Everything you need to know about bagging your first munro. For beginners, by a beginner!
Say hello to your go-to guide for bagging your first munro!
When you reach a certain age in Scotland there comes a point when munros become a thing. Climbing or ‘bagging’ munros is something of a national pastime and, if you really get into it, there are enough of them to keep you occupied for weeks, months, and even years.
You may be thinking fresh air, exercise, beautiful scenery, and a great big meal to eat – guilt-free – once you get home, what’s not to like? And you’d be right. But bagging munros may not be for everyone. Whisper it: if you’re anything like me it may be harder than you think.
With that in mind, here’s my guide to what you can expect from your first one…
The magic of munros
For me, munro climbing definitely hasn’t been love at first sight. I managed to get through the whole of my twenties without even a fleeting mention of a munro. In my thirties… they crept in.
A couple of years ago me and my boyfriend got dog and then a car. That meant we were instantly going on more walks. No longer was I spending my weekends lying on the couch nursing a hangover, and more and more frequently I was dragging myself on a hike in the Scottish countryside.
I got a sense of satisfaction from the fresh air in my lungs and the burn in my thighs, trampling about in nature and that unique feeling of tiredness that comes with being outside for a while.
Munros were still a slow burn, though. I never really considered doing a munro until, quite randomly, one of my boyfriend’s friends mentioned he was doing one at the weekend. We ended up going along and, almost against my will, got a little bit bewitched by the magic of munros.
A first-timer guide to munros
Full disclaimer, I’ve only done one munro. So I’m not claiming to be an expert of any kind.
But I wanted to write this guide as someone who has just one measly little munro under my belt. Not that it felt measly or little in any way at the time! However, I see a lot of reviews that are written by people who are super experienced at munro bagging.
While they have way, way, WAY more knowledge than I do, I wanted to write this guide when I’m still a newbie, rather than someone that bags munros for breakfast.
I want to walk you through what it was like for me doing my first munro so that you can get a sense of what it’s like for a first-timer – and hopefully avoid some of the rookie errors I made.
So let’s start with some frequently asked questions about munros…
What is a munro?
A munro is a Scottish mountain that is over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) in height.
The biggest munro is Ben Nevis, which stands at 4,411 feet. The smallest one is Ben Vane, located in the southern highlands, which stands at 914 metres. However, from what I’ve read it’s not particularly easy, despite its smaller stature!
How many munros are there?
There are 282 munros in Scotland in total. Only the upper echelons of munro baggers have done them all as it takes a while (read: years) to get through them all.
Why are they called munros?
Well, not all that surprisingly, they’re named after the first person who complied a list of them. That person was Hugh Munro, and the list was first compiled in 1891.
The number of munros has changed over the years. Orginally, there were 283 munros on the list. Now, as I mentioned above, there are 282 munros.
Why climb a munro?
Why do people go around bagging munros anyway?
Because they’re there…? I’m not sure. The enjoyment? The sense of achievement? Some people say that they get endorphins at the top of a munro. Others seem to like being able to tick off as many off as soon as possible. You even get munro beanie hats where you can add a cross-stitch for every munro that you’ve bagged.
Others, like me, are curious to see what all the fuss is about. I guess I wanted to know if this crazy munro bagging lark was all it was cracked up to be, or just a whole lot of hype?
As it happened, I enjoyed climbing the munro a lot more than I thought. I mean, I complained all the way up and moaned that it wasn’t all that on the way down. But by the time I’d gotten to the bottom I had a creeping urge to do another one.
I guess the magic of munros got me in the end!
What’s a good one to bag as your first munro?
As it turns out, the one we chose for our first munro is a good one for beginners: Ben Vorlich at Loch Earn. Why is it a good one for beginners? Well, according to what I read, it’s an easier one because it has a path all the way up. Forgive me but it really didn’t feel all that easy to me, however, that might just be because I don’t have anything to compare it to.
Here are a few other things you should know about Ben Vorlich at Loch Earn…
- It’s easily accessible from Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow
- There’s isn’t a proper cark park at Ben Vorlich so parking can be in short supply during busy times. Most of the cars were parked by the shore of the loch
- If Ben Vorlich isn’t enough you can continue onto the neighbouring munro, Stùc a’ Chroin and do two munros for one. We opted out of that one.
8 things I learned from climbing my first munro…
1) Take it seriously
It was surprising to me how difficult climbing a munro actually was. I feel like people talk about ‘bagging munros’ pretty casually, like it’s a super easy thing to do. The biggest takeaway for me is that it’s really not. I consider myself to be a reasonable fit person. I go running regularly and I work out a few times a week, but I found this really intense. The ascent was really steep and I was huffing and puffing for a lot of the way up!
A munro isn’t an easy climb any day of the week. Some are easier than others, of course, but it’s still a mountain after all. With that in mind, I would just say, come prepared. You always hear stories about people doing silly things when it comes to mountains in Scotland – wearing flip flops to go up Ben Nevis for example. Just don’t be that guy, right?
2) Do a practice run
One thing that people mentioned is that mountain fitness is its own thing. That’s something I can definitely attest to. I felt like I spent the entirety of the ascent panting for breath, pausing for a break, getting chilly, starting climbing again, and then panting for breath again. With that in mind, I would definitely try and do a couple of smaller hills beforehand.
We’d walked up a local hill, Dumyat Hill near Stirling, before climbing Ben Vorlich. That felt tough at the time – I remember poring with sweat and stripping off multiple layers at the top. I even stopped and asked people how much further it was three-quarters of the way up!
However, when we did it again after climbing Ben Vorlich I noticed that it was a lot easier. We were at the top before I even realised and it felt a lot more leisurely than the first time. So, if you can, try and get some smaller hills under your belt before you go for a munro.
3) Check the weather
Be sensible when it comes to the weather. On the day that we climbed the munro the weather was glorious, which was surprising considering it was 1) November and 2) November in Scotland. Both days either side were dreich and rained all day. However, on the Saturday in between we were lucky to get clear, blue skies and sunshine all day long.
All I can say is: we really lucked out. I don’t know if I could have pushed through if it was tipping with rain or really windy the whole time. It would probably feel quite dangerous as well – there was a bit of scrabbling over rocks which could be pretty slippy when it’s wet, on the way up and the way down. I’m not saying don’t climb a munro when there’s light rain or showers, but if it’s forecast to rain all day then it really won’t be fun for you.
4) Watch your timings
This is a point that’s more for winter than it is summer when it’s lighter for a lot longer. In November it starts to get dark at around 4pm. Bearing in mind that the walk up the munro was reported to take 4-5 hours we knew it would be an early start. We left just arrive 9am to arrive for about 10.15 and we started the ascent at about 10am. We finished at 3.30pm!
One thing I noticed when we were on the way down, however, was that there were a few people on their way up. I don’t know what time they would get to the top but it’s definitely a lot later than I would want to be up there. Scrambling around on the rocks when you can’t even see what you’re doing properly? No thank you. I would definitely try and start as early as you can so you’re not under pressure to get down before it gets dark.
5) Pack layers
What should you wear for your first munro? Sturdy boots are an obvious one – for good grip on scrabbly rocks as well as for keeping your feet dry. A waterproof is also a bit of a non-negotiable. We’re in Scotland, after all, and even if the weather apps say it’s going to be sunny all day it’s not unusual to get a cheeky couple of showers. I would also say a thick, chunky beanie hat is a must. Mine’s is from a company called BBCo and I think it’s ideal. It even has a fleece lining to keep you extra toasty.
However, what about the rest? I would recommend layers. Lots of think layers that you can have in your bag when you’re warm and sweaty (on the way up) and put on when you get to the top and for the way back down. It was absolutely freezing at the top! I also found myself getting chilly every time we stopped for a quick breather. That’s a good reason to keep on moving, but another reminder that even on a reasonable day you’ll still get cold.
- Walking boots
- A beanie hat
- Gloves and scarf
- Waterproof jacket
- Leggings or similar
- Long-sleeved top
- Padded jacket
- Comfortable backpack
6) Bring all the snacks
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as hungry as I did climbing a munro. We were only about half an hour in when I had banana and we were about half-way up when we had a quick break and I stuffed myself with nuts. The last twenty minutes of climbing were also powered by hunger and the thought of eating my sandwich and the rest of my snacks at the top.
You need a good selection of picky bits and nutritionally dense foods. My sister also brought peppermint tea in a flask which was such a great idea, especially as it was so cold at the top. I’m definitely borrowing that for next time. You also need a lot of water because you’re probably going to be sweating a lot, even in winter! Here’s my list of recommendations for what to bring with you…
- Bananas (I had two)
- Sandwich or roll for the top
- Nuts or a Grazebox – I love those!
- A flask of hot tea or coffee
- At least two large bottles of water
- Nut-based trail bars
7) Don’t overdo it
There’s another munro just next to Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn) and it was mooted early on, before we actually arrived, that we could potentially do two munros in one. However, by the time we got to the top there was just no way that that was happening. We were done! I guess all I’m saying is that some people get pretty competitive when it comes to bagging munros. However, don’t let the drive to bag another munro make you over do it.
I’d also recommend taking regular breaks on the way up. Not only is it good to catch your breath, but it’s also great to just to pause and soak up the scenery. I didn’t take that many photos on the way up and I wish I took more, but I was too focused on keeping up the pace. In retrospect, I would have slowed it down a bit more and enjoyed those views!
8) Have an amazing dinner planned
This was one of our biggest fails with this first munro. We dreamt of having a takeaway all day, and I mean allll day. However, we took ages to decide what we were having and by the time we’d made a decision the local Indian restaurant had closed its services on Just Eat and Deliveroo. I can only assume that they do this at peak time on a Saturday evening because they’re busy.
We then decided to get Pizza Express instead but unfortunately it just didn’t hit the spot. The pizzas were much smaller than I remembered and it just all felt a bit small and unsatisfying. I also usually like the garlic butter but it just wasn’t what I wanted at the time. I would definitely plan what we were having for dinner better next time around to finish off the day in style!