Hamlet for hill walkers: to bag or not to bag?

To paraphrase Hamlet – to bag or not to bag, that is the question…

A question that comes up from time to time on hill walking forums and related social media is the question of bagging. Specifically, whether people are or are not trying to complete a list and the rights and wrongs of whether you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ try to. It’s a question I’ve been mulling over, sparked by seeing a couple of things on social media which generated a lot of debate – and finally decided to get out of my drafts folder on a packed train back from Penrith.

The ‘purist’ version of bagging seems to be that once you have started working through a list you should try and see it through to the end. In its worst form this can be another example of ‘hillier than thou’ behaviour i.e. if you decide you are not going to finish a list once you have started it you are a quitter/ lazy/ not a proper hill walker and so on (jibes I’ve been on the receiving end of on occasion).

Other extreme views I have seen online are (a) that you have to start the hill at sea level for it to count (bonkers as to make this work in the Cairngorms you would have to start the walk in Aberdeen) or (b) seen in the context of Wainwrights, that you should really do each hill separately as AW wrote a chapter on each (fine if you want to but given there are tons of good ridge routes seems an awful lot of effort).

However the vast majority of people with the bagging bug are perfectly nice and reasonable just happen to enjoy the challenge of working their way through a list. There are many positive benefits of hill bagging not least getting to see lots of different areas of Scotland/ the Lakes/ wherever and getting fitter (though I’ve failed spectacularly on the latter point).

The purist version of not bagging also seems to exist – I have seen some comments on social media along the lines of ‘why bother bagging surely you should just enjoy the hill’. I’ve even heard of people deliberately not going to the very top of the hill as some sort of anti bagging statement. Again nothing wrong with any of that but looking down on people who do bag seems just as wrong to me as looking down on people that don’t.

Where I fit in is somewhere in between. I tick hills off on an app, two websites and a big spreadsheet and would generally rather do a new hill than a repeat. But I’m not convinced I will finish any of the lists. In the case of the Munros it’s a combination of factors: firstly that my dislike of exposure and total uselessness at rock climbing means that unless the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye falls down my chances of ever finishing the Cuillin are zero, and secondly that given my old back injury I probably have about 10 more decent years of walking in me which won’t be enough time. I’m very much enjoying the Wainwrights, but again doubt I will finish, in this case less to do with any technical difficulty than that some of them (hello Armboth Fell and Mungrisdale Common) just don’t inspire. But we’ll see where we end up!

The whole thing seems to me to be a matter of personal choice. As I’ve said in previous posts the main thing is getting out there and enjoying the hills in whatever way suits you. If you want to bag great, if you don’t that’s great too but respect each others’ choice to enjoy the hills in their own way. And have fun!


8 thoughts on “Hamlet for hill walkers: to bag or not to bag?

  1. I agree, you get this in running as well. As long as you are enjoying yourself then I think provided you aren’t negatively affecting on the hill/track anyone else then go for it. Last thing is you wanting it to be a list or a job, we do these things to escape the 9 to 5 not extend it!

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  2. Another great blog… I don’t often comment, but I always read them.

    I am firmly a bragger, I have it in my head that I will finish the wainwright this year and I’m sure I will. But it’s not all pointless bagging, I’ve done my favourite 15x (Haystacks) and my youngest daughters favourite 11x (Pike O Blisco) and even the whole Skiddaw ridge route 6 times.

    So I’m stuck in between them all I guess. I go out just to get on the fells and enjoy the,, but I will tick the lot off as well. Lol

    And avoiding the top… lol. That’s a new one. What daft rituals some people subject themselves too. Ha ha.

    Keep up the good rambling. 🙂


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  3. Love it and each to their own. I can see that there are differences for everyone when they walk. For me I’m doing the Wainwrights and Dartmoor tors. The Wainwrights are easy, AW told you how many and where his top was, simples. When I was looking to walk all the Dartmoor tors there isn’t even a proper list. I’ve got 4 different books, with different ones in each, plus there’s some fella online who has 500 odd on his list, but I think he’s counting every large pebble out there. Those are my lists and once I’m done I’ll do them again (or start already as I’ve done with Latrigg!!!), a different way probably. For me you’re travelling as far as I do to get to Lakeland or Scotland and therefore what you say, goes!!
    If anyone tries to tell me I cannot link Wainwrights together by a ridge to claim a summit or that I have to finish the first round before I can start another, then my response will be to tell them they need to drive to Plymouth first before starting each and every walk they do in the Lakes, that should shut them up!!!

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    • Quite re the distance!! The ‘you have to finish one round before you start another’ one always causes debate. For me if I’ve climbed a hill twice I’ve climbed it twice. Simples!!


  4. Lot of good points there. Mungrisedale Common – just make sure you do it as a descent from Blencathra. Armboth is a pretty nice walk from Thirlmere if you choose a dry spell. We did it in March for Richard’s Wainwrights and had a lovely short day. No reason you couldn’t bag all the Wainwrights with ease. Even the boring ones can give you a nice day out in nice surroundings – just the hill isn’t much.

    I personally think people who go up a hill and deliberately don’t visit the summit are potty!

    I think the best thing about Munro (and Top) bagging was the different areas you got into which you’d never have visited otherwise. For the Tops, some were pretty remote which I really enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It started Munro bagging in the mid nineties, more to give a definition to my hill walking. It was alright until I started to travel and do overnight stays. Then I discovered there was more to the hills than Munros.

    Last week I found a great hill on the Kyles of Bute by accident.

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  6. Hillwalking for us was always fun first, second and third. Personally, I’ve always thought that those for whom hillwalking days are sparse or very limited that bagging carries the risk of diverting those days away from the best on offer in pursuit of a list. For those fortunate enough to have a surfeit of time (and good health) then a list provides an opportunity to explore the new and find unexpected inspiration.

    At the end of the day I don’t consider any list completion to be particularly laudable or impressive in any case. At the end of the day a Munro round is about 160 hill days strung together (much the same for Corbetts and Grahams). The fact that those days cover all the hills on any one list doesn’t mean anything meaningful. The quality of the days and the memories are somewhat more important.

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  7. It’s a funny old one. Kinley is rather smug as he is no longer bagging and since completing the Munros I have finally decided to go down a similar road and I can see where Kinley is getting at now. That said I’d never look down at someone for being a bagger, having been there myself. I hate all this ‘purist’ chat too. Like if you’re doing multiple rounds, you can be a banker or a golfer. If you’ve done the hill twice, you’ve done it twice regardless if it was during the 1st round or not, it should count. Thankfully, there is no right or wrong answer or rules, so you can play by your own rules and enjoy as you see fit. 🙂

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