If you’ve stumbled across this blog, then you’re possibly interested in bagging your first Munro. If so then you’ve come to the right place.
In July 2008 I climbed Ben Nevis, my first Munro. Back then I didn’t really contemplate doing all the Munros, I just wanted to say that I had climbed the highest mountain in the UK. But six years later in 2014 on a rainy Saturday in September, I completed the Munros on a mountain called Ciste Dhubh near Kintail. 31 of us made it to the summit. Later that evening, 40 of us piled into the accommodation I booked for a post ‘compleation’ party.
Compleating the Munros is a fantastic experience. You see parts of Scotland you would not normally visit, you see some amazing views, at times it will test you mentally and physically. But most important of all, you can make some lifelong friends along the way.
So a year on after compleating and whilst it is all still relatively fresh in my mind, I have decided to write this blog as a guide to help others start their own Munro adventures…
Before I begin, just in case you do not know what the Munros are, then let me quickly explain.
‘The Munros’ is the name given to all 282 Scottish mountains 3,000ft or above. These are named after Sir Hugh Munro, the chap who categorised these hills in 1891.
So now you know what a Munro is and how many there are. But where do you begin, what gear do you need and what do you expect from Scotland’s highest mountains? This guide will help get you started.
To begin with, you’ll need to cobble together or buy some gear. You’re gear list should look similar to this:
- Warm fleece
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Stout footwear, such as walking boots
- Warm walking socks
- Warm quick drying trousers
- Base layer t-shirt, preferable not cotton
- Warm hat, such as a beanie
- Warm gloves
- Waterproof map case and compass
- Water bottle or hydration bladder.
The twelve bullet points listed above are the core items you need to get started so you can keep safe warm and dry on the hill. Additional items you’ll need are:
- Emergency whistle
- Storm shelter
- Waterproof stuff sack/dry bag
- First aid kit
- Mobile phone
Gear can be expensive, but you get what you pay for. When going gear shopping I would try and avoid discount outdoor outlets such as Mountain Warehouse and Trespass. Their gear is okay for occasional walking or one off charity events but in my experience when I used cheaper gear to begin with, it didn’t last and I had to replace certain items quicker than I had expected. So in my opinion for long term use, cheap gear will not stand up to the harsh conditions quite often experienced on the Scottish mountains.
If however you’re on a tight budget, consider shopping around for second hand gear. Gumtree and eBay are full of bargains to be had but sometimes patience is needed to find the right size. Alternatively try Decathlon, their gear sits nicely between the brand names and the discounted outdoor outlets.
It is also worth noting that if you’d rather buy the best stuff from the beginning then shops like Cotswold will give a discount if you’re a member of organisations such as The Youth Hostel Association, British or Scottish Mountaineering council, Ramblers etc.
In Autumn the outdoor shops usually have their Spring/summer gear on sale to make way for the winter range. So you can kit up for the following year and save a bit of money.
Other items you may want to consider taking depending on the forecast is:
- Sun lotion
- Insect repellent
- Small amount of toilet roll just in case nature calls.
Once you have built up your core items, here is a list of optional items you may wish to take with you:
- GPS device – Helps with navigation, particular when the cloud level drops..
- Camera – When the weather is good, you’re going to be treated to some stunning scenery
- Flask – Hot soup or tea etc can be a nice summit treat
- Sitting mat – folding mats are nice luxury to have when the vegetation or rock is cold and wet
- Guide books. All good book and outdoor shops sell various guide books that can be packed away in a waterproof bag or kept at home for research before the walk.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but remember you’ll need to carry all this gear with you so you don’t want to weigh yourself down too much on your first few walks.
Your first Munro
Hopefully I’ve given you a good idea of what gear you need. Now to pick your first Munro. Some people take to hill walking straight away. But an element of fitness is needed, don’t take the Scottish mountains for granted because they’re not as high as the mountains in other parts of the world. If you’re unsure of your fitness you may want to try a smaller local hill to begin with. For example if you live in Edinburgh, then the Pentland hills are a good training ground for beginners.
If you’re ready for your first Munro then here is an excellent list of hills to research and get you started:
- Ben Lomond – Situated on the east side of the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Ben Lomond is the most southerly Munro with a clear path all the way to summit at a fairly easy gradient. this makes an obvious choice to begin your Munro bagging career. But this is Scotland’s busiest hill, so if you don’t like crowds, an early start is recommended.
- Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas – Ben Lawers is the tenth highest Munro, but the advantage is the car park where you start the walk is 400 metres above sea level. With a path all the way to summit taking in Beinn Ghlas on the way, means you get two Munros on this outing.
- Schiehallion – A conical-shaped mountain when seen from the west, but your approach is up the whale backed side of the mountain. A path for most of the way, but there is a boulder field to negotiate as you get closer to the summit.
- Mount Keen – The most easterly Munro, with excellent paths that are so good, it’s possible to cycle to the summit if you’re fit.
- Ben Nevis – The Daddy, the highest mountain in the UK. A well-engineered path takes you all the way to the summit and it’s always busy out with winter. Bare in mind, snow can cover the parts of the path well into spring, so you may wish to leave Ben Nevis until the height of summer.
- Cairngorm – From the ski centre car park, Cairngorm makes for a good introduction to the wild Cairngorms. For those with a bit more experience, you can continue on to Ben Macdui.
- Bynack More – Another Munro in the Cairngorms that boasts an excellent path and fine views of the larger Cairngorms peaks.
- Ben Hope – Fancy an epic trip to the far north? Ben Hope is the most northerly Munro and makes for a fine half day walk. Some walkers also combine Ben Klibreck which is a 30 minute drive away.
- Ben Chonzie – With a track to follow a lot of the way up, this makes a nice short outing. A line of fence posts aide navigation in poor weather.
- Mayar and Driesh – These two Munros make a fine circuit. Good paths to follow ensure this is an excellent walk for beginners. Corrie Fee is rather pleasing to the eye.
- Buachaille Etive Beag – Less celebrated than her more famous neighbour Buachaille Etive Mor, but this one also has two Munros and a nice ridge connecting both up. An excellent introduction into the Glencoe Munros.
Loch Lomond from the summit of Ben Lomond:
Now you have some Munros suggested as good beginner walks, we’ll look at navigation.
Once you’ve picked your first Munro, you can purchase a map that covers the area you need. I recommend Ordnance Survey Landranger maps with the 1:50000 scale. Pour over the map the night before so you know your route. If you’re unfamiliar with maps then it wouldn’t hurt going out on smaller hills to build your experience with map reading and then incorporate taking compass bearings. Rather than trying to explain this in my guide, Ordnance Survey have some great how to videos, that’ll have you ready in no time: Map reading.
Once you’re familiar using a map and compass, you could consider buying a GPS unit to help navigation in poor weather conditions. It can be tempting to rely solely on GPS, which isn’t an issue providing you can still use a map and compass should your GPS stop working, i.e. the batteries run out. Many smartphones have inbuilt GPS too, but you need a good dedicated app for hillwalking such as Viewranger. Be aware that having GPS constantly switched on can drain the battery quickly. To preserve your battery, turn off your mobile data or better still GPS also works on flight mode too. Remember that Google maps is not designed for navigation on the mountains and many novice walkers have got into bother by relying solely on their Smartphone for navigation.
At some point, many walkers choose to attend a navigation course. These courses usually only last 1-2 days and cost around £40 upwards.
Hill walking is a demanding physical exercise, you can spend anything from four to twelve hours or more on the hills depending on your route. It is important to keep yourself hydrated and nourished. To give you an idea, for day trip walks I take a mixture of the following.
2x Wholemeal rolls with cheese or ham and tomato filling
2x Packet of crisps or salted peanuts
2x Chocolate bars
2x Mixed seed energy bars
2x Cereal bars
2x Fruit bars.
1x Handful of blueberries
1x Flask of soup (usually winter only).
1-2 litres of water, depending on how long the walk is and if there is likely to be fresh running streams to drink from. Water off the hill is usually safe, if running and high up. For peace of mind it is recommended you take a water filter or sterilising tablets.
I tend to use the little but often method for food and drink. I usually take short breaks every hour to have a snack and drink on the move as I use a hydration bladder.
Other food to consider is: fig rolls, fruit (fresh or dried), biscuits, flapjacks, trail mix, jelly babies. The list is endless. But anything that is high in energy or slow release will be good to keep you sustained throughout the day.
On warmer days you may also consider taking electrolyte tablets in your water to replace what you lose through sweat.
Try having a good filling meal the night before your walk and a decent breakfast in the morning before you head out.
Jargon and acronyms – Speak like a pro!
Hill walkers use all sorts of jargon and acronyms when talking about the hills and gear. This list isn’t exhaustive, but I have tried to list as many of the more common terms used, so you don’t feel totally left out when chatting in pub.
Gear jargon – here are some of the brands and types of gear to look out for.
Base layer: Technical t-shirts or better known as base layers have wicking properties to allow the sweat to disperse quicker than traditional cotton t-shirts. These types of base layers are usually quick drying too.
Crampons: If at a later date you decide you want to extend your walking into the winter months then you’ll need crampons and a stiffer boot that can take crampons. Crampons are plates with spikes that attach to the sole of your boot to give you traction on ice or snow. If you need crampons then you’ll also need an ice axe.
Down: Down refers to insulation usually from the feathers of geese. Goose down can be found in jackets and sleeping bags. Down is warmer than any man made insulation. But down’s weakness is, if it gets damp or wet, it loses its warmth.
eVENT: A Brand that makes breathable, waterproof membrane used in various different brand of jackets, trousers and boots.
Gore-Tex: Much the same as eVENT, but probably more widely used than eVENT.
GPS: Global Positioning System. Your little GPS device or Smartphone will pick up the signal from satellites to give you, your accurate location.
Mid layer: A mid layer should give you some insulation between your base layer and outer shell. Usually a fleece or windstopper style jacket. In colder conditions, some walkers use the traditional four layer system of a base layer, a thin mid layer, and a second thicker mid layer with the outer shell on top. Advances in technology with insulation means some jackets, can act as a mid layer and outer shell.
Outer shell: This refers to your waterproof jacket which may also be eVENT or Gore-tex lined.
Primaloft: Primaloft is a man made insulated material used in various jackets and sleeping bags. Not as warm or packable as down. But performs better than down in damp and wet conditions.
Trekking/Walking poles: Extendable poles which helps with balance and protects your knees and other joints by placing some of the pressure to your arms. Also handy for river crossings.
Vibram: Another brand that can be found on the sole of your boots. Vibram soles are typical known to be more grippy. To see if your boots have Vibram soles, look at the sole of your boots and the yellow Vibram logo can be found on the centre between the tread.
Hill chat – here are some words commonly used when talking about your walk:
Allt: gaelic for a river or stream.
Bealach: (Pronounced bee-a-lach). Bealach is a gaelic word for the notch between two mountains, better known as the col or pass.
Ben/Beinn: A hill, i.e. Ben Nevis. However contrary to belief, not all Bens are Munros. If you see the spelling Bheinn, the Bh is pronounced with a V instead of B. So Bheinn is pronounced “Ven”.
Brocken Spectre: A rare visual treat, when the sun projects your shadow onto the cloud below you, giving you a ghostly, almost angelic image.
Clag: The dreaded clag! Clag is a name we give to the low lying cloud that reduces your visibility.
Cleg: Not the ex LibDem leader, but an annoying insect known as the horsefly.
Cloud inversion: Also known as a temperature inversion. This is when the cloud is so low that you climb above it and the mountains look like islands in a sea of cloud. These rare, but special days are more common in the colder months when the cold air pushes the cloud down, trapping the hot air underneath. You may also see a Brocken Spectre.
Compleat: No this isn’t a spelling mistake. But is the term used when you have completed a list of hills.
Corbett: A Corbett is a mountain in Scotland that is between 2,500 and 3,000 feet and has drop on all sides of at least 500ft. There are 221 Corbetts and quite often when someone has finished the Munros, they’ll start bagging Corbetts.
Corrie/coire: a large steep wall of mountain, sometimes with a lochan at the bottom. Some routes walk into corries, such as Corrie Fee (Mayar and Driesh) and are quite often very photogenic.
Crags: A steep rugged mass of rock, projecting upwards and or outwards.
Donalds: Donalds have the same height criteria as Grahams but Donalds can only be found south of the Highland boundary fault line. Unlike Grahams, Donalds only need 98 feet drop on all sides. However to confuse matters, a Donald can also be a Graham or even a Corbett. But no Donalds are high enough to achieve Munro status.
Graham: Grahams are the mountains in Scotland between 2,000 and 2,500 feet and have at least 500 feet drop on all sides. At the last count, there was 224 Grahams.
Grid Reference (GR): Most walkers use a 6 digit grid references to take a bearing or know where they are on the map. Please see Ordnance Survey video links given above for further guidance.
Gully: A deep ditch on the side of a mountain, often eroded from water. Gullies can be steep and best avoided unless it forms part of a route.
Lochan: A lochan is a small freshwater loch.
Midge/Midges: Horrible tiny little beasties that bite, leaving little red spots all over your bare skin. Invest in some insect repellent and a net for your head. The midge season is from May to September.
Scramble/scrambling: Scrambling is the term used where you need to use your hands to climb some rock. But you do not need a rope. Scrambling may be needed on cragged section usually on ridges or heading up corries.
As you progress through the Munros, you will have to travel further north. This requires overnight stays. Thankfully there is lots of accommodation available to suit all budgets.
Bed and Breakfast: The trusty B&B is probably ideal if you walk with your partner or you don’t like the idea of sharing a dormitory with other walkers. Plus it can be nice having a big hearty breakfast before a hill walk. B&B’s can be pricey, particularly in the height of the summer season.
Bunkhouse: Bunkhouses are possibly the cheapest form of accommodation outwith camping. They’ll offer a bed in a shared room quite often with other walkers. Most bunkhouses offer drying rooms for your gear,a kitchen area and a hot shower. There are some absolutely cracking bunkhouses, but at the other end of the scale, there are some basic and dated ones too. Prices vary from £12 to £25 per night.
Bothy: Bothies are small buildings in remote parts of Britain, most of them being in Scotland. Bothies offer basic wind and waterproof shelter. These bothies are maintained by a charitiable organisation called “The Mountain Bothies Association”, for locations of these bothies and to join, please visit: https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/. Membership is not required to stay in bothies, but the £20 yearly fee helps towards maintaining these shelters.
Bothies quite often have fireplaces, so you can carry in a little bit of fuel to burn such as kindling, logs and coal. Wood is quite often scarce but you can sometimes find bogwood or the estate that owns the bothy supply wood to burn. You should not cut live trees or take dead wood.
Shenavall bothy, Fisherfield Forest:
Campsite: Camping can be a good cheap alternative, showers and toilets are always provided and a pub is quite often in walking distance. A pitch can cost from £5 to £15 per person per night.
Car camping: Car camping is the term I use for when you camp near your car by a grassy area. This is handy if you head up north straight after work and have no other accommodation booked. There is usually grassy spots at the side of lochs, where you can camp. However do not leave any rubbish, cut down trees or be anti social. If you must have fire, build a small fire and use small rocks as a surround. Use a previous fire spot if possible. Car camping is now banned in the Loch Lomond National Park because of litter and anti social behaviour.
Hotel: Feeling flush? It is worthwhile joining a voucher website such as Groupon or Itison. Many Highland hotels use these websites to get more customers and there are good deals to be had on a weekend away up North.
Wild Camping/backpacking: Wild camping is where you carry a small backpacking tent into remote areas and camp with the minimalist approach. This is ideal to get into the more remote Munros where there is no bothy or you wish to summit camp to take in the sunset and rise. Remember to leave no trace that you camped.
Wild camping in the Grey Corries, near Ben Nevis:
Youth Hostel: Very much like a bunkhouse, but larger dormitories with more bunk beds. Private rooms are quite often available too. Members get discounts. You can either join the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) or the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) if you live in England or Wales. Either membership will get you a discount in the Scottish based hostels. Please note that there is also independent hostels, some are affiliated with SHYA. The Association hostels prices start at around £19 per person per night. Like bunkhouses, Independent hostel prices vary.
Solo or company?
Whether you go solo or with company, is your choice. But regardless of what you decide, always tell someone where you’re going, with your intended route and estimated time of completing the walk. This will help Mountain Rescue in the unlikely event you need help. If you do need Mountain Rescue, phone 999 or 112 and ask for the police and tell them that you need Moutain Rescue.
Register your phone so you can text an emergency, sometimes the signal is too weak to make a call but a text message may be sent: http://www.emergencysms.org.uk/registering_your_mobile_phone.php
Got nobody to walk with and you can’t tempt your friends or family? Fear not, there are many local clubs to join to meet like minded people. The level of experience always varies. Alternatively there are many walking forums such as ScottishHills, where I first joined and met many new friends: www.scottishhills.com.
Last but by no means least, is the weather. Quite often the weather will be the deal breaker in your decision to head out onto the hills or not. It’s important to check the very last forecast on the evening before your walk. The best websites to use are:
http://www.mwis.org.uk/ – MWIS splits Scotland into 5 forecast areas:
Southern Uplands – All the hills basically south of Edinburgh to the Borders.
South Eastern Highlands – All the hills accessible from Callander and Loch Tay.
Cairngorms National Park and Monadhliath – As it says.
West Highlands – Covers areas like Glencoe and Lochaber.
North West Highlands – All the hills north of the Great Glen.
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/mountain-forecast/#?tab=mountainHome – The Met office splits Scotland into East and West divides.
What to look out for?
Wind speed – Anything above 40 mph is going to make your day really difficult and unpleasant. Not only will it be more difficult to walk in, the wind chill can cut through you like a hot knife through butter. Your waterproof jacket can be worn on top of a fleece to help keep warm. A slight breeze is good to keep the midges away.
How wet will it be – If it’s going to be raining. Remember your waterproof jacket and trousers and do you have means to keep your gear dry inside your rucksack, such as dry bags and or a rain cover. If it’s windy too, make sure any rain cover is attached to your rucksack should the wind catch it.
How cold will it be – It may dry, but remember in the height of summer it can be still be cold on the mountain tops.
Cloud cover – This will depend on how much you see and how easy navigation will be. MWIS gives a percentage of the chance of cloud free Munros. It’s not always accurate though. Can be worse than expected, or sometimes even better than expected. But always be prepared should visibility drop.
Glencoe with the clag rolling in:
Here is a list of useful websites, some have already been mentioned earlier in this blog:
ScottishHills – http://www.scottishhills.com/html/index.php
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland – http://www.mcofs.org.uk/
Mountain Weather Information Service – http://www.mwis.org.uk/
Scottish Avalanche Information Service – http://www.sais.gov.uk/
Scottish Independent Hostels – http://www.hostel-scotland.co.uk/
Ordnance Survey video guides – https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/resources/map-reading/
Walkhighlands – http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/
Hill bagging – http://www.hill-bagging.co.uk/
Mountain Bothy Association – https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/
I hope you’ve found this blog useful and you now can’t wait to begin Munro-bagging. My advice is to go out and enjoy these hills safely. Scotland is lucky to be blessed with such varied mountains. But it’s easy to forget about the beauty and get wrapped in the bagged process instead. Some walkers choose to go out in all weathers, if you choose to do that then there is no problem with this, providing you have got the experience and right gear to deal with adverse weather. Most importantly, know when to give up and turn back. The mountain will be there another day, the trick is making sure you are too. If you have any feedback or questions then please use the comments box or tweet me @RobinhoOutdoors
Some of the highlights from my round of Munros squeezed into a 7 minute video to help inspire you:
Remember hill walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. It is your responsibility to make sure you can navigate safely on the hills.