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Scrambling Gear | Buyer’s Guide

The inimitable Richard Gear takes you through the ins and outs of scrambling kit and the advantages of flip flops...

My name’s Gear, Richard Gear – you have to think that my parents
were having a laugh eh, but what the heck, nobody’s psychic.
Anyhow…

The good news is that until you get onto serious grade 2 and 3
routes where you’ll need a rope, harness and a small rack of climbing
protection, you can pretty much wear whatever you’d use for normal
mountain walking.

There are two areas though, where scrambling puts an extra
emphasis. One is footwear and the other is freedom of movement.

Clothing

You’ll need your normal mountain clothing including
including waterproof and windproof shell garments. The only
main difference is that freedom of movement is important.
You may need to reach high for handholds or make high
steps.

Look for trousers made from either a stretchy fabric like
PowerStretch or Lycra or with an articulated knee that
doesn’t restrict your movement. Some fleece pants, like
Mountain Equipment’s Ultrafleece pants and salopettes have a
stretch panel at the knee which works well.

Bear in mind that you’ll probably be moving slower than
if you were walking, so you may need to dress warner than
normal.

Gloves

There’s no perfect solution for scrambling handwear. You’ll get
the best feel and security from climbing with bare hands, but in
cooler weather it can be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst.
There are some modern, very expensive technical climbing gloves that
come close to a solution, but for most of us are overkill.

Thin windproof fleece gloves are ideal in terms of sensitivity,
but even the ones with grippy materials on aren’t quite there. With
sustained use on rock, most will wear through worryingly and
expensively fast. One answser is to trash your gloves, then snip the
finger tips off for scrambling use. You’ll need to seal the ends of
the fingers in some way and you’ll get a reasonable compromise
between warmth and performance on the rock.

You could, of course, buy some fingerless woollen gloves for the
same effect, or even a pair of mitts with fold over ends.

Footwear

There’s no ‘right answer’ to the footwear question – it’s
a matter of personal preference and, on easier routes, a
competent scrambler can get away with pretty much anything
within reason, though I don’t recommend stilettoes… Here’s
a run down of the options with the pros and cons:

2/3 Season Walking Boots Most bendy walking boots
will cope just fine with scrambling and have the advantage
of being comfortable for the walk-in and out. The main
limitation is lateral stiffness. To edge on holds they need
to have a degree of torsional rigidity or you’ll have to
resort to more ingenious methods. On easier scrambles – most
grade ones – this won’t matter since the holds are so big.
On 2s and 3s it’s more of a problem.

Rigid Mountain Boots 4-season or alpine
mountaineering boots with a fully rigid sole should give you
no problems with edging and even toeing on even very small
holds and ledges. They tend though to be heavier and less
delicate than lighter footwear and can give disconcertingly
little fee for the rock. The modern, lightweight alpine
boot, like Scarpa’s Freney, is a good compromise. Tend not
to be great for smearing and not as comfortable as walking
boots for approaches.

Approach Shoes Come in two varieties, the general
multi-activity shoe and stickier versions designed for
climbing use and featuring sticky rubber like those from
Five.Ten. General purpose shoes tend to have decent lateral
rigidity these days and apart from the lack of ankle
protection, which means they’re not always ideal for foot
jams in rough cracks, perform pretty much like walking
boots.

Shoes using genuinely sticky rubber will perform more
like a rock shoe with better smearing ability than boots
and, if fitted closely, good sensitivity on the rock. Great
for slabbier route which call for smearing and well up to
easier stuff too.

Specialist

Scrambling / Via Ferrata Boots Not a lot of these about,
the Scarpa Mescalito being probably the best known with a
stiff mid-sole and sticky rubber where it counts, Garmont’s
new Ferrata boot, which also comes in a fully stiff shoe
version, also looks to have come from the same mould and
looks like a modern version of the Kletterschue. These are
ideal for harder scramblers and cheating on grade ones,
they’ll also handle long, mid-grade climbing routes and are
comfortable for walking as well. Disadvantages? The stickier
the rubber, the more likely it is to wear rapidly with use
which is presumably why Scarpa replaced their original full
Megabite rubber sole with an updated version which has a
sticky toes section but otherwise standard rubber. The best
solution but do you scramble often and hard enough to
justify the outlay?

Flip Flops Frequently sighted on classic routes
like Crib Goch and Striding Edge during the summer season,
the classic flip flop slip-on sandal is ideal for hard rock
work and psyching out fellow scramblers. Not particularly
good at either edging or smearing, it makes up for these
shortcomnings and others with superior performance on the
beach. Highly rec. er, not.

Pacs for scrambling

There’s no such thing as a specialist scrambling sac, but a small
day sac should do fine, unless you’re going to be hauling ropes and
gear around. The three main points are to make sure it’s narrow
enough not to prevent you from squeezing through small gaps, ideally
it should have an effective compression system for stability and, for
the same reason, a waist strap to stop it swinging around.

If, on harder routes, you intend to climb without a sac and haul
it up after you, you’ll need to look at one of the more abrasion
resistant sacs on the market, and, of course make sure it has a haul
loop. The three brands with a good reputation for toughness when
dragged over rough rock are MacPac, Mountain Equipment and niche
Sheffield brand Pod.

Packs for scrambling

One of the reasons scrambling is disporportionately
dangerous is that few scramblers wear helmets. It’s a
personal choice of course, but on harder routes and in
mountain situations where there’s a danger of falling rock
or climbers. A personal choice, but definitely worth
considering and pretty much essential on harder mountain
scrambles.

When the going gets technical

On harder scrambles or even on easier routes in poor conditions or
with beginners, you may need to pack a rope and a basic rack plus
harness. I’d go for a light half rope – you not going to be falling
off are you? – and use it doubled if you hit a particularly stiff
section that you need to pitch.

A light alpine harness is ideal, as you shouldn’t be swinging
around in it and a pared-down rack with a few rocks, some hexes and a
selection of long slings for lassooing spikes should be adequate for
most scrambles.

Miscellaneous stuff

• If you’re soloing but may want to haul a sac up
after you, a length of accessory cord is much lighter but
just as effective as a rope. Don’t forget to clip the pack
in first though. Thanks to Mike D for that one.

• If you think you might need a rope for just a
short step, consider carrying a cut down half rope to save
weight.

• Try to use a non-greasy sun cream, there’s nowt
worse than Ambre Solaire and sweaty fingers on hot
rock…

• Erm. If you have any other suggestions why not add
them to this forum thread. I don’t know everything you
know…

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