Hiking Guides, Scrambling

What is Scrambling in Hiking? Your Complete Guide


Welcome to the blog, adventurers! 

I’m Mitch Taylor, and today, we’re diving into a thrilling aspect of hiking—scrambling

Now, if you’ve been getting into hiking or adventure-seeking out in the nature world lately, you might have heard the term “scrambling” pop up here and there, but if you’re not sure what it means – no worries. 

You’re in the right place.

This is your quick-and-easy guide to scrambling, covering all you need to know when it comes to being an outdoor enthusiast interested in adding a dash of challenge and excitement to their hiking experience. 

So tighten your shoelaces, buckle up, and let’s learn everything there is to know about scrambling in hiking.

what is scrambling in hiking? Your complete guide

What is Scrambling in Hiking?

Scrambling Basics that Every Hiker Should Know [Tips & Techniques]

Scrambling is a hybrid between hiking and climbing, involving ascending steep and rocky terrains using both hands and feet. 

Imagine carefully making your way through rough terrain that’s too steep for regular hiking but doesn’t require a rope for climbing. 

You move in a crawl-like fashion, using mostly your hands for leverage and your knee’s and elbows for balance as you ascend the rocky terrain.

That’s all it is!

As you can imagine, scrambling is an intermediate adventure, perfect for hikers who are looking to kick things up a notch but aren’t quite ready for full-on rock climbing. You’ve got to be physically fit and ready to get a bit dirty all over.

Of course, the rewards of getting up hard surfaces to prime lookout locations are 100% worth it.

While some experience in hiking is crucial for scrambling, you don’t need to be an expert mountaineer to participate in scrambling. 

A decent level of fitness, hand-eye coordination, and balance will be your key assets for this adrenaline-pumping activity.

Why Should You Try Scrambling?

one man helping another man scramble up a boulder

So, scrambling probably sounds like a lot of fun. I can assure you it is! 

Walking and hiking around natural landscapes is one thing, but effectively getting down on all fours and roaming around up mountains is quite a new experience. And just like most new experiences, such an activity comes with a beautiful range of benefits.

One of the many joys of scrambling is that it opens up new and exhilarating routes that regular hikers would have difficulty accessing. 

Combining the best of both worlds—hiking, and climbing—scrambling adds a dash of intensity and a whole lot of scenic beauty to your outdoor experiences.

From a health perspective, scrambling engages your entire body, making it an excellent full-body workout. This heart-pumping activity helps improve cardiovascular endurance, strength, and balance. 

The increased sense of adventure may likely have you exploring the outdoors more frequently, ultimately leading to better overall fitness.

I remember my first scrambling experience in the Cascade mountain range, helping me realize how liberating it felt to push my limits and conquer terrain that seemed daunting at the beginning. 

The views from those steep rocky slopes were nothing short of breathtaking and made me fall in love with scrambling.

Essential Gear for Scrambling

When preparing for a scrambling adventure, packing the right gear is critical. Here’s a list of essential scrambling equipment:

  • ⛑️ Helmet: Protecting your head is crucial when scrambling, as you may potentially face falling debris or slip and bump your head.
  • 🧤 Gloves: A good pair of gloves offers a better grip on rocks and protects your hands from scrapes and calluses. Don’t underestimate how much of a toll scrambling can take on your hands!
  • 👟 Scrambling shoes: Invest in a pair of lightweight, flexible, and sturdy shoes with excellent grip, preferably one with sticky rubber soles—a climbing shoe/hiking boot hybrid.
  • 👕 Appropriate clothing: Opt for breathable clothing that can wick away moisture. Layers are essential, especially for colder, high-altitude scrambles.
  • 🎒 Backpacking essentials: Don’t forget to pack plenty of water, food, a navigation tool (GPS or a compass and map), a headlamp, and a first aid kit.

When it comes to storing your gear, try using a backpack with convenient attachment points for climbing equipment. You want to make sure you’re comfortable and not held back since you’ll be moving fast, and the last thing you want is to put your back out.

Safety When Scrambling

While scrambling can be relatively safe with adequate preparation and mindfulness, hazards can still arise. 

That’s why it’s essential to keep your head in the game and follow these safety tips:

  • ⚠️ Stay within your limits: Be honest about your fitness levels and experience. Choose a route that suits your abilities, and don’t hesitate to turn back if you feel in over your head. It’s always better to start slow and build up your confidence than go straight to your limit and burn out.
  • 🗺️ Know the route: Familiarize yourself with the planned route, research potential hazards and escape routes, and check the weather forecast before setting out.
  • 🧗‍♂️ Master basic climbing techniques: Scrambling might involve sections where basic climbing skills are needed. Enhance your hand and footholds, and ensure you distribute your weight efficiently.
  • 🪨 Pay attention to rock quality: Always scout out and test the firmness of rocks before putting your weight on them. Loose rocks can make for an unstable surface and pose a significant risk.
  • 👫 Hike with a buddy: Whenever possible, venture out with a friend or two. A small group can offer assistance, motivation, and safety in case of an emergency.

Remember, as it is whenever you spend time in the mountains, safety always comes first! All the basic hiking rules apply to scrambling as well, such as letting people know where you’re going and checking the weather forecasts before you head out!

How to move when scrambling

How to Get Started with Scrambling

If you’re itching to give scrambling a try, here’s how to kick things off:

  • Start small: Choose an easy route for your first scramble, gradually building up to more challenging adventures.
  • Learn from others: Connect with experienced scramblers through local clubs, forums, or social media groups to gain valuable insight and advice on scrambling.
  • Take a course: Enroll in a scrambling, climbing, or mountaineering course to learn from professionals and hone your skills.
  • Choose the right location: Some popular destinations for beginner scramblers include the U.S. Cascade Range, Utah’s San Rafael Swell, and Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

Remember that perseverance and a positive attitude will go a long way in helping you conquer the wonderful world of scrambling.

The Yosemite Decimal System

Venturing into scrambling requires understanding its complexity levels. This is where the Yosemite Decimal System comes into play.”

It’s a scale grading walks, hikes, and climbs, from easy walks to technical climbs. It helps scramblers match routes to their abilities.

With knowledge of this system, you can safely navigate your scrambling journey. It ensures a rewarding experience aligned with your skills.

Class 1 Scrambling

Class 1 represents the simplest type of hiking, typically along well-maintained and well-marked trails. The terrain is stable and does not require any special gear. It’s perfect for beginners or those looking for a relaxed hike.

Class 2 Scrambling

Class 2 hikes up the ante slightly, moving off the well-trodden path. While still primarily walking, it can include steeper gradients, loose terrain, and minor obstacles to navigate. Some hands-on scrambling may be necessary for stability. Good hiking boots and navigational skills are typically required.

Class 3 Scrambling

When you reach Class 3, you’re officially in scrambling territory. These routes demand the use of hands to ascend steep hillsides or small cliffs. The terrain may feature rock, loose gravel, or even scree. While it’s more challenging, most falls should be non-lethal. A helmet may be advisable due to the risk of falling rocks, and confidence in heights becomes important.

Class 4 Scrambling

Class 4 is a step up, involving more difficult and exposed climbing. Routes can traverse narrow ledges or vertical rock faces. The risk of serious or fatal falls increases. Many scramblers choose to use ropes for safety, even if not for aid in climbing. Helmets become essential and more advanced skills like belaying could be beneficial.

Class 5 Scrambling

Class 5, although not usually considered scrambling, indicates the transition into technical rock climbing. This is split into further sub-categories, from 5.0 to 5.15, representing an increasing level of difficulty. It requires training, experience, and specialized equipment like harnesses, carabiners, and belaying devices. It also involves climbing techniques like lead climbing and rappelling.

Top Locations for Scrambling in the U.S.

If you’re an avid hiker seeking more adrenaline-packing adventures, scrambling might be for you. Here are a few of the best spots for scrambling the U.S.:

Mount Si, Washington

Just 45 minutes from Seattle, Mount Si is a popular spot among local scramblers. Despite its shorter distance of 8 miles round trip, don’t underestimate its challenge – it boasts a 3150-foot elevation gain!

Angels Landing, Utah

A favorite among scrambling enthusiasts, Angels Landing, set in Zion National Park, offers a unique combination of hiking, climbing, and scrambling with stunning vistas at each turn.

Camelback Mountain, Arizona

For those situated in the Southwest, Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, is an excellent choice for scrambling. Its Echo Canyon Trail is just 2.4 miles round trip but steep, rugged, and definitely satisfying for scramblers looking for a challenge right in the heart of the city.

Longs Peak, Colorado

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak is a test of endurance and skill. The last mile of this 15-mile round trip hike is a Class 3 scramble with stunning views of the Rockies.

Each of these scrambling locations offers an incredible blend of challenge and beauty. Just remember, safety always comes first. Be prepared and know your limits for the best scrambling experience.

Final Thoughts

Scrambling is an exhilarating blend of hiking and climbing that can elevate your outdoor experiences to new heights, quite literally. 

Equipped with the right gear, essential safety tips, and all this wonderful wisdom, you’re all set to embark on your first exciting scramble. 

So, go on, my fellow adventurers, and embrace the thrill of scrambling in hiking! And as always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need guidance. 

Happy scrambling!

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: