In the course of buying my own gear, I’ve read various books about tree climbing, volumes of online material, watched countless demo and training videos and studied various safety and rescue reports. I researched as much as I could find about each item I acquired and thanks to the many videos and reviews, I became familiar with climbing equipment. I’m no authority on what is the best gear for everyone, but as I acquire direct experience, I have developed my own preferences.
Being in good physical condition is a prerequisite to being a successful tree climber, even with the proper equipment. This is an ongoing challenge as I get closer to turning 60. Improving my physical condition and being a proficient a climber is an attainable goal for myself. Of course, I pursue this activity in a mindful and age appropriate manner.
Various products grip the rope differently, some with teeth like precision. This can effect the climbing line, especially when shock-loaded during even a short accidental fall. Any such occurrence can significantly compromise the integrity of both the rope and the specific gear involved, usually warranting its retirement and permanent removal from the gear bag.
All gear requires a thorough inspection before and after each and every use. Many products are rated in one way or another with regard to shock-loading abilities or measurements known as a kN (kilonewton), or more technically described as an International Standard unit of force equal to 1000 newtons, 0.2248 kips, or 224.8 pounds.
My gear preferences have continually evolved as I gain more hands-on experience and discover the right combination of devices, hitches and methods that best suit my abilities. Depending on varying conditions and objectives, the gear I use on each climb may vary slightly, but I stick to some basic formats. Some of the items I have are more or less effective, depending on the kind of climbing system I may be switching to and from during a given climb.
Using friction knots or hitches in place of mechanical devices may be more rope-friendly, but can require a bit more attention to detail, keeping the knot properly tied, dressed and set, whereas mechanical devices have distinct advantages and may be more user friendly, particularly when used on longer ascents and descents.
In an ever changing market, new innovative equipment can suddenly hit the scene and change how people climb, so climbing setups can evolve over time. I have two primary climbing systems, using the Unicender for SRT and DRT, or the Rope Wrench for just SRT. My CT foot ascender and the Haas knee ascender are able to create a true rope walking system, with either setup. Having the option to include a hand ascender offers a secondary connection point from the climbing line to the harness, for added safety and climbing ease.
I have other climbing setups or climbing options without using the Unicender or a Rope Wrench, if I use my Petzl Croll chest ascender on ascent and change-over to a Petzl Rig, or a GriGri, or a basic figure eight on descent. Aside from the dangers of mid-line change-overs, I feel more secure using the Rig on long descents, without relying on solely on friction hitch cords or putting excess wear on my Uni.
I believe my collection of climbing gear is now adequate and effective enough to address a variety of tree climbing challenges. There are several obvious redundancies in my gear bag, maybe more than several, but things like having multiple ways to tie-in and ways to implement several kinds of descent techniques in case of the unexpected are a good thing. My gear bag is over the top and I’m a gear junkie. But I already share some of my gear with my son and I like to think of my family as my crew.
The HAAS Velox Knee Ascender is similar to and does serves the same purpose as the other very popular knee ascender known as the SAKA. “HAAS” stands for Haul-Ass-Ascent-System and SAKA stands for Self-Advancing-Knee-Ascender, while both products perform a similar function. This now transforms my climbing system into a true Rope-Walker system. When making long ascents using both legs, together with my upper body, it enables me to distribute the load more onto my legs. This shouldn’t mislead anyone though, as climbing a single line still requires a great deal of effort, stamina and determination.
Here’s how to tie The Michocan or Martin Hitch:
Here’s how to tie The Cosmo Hitch:
I’ve opted to go with the Camp right hand ascender, but I also have the option of using a CMI Dual Hand Ascender which weighs a bit more, but is essentially a two-handed rope-grabber. The Pantin foot ascender has been replaced by the Climbing Technology (CT) foot ascender, but I still have the Pantin for a backup.
My primary lanyard is kept in a compact saddle-pouch, and is a homemade version of the CE Lanyard, using a 30′ Samson, Cool Vortex climbing line, weight rated at over 8,000lbs. It locks off with hitch tending pulley and has the potential of becoming a two-in-one lanyard. I use a simple hitch-tending pulley and an I.S.C. Triple Action Swivel Snap to easily manage the lanyard’s two primary tie in points. Adding a Rock0 auto-locking carabiner on a sewn eye, along with a 2nd hitch tending pulley to the other end of the lanyard turns it into a two-in-one lanyard.
My Yella Grapnel compliments my throw-line retrieval system, as does a standard tape-measure that has an 11′ reach. Using a lightweight grappling hook has its perks, but someday the DMM Captain Hook may take its place. The hook seems a bit heavy compared to the ultralight 4oz grappling hook, but it saves a lot of time and effort when securing a climbing line to a life-bearing limb.
Here’s a great Matrix-spoof-demo-video, featuring the DMM Captain Hook in action:
My “perfect” climbing set up will depend on the tree, my climbing objectives and the unexpected events that will undoubtedly unfold during the course of the actual climb. I plan to pack light, as to mitigate my load.
In the darker rope bag shown below is a new 150′ Predator-Samson (camo color) climbing 7/16″ line. In the orange bag is my 300′ Sterling HTP Static Kernmantle 7/16″. I chose that line for its SRT and all-weather qualities, being how I live here in the Pacific Northwest.
The Big Shot is fun to use, for sure.
Not shown is my 16′ tape measure with an 11′ reach is sure handy when retrieving throw lines in the canopy.
Along with the friction saver and some extra cordage, there’s my custom made 30′ Cool Vortex lanyard will have multiple tie in points, from either direction and yes, that’s a sown tight-eye with a thimble, connected to a triple action snap with a swivel.
The basal anchor, or base-anchor tie-in system, using a separate bite of rope and a paw shaped rigging-plate to secure the climbing line at the tree’s base. It connects to the climbing line and use a Rescue8 Descender as a ground based rescue feature, so someone on can safely lower a climber from the ground in an emergency situation. The rigging plate and a few extra carabiners help make the tie-in-points very clean and manageable.