Gear Up For Scrambling

At Peak Mountaineering we’re big scrambling fans, but for the higher grade scrambles it can be tricky to decide what equipment might be needed. Have a read of Paul’s ‘Gear Up For Scrambling’ guide to get some shopping trip ideas…….

Why scramble?

Recently I was running a scrambling course and we parked in the Ogwen Valley at 9.10am in sunny weather.  There were already stacks of other vehicles parked there, but I kept smiling because I knew we would find somewhere quiet.  We shouldered light packs and walked up to Heather Terrace. It was busy enroute with people on Little Tryfan and Heather Terrace, but by the time we got to the base of our scramble (South Buttress – grade 3) there were just a few people passing us on the way up to Bwlch Tryfan.  We geared up in no time, set off, and enjoyed a great scramble with no sign of anyone else throughout the whole route.

Simple is the answer

And, of course, that’s the point.  Scrambling’s strength is its simplicity and its ability to get you into spectacular (and quiet) places with the minimum of fuss and gear.  But the question is really what is that minimum gear we’re talking about?  So here goes – a Gear Up For Scrambling guide to what to take on your next scrambletastic adventure. 

Just to mention….

First I should say that here we are talking about just the technical equipment for your average higher grade 2/grade 3 scramble. Our article ‘What To Take For Scrambling’ which you can find here will give some ideas on other equipment to pack. I should also point out that the list provided here is very much a personal opinion and if you asked several experienced scramblers you would undoubtedly get a pile of other ideas thrown into the melting pot too.  Just thought I should clear that up!

Rope

That will be handy!  A 30-35 metre length of thin single rope is a good compromise between usability and low weight.  You can get 35 metre lengths of ropes like Beal’s 9.1mm Joker or the 8.9mm Mammut Serenity.  I’ve found them to be durable and easy handling, but bear in mind that at that diameter they will wear out quicker than a thicker rope – particularly if you are doing a lot of direct belays on rock spikes and such like.  Thin, slick ropes are also trickier to handle in some situations so bear that in mind too.  It’s always worth paying a bit extra for a dry treated one unless you’re planning to undertake you’re scrambling adventures exclusively in Greece!

Harness

My top criteria for a Gear Up For Scrambling harness is that it is simple, lightweight, easy to put on and take off, with a belay loop and enough gear loops – and not too expensive.  My current top choice is the Petzl Altitude but Black Diamond’s Bod or DMM’s Super Couloir work really well. All these models have the essential features you’ll need and because they are fitted ‘nappy style’ you can put them on or take them off without having to pull the leg loops over your boots. You can, of course, just use your normal climbing harness to avoid extra expense if you’d prefer.

Boots

No need for your sticky rubbers wall master shoes here.  Most people scramble in the boots they walk up in.  The ideal boot is fairly lightweight, comfy and supportive enough for walking, has good edges for standing on small rocky protrusions, a grippy sole that will perform fairly well on wet or slippy rock and a fairly stiff sole.  Oh yes, and they need to look cool too of course!  For ages we’ve been using the La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX and they’re brilliant. Similarly, we are big fans of Aku, Mammut and Hanwag boots and all these brands have great options in their ranges.

Belay Plate

Something simple and light that will work with skinny ropes but will allow you to rap double if needed.  Something like the Petzl Verso or Black Diamond ATC XP will be great although assisted braking plates like the Edelrid Giga Jul add a bit more versatility if you know how to use them safely.  Pair up your plate with a light crab such as a DMM sentinel or Petzl Attache.

Helmet

You’d be mad not too. Loose rock, the risk of a fall means that I’d always consider a lid to be a Gear Up For Scrambling essential. Petzl’s Sirocco is great.

Rack

The moral of a scrambling rack has to be ‘light is right’. You need enough to do the job efficiently and to keep your team safe, but you don’t want to be overburdened either. Here is a list of what I usually pack.

4 x 120cm slings – A staple of your scrambling rack. 10mm dyneema ones are light, versatile and durable, but for years I’ve been using the durable Edelrid Aramid Cord slings and I love them. They are stiff enough to poke through narrow threads, sit well over blocks and knots that have been weighted are still quite easy to untie.  

Sling each sling with a lightweight screwgate crab such as DMM’s sentinel and rack them by clipping them doubled on your crab, hold the crab and twist the sling several times then clip the bottom loops back into the crab.  Quick to deploy and easier than lobbing them round your shoulder if you’re carrying coils.

1,2 and 3 DMM Torque Nuts hexes with light wire gates on each one.  These beauties are light and versatile hexes and can be neatly racked and they have a really useful sling lengthening feature. They also place really well.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 Rocks or Wallnuts. Alternatively, consider some Superlight Rocks if you really want to lighten your load.  Some people take less (by carrying alternate sizes) but we like the versatility of this size range and it’s not too much to carry.

3 x 60cm cm slings coupled with light biners – rack them tripled so they can be used as superlight quickdraws.

A very light nutkey and crab – Black Diamond’s nutkey is very strong, very cool, very light and even has a built in bottle opener for that end of day Stella! If you’re into thinking a bit more ‘outside the box’ consider a bent wire coat hanger which works well but obviously isn’t as strong.

A couple of large HMS crabs – suitable for Italian hitches (but they will be indispensable for lots of other jobs too).  It’s tempting to carry very small ones but the Italian hitch knot needs to be able to swivel around within the curve of the crab so it’s one area where light isn’t necessarily right. The beefy DMM Boa does this job brilliantly.

And that, as they say, is that – almost!

Although that’s the bulk of our Gear Up For Scrambling advice, it’s worth taking along some bits and bobs for just in case.  Some ‘tat’ that you don’t mind leaving behind if needed, a small knife with a serrated blade and a couple of short prussic loops for that ‘avoiding the touch’ moment (but ensure you know what to do with them).