Where do I start? I want everything I need to climb trees. Get knowledgeable recommendations on every product you need head-to-toe (or soup-to-nuts) from our General Manager and former field arborist Nick Bonner. TreeStuff.com has over 1500 Youtube videos covering everything seen in this video and much, much, more.
0:50 Safety Glasses
1:10 Ear Protection
1:30 Boots, Gloves, Things Like That
2:53 Books and Education
5:45 DRT Climbing
6:45 Classic DRT Ropes
7:05 Modern DRT Climbing and Prusiks
9:40 Switching to SRT Climbing
11:30 SRT Rope
12:02 More DRT Rope Options
12:32 Foot ascenders
13:17 Knee Ascenders
13:40 Hand Ascenders
13:50 Hold-up Thingies
14:37 Spur Climbing
16:41 Friction Savers
19:14 Tool Clips and Harness Accessories
19:50 Bags and Storage
How to Pick the Best Tree Climbing Gear for Arborists
Transcript edited for clarity
Hi, I'm Nick Bonner for TreeStuff.com, and today we're going to answer a question that we get from people all the time: "where do I start? I want everything that I need to climb a tree. And I've been reading and watching videos, but I still don't know what I need. Where do I start?"
This is a conversation I've had with lots of customers, so today I’m going to show you all the essentials you’ll need to fill your tree climbing kit.
First up – I always recommend that people start with PPE.
Essential PPE for Tree Climbing
Eye Protection & Helmets
As an arborist, eye and ear protection are key.
When out on a job site, I wear contacts with Z87 safety glasses, a helmet, and ear protection when I’m around machinery. Right now, I've got one of the new Petzl helmets on, I also really like Kask helmets. My personal preference is the Kask Super Plasma—from all the time I've spent in helmets, that one has worked really well for me.
As far as safety glasses go, I really like the replaceable cheap safety glasses that can get scratched and thrown away. Those work really well and are affordable and convenient. We sell pretty cheap safety glasses with the TreeStuff brand on them, we put them in orders, and those would be my preference over some of the more expensive models.
As far as ear protection goes, I'm a big fan of both earplugs and earmuffs. I think everyone should have snap-on ear muffs on their helmet if they're out working around heavy machinery. They should probably also have earplugs for times when they have a different helmet, or are working with a really big chipper and need double protection.
Boots and gloves are important to have in your tree climbing kit as well. I have some pretty strong feelings about boots, but we have an entire video on boots so I’ll give you all the details there:
Click here to watch our video on best tree climbing boots and chainsaw boots.
We also have an entire video on safety glasses and ear protection that you can watch, as well as a video on arborist glove choices. I generally prefer cheaper throwaway gloves, but you can watch our video for more options. You don't absolutely have to have them, but a nice pair of latex textured gloves or the vinyl dipped ones are nice to have, especially if it's cold or wet, or you're doing a lot of roping.
Tree Climbing Harnesses
As an essential piece of fall protection equipment, I consider a tree climbing harness basic PPE required for tree work.
This Petzl Sequoia is my saddle of choice. It's very high quality and is at the higher end of the price range. An option like the Teufelberger TreeMotion harness is also going to be top-of-the-line—about as good as you can get, with adjustable buckles, four attachment points, extra padding for comfort—I think it comes down to preference at the high end between these two models.
If you're looking for a more value-oriented option, or something more economical, the Notch Sentinel, is by far the best bang for your buck or pound-for-pound fighter. It's really comfortable. It's super adjustable. And it's under $400*, whereas this and the TreeMotion are in that $500 plus range. So that's what I think about saddles.
Petzl Sequoia Climbing Harness
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Teufelberger TreeMotion Harness
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Notch Sentinel Climbing Harness
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Note: Tree climbing harnesses are NOT the same as rock climbing harnesses. Always make sure the harness you’re purchasing is certified for the correct use.
Note: Pricing is subject to change.
Tree Climbing Education & Resources
The next thing I think you need to get started beyond PPE is basic education. There's a really great book I recommend by an author named Jeff Jepsen called The Tree Climber's Companion. The Tree Climber's Companion is an inexpensive paperback book that will teach you soup-to-nuts about all the basic activities and equipment choices that I'm talking about in this video. It includes lots of illustrations and they do a really thorough job.
There are excellent professional certifications from ISA, including Certified Arborist. TCIA also offers some lower-level classes and certifications for tree care groundworkers such as a bucket operator and others.
Education is really important! At least start with the basics—get the Jeff Jepsen book.
So you've got your PPE, you've got some education—the next thing you need to do is get a rope into a tree.
Tree Climbing Rope & Rope Equipment
Throw Line & Throw Balls
In order to get a rope up into the tree, you're going to need a throw line. We have a whole video on throw line and throw line basics, as well as one about the different types of throw line and throw weights on YouTube.
I use the Notch throw line. This is a pretty ubiquitous model—it is essentially the same thing as Samson Zing-It. It's a thin Dyneema hollow braid that comes in 1.8 millimeter and 2.1 millimeter. I find this one to be really good. It's probably my second choice.
My top choice, however, is the Dynaglide by Teufelberger. It's over two millimeters and has a silky smoothness. Some of these thinner lines can hurt your fingers. Dynaglide breaks at 1000 pounds, which can be an upside or downside. If you get your throw ball stuck, you may not get it back because you can't break the throw line.
Once you've picked a throw line, you'll want to go ahead and pick a throw ball. Throw balls are a pretty commoditized item. It's a lead bag or a nylon bag full lead shot. They're made out of various materials. All of the patterns have gravitated towards one pattern and all the manufacturers are essentially using the same one now. The Notch throw balls are as good as any. They're made out of 1000 denier nylon, they have the best patterns, they're color-coded by size, and they have a lifetime warranty that none of the other bags have. So, I would definitely buy a Notch throw weight—I don't see any reason to get anything else.
That's the basics of throw lines or getting your line in the tree or tree access.
What Type of Rope to Use for Tree Climbing
The next thing that you need to ask yourself is what kind of rope do you want. That is going to hinge on which ascent style you’re going to use—are you going to SRT or are you going to DRT?
Let’s talk really briefly about DRT and SRT:
DRT Climbing System
When you climb double rope technique, you can do it with a lot of different equipment, or you can do it with relatively little equipment. You'll see I can tie in with two half hitches to this carabiner, and then make myself a little bridge and just tie a Blake's hitch with the end of the rope. You don't need really anything else other than this. (This technique and others are covered in the Tree Climbers Companion.) I could climb on this Blake's hitch and it's going to work right.
I can hip thrust up and then easily come down. So if you're going to climb double rope this way, I would recommend a 16 strand rope or a 12 strand solid braid, such as True Blue. If you want to stay within the DRT range, but you want to do something that's a little bit nicer or works a little bit better, you can go to a much more modern closed system. We'll go ahead and install this prusik on here.
Want to learn how to tie a climbing prusik? Check out our video here.
I'm going to use a Valdotain Tresse. There are a ton of different knots you might tie based on the type of prusik cord you have, its diameter, and its length—all those things you can choose. I generally recommend starting with an eight or ten-millimeter prusik cord and about 28 inches with the sewn eyes. The sewn eyes will give you a bit more usable space which is really nice when you're trying to hitch, and a 10-millimeter prusik is going to be forgiving and responsive on most ropes.
Here I've attached the Hitch Climber Pulley, my 10 millimeter prusik. I'm going to use an anchor bend, but you could also use a splice line here with another eye on it. And now we've tied in with a much nicer, more modern DRT system.
You'll see when I pull down here though, I'm pulling above my hitch. As I build up slack by pulling a couple of thrusts, I'll need to hold and pull that slack out. If there is a downside to climbing with this type of system versus something more basic, that would be one. Overall, this is going to be much smoother, especially when you're limb walking or just shuffling slack versus having to manually advance, or even have a pulley tend a Blake's hitch, even on a split tail, which would be another step back.
One of the things that I especially like about this DRT system is that if you decide that you want to climb SRT, you can do that with relatively the same set of gear.
Recommendations for Using a Rope Wrench
When you try to weight and descend on a prusik with a single line, it will get too hot and get jammed up and it just won't work.
To solve this, you can take the same equipment and throw in a rope wrench. Potentially the same knot, the same carabiner that you were using, and now just a little bit of stuff here for an oval carabiner, you get those two legs from the two-legged prusik on there, the two legged stiff tether.
So, here we go. I've got my stiff tether on there, I've got my two eyes in my prusik. It's all in and I am set up in a Rope Wrench setup. I recommend starting with a 28-inch prusik so that if you do decide to switch to SRT, even with the normal length tethers, you won't run into a jamb-up.
One of the big benefits of climbing SRT over DRT is that when you do climb the rope and you go ahead and put your rope into a foot ascender and you stand up, you're going to go up the full amount that you put in, versus on DRT you're pulling two times the distance through versus one.
If I was going to be climbing SRT, the type of mechanical rope I would be looking at would probably be something like this Notch Dragon along with a mechanical. Or if I was going to be doing it with a prusik and a rope wrench, I would look at something like Notch Banshee, Teufelberger Tachyon, or the 11.8 millimeter Yale lines.
I think these ropes are all pretty good, but if I had to choose one, Tachyon would probably be my choice for an all-around climbing line. You can use it for both DRT and SRT.
If you're going to be climbing DRT, and you're not going to be using a friction saver, I highly recommend checking out a 16 strand rope. There are a ton of options from Samson, Teufelberger, and Yale. They're all very similar, but I would recommend firsthand, the Samson Arbor-Master lines like BRW and Bluestreak. I've had great experiences with those out in the field.
Tree Climbing Equipment for SRT/SRS Climbing
If you're going to be climbing SRT, you are going to need a little bit more equipment. At the very basic level, you're going to need a foot ascender. I wear the Notch Jet Step. This is a foot ascender that we helped design. It works great, it's probably my favorite, but I'm a little bit partial.
Before the jet step, I had always been a Pantin kind-of-guy and definitely rocked the older school Pantin that you could lock with the carabiner for a really long climb. We have a whole video on foot ascenders where we talk about the pros and cons of each model. But the CT Quick Step is by far the best seller and features an outbound cam to lock it. That's definitely always been a favorite.
Once you have a foot ascender that's all you have to have in terms of the assent for SRT, but a knee ascender like a HAAS can also be helpful. You cannot use a knee ascender alone without a foot ascender, so definitely go for the foot ascender first and know that you don't have to have a knee ascender to do SRT effectively.
You also don't need to have a hand ascender. With the right technique, you should be doing most of the work with either one or both of your feet, depending on if you got the knee ascender.
For basic SRT, you will need some kind of hold-up method for basic. and you’ll need to be able to pull the climbing system up with you. That can be as simple as taking your lanyard over your shoulder and clipping it in, then tightening it up down here. Or it can be as complicated as a chest harness—and there are a ton of different options for that, right?
When it comes down to it, all you really need is for something to be pulling the rope up with you when you stand up,—tending it higher than your belay loop would by nature. And you see, I'm able to accomplish that with just taking my lanyard over my shoulder.
That's the basics for basic SRT climbing.
Gear for Climbing Trees with Spurs or Spikes
If you're going to be spur climbing, you will need tree climbing spikes or spurs.
I think the Gecko spurs are, far and above, the best options available. I don't think there's a better carbon fiber spur available, especially not for the price.
In the aluminum range with the Euro style, the Gecko Alumnimum spurs represent the apex of quality and form. They're really cool, they're super light, they have the best cuffs, comfortable leg straps, quality gaffs—really nothing else compares to those.
And then the new steel ones, the Notch Gecko Steel's are better than anything out there for a whole set at that price point. When you compare them to some of the older brands out there that are justAq a single straight piece of steel with a leather T-pad, it's hard to imagine why anyone would pay more for that.
If you're going to be spur climbing, Notch Gecko Steels are the best bang for the buck, maybe the Gecko Aluminums or something similar would be a good choice.
Notch Gecko Carbon Fiber Tree Climbing Spurs
Notch Gecko Aluminum Tree Climbing Spurs
Notch Gecko Steel Tree Climbing Spurs
You have to have a lanyard to climb whether you're spur climbing, SRT climbing, or DRT climbing. You're going to need a rope - which we talked about - and you're going to need a lanyard. I have a whole video about lanyards where we talk about the difference between mechanical adjusters, double-ended adjustable, and things like that.
I generally prefer a shorter lanyard that's less in the way and I will usually go for a simple traditional setup with a normal prusik and a Hitch Climber Pulley. I think a snap on the end the lanyard is nice and the triple-action snaps are as good as any for me, but a simple sewn lanyard out of Sterling TriTec always with a prusik is a really good choice too. Generally, a shorter lanyard is better—long lanyards can be more useful but they tend to get stuck.
If you're going to be climbing DRT, or for a lot of SRT applications, a friction saver is going to be super handy. It's hard to beat a rope sewn friction saver with a big ring and a little ring and a prusik on it with another little ring. You can use that as an adjustable friction saver or you can use it without the prusik on it, they're very robust. They're a good bang for the buck. But you can also get really complicated stuff that are very luxe, really specialized premium tools such as uSAVERS or some of the Teufelberger products like the PulleySaver and the Thimble Saver.
But if all you need is a friction saver, the Rope Logic Adjustable Friction Saver is great. There's a whole video on friction savers, covering a ton of versions from the tube to the leather and more— check out that whole video for the details here.
I've had a lot of different handsaws in my life. I've settled on these two as my favorite.
This is the Silky Sugoi. This is the original handsaw that I was rocking out in the field. I chose it because it was really big and long, and had a hook on the end that I could use to pull things to me, which I thought was really handy. I'm a pretty tall guy, so a tall saw fits on my leg where I would always wear it. I really like these Notch Talons because they keep the saw away from me so that when I bend my leg it doesn't hit me or catch me underneath the thigh. But I like this handsaw because it's long has really aggressive teeth. I think that Silky is by far the best. There is a huge difference in quality between any of the Silky products and anything else. This is what I always use out in the field.
Now that I climb a little bit less, I think that this Tsurugi is probably the best choice. It's a little slimmer, it's a lot lighter in the hand, and has an aluminum scabbard. This is the coolest looking one. It has the most rollers inside of it, comes in a nice slim package, and is just the highest tech thing that you could ever imagine slipping a really sharp blade and saw into. It just exudes quality, so I really like these Tsurugis.
When it comes to tool clips, you can do something as simple as having a carabiner through the tool tunnel on your harness, or you can get really premium options of locking carabiners from DMM or Rock Exotica. There are also plastic ones from Petzl, and from other brands, that are used primarily for ice tools and have been transitioned into the professional market. The plastic ones do break. They're very affordable and really nice, but you won't break the one from DMM or Rock Exotica. So I recommend checking those out or just using a simple carabiner.
Bag & Storage
In terms of bags or storage, you're going to need something to carry all this stuff around and we've got a whole video not only on tool carriers but also on bags, we took the 28 most popular bags. I generally will tend to lean towards a big bucket-style bag. So I would look at Metolius Haul bags, or any of the Notch bags are very popular. We have the new Notch Access Pro, which you can open up and put all of your stuff into and use as a bucket bag—that would probably be my favorite bag.
We also have a ton of Metolius Bags, and those are really great for just storing big heaps of rigging slings and stuff like that.
I think that covers everything you need to climb a tree. It's a long list, but there are a ton of really affordable and really premium options from everyone.
Neil, how did we do? Neil gave us the good signal. There's a ton of stuff that you need. You can always email us at info@TreeStuff.com to get customer service or you can email the media team email@example.com, or you can reach out directly to me Nick@TreeStuff.com with any technical questions, and we're always happy to help you out. So this is a really long video. If you watched this, you were clearly really into it and trying to figure out exactly what you needed. So I really hope this was helpful, and please stay safe out there. Thanks for watching.