of earrings).
This is a list of everything I would pack for a 10-day trip around Scotland with a carry-on, including what I’d be wearing on the plane. If your visit is shorter, you can decrease the number of items accordingly; if you travel longer, consider to do laundry somewhere on the road, instead of packing more – that will make it easier to fit everything in a carry-on.
Clothes | 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of outdoor trousers, 1-2 pairs of leggings (for hiking), 1 pair of tights, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 5-6 regular tops (variation of sleeve lengths), 2 outdoor tops (short and long sleeve), 1 vest/singlet, 1 fleece or knitted jumper, 1 nice cardigan, 1 shirt, 2 bras, 1 sports bra, 11 pairs of pants and socks (I always pack one extra and leave it in my day bag for emergencies), pyjamas
Shoes | 1 pair of water-resistant/-proof city shoes, 1 pair of sturdy boots (wear these on the plane to save space and weight), 1 pair of active shoes/trainers (if I have space left)
Outerwear | 1 tri-climate travel rain jacket, 1 warmer padded jacket (if you don’t have a tri-climate rain jacket), 1 light but warm scarf, 1 Buff (also works as headband/hat), 1 pair of gloves, waterproof trousers
Toiletries | soap, solid shampoo, solid conditioner & deodorant powder from Lush, zero-waste toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, moisturiser with SPF, a few make-up basics.
Misc. | midge spray, a camera with plenty of spare SD cards, maps & compass (if hiking), a day bag or backpack, a small first aid kit (plasters, tweezers, painkillers)
Packing for Scotland sounds challenging at first – but somewhere between wanting to be prepared for everything and bringing only so much that you can fit it into a carry-on, there is the perfect mix of layers, shoes and outerwear for your Scotland packing list!
Do you find it easier now to pack for your Scotland adventure?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.