In the course of buying my own gear, I’ve received professional training, read various books about tree climbing, researched volumes of online materials, 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 professional training, hands-on experience, etc., 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 for a 60+ year old geezer like me. Improving my physical condition and being a proficient tree climber is an attainable goal. Of course, I always pursue this activity in a mindful and responsible manner, making safety a priority.
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.
If you’re looking for the full climbing set up, check out the climbing kits at Wesspur and my recommended climbing kit for self-equipped, autonomous recreational tree climbers. These kits are very well conceived, depending on how you like to climb. When first learning to climb, finding a good mentor or a training program is strongly recommended. Learning to climb, using DdRT(doubled rope technique) or a moving rope system and a Blake’s hitch is where most climbers begin.
After acquiring basic and fundamental climbing skills, you can gradually integrate mechanical devices into your climbing system to increase efficiency. Eventually, you’ll see the advantages of climbing SRT and DdRT, being able to switch from one system to another. I sometimes like to ascend on SRT and descend on DdRT, to mitigate friction on the way down.
Variables, such as a climber’s weight, rope type and rope condition can have varied effects on the type of gear. Other factors can even include the weather, especially when windy and rainy.
My set up for the ideal recreational tree climbing system, emphasizing flexibility and efficiency, would include this list of items, enabling a recreational tree climber the ability to simultaneously utilize individual or dual climbing lines on SRT or DdRT/moving rope systems, while alternating between up to three consecutive tie in points, including the all important, primary tie in line.
While my gear preferences have continually evolved as I gain more hands-on experience, and as newer versions of older gear become available, discovering the right combination of devices, hitches and climbing methods to best suit my abilities, remains a ongoing adventure. There is no perfect solution to every situation, and no two climbs are ever exactly the same. I stick to some basic formats, but the tools can vary.
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 now mostly use a Rope Runner or a Hitch Hiker 2, with a CT foot ascender and a Haas knee ascender to create a true rope walking system. I have nothing against the Saka, and while there are different products that accomplish the same task, a Haas works well in my climbing system. So does a hand ascender, as it offers relief from the hand discomfort associated with gripping and pulling on the climbing line.
I have other climbing setups or climbing options using a Unicender or a Rope Wrench, or I can use a Petzl Croll with a 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 prefer using a multicending device, although I tend to feel more secure using the Rig on longer descents.
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 family/crew and offer my clients an ability to try out a lot of options.
The HAAS Velox Knee Ascender is for rope walking. “HAAS” stands for Haul-Ass-Ascent-System. The current manufacturer of the Haas is embroiled in an ongoing patent dispute with the manufacturer of the Saka (Self Ascending Knee Ascender).
Even though I still use the Haas, I support Richard Mumford for his many contributions to the tree climbing community. Richard initiated a SAKA – Go Fund Me charity to raise money for his company, Climbing Innovation’s legal defense. Tree climbers are rallying in his support, based on the concern that the big corporation is unfairly picking on the small guy whose innovations and advancements make tree climbing better for everyone.
The knee ascender has transformed 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 equally onto my legs, alleviating my arms from any major lifting. This shouldn’t mislead anyone though, as climbing a single line still requires a great deal of effort, strength, coordination, stamina and determination.
Here’s how to tie The Michocan or Martin Hitch:
The Dual-in-1 SRT Lanyard, shown above on the left, serves as a secondary SRT climbing system, but also works in a DdRT configuration. It combines best of both a throwing hook augmented climbing line, combined with a floating anchor lanyard, both using a single connection point on a harness’s rope bridge, with a properly oriented Petzl Rig, or a friction hitch.
My primary 15′ lanyard, shown above on the right, uses a 13mm Edelrid – Direction Up climbing line. It connects to my harness’s side d-rings and is equipped with a generic aluminum rope snap on one end, and a Petzl Micrograb Flipline Adjuster on the other.
A Yella Grapnel compliments my throw-line retrieval system, as does a standard tape-measure that has an 11′ reach. The throwing hook seems a bit heavy compared to the ultralight 4oz grappling hook, but it also 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, uses 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 uses a Rescue8 Descender as a ground based rescue feature, so someone on can safely lower a climber to the ground in an emergency situation. The extra loop is used tied above the Rescue8, using a blakes hitch. This serves as a back-up brake for the Rescue8. The rigging plate and a few locking carabiners help make the tie-in-points very clean and manageable.