The National 3 Peaks Challenge is a rite of passage for many keen hikers and mountaineers in the UK and beyond. Tackling the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in a mad dash 24 hrs is both mentally and physically challenging. It’s a dream to complete for many who have scaled some of Britain’s best peaks and often is completed as part of a charity challenge. Whilst it can be a gruelling prospect to climb these 3 mountains over just a single day, trudging through the night and battling the unpredictable British weather, it is however not as daunting as prospect as you might think. Here we’ve put together our 3 peaks challenge tips including a 3 peaks kit list, a 3 peaks challenge training guide and the best three peaks challenge route. So, you want to know How to do the 3 peaks challenge? Here it is!
What Is The 3 Peaks Challenge
So, what is the 3 peaks challenge? Well, what most people mean is the “National” three peaks challenge which involves climbing Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Scotland), Scafell Pike (The highest mountain in England) and Mount Snowdon (The highest mountain in Wales).
The “usual” way is to complete the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours. The starting time being when you begin your first hike and the end when you finish back at the bottom of the last mountain! One of the biggest challenges here is not only the mountains themselves but the logistics and driving in between! Doing the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours needs planning and determination!
With the physical and mental effort it takes, many complete it as part of a 3 peaks charity challenge, some will also need to do some comprehensive 3 peaks challenge training before too.
If you really don’t fancy doing the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours then there is nothing wrong with taking your time a little.
In fact, it’s probably much more enjoyable this way, easier to plan your three peaks challenge route and you can get a good rest between the mountains. You will also probably not have to do as much intense 3 peaks challenge training this way!
Another way to do the challenge is to do the 3 peaks in 3 days and stay in proper accommodation in each area. Of course, you could always do the 3 peaks over the course of a few weeks especially if you need more recovery time.
How Hard Is The 3 Peaks Challenge
A big question that always comes up is “How difficult is the 3 peaks challenge?”
Obviously difficulty is subjective and much of the difficulty of the 3 peaks is logistical and mental as well as physical.
Each mountain individually isn’t overly challenging for the average person who is in decent fitness. However it does most certainly help to be used to the terrain and hiking steep trails beforehand. We recommend at least some 3 peaks challenge training before taking it on.
With each mountain you will take the easiest of the many routes up each peak. The “standard” routes on each aren’t always the quickest but they are often the least challenging both physically and technically. The standard routes on each peak are very accessible for less experienced hikers and don’t require any specialised equipment or skills.
We recommend taking the easier routes up each of these 3 mountains as part of this challenge even if you’re a relatively experienced hiker. The combined effort of doing all 3 peaks in such a short space of time can make even one of the easier routes feel harder when you’ve had little sleep, food and you’ve already got 2 mountains worth of trekking in your legs!
You can always come back and take on the more challenging routes on each peak individually as we have done with Snowdon, doing Crib Goch on another trip to Wales a few years later.
Also bear in mind that at least one of the mountains, probably Scafell Pike, will have to be done mostly in the dark too. This makes route finding and safety even more pressing. It also means setting off hiking in the early hours of the morning when you’re going to be especially tired!
Be sure not to underestimate this challenging environment especially if you’re not an experienced hiker. The mountains of the UK might not be as tall as the alps but they can still be dangerous places and many accidents happen because people vastly underestimate them! They still require a healthy dose of respect and that’s another good reason to get some 3 peaks challenge training in beforehand.
So, How difficult is the 3 peaks challenge?
It’s certainly doable from a physical point of view for most moderately active people. It’s not a specialised or technical challenge, more of physical and mental endurance. It’s going to be uncomfortable and you will be battling not only the peaks themselves but weather, sleep deprivation, darkness, blisters, lack of food and transport issues!
If you are new to hiking then you might consider reading a beginner hiking guide in preparation for your training and ultimately your 3 peaks hike.
Three Peaks Kit List
Getting your 3 peaks challenge kit list right is an essential part of preparing well for the three peaks and also having a more enjoyable time!
Three Peaks Kit List
A 20-40L backpack to take on the trails. Bring a waterproof liner and cover too to keep your stuff dry.
Then bring another bag for your clothes to keep in the van/ car and a bin liner for your wet clothes.
Pasta is a great meal you can make in bulk before and eat in the car.
Cereal Bars/High-energy snacks such as chocolate bars, Kendal mint cake/ nuts/ flapjacks/ energy gels – These are good for just before you start a climb and also to take in your pack for a boost!
You might be able to pop to a shop/ take away/ services on your way but don’t count on places being open or having the time!
Water/ Drinks –
Pack enough water to stay hydrated but also not to weigh yourself down. Energy and electrolyte drinks are good for a boost as well as rehydration/ energy sachets you can put into your water.
A Camelbak-style water carrier is great for convenience. But make sure you take at least 1-2 litres per climb.
Medical / Safety Supplies –
Bring with you: blister packs, Tubigrip, plasters, and support tape. Also always pack a foil blanket in case you get stuck on the mountain. A portable phone charger and a phone with a good signal too.
In the van having deep heat/ tiger balm is perfect for relaxing your aching legs after each climb. Instant ice/ heat packs help too.
Most of the routes here are pretty straight forward but you should bring a map and compass just in case. Nowadays there are also great map apps on your phone that work without signal too.
A good head torch and spare batteries will be essential for nighttime climbing and also bring a more powerful hand torch too. We recommend a Petzl Tikka and LED lenser.
Have some comfortable tracksuit pants for the van, a warm hoody and nice thick socks. After each walk, it’s the best feeling getting out of your wet gear and into something comfortable. Have some comfy running trainers too so you’ve got an alternative to boots.
You are going to want to have a set of underwear, walking pants, base layer, t-shirt and fleece for each hike.
This will make such a difference to your levels of comfort! I can’t stress enough how much difference a base layer makes here too!
Having some good quality top layers too which you can wear multiple times is essential too.
Waterproof pants and a good technical waterproof jacket will take all the difference if the weather turns or just for the wind and exposure at the top of the peaks.
Other items such as a buff, gators, hat and gloves are a good idea to pack even in summer. A down jacket might also come in handy at the top.
Your boots should be one of your top priorities when sorting your three peaks kit list out.
Don’t skimp on price and go for some top quality, comfortable and waterproof boots. We highly recommend SCARPA Terra or Rangers. You should also look at getting some specialist inner soles that protect your knees too as well as proper high quality walking socks.
Make sure to get your boots at least a few months before the challenge and break them in properly, do some good hikes and a few mountains in them so you know they are comfy and don’t rub. Proper footwear is essential for not just comfort but safety too, you’re boots should cover your ankles to give you maximum protection so don’t use trail shoes or trainers!
3 Peaks Challenge Timings
There are several different popular routes/ timings and ways to organise your climb. Check out the different options here: National Three Peaks Timings. Of course, you’re going to also be looking at doing the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours.
Time of Year
One of the main considerations is light. You want to ideally maximise your daylight hours to reduce your time walking in the dark. The longest day in the UK is normally around 20-21st June and it’s easier with the 3 peaks challenge timings.
You might find the actual summer solstice a popular day and a bit busy on the trails. Anywhere between May and August is ideal especially if you want to be sure to do the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours.
Bear in mind these are also the hottest months in the UK. You will need to factor in all kinds of weather from cold rainy conditions on the summits to the beating sun on the punishing uphill climbs. May and June are usually milder than later in the summer so would be the ideal months for this challenge.
A winter challenge is not recommended but for highly experienced mountaineers. Winter accents of these peaks, especially when covered in snow and ice, become much more extreme and technical and there will be a minimum of light.
Order Of Mountains/ Three Peaks Challenge Route
There is no official three peaks challenge route/ order in which to complete the mountains but the most common and the one we recommend is Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and then Snowdon when doing the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours.
Ben Nevis is the hardest and takes the longest to summit. Scafell Pike is then on the way south and is the second hardest of the summits. Mt Snowdon is a great mountain to finish on as it’s the easiest.
This was our three peaks challenge route and the one we think is the best overall.
Head up to Scotland and Fort William the day before you intend to do your challenge. Stay the night somewhere and get a good night’s sleep before starting your three peaks challenge route!
You’ll be starting Ben Nevis the next evening so you’ve got time to stock up on food, wander around Fort William and get a good meal down you before you set off.
Paying for a late check out or even an extra night so you can nap in your room or at least relax before is a good idea too.
3 Peaks Challenge Timings (For The 3 Peaks Challenge in 24 Hours)
Ben Nevis up and down – 5 hrs
Drive from Ben Nevis to Scafell Pike – 5 hrs 30 mins
Scafell Pike up and down – 4 hrs
Drive from Scafell Pike to Mt Snowdon – 6 hrs
Mt Snowdon up and down – 3 hrs 30 mins
TOTAL DRIVING TIME – 11 hrs 30 mins
TOTAL HIKING TIME – 12 hrs 30 mins
Suggested Itinerary/ Three Peaks Challenge Route
If you’re planning on conquering the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours here’s how with this 3 peaks challenge timings guide –
Start Ben Nevis – 5pm
Finish Ben Nevis – 10pm
Start Scafell Pike – 3:30am
Finish Scafell Pike – 7:30am
Start Snowdon – 1:30pm
Finish Snowdon – 5pm
Three Peaks Challenge Routes To Take
Ben Nevis – The Mountain Track (also referred to as Tourist Track)
Scafell Pike – Wasdale Track
Snowdon – Up the Pyg Track and down the Miners Track
Ben Nevis Height (Scotland): 1,345 m; 4,413 ft
Scafell Pike Height (England): 978 m; 3,209 ft
Snowdon Height (Wales): 1,085 m; 3,560 ft
Time: 24 hours (to complete the challenge)
Total Climbing Distance: 26 miles (42 km)
Practically speaking your only hope of completing the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours is to have your own transport. It just isn’t possible on public transport!
We also HIGHLY RECOMMEND having a designated driver who isn’t a walker. The most dangerous part of the whole challenge is the combination of driving and exhaustion. I personally know a friend who ignored this advice, they flipped their car and almost died when he fell as asleep at the wheel!
If there is a group then it’s best to rent a minibus. Tandem cars can be used but you might get split up and you will need to find two drivers. A minibus is also idea for the extra space it gives you for all your clothing/ food/ gear and to stretch out on your 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours!
Three Peaks Challenge Training
How much training is needed to do the three peaks challenge? How hard is the 3 peaks challenge?
Do you need to do any 3 peaks challenge training and “Can I do 3 peaks without training”?”
Well that of course depends on your starting levels of fitness. A person of decent fitness who walks a lot, goes to the gym a few times a week etc, should probably have no issue completing the hikes with little 3 peaks challenge training.
But we recommend for your own enjoyment that most people do at least some three peaks challenge training beforehand to get accustomed to this type of activity and terrain.
3 Peaks Challenge Training Plan
Try to start your 3 peaks challenge training regime between 3-6 months before the challenge.
A combination of gym work, regular hikes both on hills and mountains as well as nighttime walking is ideal as is running for endurance and strength.
If you’ve never hiked a mountain before then you will need to aim to complete at least a few beforehand to get a feel for the challenge ahead and get used to the endurance needed as well as the environment you’ll find yourself in.
You might also want to do some basic route finding and orienteering as part of your 3 peaks challenge training too.
We are lucky that we lived in Greater Manchester when we did the challenge in a village right in the heart of the Pennines. We were also keen hikers before we decided to do this challenge.
The hills here gave us a great place to train and most weekends we would hike from the village up to the peaks and back down. We also did a few nighttime hikes in a small group too in order to prepare for hiking in the dark. In your 3 peaks challenge training plan include training for both the physical elements but the conditions you might face too.
We would also go and hike a mountain in either the Yorkshire Dales or The Lake District once or twice a month in the run up to the challenge. Winter can make training harder and sometimes impossible if conditions are too extreme, but it’s also good 3 peaks challenge training too as (hopefully) conditions should be easier on the day.
Three peaks challenge training ideas
Running a few times a week is a great way to build stamina as well as those leg muscles but try to go at a steady pace and not to over do it and get an injury.
Targeted gym work is a great way to build strength for this challenge too. Concentrate on your quads, hamstrings and calf muscles as your legs are going to be doing the majority of the work.
But don’t forget your core too as it’s an integral part of overall stability, you will also want to do a little bit of shoulder work as you’ll be carrying food and water with you on each mountain. Strength work is idea for three peaks challenge training.
The stepper machine, bikes, treadmill on an incline as well as squats, lunges and calf raises are all great things to try as part of your three peaks challenge training routine in the gym.
General Tips For Safety & Fun!
Tell someone your plans and your expected time in each mountain and check in with them regularly.
Have a battery pack and phone with you at all times.
Pack a foil blanket and extra water/ batteries for your torch.
Know when to quit! If the weather is too bad or you reach complete exhaustion it’s ok to turn back or to just complete the challenge in longer than 24 hours.
Take the driving seriously. Get a designated driver and make sure they get enough rest/ coffee! The rural roads in the UK can be dangerous and especially at night. Watch out for wandering animals, particularly sheep!
Take it all in and have a good time with mates. You’re on a timer but don’t forget to look up and soak in the incredible landscape around you!
Easier than expected but it does seem like it goes on forever. The weather was largely ok on the way up but the long trudge back down it was pouring with rain and we were soaked.
We lost the group on the way up and took shelter near to the summit where visibility was pretty bad and the wind made it very exposed and cold. We waited it out for a while until the group caught up and we all summited together. Going down was tiresome and it went dark before we reached the car park!
The drive down from Scotland to The Lake District felt like it took forever. None of us got all that much sleep in the van and one of the group ended up throwing up due to the twisting roads! We got lost at one point and stuck on a narrow road completely full of sheep! My legs and knees were already starting to ache and swell but the deep heat at least eased them somewhat.
Opening the van doors at 3:30am in the cold, rain and pitch black none of us were keen on this mountain! Straight from the off I felt pretty shaky and it was only after an emergency energy drink that I got my second wind! It was dark and damp the whole way up, thank god for kendal mint cake!
The final summit push is just slippery scree too and honestly wasn’t enjoyable in the dark! As the sun began to rise on the way down the views opened up and it was a much more enjoyable end to the mountain than the beginning though my knees were really starting to give me some major pain!
This was by far the best mountain of the trip! When we arrived in Wales the sun was shining and it was a glorious day to be in the mountains. We had time to quickly grab some chips on the way to the mountain which we were all in dire need of!
We took the pyg track up to the summit and the views were spectacular, it has to be one of my favourite hiking trails! The hike itself even with sore feet and aching knees actually felt pretty easy going. When we reached the summit the sun was just setting and there was a cloud inversion, it has to be one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen even looking back many years and many travels around the world later.
Coming down I have to say was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life! We took the gentle but long miners track and my knees has just about given in at this point! I consider myself pretty hardy but the pain was actually making my eyes water at this point. Muscle and tiredness wise I wasn’t too bad but I have bad knees from football injuries!! Even my ankle was sore at this point because my knees had been causing me to over compensate!
Overall it was a great adventure and we got to see some amazing scenery, though we did get some awful weather and I’ve wanted to go back to Ben Nevis since and see it on a clear day! Scafell Pike I have no interest in doing again and I’ve done some other great mountains in the Lake District since that I consider much nicer! At the time I remember wishing I did more three peaks challenge training before but I don’t know if my knees would have managed it!
My knees took a while to recover and it did prompt me to finally get them looked at properly! I ended up having ligament replacement surgery a year or so later (the ligament was already long gone before!) I’m glad I managed to finally do the 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours but I think i’ll be sticking to individual mountains from now on!
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