He was born Hamish McInnes in Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland but registered in Girthon, Kirkcudbright in 1930. He made the first winter ascent of Crowberry Ridge Direct and of Raven's Gully on Buachaille Etive Mòr with Chris Bonington in 1953. He designed the first all-metal ice axe, and is credited with introducing the short ice axe and hammer with inclined picks for Scottish winter work in the early 1960s. He pioneered the exploration of the Glencoe cliffs for winter work with the Glencoe School of Winter Climbing and for many years led the area's Mountain Rescue team. He is recognised as having developed modern mountain rescue in Scotland, setting up the Search and Rescue Dog Association and the Avalanche Information Service, and inventing the MacInnes stretcher, which is used for rescues worldwide. In 1975, MacInnes was deputy leader to Bonington's Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition, which included Dougal Haston and Doug Scott.
Although never an official member, MacInnes climbed extensively with the Creagh Dhu, Glasgow-based climbing club as well as with the rival Aberdeen clubs and joined forces with Tom Patey to make the first winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye. He was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture in 2008.
He was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (OBE)for services to mountaineering and mountain rescue in Scotland in the New Year's Honours list of 30 December 1978.
He has been involved with a number of films, as climber, climbing double and safety officer, including The Eiger Sanction and The Mission, and has written numerous books on mountaineering, including the International Mountain Rescue Handbook (1972), regarded as the standard manual worldwide, and Callout (1973), his classic account of his experiences leading the Glencoe Rescue team.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1963). Climbing: A Guide To Mountaineering And Mountain Rescue. Edinburgh: Scottish Youth Hostels Association.
- MacInnes, Hamish; Ian Clough; Richard Brian Evans (1969). Ben Nevis and Glencoe : Guide To Winter Climbs. Manchester: Cicerone. ISBN 978-0-902363-00-7.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1971). Scottish Climbs : A Mountaineer's Pictorial Guide To Climbing in Scotland. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-457450-2.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1972). International Mountain Rescue Handbook. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-458200-2.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1973). Callout. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-17396-1.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1974). Climb to the Lost World. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-19041-8.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1976). Death Reel. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-20725-3.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1979). Look Behind The Ranges : A Mountaineer's Selection of Adventures And Expeditions. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-18949-8.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1979). West Highland Walks. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-23915-5.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1980). High Drama : Mountain Rescue Stories From Four Continents. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 9780340245590.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1982). Scottish Winter Climbs. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-463620-0.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1984). Beyond the Ranges. London: V. Gollancz. ISBN 978-0-575-03512-6.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1985). Sweep Search. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-37258-6.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1988). My Scotland. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-467700-5.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1988). Highland Walks. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-42384-4.
- MacInnes, Hamish; Oliver Thomson (1988). Glencoe. London: National Trust for Scotland. ISBN 978-0-901625-52-6.
- MacInnes, Hamish (1989). The Way Through The Glen. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-469340-1.
- MacInnes, Hamish; Moira Kerr (1989). Land of Mountain And Mist. Glencoe: Glencoe Productions. ISBN 978-0-9514380-0-8.
- MacInnes (ed), Hamish (2003). The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters: True Stories of Rescue from the Brink of Death. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 978-0-7867-1239-7.
- "Birthdays". The Guardian. Guardian Media. 7 July 2014. p. 31.
- "Stretcher pioneer carries off win". BBC News. 11 February 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008.
- "MacInnes 1975" from the American Alpine Journal Vol 20; Number 2; Issue 50; (1976) p.357
- "'Fox of Glencoe' awarded honour". BBC News. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008.
- firstname.lastname@example.org. "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". www1.hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-05.