Hiking the Highlands in a Kilt

Gale force winds and short skirts don’t mix, but I took the risk all the same.

My aim was the great and imposing Scottish mountain called Ben Nevis–the highest point in the United Kingdom (4,409′ ft, 1,344 m). As for wearing a kilt, well, when in Scotland . . .

True kilts are made of thick woven wool, so they are, in fact, toasty warm. Indeed, the formal knee-length kilts most commonly worn today were originally known as “walking kilts”, which is exactly how I used mine–to walk in the same highlands were kilts were invented. Yes, despite the wind and rain, I was warm and comfortable.

Still, I imagine that British Health & Safety frown upon exploring Scottish Highlands in a kilt, given that the weather changes by the minute. Every year, people die on this mountain, usually by slipping and falling, or from exposure to harsh conditions. Be warned: this can be a very dangerous place.

Though beautiful and mystical, the mountains of Scotland are not at all innocent. Peaks like Ben Nevis are typically shrouded in mist and all year-round, temperatures can dip below freezing, and a sunny morning can fade into a blizzard with a gust of wind. For that reason, it’s advisable to explore the higher-up bits of the Highlands with a professional adventure company (like Wilderness Scotland).

Due to weather reports of gale force (50-60 mph) winds on the peak of Ben Nevis, I did not climb the summit. Hikers who are keen to reach the peak should leave a wide window of several days to increase the chances of a window of clear weather. They should also bring the right clothes, and plenty of food and water. Though sporting a kilt, I carried a pack of extra thermals and waterproofs, along with a head lamp for returning in the dark.

I still hope to return and achieve the summit of Ben Nevis (in my kilt, nonetheless), but my winter’s day hike on Ben Nevis was no less exhilarating for only making it halfway up. All around me, the rounded, dark red mountains were lost in haunting strands of mist and the sky glowed with mid-January’s coppery, late afternoon sun. I was amazed by the silver waters of Lochan Meall an-t-Suidhe and the magical manner in which the day drew to a close, ever so slowly, until everything disappeared in the fog, including me.

Yes, I am just an American tourist mimicking a perceived notion of Scottishness, but there was something about hiking these hills in the tartan of my ancestors that proved quite uplifting. Instead of Goretex and nylon and high-tech clothing, I stayed warm and dry with Scottish wool wrapped around my legs.

I also hiked through a slice of Scotland that few can even imagine, complete with gushing streams, mossy forests and a craggy mountain slopes that fell against the softest changing sky. This is Scotland for the soul, a wild and beautiful upland that feels so separate from the rest of the country.

Indeed, in Scotland today, kilts are worn mostly as formal dress at balls and parties, or weddings and funerals. But on Ben Nevis, I dressed for the scenery all around me, for the Highlands are the most formal event I’ve attended all year.


Many thanks to @wild_guide for taking me hiking for the day.

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HIking in a McGregor kilt on Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands (Photo by Myles Farnbank, Wilderness Scotland)