What is the National Three Peaks Challenge?

The National Three Peaks Challenge involves climbing the three highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales. The challenge is completed either within 24 hours or over a weekend.

The three mountains in question are:

These three peaks are the tallest mountains within each representative country: Scafell Pike is the tallest in England; Snowdon, the tallest in Wales and Ben Nevis the tallest in Scotland.

How tough is it?

For anyone who isn’t a keen hiker – pretty tough! It is both physically and mentally challenging. 

Obviously, the 24-hour challenge is the most difficult, but the three peaks in a weekend is also difficult and shouldn’t be underestimated. The combination of climbing, long driving and a lack of sleep adds up. However, with the right preparation and attitude, it’s an achievable and fun challenge.

Get training, get the right gear, and get going! 

What gear do I need?

The gear needed changes depends on the time of day you climb the mountains and the weather. Here is a list of absolute essentials:

Boots/shoes – you need shoes that are waterproof, supportive (rigid sole), and grippy (vibram or contagrip soles are two of the best) and most importantly – they must fit! Take into account that most people have bigger feet than they think and your feet will swell as you walk. Some boots suit wide feet, some narrow, some boots have lots of volume in the toe box (front of the boot), some not so much. It’s not a case of one size fits all – so best to get measured up and fitted. And test out your shoes before you begin. Get it wrong and you could suffer badly from blisters, black toenails and soaking wet feet.

Coat – a hardshell with gore-tex or equivalent membrane based waterproofing technology (e-vent, hydroshell, etc – but gore-tex is widely seen as the best). If it’s an old or well-used jacket – washing and reproofing the jacket with a Nikwax or similar product is advisable. A waterproof and windproof coat is essential to deal with rain and wind. It gets cold at the top! 

Clothing – layers, layers, layers. Generally – a fast wicking fast drying base layer, followed by a fleece, followed by a gilet, followed by your hardshell waterproof (get started with our sweat-wicking top). With more or less layers depending on how sweaty a person you are. It goes without saying you should have warm and dry clothes to change into. You should also have a set of dry clothes for each mountain in case you get soaked through. It’s tough to get your clothing right as the weather changes so quickly. One minute we were all wearing shorts and a top, the next, waterproofs and fleeces.

Trousers – lightweight, non-restrictive, fast drying walking trousers. With vents if possible. Overtrousers just need to be waterproof but are less of a faff if they have zips and poppers high up the leg so you don’t have to take your boots on and off to get your waterproof trousers on and off.

Accessories – a couple of different pairs of gloves. One warm and lightweight, the other waterproof and a bit heavier for the worst possible weather. Hat – quick drying non wool are the best – but it’s not crucial. A buff is useful for neck warmth, to protect your face in serious winds. A decent waterproof bag is essential for keeping your kit dry – load it up with nutrition and water. Wear walking socks.

How we got on.

Tom and I had previously tackled the Three Peaks in the 24-hour time limit – not something I’d recommend for beginners. I can honestly say we were pretty unprepared and it was one of the most gruelling experiences of my life. This time, we opted for completing the challenge over the weekend. Still tough but far more enjoyable.

Not only was it more manageable in every sense, but I was far better prepared. Safe to say, it’s not advisable to forget your hiking boots (which I did the first time around). Secondly, this time I expected rain, wind, fog and possibly snow.

Our team (including Ed, Tom, Andy and Jack) successfully completed the challenge and loved the experience, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. It was a great team effort that combined mental strength with physical fitness.  

Here are our logistics:

  • Thursday night: Stay overnight near Glasgow.
  • Friday day: Drive to Ben Nevis, climb Ben Nevis (6 hours)
  • Friday night: Stay overnight near Glasgow
  • Saturday day: Get up early and drive to Scafell Pike. Climb Scafell Pike (4.5 hours).
  • Saturday night: Drive straight to Snowdon. Stay overnight near Snowdon.
  • Sunday day: Climb Snowdon (5 hours). 

Each mountain has a really different feel to it. Ben Nevis is a long and hard slog, with difficult weather at the top (first time we had snow, this time is was sleet and strong winds). Scafell Pike is the shortest but possibly the most difficult physically. It’s just straight up! It also rains A LOT! Snowdon is the most picturesque and starts off nice and easy (we did the Miners Track), but finishes with the most technical part of the challenge – some scrambling is required. 

The long slog to the top of Ben Nevis
Windy at the top of Ben Nevis
A tricky crossing on Scafell Pike

Having finished the challenge twice, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a physical test or for a challenge to raise money for. If you don’t fancy all three, try one of the mountains individually – Snowdon would be my pick of the bunch for a great day out. 

Getting to the top of the peaks is an incredible experience. Well worth the workout. You can expect unrivalled views of the British countryside, a great team bonding experience, a real sense of achievement and a memory to last a lifetime. 

Check out our highlights below.

%d bloggers like this: