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.
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.
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.
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 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!