Introduction: Previous studies have suggested that more intensive initial therapy for hypertension results in better long-term blood pressure (BP) control. We test this hypothesis comparing initial monotherapy with dual therapy in the management of essential hypertension. Methods and analysis: The study is a prospective, multicentre, double-blind, active-controlled trial in patients with essential hypertension. Around 50% of patients studied will be newly diagnosed and the others will be known hypertensives who previously received only monotherapy. The trial is divided into three phases as follows: Phase 1 (Week 0-Week 16): Randomised, parallel-group, masked assignation to either combination or monotherapy. Phase 2 (Week 17-Week 32): Open-label combination therapy. Phase 3 (Week 33-Week 52): Open-label combination therapy plus open-label add-on (if BP is above 140/ 90 mm Hg). Hierarchical primary end points are: A comparison of home BP (home systolic blood pressure (HSBP)) averaged over the duration of phase 1 and 2 in the combination versus monotherapy arms. If combination is superior in this analysis, then the averaged mean HSBP between initial monotherapy and initial combination therapy at the end of phase 2 will be compared. Secondary end points include: BP control at 1 year; the role of age, baseline renin, sodium status, plasma volume, haemodynamic compensation and peripheral resistance on BP control; validation of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence/British Hypertension Society joint guideline algorithm; safety and tolerability of combination therapy; and the impact of combination versus monotherapy on left ventricular mass and aortic pulse wave velocity. A sample size of 536 (268 in each group) will have 90% power to detect a difference in means of 4 mm Hg. Ethics and dissemination: PATHWAY 1 was approved by UK ethics (REC Reference 09/H0308/132). Trial results will be published and all participating subjects will be informed of the results.