Munro Bagging For Beginners: A Complete Guide

Munro Bagging For Beginners: A Complete Guide


Before you start Munro bagging, there’s a few things you absolutely need to know. I’ve been hiking Scotland’s mountains for years now and I’ve learnt some enormously important lessons (mostly the hard way) about how to guarantee an incredible time in the hills. From getting lost, to getting soaked, to crippled feet, let me tell you: Munro bagging can throw seriously unpleasant curveballs if you’re unprepared.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I found a passion for climbing Scotland’s highest mountains and since then my love for hiking has grown – for me, its equal parts a physical and mental challenge, and a way to reconnect with the great outdoors. My mission is to help you get outdoors too, whether a short hike or more challenging Munro experience.

So, read through these Munro bagging for beginners’ tips for those all-important hiking essentials.

What is Munro bagging?

First up, here’s a few Munro bagging facts for you. Named after Sir Hugh Munro, a founding member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, Sir Hugh published a list of Scotland’s highest mountains in 1891. Known as the ‘Munro Tables’ his was the first list of all the 914m+ (or 3000ft+) mountains in Scotland. The list of Munros includes 282 mountains from the highest, Ben Nevis (1,345m) to the smallest Munro, Ben Vane (914m). Very occasionally a mountain is promoted onto the Munro list, or a Munro removed. Why? Changes in geography and landscape mean sometimes mountains grow, whilst others shrink. Each time you summit a Munro, you’ve ‘bagged’ another of Scotland’s highest peaks. Be warned – Munro bagging quickly becomes addictive!

Munro Bagging For Beginners: Top 10 Essentials

Here’s the top 10 things you need to know as a Munro-bagging beginner:

Tip 1 – Start with an easy Munro

The most iconic Munros in Scotland are arguably Ben Lomond, Schiehallion, Braeriach, Ben Nevis, and the spectacular Buachaille Etive Mòr. However, just because they’re famous, doesn’t mean they should all be your first Scottish mountain experience.

One of the biggest things to consider as a Munro bagging beginner is choosing the right Munro for you. Whilst no Munro is easy – walking 3,000ft is tough going – there are ‘easier’ Munros out there, with clear, well-maintained paths simple to follow in decent weather. In my opinion the best Munros for beginners are Ben Lomond, climbed by 30,000 people every year, Schiehallion, Ben Lawers, and Ben Vorlich at Loch Earn.

These tend to be popular hikes with plenty reviews online and usually other people on the trail, so I’d recommend you stick to these for your first few Munro bagging trips. It’s good to start with easier Munros and work your way up to more advanced mountains, because going too far outside your comfort zone too quickly is risky.

Other things I always consider when choosing a Munro to climb are:

How difficult is the route? Will there be any risky sections like exposed crags or tricky scrambling?

How long will it take, how much time do I have, and when will it get dark?

Do I need to consider the season, will there be snow?

What is the weather going to be like during the day?

Tip 2 – List of Munros in Scotland

If you’re looking for a list of all 282 Munros in Scotland – and a way to keep track of the ones you’ve climbed (or ‘bagged’) – head over to Walkhighlands. This incredible site is completely free to use, and provides walking descriptions, GPS coordinates, routes for ALL the Munros. There’s also an interactive Munro map you can tick off.

You’ll also find other helpful notes, like summit heights, how long it’ll take to climb, how to pronounce the name of each mountain, and reviews from other walkers.

Tip 3 – Map and compass

Whilst all these tips are important, navigation is probably the most essential. Will you be able to find your way, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worst? Remember, technology is unreliable, and a phone signal is a rare thing on Scotland’s mountains. Trust me, Google Maps is NOT going to help when you’re halfway up a Munro and realise you’re lost!

It takes a little patience but learning to use a map and compass is by far the most reliable way to find your way to the summit and back down safely. Practice close to home and on smaller hills before tackling a remote peak. Check out Mountaineering Scotland who run navigation courses and have tons of helpful map reading information and videos.

Tip 4 – Hiking apps

No technology is a substitute for a map but hiking apps are a useful backup when things get a little tricky. There are several apps available with different features but what they all have in common are easy-to-follow routes and offline maps. Whilst an app isn’t perfect (apps can lose signal if it’s too cloudy, or your phone battery might die mid-hike), it is handy when you need to simplify things.

Personally, I use the Ordnance Survey app. It allows you to create your own route, has a route finder to choose a trail created by fellow hikers, or upload waymarked coordinates from sites like Walkhighlands.

Tip 5 – Go with friends

If it’s your first time Munro bagging, I guarantee you’ll feel more comfortable hiking with friends or a group. Whilst I love solo hiking, it’s taken me years of walking with others to get confident enough to hike on my own.

If you’re still learning to navigate and worried about getting lost, then take a more experienced friend or join a friendly walking group.

Tip 6 – What to wear Munro bagging

This falls into two categories: what to wear Munro bagging and what to pack. Whilst what you wear is very personal, you’ll need to wear the right gear – clothing that will keep you dry, warm and safe whatever the weather.

Wear: Packable layers you can easily pull on and off, walking trousers or hiking leggings, thermals or merino wool for colder seasons, and sweat wicking base layers in warmer months. Sturdy boots to protect your ankles are also an essential and hillwalking socks to keep your feet comfy.

Pack: A hat and gloves (even in summer), sun cream (even in winter), waterproofs, walking poles, headtorch, food, water, and a power pack.

Tip 7 – Check the weather

Scottish weather is unpredictable at the best of times and can – and will – change dramatically between 100m at the car park and 1,000m on the summit. Don’t be fooled by a sunny, warm day at ground level because there could easily be fog, hail, rain, and wind waiting for you on the mountain!

Always check the weather before climbing a Munro, so you know what to expect – and what to pack. Cold weather means more layers and an extra jacket, whilst sunny days call for a short sleeve base layer. The best places to see accurate Munro weather forecasts are (I usually check both for a full picture):

Mountain Weather Information Service: a comprehensive overview of the day ahead, split into mountain ranges and geographical areas of Scotland.

Mountain Forecast: an hour-by-hour mountain forecast, split into ground level and summit, searchable by individual Munros.

These forecasts tell you the expected rainfall and what time you’re likely to get soaked – it’s always good to know when to get those waterproofs ready! Also be aware that a lot of rain can turn streams into fast flowing rivers and rocks into slippery, ankle-twister minefields.

The mountain forecast also tells you wind speed, gusts, and wind direction – it’s not the first time I’ve summited a Munro only to feel like I’m going to be blown off the mountain! Wind is also the only thing that has ever stopped me hiking or made me switch mountains, so you need to take it seriously.

If you’re new to Munro bagging, then anything over 25mph is going to feel pretty strong. At 35mph your balance is affected, whilst you’ll struggle to stand over 45mph and frankly it’s going to feel scary. More than 55mph is an absolute no-go. And don’t forget to factor in wind chill too. The temperature might be 10° but it could feel more like 0° in the wind, and seriously increase your risk of hypothermia.

The enemy of viewpoints everywhere, fog can descend alarmingly quickly and steal your visibility within minutes. Occasionally it’ll lift and bring back those glorious summit views. Yet so often it hangs around and makes finding your way around extra difficult. If the weather does roll in and you feel uncomfortable then turn back – the mountain will be there to climb another day.

This is a good time to mention that as a Munro beginner you absolutely should avoid walking in winter conditions until you have a ton of experience and/or winter training. Winter is a whole different beast than the spring to autumn seasons and needs specialist winter kit like crampons and axes.

Tip 8 – Food & Hydration

Nutrition and hydration are key on long (or any length) hikes. First up, prepare with a big meal the night before and a high-calorie breakfast before setting off. Be sure to drink plenty of water too.

Take food on the day that gives you energy and will make you feel good on those mountain trails. You’ll need more than you think and it’s the perfect excuse for snacks! The same goes for water – I pack either a litre of water, or 500ml of water plus a 500ml flask of tea.

Tip 9 – Fitness

Hiking in Scotland most definitely suffers from of an image problem in the UK, that makes it look like an easy hobby for middle-aged people in anoraks! But let me tell you, walking uphill for hours is most definitely not easy! Neither is the downhill journey when your knees, legs, and feet are sore. There’s a reason for Mountain Rescue callouts happen between 3pm and 5pm, when people are tired.

If you need to, work on getting your fitness and stamina levels up. Long walks and runs are always good for leg strength. Carrying a small rucksack at the same time will help prep your shoulder and back muscles for a heavier pack. Also build your way up to climbing a Munro with some of Scotland’s best short walks and smaller hills.

Tip 10 – Know what to do if you get into trouble

Whilst we do everything possible to keep ourselves safe, the truth is that things can go wrong in the hills. So, if you get lost or get an injury, dial 999 and ask for the police. They’ll decide if you need Scottish Mountain Rescue and put you in touch.

For safety always have your phone charged (I take a battery pack) in case you do need to speak to someone or wait for a call back.

Time to go Munro bagging!

Munro bagging should be a fun experience, especially for beginners. Start with easier walks, smaller hills, and then the easier Munros to get comfortable in the mountains. It’s fun to have a goal in mind other than the summit – for me hiking is about being disconnected and out in the fresh air. Photography also makes a great distraction from sore legs!

I’d love to hear your Munro bagging stories and which Scottish mountains you’ll be hiking this year. I’ve just completed this iconic Glencoe hike and I’m looking forward to bagging more this summer in the Highlands and Cairngorms. See you in the mountains!