Preparing for the Highland Cross

If you’re tackling the Highland Cross, especially for the first time, the logistics can be a bit of a nightmare to get your head around. There’s your bike to be dropped off, along with all the kit you’ll need at the changeover, buses to the start to consider, weather conditions to take account of and the prospect of the dreaded midge – potentially a horror scenario, especially as you wait to get going at Kintail.

So, I’ve put together this little guide, which is based on my experience of doing five Crosses over the last six years. Living in Inverness, I always load the bike and get on the bus at Inverness, then arrange a lift or other transport back from Beauly after the event – but this guide is more of a ‘what to pack where’ suggestion so can be adapted to going from Beauly too.

This doesn’t really apply to elite athletes, who probably just pack a few energy gels and wear the same stuff on the run and the bike ride. But for anybody else, hopefully you can find some useful tips in the following.

There are three places you need to consider – the changeover at Affric, the start and the finish.

The first thing to consider, especially if you’re loading bikes at Inverness (which you have to do on the Friday evening before the event) is the changeover. This is where you’ll need your bike and any kit that goes with it. You’ll also need any change of clothes or shoes you plan to use on the bike, snacks/drinks for the transition and anything you might need on the ride.


The bike

The cycle is all on road, so you’re best with a road bike or at least a hybrid. Personally, I ride my tourer, which has dropped handlebars and doubles as my road bike – it’s heavier than a standard road bike but it suits me!

For loading, protect your spokes, rear derailleur etc with a little bit of cardboard, loosely taped around the bike. Don’t go overboard with the protection, though. You see some fully-clad bikes arriving at the drop-off point but it’s easier for the volunteers to deal with smaller amounts of packaging and less likely that bits of it will be left on when you arrive!


Changeover bag

Along with your bike, you’ll leave a changeover bag. This should be waterproof – a large dry bag is ideal. This is roughly what I stick in mine (depending on the weather forecast etc), remembering that anything you don’t want on the day can be stuck back on the baggage van to be taken to the finish anyway, so I err on the side of caution.


Helmet (mandatory for the cycle section of the event)

Bike shoes

Spare socks/underwear (in case the run has been particularly wet!)

Padded shorts

Cycling shorts/longs

Biking top


Drink bottle (I often fill these in advance but water is available at the changeover)

Energy drink (to drink during transition)

Food (to eat at transition – this year I’m thinking fruit cake and energy bars)

Bike spares/repair kit/pump (these need to be kept off the bike for transport, so have them ready to re-attach to the bike quickly, or stick in a pocket)



At the start

The next thing to prepare is your kit for the run and anything else you might need on the way to the start and before you get going. There is some basic mandatory kit you need to run with, plus there’s a baggage van that will take anything else back to Beauly to pick up at the finish.

Don’t forget – nothing you drop off here will go to the changeover at Affric, only to the finish.


On the run:

Bag (rucksack, bum bag, ultra backpack, whatever floats your boat!)

Waterproof top and bottoms


Energy bars/Shotblocks etc (whatever your running fuel is)


GPS watch (remember, it doesn’t count if it’s not on Strava!)


For the bag bus:

Breakfast food/drink for on the bus or on arrival at Kintail

Money (the local school runs a breakfast bar to raise funds – coffee anyone?)


Smidge (midge spray) and midge net

Larger coat/waterproofs (to wear before stripping to the running kit)


At the finish

There’s loads of help at the finish, including the fantastic food put on by volunteers at the Phipps Hall, but it’s worth sticking a few bits in your car or with whoever is meeting you at the finish to ensure you’re comfortable (well, as comfortable as can be expected after 50 miles through the Highlands).


Dry clothes

Water plus rehydration tabs



And, last but not least, for those who are this way inclined – beer!


* All your bags and your bike should have a waterproof number attached to identify your kit on the day. I print a sheet of numbers, along with my name and contact details, then cut them up and laminate them so I can cut them into individual waterproof cards.

Attach a couple to your bike – on the seat and the handlebars; one on your helmet (which must go inside your changeover bag, not hanging loose on the outside), one to each bag and stick one inside each bag as well, in case they get torn off in transit. It has helped reunite me with a lost bag once, so worth being organised!

Good luck and enjoy the Highland Cross.

One thought on “Preparing for the Highland Cross

  • June 17, 2019 at 16:44

    Thanks John,

    I appreciate every advise I can get before my first Cross. Never made it up to the mast on a Tuesday with you guys 😉 but I hope I’m as well prepared as I can be.
    Cheers, Andrea

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