5 essential bits of MTB kit for the Highland 550

The best kit for handling the weather, terrain and wilderness of the Scottish Highlands

Earlier this year Matt Orton took on the Highland 550, a long distance self-supported mountain bike time-trail route through the Scottish Highlands. During his solo expedition he learnt a a few things and discovered some essential kit for such an epic ride.


Here are five bits of kit to consider packing on if you’re planning to ride a long distance,self-supported mountain bike any time soon.

1. The SPOT Gen3 personal GPS Tracker

Satellite technology in your pocket (or backpack)
Matt Orton / Immediate Media

The SPOT is a mandatory item of kit for the Highland 550 and with good reason. With over 4,300 rescues worldwide (and counting) the emergency beacon facility could well save your life. In addition to hailing the closest emergency response teams it boasts a host of other features including a simple text message to a list of contacts to check in and an assistance button to alert friends and family to non life threatening problems.

Once activated it will allow your progress to be followed via SPOT’s adventure portal. It also links up through third party sites such as trackleaders.com to provide overall coverage of larger events such as The Tour Divide and the Highland 550.

2. Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System

Filter water in the wilderness
Matt Orton / Immediate Media

Scotland has plenty of water, not much of it will be drinkable though. The mini Filter from Sawyer is designed to work inline with your hydration pack. It will filter out particles down to 0.1 micron which means it is effective against 99.99999% of all bacteria. All of this is achieved without the need for chemicals making it good for the environment and better tasting than chlorine tabs.

With a lifespan of 100,000 gallons it should see you through a few adventures.

3. Maxxis Chronicle Folding 120Tpi Exo Tr Tyres

These tyres from Maxxis are cut-resistant and abrasion-resistant
Matt Orton / Immediate Media

For any ultra race you want tyres that inspire confidence. The Maxxis Chronicle was one of the first plus tyres available and is a firm favourite for bikepacking.

The Low tread pattern offers little rolling resistance while retaining enough grip for loose gravelly fire road tracks that make up much of the Highland 550. A drop in tyre pressure helps give you a little extra traction in wet and muddy sections when the Chronicle is out of its comfort zone. Importantly the EXO sidewall protection has a great track record in super rocky terrain. They are also easy to seat when using a tubeless set up and remain securely in place with little loss through burping.

4. Trek ‘n Eat Peronin High Tech Food

Liquid food packed with added vitamins and minerals
Matt Orton / Immediate Media

If you are going to carry food with you then you’ll want something light and packable with as large a calorie hit as possible. Peronin is a liquid meal, needing only 400ml of cold or warm water it mixes into a sort of thick milkshake. As it is powder based it doesn’t need to be broken down in your stomach allowing it to be absorbed extremely quickly into your body. This helps to prevent the dreaded post-meal-slump that often results from eating large meals mid activity.

It also removes the need for carrying a stove to boil water too. Each pouch will give you 400kcals of energy. We packed the vanilla and chocolate flavours and found them to be surprisingly tasty and did the job to keep us going through long days in the saddle.

5. SRAM X-SYNC Direct Mount 26 tooth Chainring

Consider changing your chainring
Matt Orton / Immediate Media

Ditching the additional weight of a front mech and shifter while keeping a wide enough spread of gears for hauling a fully laden bikepacking rig up Scotland’s many mountains treads a fine line. SRAM’s 26 tooth offering is at the extreme end of the spectrum allowing for a crazy-high climbing gear.

To be honest, it would probably be too high for lighter bikes and set ups making the 28 tooth a better option, but with a heavy load and weighty full suspension bike I was grateful on all the ascents. With a heavy bike the descents often take care of themselves so the trade off in spinning out wasn’t too much of a concern.