When looking for trails there can be a lot of different things to take into account. With things like total distance, elevation change, and where the trail starts and finishes typically being the most important. But once you decide on a trail and start looking into the specific details, there can be more than a few descriptors that will tell you a lot about the experience you are in for. Terms like blow downs, water crossings, and bush wacking have become commonplace on sites like AllTrails. But one thing you may find listed without a clear explanation is the term “scrambling”. So to better help you understand what you might be getting into, I’m going to break down the difference between hiking vs scrambling. With classifications and safety tips to make sure you get home safe from your day on the trail.
Hiking vs Scrambling – What’s the Difference
The most simple explanation is that hiking involves the person using their feet to travel along the trail or path. While scrambling requires a person to use their hands and feet to traverse a short section or even a whole trail. This can be climbing up, down, or sideways to stay on the path of the trail. Furthermore, most scrambles are given a class rating based on how technical and dangerous the moves in the scramble will be. This is one of the most important things to take into account on any trail featuring a “scramble”.
Hiking and Scrambling Ratings
What most people don’t know is that even hiking trails have a class rating system. Although there are typically only two rating before you jump up to a scramble. These classes are:
Class 1 Hike – This is your standard trail, featuring a clear path to follow. These have often been created by humans intentionally or over time based on the number of people that use the trail.
Class 2 Hike – A class 2 hike is one where there is no trail to follow. These require route finding since there is no defined path. But typically do not possess much danger beyond getting lost. You will often find class 2 routes in the mountains, where you are creating your own route over rocks or snow.
Class 3 Scramble – A class 3 scramble is considered the first class of scrambling. Meaning that you will be using your hands and feet to traverse the trail. And that there is a chance of falling and getting injured based on light to moderate exposure. Typically a class 3 rating indicates that there are good hands a feet holds, with obvious moves to progress through the scramble. Also that a fall will not be deadly, but this is not always the case. And every scramble should be taken very seriously.
Class 4 Scramble – A class 4 scramble is considered to have more advanced moves, where the foot and hand hold are minimal and often not as clearly laid out. A class 4 rating also indicated a lot more exposure to falling, with the consequences of a fall being much more serious. This rating should be taken very seriously. And if the conditions are not perfect, you should really re-think taking the risk.
Class 5 Scramble/Climb – Once you hit a class 5 rating you are officially getting into rock climbing ratings. Although people do, you should not attempt a class 5 scramble without a rope and proper safety gear. The consequences of a class 5 fall are often very serious or deadly.
If you’re like me and my group of friends. Then your love of hiking may end up taking you to some incredible places. And often, some of the most beautiful and remote places feature a mix of hiking and scrambling to reach your final destination or summit. So it’s important to know the rating and risks involved with the trail you are facing. More so, these ratings will also play a big part in weather risk. Meaning if it’s drizzling out you may be able to get away with a class 3 scramble, but that class 4 can become impassable. Placing you in danger of falling or getting stuck. And no one wants to end their trip with a life flight off the mountain.
That’s why understanding the difference between hiking vs scrambling, and the classes involved is so important. And I hope this article can help at least one person make the right choice on the trail. Be safe out there!