Mountain Scrambling Guide

mountain scrambling

Maybe you’ve been on hiking trip and glanced up at a scree slope that leads to a mountain top and thought: “I’d like to climb up there! It looks pretty accessible.” If you’ve never scrambled a peak or do so infrequently, below are some suggestions for your next day out. This guide will cover things like, what to bring, common etiquette (after all, no one wants to destroy protected wilderness areas), and safety considerations.

Scrambling is really interesting because it occupies a middle ground between rock climbing and hiking. In fact, the best footwear for ascending talus and peak tops is approach shoes (which have edges similar to climbing shoes, the support of a running shoe, and sticky rubber soles). If you’re going out to scramble a peak top, it’s implied that you’ll use your hands to pull yourself over obstacles and for balance. However, in contrast to rock climbing, you won’t need to haul up a lot of heavy equipment. You can sometimes find high-enough mountains to scramble that offer the same kind of panoramic views you’d get if you were to rock climb while scrambling, and with much less effort.


Try to consume a similar amount of calories while scrambling than if you were to hike or backpack. Especially make sure to consume enough protein at the end of the day’s activities (ideally immediately after you’re done) so that your muscles will recover for next time. If you’re in going to be peak-bagging in wilderness areas, try not to create new trails unnecessarily, or trundle over fragile wildflower species, etc. The Leave No Trace ethic is always worth considering for anyone who’s not a bear or a deer or something. Basically if you’re a human interested in scrambling, you should do everything in your power to ensure that the routes you enjoy are there for future generations.

Grab an Approach Shoe and Get Going

Any approach shoe from the common rock climbing companies: La Sportiva, Evolv, Scarpa, Five Ten, etc., will do the trick when it comes to scrambling. You just want a shoe that fits, has an edge, and a sticky rubber sole. Your shoes are the most important piece of equipment, probably. I’ve personally enjoyed scrambling in the Scarpa Crux (and moderate rock climbing), but I don’t believe other shoes couldn’t perform just as well. One thing to note about approach shoes is that they’re an expensive piece of equipment, as they’ll wear out within a few months of regular use. However, you can get approach shoes resoled which will save costs in the long run.

Next, you’ll want a small daypack that can carry your food and water, and a rope and harness (depending on the difficulty of the route you’ve chosen and if you’ll be repelling on the descent). According to the Sierra Club’s rating system for judging the technical difficulty of hiking and climbing routes, scrambling begins at 2nd class and ends at 4th class. If you rock climb, your comfort level with scrambling will 3rd and 4th class will improve, almost certainly. This is a very rough claim though, because in reality the exposure of the route and its conditions (mainly rock quality) will affect your comfort level much more so than any purported rating that the route has received. I’ve found that an 18-22L pack is capacious enough to store extra clothes (such as a rain shell and insulating layer), food and water, a headlamp, and other navigational tools, comfortably. That’s really the beauty in going out for a day of scrambling in the mountains: you can store what you need in a daypack, and experience all that the mountains have to offer, simply.

Check out the American Safe Climbing Association for more info. on 2-4th class scrambling.

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