What is the National Three Peaks Challenge?
The National Three Peaks challenge is one of Britain's most iconic adventure challenges. It involves climbing the country's three highest mountains, Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Mount Snowdon, and takes in some of the most spectacular views across Scotland, England and Wales.
The walk covers a total ascent of 3,064m over 23 miles, and most aim to complete it in 24 hours. Sound crazy? Hell yeah! Let's dive right in to find out how on Earth to make it happen.
Alternatively, you can book onto our guided trip where we've already done (almost all) the hard work for you.
Do I have to do the Three Peaks Challenge in 24 hours?
Of course not. In fact, there is a growing sense in the adventure community that climbing the peaks in 24 hours isn't necessarily the best way to summit these peaks, from an environmental point of view.
That's not to put you off, as long as you're responsible with your litter, stick to the marked paths (this helps protect the spaces reserved for wildlife, flora and fauna) and leave no trace, you'll be helping protect these wild spaces.
It is also worth considering what you're giving back to the local community. This applies for any adventure tourism, but in this context, there is a feeling that the 24 hour challenge encourages people to whizz through the National Parks without giving a lot back.
Donating to local community-led initiatives such as Fix the Fells (Lake District), Mend our Mountains (National) and the Nevis Landscape Partnership (Glen Nevis) would be a brilliant way to thank those responsible for maintaining the paths, as well as ensuring they remain intact for future generations.
Alternatively, completing the challenge over a few days would enable you to stay overnight in each National Park, which helps local areas, campsites, hotels, cafes and shops to benefit too.
The 3 Peaks Challenge 24 Hour Itinerary
Before we start digging in to how to train, what to eat and when to sleep, let's take a look at the 24 hour itinerary. There are plenty of ways of doing this, but the time it takes to climb each mountain won't change too much. Here's an estimation for each section.
5 hours for Ben Nevis
6 hours driving from Ben Nevis - Scafell Pike
4 hours for Scafell Pike, from Wasdale Head
5 hours driving from Scafell Pike - Snowdon
4 hours for Snowdon
= 24 hours
This might sound very speedy, but 4-5 hours is actually a fair amount of time when you're walking. Most people, including first timers, are able to get up and down Snowdon in around 4-5 hours.
Here's a couple of example itineraries you could take. The first one is the most popular as it involves the least hiking in the dark.
Itinerary 1 (evening start):
5pm: Arrive in Fort William and start Ben Nevis. Here we go!
10pm: Finish Ben Nevis and drive to Scafell Pike. Nap time.
4am: Arrive and start ascending Scafell Pike. Remember how you always wanted to summit a mountain at sunrise?
8am: Finish Scafell Pike and drive to Snowdon. Nap again.
1pm: Arrive and start climbing Snowdon. The end is in sight!
5pm: Finish Snowdon, challenge completed. Take that summit selfie. Eat some chocolate. Celebrate with a dance.
5.15pm: It's beer o' clock.
Itinerary 2 (morning start):
8am: Start Ben Nevis. Nice sociable hour to start on!
1pm: Finish Ben Nevis and drive to Scafell Pike. Time for an afternoon nap.
7pm: Arrive and start ascending Scafell Pike. Sunset on the fells, no better place to be.
11pm: Finish Scafell Pike and drive to Snowdon. Nap again.
4am: Arrive and start climbing Snowdon. The final push!
8am: Finish Snowdon, challenge completed. Time to celebrate! Then, home and sleep.
Tips for completing the whole thing in 24 hours
Train, train, train
It doesn't get much more obvious than this, but trying to climb the UK's three tallest mountains in under 24 hours with absolutely no training will likely be an uphill battle. Pun absolutely intended.
Even those accustomed to climbing hills probably won't have done three mountains back to back on very little sleep. Given there isn't a lot you can do about the sleep deprivation (except getting as much in as you can the week before) the least you can do is make sure you're fit enough to deal with the ascents.
So, how should you be training? Well, the best way to practice climbing mountains is... climbing mountains. But not all of us have those readily available on our doorstep. If you're in a city, training in the gym during the week and getting some miles in the legs outdoors on the weekend is a great way to go.
Starting your training 3-4 months prior to the challenge is generally enough. The ideal training plan is to combine strength and resistance training with some upbeat cardio and general fitness through swimming, walking and jogging.
In the first couple of months, exercising 3 times a week will help level up your fitness. A session for strength and resistance, a session for cardio and one for general fitness is a good structure. In the months closer to the challenge, you should focus more on the cardio and aerobic stuff. For a more detailed look at how to train, check out our thorough plan.
Plan your route and logistics to a tee
There's nothing worse than spending months training, only to be held back because you get lost, can't work out the route or haven't planned your driving logistics. Having your route mapped out (and making sure you can read said map!) is crucial.
If you're going with a guide, you won't need to worry about this as you can just follow the leader and focus on getting it done, but if you're attempting it solo or with friends you'll want to make sure you know what you're doing.
Finding someone to drive you all around Scotland, England and Wales is a good starting point. Generally this person won't be hiking as it would be almost impossible, not to mention dangerous, to stay awake for that long. So finding someone willing to drive you around for a couple of days is the first step. Say you'll pay them in snacks!
Make sure you're comfortable using a map in compass in all weathers, too. Mountain weather can be unpredictable at the best of times so to assume you'll just follow the crowd would be naive. Sometimes mist and fog can obscure the route and you'd be surprised how extreme conditions can be even in the UK. Get this watertight and the walk will be a doddle! Well, maybe not a doddle...
Nail the snacks
Eating the right food will really help you keep those energy levels cruising high and get the Three Peaks Challenge completed in 24 hours. It isn't quite as crucial as getting the training in or making sure all your logistics are sorted, but it will have an effect.
Eating too much for example, could make you sluggish and uncomfortable, whereas not eating enough will leave you dizzy and grumpy. It's generally best to get some good, fibrous food in in the car between peaks. Sandwiches with brown bread, porridge and pasta are all great here. The real challenge is making sure you don't stuff yourself right before you get out the car, no one needs that.
Whilst you're on the move, grazing on high energy snacks such as fruit, nuts and sugar will keep morale and energy levels up. Trail mix, flapjack, peanut butter and bananas are your friends here. A chocolate treat for the summit (Wagon Wheels forevs) will be something to work for and will give you a serious mental lift at the top.
Dig deep into those mental reserves
Adventure is a state of mind. It's not an adventure if it's not difficult, hurdle-ridden and fulls of highs and lows. And this journey won't be any different, it's what makes the end feeling of accomplishment so sweet.
What keeps you going when things get tough? Deep breathing? Playing a game with friends? Remembering why you're doing it, whether it's a charity or personal challenge is great motivation.
Breaking the challenge down into sections is one way to not feel overwhelmed, too. Think of each summit as its own individual challenge, and all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. You'll be at the top before you know it.
Once you've completed this challenge, who knows what else you'll be capable of?
Channel your inner Marie Condo when you're packing your rucksack. OK, her advice of only keeping things in that 'spark joy' might leave you with a bag full only of chocolate, but the point is, be ruthless. Only pack exactly what you need and leave the rest at home or in the car. Simple.
Pace is everything
Are you the kind of person that is either all or nothing and feels energy in fits and spurts? This is something to bear in mind on the National 3 Peaks challenge. The key really is to maintain a steady pace, to resist running when you get a burst of energy from your flapjack as it will only slow you down more later. Slow and steady wins the race.
Make it as easy for yourself as possible
There's heaps of things you can do to make the challenge easier for yourself. Here's a few ideas:
- If you already own walking boots, use them. If you have new ones, make sure you break them in with walks before the challenge. Nothing is worse than blisters, not even getting lost.
- If you have sore joints and need poles, use them too. Why make it harder for yourself?
- If you can afford it, get yourself some gadgets as back up. A GPS device or online map on your phone is a bit of extra insurance.
- Make some easy swaps during your training. Meeting a friend for a coffee? Get a takeaway and turn it into a walk. Go for a stroll on your lunch break. Take the stairs instead of the lift.
Three Peaks in 24hrs: FAQ's
Should I go it alone, with a guide or in a group?
This is totally up to you. Going it alone will mean you can take it at exactly the pace you want. You get to be grumpy when you want, take breaks when you want and have the feeling of doing something epic all on your own.
But friends keep morale high, keep you accountable and make it easier to share the navigation load. Plus, many groups doing the 3 Peaks Challenge together will train and fundraise as a team too, which can make it more fun.
A guide will take a lot of the hard prep work off your hands so you can focus solely on training, eating and getting up and down. You know best what will work for you but think about the bits you might find hardest and whether having other people around you would help.
Could I do it in 24 hours on public transport?
In theory, yes. In practice? Maybe, maybe not. We all now the public transport system in the UK is notoriously hit and miss, and you'd be sad to be delayed on a train and not make the 24 hour mark.
That said, it is a lot better for the environment, so if you're not as fussed about completing the challenge in 24 hours and can find a way to get to the train station, trains and buses might be the way to go.
Should I try stay awake in the car or sleep?
You should absolutely sleep as much as you can. The more sleep you can get the better. Eating first, then sleeping, will help your body to rest, digest and recover before you hit the next peak. Sleep meditation podcasts, relaxing music and an eye mask if you're travelling in the day will help you get some much needed shut-eye.
How can I do the National Three Peaks on a budget?
Completing the National Three Peaks Challenge needn't actually cost you that much, If you're savvy with your meals and have them prepped and ready, the only real expense will be the fuel costs to get you from A to B. Getting a group together to split fuel costs is a great way to bring the cost down.
If you're staying in Fort William overnight before the challenge, there are plenty of cheap options such as walking hostels and B&B's.
Which is the best of the National Three Peaks?
That's realy a matter of personal preference! Each peak has its own special characteristics and all three made it onto our list of the Best Mountains in the UK!