What Is Scrambling When Hiking?

Scrambling is when you ascend steep terrain using your hands and feet. It sits somewhere between rock climbing and hiking and is distinct from both of them.

There are multiple grades of scrambling and we’ll look at all of them in this guide, as well as the best scrambling routes and essential scrambling attire.

What Is The Difference Between Scrambling And Climbing?

Scrambling can be seen as easy climbing or hard hiking. Scrambling routes take you over much steeper terrain than what you find on a typical hike, but the terrain is not as steep as what you’ll encounter while climbing.

Both climbing and rock scrambling can be dangerous and they are also strenuous and challenging. However, climbing is generally considered to be much tougher and more demanding. It also requires more specialized equipment that you don’t always need when scrambling.

What Is Scrambling In Trail Running?

Trail scrambling is the same as regular scrambling. It’s when you use both your hands and your feet to scale steep slopes while trail running.

It comes with the same risks, benefits, and challenges as hike scrambling, but the fact you’re moving at pace means you’re more likely to slip and lose your balance, so extra caution is advised.

What Is Hill Scrambling?

Hill scrambling is just another name for scrambling, only it refers to hill hikes/walks.

Is Scrambling Safe?

Scrambling poses a greater risk than hiking and even trail running. To scramble safely, follow these simple tips:

Keep Heavy Gear Close

Keep water bottles, sleeping bags, and other heavy gear close to your body while scrambling. Allowing these items to move freely could throw you off balance and lead to a fall.

Check Scrambling Grades

Always check the scrambling routes and grades before heading out.

Stick with routes suited to your skill level and don’t take unnecessary risks.

Scrambling route descriptions not only prepare you for the technical difficulty, but they can also tell you about the length, obstacles, and other trail information.

Test Before You Move

Test the stability of boulders before committing your whole weight. Look for loose rocks and make sure you have a good grip.

Take a First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is essential on all lengthy trips in the great outdoors, and that’s true whether you’re hiking, walking, scrambling, running, or camping.

How Difficult is Scrambling?

There are grade systems for scrambling and these determine how difficult a scrambling route is. In the United States, we use the Yosemite Decimal Scale (YDS).

The YDS was created in Southern California by members of the Sierra Club. It was adapted from existing systems and has served as the main guide for US hikes, scrambles, and climbs ever since.

  • Grade 1: The first grade refers to simple hiking trails.
  • Grade 2: Easy scrambles, requiring the use of both hands and feet. You shouldn’t need to use ropes for these hikes as there are limited steep sections. Grade 2 scrambling routes include the Blueberry Ledge Trail on Mt. White in New Hampshire and the southeast route of Mt. Sneffels in Colorado.
  • Grade 3: Steeper routes that may feel like very easy rock climbing. Sawtooth on Mt. Evans in Colorado is an example of a grade 3 scramble route.
  • Grade 4: These grades are basically moderate rock climbs and they require more technical climbing and scrambling, as well as the occasional need for a harness, rope, and helmet. Falls at this grade can be dangerous.
  • Grade 5: This grade references rock climbing and not scrambling. There is a range of subcategories to determine the difficulty and complexity of grade 5 climbs and they can be very dangerous.

Some scrambling routes may reference “Grade 1”, “Grade 2”, and “Grade 3”. In such cases, they may be referring to UK scrambles (the UK has a different system) or the middle three levels of the YDS.

What are the Best Scrambling Routes?

Not sure where to start your scrambling adventure? You have plenty of great trails to choose from. These are some of our personal favorites:

Half Dome Day Hike, Yosemite National Park – California

The Half Dome hike in Yosemite will take you all day to complete as it covers about 15 miles of terrain.

Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park – Utah

This 4-mile hiking trail in Zion National Park takes you through an elevation gain of 1500 feet. You don’t need a permit and it’s open all year, with the best hiking/scrambling in spring and fall.

Halema’uma’u Trail, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii

A short day hike of around 1 mile. You must apply for a permit first.

Read up on more of the best hikes in Hawaii.

Canyon to Rim Loop, Smith Rock State Park – Oregon

A 4-mile loop that’s suitable for beginner and intermediate scramblers.

Oregon has a ton of great hikes you may be interested in exploring.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, White Mountains – New Hampshire

An 8-mile hike that’s best walked during the summer when the winds are calmer and the weather is warmer.

Check out more New Hampshire hikes.

Tips to Get More From Your Scrambling Adventure

Before you head out on your first scrambling hike, check out the following scrambling tips:

Start Small

If you’re new to scrambling, take it easy with your first few experiences.

Start with simple scrambling routes and if you find them manageable, advance to harder scrambles.

Leave Your Trekking Poles Behind

Scrambling requires both your hands to be free, so leave those trekking poles in your pack. Try to maintain solid contact between the rocks and your hands and feet.

If you’re descending, you can grab one of these poles for stability, but you shouldn’t need it on the way up.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

As with hiking and rock climbing, you need to wear specific clothing when scrambling.

A good pair of hiking boots (Amazon link) is essential and you should also look for backpacks (Amazon link) with strong straps that don’t wobble.

Take ropes and other climbing gear on higher grade scrambles with steeper sections.

Summary: What is Scrambling?

To summarize, scrambling is the middle ground between rock climbing and hiking. It’s something that all rock climbers and advanced hikers have experienced and if you’re doing any of these activities on a regular basis, it pays to improve your scrambling skills. Remember, for the best scrambling experience possible, always check your routes, pay attention to the grades, and don’t forget your first aid kit!