Scotland’s TGO Challenge

Ruthven Barracks at Dawn

Ruthven Barracks at Dawn

The TGO Challenge is an annual backpacking event held in Scotland that requires participants to hike coast-to-coast across Scotland, about 200 miles in 15 days. This is very challenging because hiking across the mountain ranges and moors of Scotland is very rugged and remote, requiring navigational expertise, mountain walking experience and excellent physical conditioning.

Not a Race

Sponsored by Rab Outdoors and The Great Outdoors Magazine (the US equivalent to Backpacker Magazine), the TGO Challenge has been held annually for nearly 30 years. It’s not a race on a predefined course. Instead, all of the participants define their own cross-country routes and hike them during the same 15 day period in May.

Navigating Cross-Country in the Mist

Navigating Cross-Country in the Mist

The best way to think about The Challenge is as an annual backpacking celebration, where otherwise busy people take two or three weeks out of their lives (including travel) and go on a long backpacking trip. At the end, there’s a big banquet celebration and awards ceremony, as well as impromptu celebrations along the way, when backpackers run into one another in the hills and resupply towns.

Route Definition

Besides the weather which can be awful at times, the length of the journey, or the advanced compass navigation skills required, one of the hardest challenges facing Challengers is defining a coast to coast route. There aren’t any trails you can follow continuously, there aren’t a lot of towns or villages to resupply in, and one needs to plan foul weather route alternatives if the weather is bad and you need to walk around mountains and not over them.

Camping in the Scottish Mountains

Camping in the Scottish Mountains

There’s also the challenge of picking a route that maximizes what you want to see, while still making sure that you finish your trip within the 15 days in which the event is held. Backpacking in Scotland is amazing beautiful, but you can’t go to all the places you want because there is too much magnificent scenery to see. So you need to sift through many different alternatives before you finalize your route.

Scottish Rights of Way Laws

Scotland is a unique place to backpack because you can camp and walk across private property without advance permission: the Scottish Rights of Way Laws guarantee this. This makes Scotland an ideal place to walk true cross-country routes, up and over quite remote mountains, glens, and moors, that are far from roads or defined walking paths.

The Scottish Mountains are Rugged Hiking

The Scottish Mountains are Rugged Hiking

The more cross-country walking and camping you do, the more dangerous and challenging your route, but it’s a very enjoyable option if  you are an expert navigator and the weather cooperates. There are a lot of mountains in Scotland, so opportunities abound for people who like to hike them, but you can also do a “low-level” route if you prefer and stick to river valleys and mountain passes, which have their own splendor.

The TGO Challenge Application

You need to submit an application to get onto the TGO Challenge that describes your backpacking and mountaineering history. Previous experience hiking in Scotland is encouraged, but a handful of non-UK applicants are accepted each year based on comparable long distance backpacking or mountain walking experience. If such a journey appeals to you – and I can highly recommend it – submit an application, and get ready for the hike of your life!

Additional Resouces

TGO Challenge Tips for Yanks and Non-UK-residents

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9 Responses to Scotland’s TGO Challenge

  1. JJ Mathes December 13, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Philip- do the start and finish locations vary each year? And do we have anything like this in the Eastern U.S.?

    • Earlylite December 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      JJ. The start locations change very slowly, but as Alan notes there are several to choose from. Grant Sible and Martin Rye will be my hiking partners on this hike. Nothing like it in the US that I know of.

  2. alan.sloman December 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Just a tiny correction, Philip – the 2013 event will be the 34th TGO Challenge.

    JJ – There are 12 different start points on the west coast of Scotland and you can finish anywhere you like on the east, between Arbroath and Fraserborough.

  3. Grandpa December 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I read through the TGO site and I REALLY want to do this! I’m probably a year or two out from being able to swing it.

    • Earlylite December 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      The details link below has all of the information for this years event. It really is an experience of a lifetime. Knowing you, you’d have a blast on this hike.This will be my second challenge. I think it’s Alan’s 10th this year. It really is a lot of fun.

      • alan.sloman December 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

        Grandpa – Never believe anyone who says you are too old for the Challenge! This year we have a 90 year old chap on the walk and two lovely Americans, Lou & Phyllis, who are 83 & 81 years old. They have 31 Challenges under their combined belts! This will be my 18th Challenge.
        It gets under your skin, as Philip has found!
        Give it a crack – you’ll love it!

        • Grandpa December 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

          My nephew married a gal from “across the Pond” and she has a family member there who loves to backpack. I’ve got a standing invite to join him. My nephew and his wife will likely join us for a camping trip soon and I’m going to get more info from her. I’d like to plan this with her relative and hopefully try for 2014 or 2015 with him.

  4. Chris January 1, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    More interesting data (graphs) regarding TGO and its participants;
    http://gayleybird.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/completely-unnecessary-tgo-challenge.html?m=1

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