Caber Toss – Amazing Facts About Highland Games

tossing the caber in the strathpeffer games caber toss

Whenever we speak about Scotland, our association draws kilts, bagpipes, cool green landscapes and many other iconic features of this land. But what about caber toss? One of the most iconic sports events, the Highland Games, gained tremendous popularity worldwide thanks to the caber toss. Many people still follow a popular stereotype that Olympic Games are the only place where real sportsmen compete for honor and glory. The reality shows us that there are much more diverse and competitive events, which are worth attending. And the Highland Games are one of them. The popular and official discipline of the Highland Games is a caber toss. It proves that real, mighty heroes are not just a fable, but a vital part of the sport overall. So when was the caber toss invented and why tossing the caber is so popular among Scottish people?

The History Of Highland Games And Scottish Caber Toss

Scottish clans were known to compete with each other, and the season of Highland Games usually started in May and continued until the end of September. There were different types of people – from mighty heroes up to the gentle bards and poets. Highland Games were not only about sheer strength, as one may imagine.

The first documented Highland Games were held around 1031-1093 when King Malcolm III tried to choose a royal messenger. This person should be the fastest person in entire Scotland, that’s why the competition had such resonance.

There are a lot of rumors of when was the caber toss invented. The common fact is that the first documented event of caber toss as a discipline happened in the 16th century, specifically in 1574. It was not only about strength but accuracy, and It’s still the most important aspect of the successive caber throwers.

caber toss at first annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in 1956

The term itself has Gaelic roots and means “a wooden beam”. Since today, there is no 100% evidence of who invented the caber toss as well. The idea probably belongs to lumberjacks or soldiers.

Some say that these were the lumberjacks, who spent their leisure time by showing who is the mightiest worker. Another rumor is based on the geography aspect. There are lots of rivers in Scotland and the skill of caber tossing may come quite handy.

Still, it’s quite unlikely that it is true. The difference between the enormous sawn tree and its smaller, official alternative may be quite significant. For example, the official caber weight during

competition can be around 175 pounds (80 kilograms), and it’s usually made of a Larch tree. The height of such a Scottish caber is around 6 meters. One can imagine how heavy is a caber even during the sports competition, and how cumbersome would be a sawn tree to throw. Probably, even a few men would not be able to make an effective caber tossing. That’s why this theory is rather unreliable.

Another theory is that the caber toss was invented by soldiers. Some say that they’ve tried to throw them into the walls or destroy the gates, and others assume that the moats were easier to cross while sitting on a caber. An obvious fact is that archers on the walls won’t simply allow someone to stand and throw large cabers at them. Also, moats were popular much earlier than the 16th century and the defensive strategies evolved as well. Despite the sheer fantasy aspect of such theories, there are no historical proofs of using the caber tossing technique during the sieges.

That’s why it’s highly possible that tossing the caber was a simple way of showing the sheer power of the person, and eventually it evolved to a competitive level.

Today, Highland Games consist of such disciplines:

  • Heavy events (mainly caber toss, hammer throw, stone put, weight throw, and maide-leisg);
  • Music (bagpipes, harps, and fiddles);
  • Dance (highland dancing).

What differs a caber toss from other heavy disciplines? Mainly, it is a difference in technique and sports equipment.

For example, a Hammer Throw is all about handling and whirling a 10 kg hammer around the head and throwing it as far as possible.

The Stone Put is to throw a 10 kg stone as far as you can from a fixed position.

The Weight Throw is about throwing a 19 kg metal weight by taking them via the handle, attached to this weight. Any technique (including a whirling one) is allowed and the winner is the one who throws the weight as far as possible.

As for the Maide-leisg (also called “Lazy Stick”) is about two men, sitting on the ground with their feet pressing against one another. They need to pull a stick, clutched in their hands until one raises another from the ground.

How To Caber Toss: Technique And Common Mistakes

If you wish to become a successful caber thrower, you need to have a lot of strength, stamina and, most importantly, you need to learn the basics which will prevent you from injuries. Most beginners think that the main idea is to toss the caber as far as possible, and this is a completely false stereotype. So here are some steps about the properly executed caber tossing technique:

  1. First, you need to lift the caber, which is not an easy task if you have never tried it. So make sure that you have enough strength to lift it and hold it. Once it’s done – grip it with your clasped hands at the bottom and pivot. The caber should be raised exactly vertical, and try not tiling it.
    Ideally, you should have a partner, who will help you to make the caber stand straight.
  1. Start running a short distance until the required point is reached. Here is where your stamina is key. Once you’ve reached the point – make sure to choose the right point of release.
  2. Using momentum here is crucial. Drive your hips and legs and push up the caber using your hands, releasing it into the air.
  3. The caber should make a straight flip (end over end) with its larger end falling on the ground as accurately as possible (usually this position is called 12 o’clock).

Judges will check how accurately the caber was tossed and how accurately it was landed eventually, which affects the final result of the caber tossers.

skynews caber highland games

In some cases, the caber weight can be unbearable. If none of the caber tossers could lift it – the officials would saw the part of the caber. However, if at least few persons were able to raise it and others could not – the one who could lift it would be highly favored among judges. And if the caber weight is too small – judges may simply exchange it for a heavier one.

During the competition, the officials will check the progress of each sportsman. Usually, they stand from various angles to make a precise picture of how properly the discipline was executed. Such angles are often behind the sportsmen and on the sides.

There are two common mistakes: timing and pull

Timing depends on a lot of factors, including how long or short is your caber. The common advice from the professionals is that you should pull as soon as the caber leaves your shoulder. If you toss the caber while it passes your eyes – it may be too late already. Also, in most cases, it’s too late, rather than too early. While running, before the caber leaves the shoulder, make sure to throw the shoulder forward. It should speed the top of the caber, so it could rotate and fall faster.

Pull is about how you pull the caber upward and not directly from you. The common error is to stop your hands too early, while they are on the chest level or so. You should push hard and fast without stopping your hands to achieve a better result. Also, don’t forget about the legs. If you can hop while caber tossing – your chances for success are much higher.

Famous Caber Tossing Competitors And World Records

Highland games

The most famous caber tossing sportsmen are from Canada. These sportsmen are Jamie Peppard, Dirk Bishop, Kevin Fast, Jason Baines, and Danny Frame. As for the Danny Frame – he set a new world record in 2018, successfully flipping the caber 16(!) times in only 3 minutes. For example, former world champion Kevin Fast managed to toss the caber 14 times in 2013, holding this record for 5 years.

The sheer weight of the Danny Frame’s caber was 88 pounds, and it was 16 feet long. He mentioned that it was thanks to his crew, who assisted him by placing the cabers upright for him. Thanks to this alteration and his impressive combinations of skill, stamina and sheet strength, he managed to perform so well and remain a successful caber thrower in history. His childhood dream was to appear in the Guinness book, and it came true thanks to his regular training and the hard work he performed.

As for Jason Baines – he managed to make an outrageous performance, tossing the caber 161(!) times during one hour. How do you like it, Elon Musk? Jason Baines aimed to the lower result (132), which shows his great health and dedication to this sport.

As for the Scottish sportsmen – they’re also performing quite well, and it was obvious during the Fergus Scottish Festival. Officials placed 80 cabers on the field, and 80 Scottish sportsmen (amateurs and professionals) managed to flip 69 of them simultaneously. The previous Guinness world record included 66 simultaneous flips.

Caber Toss – Interesting Facts

    1. Caber toss is not purely a Scottish festival of strength. It’s highly popular and celebrated in such countries as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America.
    2. Caber throwing became popular in the United States thanks to World War I. Both Scottish and American soldiers worked together. When Americans saw that enemy trenches could be breached with the help of cabers, they’ve started to use this technique as well. Competitions between Scottish and American military departments were one of the uniting factors, and eventually the Scottish caber toss experienced was taken to the United States of America.
    3. In 1927 the caber toss was so popular in Arkansas that many people tried to get a caber for themselves, which lead to extensive lumbering. It speeded the soil erosion, and not only that. Some thieves even stole the telephone poles, making it impossible for some parts of the state to communicate to the world outside.
    4. Anyone who is competing at the Highland Games event should wear a kilt. It is a national Scottish skirt of men, at a knee-length and made of tartan. Some people use underwear under the kilt, while others may not.


  1. The Larch tree wood, which is required for tossing the caber, may dry out. That’s why it is usually recommended soaking a caber in water for some time before the competition. It may help to add some weight to the caber, making it even heavier.
  2. The French caber throwers sometimes exchange the traditional caber with a large champagne cork, which is rather hilarious.
  3. The caber toss is a discipline, which requires you to train outside. Training indoors may lead to various traumas and is not recommended.
  4. There are some obvious benefits of such sport discipline. In addition to the growth of the core strength and cardiovascular workout, you will gain a strong back, upper body strength and being more hardy is always good. In addition, your focus and precision will improve, which is useful in regular life situations.
  5. Caber tossing is not an Olympian discipline, that’s why it may be so unpopular among most world countries.
  6. Despite the fact that most caber tossers are men, athletic women also make huge success in popularizing caber tossing. Among them, you can find such known persons as Heather Boundy (world record caber thrower) and Celine Freeman-Gibb. The female part of this discipline is quite underrepresented, however, it may change in the future.