30,000 people take on the three peaks challenge every year. The popularity of this challenge is owed to its physical and mental toughness, plus the sense of adventure given as you’re taken to three precious and breathtaking corners in the United Kingdom.
Think of this Maximum Adventure post as your ultimate three peak challenge guide. In this article, we explain what the three peaks challenge is, and answer some of your most common questions. We then detail the three peaks challenge route, before explaining how you can best prepare for the event. This includes a free training plan and kit list!
Keep reading to find out more. Get out of your comfort zone, expand your horizon, and live life to the fullest by taking on the three peaks challenge. We believe in you and are here to support you!
- What is the 3 peaks challenge?
- The three peaks challenge: Answering your questions
- The three peaks challenge route
- How to prepare for the three peaks challenge
Spartans among you…your challenge awaits! ⚔️
What is the 3 peaks challenge?
The national 3 peaks challenge is a long-distance walking adventure where participants attempt to climb the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in less than 24 hours. These mountains are Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon.
The challenge is split across three stages, with a total ascent of 3064 metres (9,843ft) and a distance of 26 miles (42km). Each stage is marked by the completion of a mountain, Ben Nevis at 1,345m, Scafell Pike at 978m and Snowdon at 1,085m.
This is a tough event, and it’s important for those taking part to have the necessary fitness. Plus you must be prepared to hike up a mountain (Scafell Pike) at night!
To complete this challenge in 24 hours, you need to complete Ben Nevis in 5½ hours, Scafell Pike in 4½ hours and Snowdon in 4 hours. Not making these times would mean you’d be turned around as you wont meet the 24 hour time limit you signed up for.
Note: If you’re turned around by one of our experienced and highly qualified guides, this is for your safety. On our 24 hour event, time is not on your side. We’ve carefully planned out the timings of this event thinking about you and our drivers. We want to make sure our drivers, taking you from one peak to the next, get the rest they need to accommodate you within the 24 hours schedule. Going beyond these hours is illegal and dangerous to you and for them.
It’s also important to note that driving hours are beyond your control on this challenge, and therefore we recommend you discount the time it takes travelling between the peaks. Think about it, what if you get stuck in a traffic jam, that’s not your fault, and it shouldn’t take away from your achievement. For these reasons, we say that if you complete each one of the 3 peaks in the hours stated, then you’ve mastered the 24-hour event.
For those who are hesitant about completing the challenge in 24 hours, it’s also possible to sign up for a 3 day 3 peak challenge. Many clients enjoy this more, as the event offers the perfect balance between challenge, adventure and enjoyment.
Or why not opt-in for a 5 day 3 peaks challenge, to take the time to truly experience your surroundings and the beautiful landscapes engulfing these infamous peaks.
The three peaks challenge: Answering your questions
The national 3 peaks challenge is a popular event, and we want you to be fully prepared and confident that you’ll complete the route safely, and in the time frame you desire. For this reason, we’ve taken the time to answer your most pressing questions.
Think of this article section as your three peaks challenge fact sheet. And if there’s a question we haven’t addressed, get in touch! Our team of experienced walkers are always on hand and happy to answer your queries.
#1: Which of the 3 peaks is the hardest? Out of the 3 mountains tackled, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain on the three peaks challenge, and so in theory this peak is considered the hardest. However, many find Scafell Pike the hardest peak on this event, despite it being the smallest mountain of the three.
The reason is that Scafell Pike is tackled at night. You’ll have to fight against the urge to sleep. Plus, because Scafell Pike is the middle peak, you’re not fresh, but you’re also not riding the high of having the finish line in sight.
How easy is the 3 peaks challenge? You’ll be walking across loose, steep, slippery, rocky and uneven mountainous terrain, meaning this is a challenge you need to be more than physically fit for. You need to have some experience walking in the mountains and over uneven terrain.
Once more, you’ll be battling with the elements and functioning on little sleep, adding to the challenging aspect of the event. Despite the difficulty, with dedicated training, the three peaks challenge is an achievable aim for many. It will be type two fun, which we say is the best kind of fun.
Can I do the 3 peaks without training? No.
You need to train your cardiovascular fitness, and have the strength to walk uphill carrying a load. Once more, you need to get outside into the hills to become accustomed to walking on jagged terrain.
What order is it best to complete the 3 peaks challenge in? There’s no official route to complete the three peaks challenge, but the suggested order is Ben Nevis (Scotland), Scafell Pike (England), and Snowdon (Wales). The idea behind this order is that the biggest mountain is tackled first.
You can choose to complete the challenge from south-to-north, heading up Snowdon first and finishing on the Ben. It’s really a matter of preference.
The three peaks challenge route
To help you get your bearings, we’ve detailed the three peaks challenge route on the map below.
Let’s say you’re taking the classic line which runs from Ben Nevis to Scafell and then to Snowdon. After completing each peak, you’re transported by bus between each mountain. Travelling the popular north-to-south 24 hour route, your itinerary will look something like the below:
- The route starts in Fort William, and you’ll hike up Ben Nevis following the tourist path. It takes 5½ hours to hike up Ben Nevis. You’ll start in the morning and should be finished by the afternoon. You’ll then hop on your coach and transfer to Scafell Pike.
- In the afternoon you’ll transfer to the Lake District where you’ll tackle Scafell Pike, leaving in the evening. You’ll ascend and descend Scafell Pike in the dark. You’ll take the direct line via Brown Tongue from Wasdale.
- During the night you’ll then transfer to Snowdon, where you’ll hike up this final peak via the Miners Track from the Pen Y Pas car park. Once you arrive back down from Snowdon, there’s cause to celebrate your accomplishment. Have a drink, some cake, take a photo, then hop on the coach to be taken to Manchester Piccadilly, where you’ll take the train home.
How to prepare for the three peaks challenge
Due to the testing nature of the three peaks challenge, you must give yourself plenty of time to prepare for this event. To help you, we’ve detailed your free three peaks kit list and training plan below. By following this kit list and training plan, you’ll be more than ready to take on the 3 peaks challenge route. We’ve kept things simple to create an easy-to-follow guide.
Your three peaks challenge training plan
Your current fitness level will impact your training plan. For that reason, it can be difficult to define a hard-and-fast schedule that will suit everyone. Common sense will generally tell you how much training you need, and how far in advance you need to start. As a rule of thumb, the sooner you start training the better, as this will give your body time to adapt to the demands of this challenge.
Think about what’s expected of you. You need to be able to walk 3064 meters of ascent, across a total distance of 26 miles (42km). This is achievable for anybody, regardless of your current fitness levels, but only with the right preparation. If you’re hesitant, then we’ll be producing an article detailing consecutive walking events to try, from easy to challenging, which will work to prepare you for this end goal (plus more). So keep an eye out on our blog!
Generally speaking, you’ll need cardio fitness, strength, and hill fitness, which we’ll discuss in detail below.
The three peaks challenge is an endurance event, which will put significant strain on your aerobic system. You’ll want to train this system to the point where you can run 10km non-stop, at 10-minute miles, before the event.
If you’re new to running, then begin doing 3×1 mile routes, walk-run-walk, until you’re able to run 1 mile consecutively. Then, increase the distance by 20%. Don’t increase the distance by more than 20% within a week.
If you’re not fond of running, then try other cardiovascular sports like cycling or swimming. Although, running is the best as it works similar muscle groups to walking.
- 3-4 months before: Aim to do cardio 3x times a week, ranging from 30 minutes to 60-minute sessions.
- 1-2 months before: Start to place a heavier focus on aerobic activity over resistance training, to complete 60-90 minutes of constant activity at least once a week, with shorter 30-minute cardio activities another two times a week.
- A week before: Rest, rest and rest. If you need to get moving, try short gentle walks.
Remember the above plan is for training your cardiovascular system only. You need to supplement this training with resistance and hill walking training, as discussed below.
Resistance training is used to build up muscle mass. Walking up mountains will put a strain on your muscles, meaning you’ll want to build them up to handle this stress. Your endurance will benefit from building strength in all parts of your body, which is why we’ve detailed resistance training for your legs, arms, and core.
Attention: Do not do the following exercises without initial instruction. Completing resistance training incorrectly can lead to serious injury. Ask for a personal trainer at your local gym who’ll explain each fundamental exercise, and is someone who can provide professional advice on an individual basis.
Legs: Your glutes will power you forward on your hill climbs, so completing exercises like glute bridges and squats are a must. Include plenty of compound exercises to target your glute and leg muscles such as squats and lunges. Also, consider using the Stairmaster in your training to get used to walking uphill. We’ve detailed a resistance training plan below. Note, that if you’re new to resistance training, start with no weight. Then slowly add 1.5kg each training session. If you fail to complete the 12 reps with 1.5kg, then stick to the current weight until you’re able to increase the resistance. Note also, that for some exercises you’ll be able to add heavier weight than others. Do not perform exercises if they cause you pain (knee pain and back pain being common).
- Squats: 3×12 repetitions
- Lunges: 3×12 repetitions
- Dumbbell deadlift: 3×12 repetitions
- Calf raises: 3×12 repetitions
- Glute bridges: 3×12 repetitions
- Hip abductions: 3×12 repetitions
Core: Having a strong core is perfect for maintaining balance on rocky pathways and for keeping you stable when you’re getting tired. We’ve detailed the following core workout plan for you below:
- Oblique side dips: 2-4 x 20 repetitions on each side.
- Alternating mountain climbers with bosu ball: 2-4 x 20 repetitions.
- Mountain climbers: 2-4 x 20 repetitions
- Leg raises: 2-4 x 20 seconds
- Russian twist with medicine ball: 2-4 x 20 repetitions
- VSits: 2-4 x 15 repetitions
Upper body: You’ll be relying on your upper body and shoulders to heave your supplies and necessities on the trek, as well as to maintain momentum as you walk. Target your shoulders with plenty of dumbbell exercises, and include lots of function training that incorporates movements and weights for maximum effectiveness. We’ve detailed the following upper body workout plan for you below:
- Inverted TRX row:x2 to failure with 60 seconds rest between
- Negative push-up: 2×12 reps with 60 seconds rest between
- Battle ropes: 2×20 seconds on, 40 seconds rest
- Ball slam: 4×10 reps with 30 seconds rest
Complete resistance training 3 times a week, and work it around your cardiovascular training.
Hill fitness training
You need to get out on the hills and mountains before the challenge. The reason being is you need to get used to walking over rough ground. Rocky terrain can throw you off balance, and put pressure on your ankles. Substitute a cardiovascular training session for a day out in the mountains before the big event. We’d even recommend you head out on an expedition, to walk two consecutive days in a row.
Start your hill training 3-4 months in advance. Aim to get out at least three times before the challenge. If you’re new to hill and mountain walking, then book a guided ascent of your chosen peak with Maximum Adventure. We’d be more than happy to help you reach your goals.
The three peaks challenge kit list
If you read our previous article Mountain Walking: Your Ultimate Guide with 3 Essential Steps To Prepare for a Day in the Hills then you’ll be fully aware of the kit you need for a day out in the hills. The best time of year to complete the three peaks challenge is in summer conditions, from April-October. Yet, even in these months, especially earlier and later spring, the conditions can get cold. It’s for this reason we recommend you prepare for both hot and cold weather.
Coming back to our previous article, we’ve detailed the kit you need for a big mountain day below. We’ve then gone and substituted this list to include extra kit specific for the three peaks challenge.
- Supportive walking boots – this is vital and arguably your most important kit.
- Thermal base layers (x2 if you want a change of clothes to make yourself more comfortable).
- Mid-layers should include a fleece and a softshell jacket. Consider having an extra fleece or two in case one gets wet.
- Waterproofs including a hardshell jacket and waterproof trousers.
- A synthetic, thick, thermal jacket to put over the top of the rest of your layers.
- Hat and gloves. This includes two or three pairs of gloves for when your current pair gets wet. Also, consider bringing hand warmers.
- Cool clothing. Wear t-shirts rather than vest tops to protect your skin from rucksack chafing.
- Sun hat.
- Sun cream.
- Midge repellent.
- Walking poles.
- A fully packed first aid kit, including blister plasters.
- Joint support bandages (mainly for knees and ankles).
- A towel for the coach.
- A travel pillow for the coach to help you get some rest.
- Earplugs – again for the coach to help you drown out background noise to help you rest.
- Blanket for the coach to keep warm.
What to eat on your three peaks challenge
You can expect to burn up to 5,000 active calories on your three peaks challenge, so making sure you have enough fuel is vital.
Before the challenge, start carb-loading. We talk about this in our How to Prepare for Your Ben Nevis Winter Ascent (Kit List, Food and Training) blog post. As we say in this post…
“…Before your trip, start carb loading. This is when you eat a little carb excess to fuel your muscles in preparation a few weeks before the event. Don’t be tempted to gauge on food a few days before and in the morning of your walk. To explain why use the analogy of filling up your car. With a full tank, your car will run less efficiently than when running on half a tank. The same applies to humans, if we eat too much we will feel sluggish on our walk.
Thinking about this analogy, it’s also important to keep your tank half-full, which means eating frequently, but a little. You want to maintain your blood sugar levels, so bring a lot of snacks and quick bites you can munch on throughout your walk. We say nothing beats a jam sandwich – easy to eat and gives your body what it needs.”
The same principles apply for your three peaks challenge. To summarize, fueling your challenge comes down to some pretty basic principles: Eat lots of carbohydrates before and during the challenge, and then replenish your muscles with protein after your challenge.
Book your three peaks challenge with Maximum Adventure today!
We hope this article has informed you more about the three peaks challenge, and how you can prepare effectively for this trip. The three peaks challenge is a popular event as it tests you physically and mentally, while also introducing you to three stunning corners of the UK.
At Maximum Adventure, we want to help you connect with nature, and have an experience of a lifetime safely. By booking your three peaks challenge with us, you are guaranteed 24 hours emergency assistance, arranged travel between the peaks, and group first aid kits with qualified first aiders. Maximum Adventure also uses top, highly experienced, and friendly mountain guides to lead your event.
Book your three peaks challenge with Maximum Adventure today. Opt for our 24 hours challenge, our 3-day challenge, or our 5-day challenge. Also, if you’re feeling like a peak conqueror why not check out our other peak challenge events? We’ve listed our favorites below:
- 3 Peaks of Ireland
- 3 Peaks Welsh Challenge
- Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge – Guided Ascent
- Welsh 15 Peak Challenge
- Lake District 3000s
Are you ready to take on the 3 peaks challenge? Do you have any questions not covered in this article? We’d love to hear from you, please get in touch, and our team will be more than happy to answer your questions.