How to go light for scrambling.
For me scrambling is about flow and freedom, unencumbered by heavy loads and unwieldy techniques, covering airy ground absorbed in the moment, distracted and oblivious to the labour of upwards progress. Fine enough sentiment but of course we need the means to look after ourselves and stay safe on consequential terrain in the mountains. On the bigger and more serious scrambles this can easily result a large, lumpy and heavy rucksack, weighing us down and disturbing our balance. This article is about how to choose the right equipment in order to lighten the load, without compromising safety too much.
Know the route
Even if you have never visited the area before, you can mine a ton of information from internet searches, online forums and of course by asking your mates, so that you can take what you need to complete the route and cover unplanned situations, but without excess. For example I don't have a standard scrambling rack, I have a Tower Ridge, Aonoach Eagach, Cuillin Traverse rack and so on, these of course will vary according to the team I'm guiding and the conditions on the day.
Don't duplicate gear
It surprising how often people going out in the mountains inadvertently take multiple group shelters, first aid kits and whatever else. Do you have enough within the group? If so leave the rest in the car.
Water, water, everywhere
1 litre of water weighs a kilo. I often meet people who are carrying 3 kilos of the stuff because they assume running water off the hill is not safe to drink. Well, that depends where you are in the world but I can happily tell you that other than downstream of human habitation or livestock the water in the mountains of Scotland and the greater UK is absolutely fine, based on my own experience and conversations with water experts. Unless I'm going to a particulary dry place I take about half a litre and reckon to fill up where needed, thereby greatly reducing my pack weight.
Choose lightweight kit
A few grammes here and there might not seem to make that much difference but when accumulated the savings can be significant. Things like karabiners, nuts and cams are available in lightweight versions. The same is true of ropes; it is possible to get a good triple rated, sub 9mm rope in a variety of lengths these days, for example the Edelrid Swift 8.9. For a lot of scrambling 30 metres is sufficient but for the Cuillin 40 metres is required to tackle all the tricky bits. Having a selection of ropes means you can take what you need, which is not only easier to carry but easier to manage.
Some mountaineering rucksacks can weight as much as 2kg, empty! On the other hand the Arcteryx FL30 pack is really tough, has everything needed for lightweight mountaineering and comes in at only 585g. Do you need a heavy thing to carry all your other heavy things?
Wherever possible I wear trainers instead of boots, shock horror! But yes, for me it's preferable and greatly benefits comfort and dexterity. Having said that, those not used to hoofing around over rough ground won't
have the same degree of ankle strength so may be prone to injury if not
supported. A great compromise is the La Sportiva Boulder Mid GTX, a comfortable mid height boot with the feel of an approach shoe that is supportive and waterproof.
An average scrambling or climbing guidebook is a great big lump of tree, so why not take photographs of the relevant pages and diagrams with your phone? Failing that, do some photocopying and put the pages in a transparent sandwich bag.
There are few days in the Scottish mountains where I feel confident enough to leave waterproofs behind. Even when it's not wet they make great windproofs. But taking a fortress of full weight winter waterproofs is going to add a couple of kilos and lots of bulk to your bag, so why not invest in some Paclite gear? The downside is that while some of these fabrics are very, very light, they are incredibly insubstantial and one knee or elbow in a rocky chimney will easily hole them, therefore you have to be super careful.
I have in the past put my waterproof on under a mid layer to save the gucci goretex whilst thrutching around on rough terrain.
What can you remove?
There are items that you know you are going to need. There are also items that you hope you won't need, but you must have, in the case of emergencies or unplanned situations. Other than that ask yourself:
"Can I do without this? Do I need all those extra fleeces, or can I replace them with one very efficient belay jacket? Do I need a water bottle as well as a flask, or a camera mini pod, satnav, multi tool or huge bottle of suncream?"
The end result of this approach with your equipment is that you may save a handful of kilos, which makes scrambling so much more practical and enjoyable. This may not sound like much but try going to your local climbing wall with 4 kilos on your back and see how you get on with the steep routes that would normally feel easy! On something as substantial as a Cuillin ridge traverse a heavy bag can mean failure so it's well worth being as analytical about your gear as you are with planning and route finding. Whilst the adage 'light is right' does not suit all it's certainly worth thinking about.