Munro bagging is the pinnacle of hiking in Scotland and a favourite pastime for many adventure enthusiasts in the Scottish Highlands. But it can be intimidating to leave behind the fairly safe low-level trails and aim for higher peaks. This is a post for anyone who is new to hiking Scotland’s tallest mountains – a handy guide packed with tips for Munro bagging for beginners.
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Named after Sir Hugh Munro, who published a list of Scotland’s 283 highest mountains in 1891, Munros make up the roof of Scotland. To climb a Munro is to “bag” it and thus a “Munro bagger” is an avid adventurer whose mission is to climb to the top of Munro summits.
With soaring heights and stunning views bagging a Munro is well worth the effort it takes to get to the summit. While some mountains are fairly straight forward to climb, others require more advanced skills to complete. No matter how difficult a route is though, nothing beats the feeling of achievement that sets in when reaching the top.
Countless hikers aspire to become Munro baggers, but many rookies don’t know where to start. This is a post for them!
I started bagging Munros within my first year of living and hiking in Scotland and have added numerous peaks to my list since then. However, for this post, I enlisted the help and advice from Bee Leask of @bumblebambi, a Munro bagger who is well on her way to become a “compleatist”. Watch our Instagram Live conversation about hiking in Scotland here.
Read on for:
- a Munro bagging FAQ to answer all your questions,
- how to plan your route like a pro,
- the skills and equipment needed to safely bag a Munro,
- a list of beginner-friendly Munros, and
- a few suggestions for great multi-Munro days.
Munro bagging FAQ
What is a Munro?
A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet of elevation (roughly 914.4 metres).
Other Scottish mountain categories include Corbetts (between 2,500 and 3,000 ft with min. 500 ft descent on all sides), Grahams (2,000-2,500 ft with min. 150 ft descent on all sides), Donalds (Scottish Lowland mountains over 2,000 ft) and Marilyns (hills with min. 150 m prominence).
How many Munros are there?
There are 282 Munros and 227 subsidiary tops in Scotland.
What is the tallest Munro?
The tallest Munro in Scotland is also the highest mountain in the entire UK – Ben Nevis near Fort William (4,411 ft = 1,345 m). Several peaks in the Nevis Range are among the highest 10 Munros, but 5 of the 6 tallest mountains in Scotland are actually in the Cairngorms.
Where are the Munros?
The Munros are located all over central and northern Scotland, from the southernmost Munro on Loch Lomond (Ben Lomond) to the most northerly one in Sutherland (Ben Hope).
The majority of Munros are located in the central and northern Highlands, but there are also more than 50 Munros in the Cairngorms National Park in eastern Scotland.
There are only two Scottish islands with mountains tall enough for Munro status – the Isle of Skye (12 Munros) and the Isle of Mull (1 Munro).
Are there people who have bagged them all?
Yes, there are about 6,000 so-called “compleatists” who have climbed all 282 Munro summits.
Stephen Pyke holds the record for completing them all in just 39 days, 9 hours and 6 minutes in 2010.
Planning a Munro hike
The routes leading up Scotland’s tallest mountains range from clear and easy-to-follow paths to rough or non-existing trails. Not every Munro has a clear path and unlike mountain ranges in other countries like Austria or Canada, hill walks in Scotland are not signposted.
It is thus important to put serious effort into route planning and research before attempting to bag a Munro in the Scottish Highlands.
My favourite resource for planning hikes and walks in Scotland is WalkHighlands. The website is free to use and contains over 2,000 walking routes in Scotland, including descriptions of all the Munros. Each includes…
- the length, duration and elevation of a hike,
- its difficulty grade (measured in 1 to 5 boots),
- the bog factor (also 1 to 5, with 1 being dry underfoot and 5 being “snorkel recommended”),
- pictures of the hike,
- the correct pronunciation of the often Gaelic names of hills,
- a grid reference and link to the correct starting point on Google Maps,
- information about car parks and public transport to trailheads,
- a route profile, and
- links to walk reports by registered members.
As a registered member, I can also log my progress and tick off the Munros I have bagged already.
How to plan a hiking route
Looking up the route description on WalkHighlands or one of the Munro books is the bare minimum of prep you should do for a day of Munro bagging.
In order to properly plan your route, you should do a little more research.
- Browse walk reports, particularly recent ones, on WalkHighlands to read about previous experiences, see more photos and spot any useful tips for the route.
- Analyse the route on the map to get a sense for the day. Look at the contour lines to identify steep sections, learn about the terrain along the route, measure the distance of your hike and work out how long it should take you to complete individual sections.
- Check multiple weather forecasts up until the day of your hike and pack your daypack accordingly.
There are many guidebooks dedicated to Munro bagging in Scotland. Here are some of the most popular Munro books out there:
- The Munros: A Walkhighlands Guide was written by Walkhighlands founders Helen and Paul Webster and contains detailed route descriptions and maps for all 282 Munros in Scotland.
- The Munros: Scotland’s Highest Mountains by legendary British mountaineer Cameron McNeish lists suggested routes for 283 Munros in Scotland alongside stunning images.
- The Munros: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide was revised in 2013 and contains updated route descriptions for all the Munros. Proceeds go towards the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.
- Walking the Munros by Steven Kew is released by hiking guidebook publisher Cicerone and has two volumes: Southern, Central and Western Highlands and Northern Highlands and the Cairngorms.
- The Munros: The Complete Collection of Maps by Harvey Maps provides a compendium of maps of all the Munros in Scotland.
Skills needed for Munro Bagging
Hiking routes up the Scottish Munros range from fairly straight forward paths to highly technical trails for experienced mountaineers. Thus, different Munros require different skills and more advanced routes should only be attempted by hikers with the necessary experience, confidence and skillset.
There is a range of skills any Munro bagger should have though, even when they are just starting out.
Knowing your limitations & abilities
Bee Leask says, the single most important skill to have when hiking in Scotland is to know your own limitations and abilities. An easy hike for you might be the most difficult challenge for someone else – there is no universal way to define the difficulty of a hiking route.
If you are gearing up to hike your first Munro, you should have done a decent amount of other hikes before. This should give you a good grasp of what you are capable of, how far you can walk, what you are comfortable with and which areas you are more familiar with.
Choosing Munros that are well within your ability and comfort level is particularly important for beginners – a few successful hikes will make it much easier to fall in love with Munro bagging!
As you gain more experience you can start stretching your comfort zone step by step and choose more advanced routes. However, you should continue to choose routes that you know you can complete.
Navigation and map reading
Even if you choose a Munro with a clear path or you follow the route via a planning app, you should know how to read and navigate with compass and map.
What if your battery dies, your GPS device fails or the weather changes rapidly to zero visibility? You would not be the first person to be caught out in the Scottish Highlands without the ability to safely navigate in changing conditions.
Even on a bright and sunny day, the weather in the mountains can change quickly and you must be prepared to navigate old-school. Luckily, it is not hard to learn about basic navigation – there are tons of article, books and YouTube videos out there explaining how it works. It is important though, that you not just read about navigating in theory, but also try it in practice.
For women, I highly recommend the 1-day Navigation Essentials course with Girls on Hills, or their My First Munro course (2 days) which introduce you to the basics of mountain safety and navigation. All their courses are led by qualified female instructions and are open to women only.
There are also many other activity providers who offer navigation and mountain safety courses for mixed groups.
Climbing Munros is hard – on Walkhighlands all Munros score at least 3 out of 5 boots on the difficulty key. However, that does not mean that you need a specific fitness level to be able to climb a Munro. In fact there are many lower hills that are more difficult to hike than some of the more straight-forward Munros.
As long as you don’t have an injury-causing you trouble, anyone can reach the top of a Munro – it might just take you longer and that’s totally fine!
Tips for increasing your fitness:
- The best way to increase your hiking fitness is to hike regularly.
- Build your endurance with cardio sports like running or cycling.
- Go on long walks on varying terrain to get your feet used to the strain.
- Wear a backpack while walking to get your body used to the additional weight you will carry up a mountain.
And remember, no one is out there to judge you – it’s all in your head. Just enjoy being outside and accept the challenge!
There are many Munros that don’t require scrambling, so this is not a skill you require from the outset. However, as you progress in your Munro bagging journey, scrambling soon becomes an essential skill.
I recommend trying indoor bouldering and rock climbing to get familiar with this activity and gain confidence. Then choose a Munro with short sections of scrambling to try it IRL.
If you are new to scrambling, it is probably best to hike with a more experienced friend or hire a mountain guide before attempting anything too difficult.
PS: The vast majority of Munros does not require ropes or actual climbing, so don’t worry about these skills at the beginning.
Essential kit and equipment
Everyone is different. Some people prefer to carry more kit than others, so it’s all about figuring out what you need to feel comfortable and prepared for a full day in the mountains. Below is what I personally consider essential kit and equipment for Munro bagging and a few tips for packing for a day hike.
- A hiking rucksack (30-35 L volume). I prefer backpacks with a hip belt and chest strap for additional support. Check out my post about the best hiking backpacks for more advice.
- Hiking boots with ankle support and good grip.
- Map and compass – and the ability to use them.
- A waterproof jacket and overtrousers to wear when it’s raining or drizzling. Both should also be windproof to keep you warm.
- Warm layers. Even on a sunny day, the wind chill on exposed slopes or high summits can be significant. I recommend a fleece layer, a puffy jacket, water- and windproof gloves (I love my pair of Sealskinz) and a hat.
- Wear quick-dry clothing, not jeans or cotton t-shirts.
- Anything you might need in an emergency. Munro bagger Bee Leask recommends bringing what you might need to survive a night on the mountain – an emergency shelter or bivy bag, a first aid kit, plenty of warm layers and high energy snacks.
- A head torch, just in case you run out of daylight. You can also use your headtorch to signal in an emergency.
- A whistle – also to signal in an emergency. Many backpacks have a whistle attached to their frame.
- Which brings me to food. I recommend high energy snacks, such as protein bars (my favourite brand is TREK), nuts and dried fruit (like mango). I always bring sandwiches and have learnt the hard way to prepare them all at home, rather than bringing ingredients that need to be assembled on the mountain. Your food should be easy to eat with your hands, just in case conditions won’t allow for a leisurely break.
- Walking poles for support. I mostly use them when descending as it can be hard on my knees.
- Gaiters to protect my ankles from water and debris, especially when I hike a mountain with high bog factor (3+ on Walkhighlands).
- Plenty of water.
- Midge repellant (anytime from May to September).
Note, that this is a list of equipment needed for hiking in summer. Winter mountaineering requires a different set of skills and additional equipment such as crampons, ice axe and the knowledge of how to use them.
Easy Munros for beginners
As stated above, there is no way to rank Munros by their difficulty that is universally applicable to all hikers – everybody finds different things difficult or challenging. However, many Munro baggers in Scotland can agree that certain Munros are more suitable for beginners than others.
What makes a suitable Munro for beginners?
Newbie Munro baggers should look for the following characteristics when choosing their first Munro(s).
- A clear path: Choose a Munro with a clear and easy-to-follow trail and no technical terrain (like scrambling sections).
- A popular hill: Even though you should have all the skills you require to be self-sufficient on the mountain, hiking a popular route means that there are more likely to be other hikers you could ask for advice, reassurance or help.
- A high starting point: Munros with a high starting point usually mean that the ascent is shorter and you have to gain less elevation.
- An area you are familiar with: Munro bagger Bee Leask suggests to choose a Munro in an area that you are familiar with and feel comfortable in.
The same advice counts for choosing your first solo Munro.
Bee and I have identified some Munros that are particularly suitable for Munro beginners:
Buachaille Etive Beag (Glencoe)
A popular mountain with a straightforward path and easy terrain. There are actually two Munro summits on this mountain, so you can easily bag 2 in a day. [3 boots, 5 miles, 5-6 hours]
Arguably one of the easiest Munros to climb in Scotland. Excellent path, high starting point gorgeous views. [3 boots, 6.25 miles, 4-6 hours]
Beinn na Lap (Loch Ossian)
A very remote mountain – the trail begins at Corrour station which can only be reached by train. The high starting point makes this Munro a quick and easy achievement. [3 boots, 6.25 miles, 3-5 hours]
The Lawers Range (Loch Tay)
Despite being the 10th highest Munro in Scotland, Ben Lawers is a popular and easy-ish hike due to its high starting points. A second Munro summit in the range (Beinn Ghlas) goes by barely noticeable on the way to the top. [3 boots, 6.75 miles, 4-6 hours]
Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn)
A popular mountain in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It is possible to continue to a second Munro (Stuc a’Chroin), but this makes the hike a bit more advanced. [3 boots, 5.6 miles, 3-5 hours; or 4 boots, 9 miles, 6-7 hours for both].
A long, but popular mountain in the Cairngorms National Park. [4 boots, 11.75 miles, 6-7 hours]
The Cairnwell Munros (Glenshee Ski Centre)
Generally hiked in one day, the three Cairnwell Munros (Carn Aosda, Carn a’Gheoidh and The Cairnwell) benefit not only from a high starting point, but also from clear paths and minimal descent between the peaks. [3 boots, 8 miles, 5-6 hours]
Great multi-Munro days
Sometimes, one Munro does not cut it and you will find that many popular Munro hikes are actually multi-Munro days that include multiple summits.
The good news is that doing multiple Munros in a day does not mean that you have to go all the way down between them. Often the descent and re-ascent between summits is only a few hundred feet.
Below are some of my and Bee’s favourite multi-Munro routes, but note that some of these are definitely more advanced routes and not suitable for complete beginners:
The Cairnwell Munros
3 Munros from the Glenshee Ski Centre that are all great for beginners (Carn Aosda, Carn a’Gheoidh and The Cairnwell). [3 boots, 8 miles, 5-6 hours]
Glas Maol Munro circuit
4 Munros located on the other side of Glenshee Ski Centre (Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol, Creag Leachach). Slightly longer and higher than the Cairnwell Munros, so a good follow up when you’re ready to step it up a notch. [4-boots, 12 miles, 6-8 hours]
Mayar and Driesh
Two straightforward Munros located at the top of Glen Clova in the Angus Glens. [3 boots, 9 miles, 4-6 hours]
An Caisteal and Beinn a’Chroin
Two more advanced Munros in the Crianlarich Munro group north of Loch Lomond. Both require a bit of scrambling to reach the summits. [4 boots, 8.75 miles, 5-7 hours]
Buachaille Etive Mor
Buachaille Etive Mor guards the entrance of Glencoe and is one of Scotland’s best known and most photographed mountains. The regular route walk includes the two Munro summits on the mountain (Stob Dearg, Stob na Broige) and a subsidiary top (Stob na Doire). [4 boots, 8 miles, 7-9 hours]
More advanced Munro baggers might want to consider an alternative ascent of Stob Dearg via the Curved Ridge, a grade 2/3 scramble.
Beinn Íme and Beinn Narnain
2 Munros in the Arrochar Alps – Íme is the highest summit in the range and Narnain its rocky neighbour. [4 boots, 8.5 miles, 6-7 hours]
Beinn Íme was actually the first Munro I bagged!
Munro bagging is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day in the Scottish mountains. It can be intimidating at first, but with the right skills, equipment and mindset, nothing stands in your way.
Are you ready to take on your first Munro soon?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.