All this tree climbing stuff isn’t cheap, but here’s the ticket to being a completely self-sufficient recreational tree climber:
This list includes more than a basic/minimalist tree climbing setup and it’s not all-inclusive or ultra-light, but it does provide a strikingly accurate glimpse into the type of climbing gear an experienced recreational tree climber would likely use when traveling and climbing big trees, both locally and abroad.
I am not sponsored by anyone or paid to promote any particular item. The list below is based solely on my unbiased personal preferences, but I’m not opposed to accepting promotional sponsorships or free stuff, in return for honest and forthcoming reviews. I am accepting sponsorship, so please email me directly, for more information.
Much thanks goes to my buds at TreeBuzz, for all their valuable input and contributions to this list. While their valued opinions may vary, recreational tree climbers are similar, but different than tree care professionals. Rigging gear, chainsaws and climbing spurs are intentionally omitted, for that reason.
An adequate length differs, depending on tree size and the objective of any particular climb. While some trees, including the Redwood, also known as Sequoias grow as high as three hundred feet in the Eastern Sierras of California, and Coastal Redwoods along the Northern California coastal area, the majority of climb worthy trees are well below the 150 foot height range.
Many agree at least a 120 or 150 foot rope length is adequate for most new climbers. It’s lighter for packing and goes well with a more or less compact carry-able climbing kit, suited specifically for air-travel purposes. Depending on various climbing objectives, an assortment or static tree-climbing ropes are also available in lengths of 200′, 300′, 600′, as well as, custom lengths together with various splicing options are available at many tree climbing outfitters.
The following list provides an overview of the kind of gear that one may want to consider for tree climbing purposes. It is not limited to all the great gear out there, including items that may be overlooked. As new items become available, I will try to keep this list properly augmented, but I make no promises as to how frequently this list gets updated so please use your best judgment.
- Tree Climbing Helmet or an equivalent brain bucket (required)
- TreeMotion, New Tribe or some sort of commercial grade tree climbing harness with at least one floating rope bridge
- Multicender: New climbers can start with a Rope Wrench, Unicender, Rope Runner, or a Hitch Hiker. My preference is the HItch Hiker2 with two 46″ bites of epiCORD 9.3mm, or similar for the Hitch Hiker’s prusik cord (extra 1 for backup) … here’s more about multicending devices
- A Haas or a Saka Knee Ascender (either one does the job)
- CT, or similar, Foot Ascender, right or left depending on preference
- Quick Roll Hand Ascender by CT, also used with the Rig and optional foot-loop for a 3:1 (RAD) climbing system. Another way to make a 3:1 / RAD setup can include a Blake’s hitch, a carabiner and a micro-pulley
- Ascender Foot Strap by Singing Rock
- Petzl Pirana Descender – a Munter Hitch on a carabiner also works as a backup descending device
- Chest harness for tending the HitchHiker, or other multicending devices
- Protective eye wear
- Good climbing gloves
- Lightweight climbing boots
- H20 Water bottle, to connect to the climbing harness – to mitigate dehydration
- First Aid Kit, including a blood stopper bandage – usually worn on the climbing harness
- Bug Net drawstring bag, or Buff for head protection, in the event of unexpected bees or insect swarm
- 200′ +/- climbing rope – 11mm or 7/16″ – SRT & DRT static climbing line
- At least a 15′ or longer rope lanyard kit, including the lanyard line, rope snap or carabiner and a lanyard adjuster
- A few auto-locking carabiners
- A few screw-locking carabiners
- An assortment of Loop Runners of varied sizes, for assisted tie-ins, re-directs, etc.
- Two 30″ Dan House rope sleeves or rawhide leather friction savers (aka: cambium savers)
- Two stainless steel Delta Links for canopy tie ins, and/or Singing Tree Quickies
- Two Eye and Eye prusik cords with hand splices or sewn splices – 28″, 30″ or 32” long and 8mm to 10mm thick, as a rope grabbing lanyard adjuster and for climbing DRT and in case one falls out of the tree, or gets too sapped up with tree pitch (remove with Olive oil or WD40)
- A Hitch Tending Pulley or a Micro “Pinto” Pulley
- Yella Grapnel, for easier throw-line retrieval
- Storage bags: a large one for gear, a small saddle bag for the throw-line kit and a rope bag for the climbing line
- A throw line kit, with at least 150′ +\- of throw line for ground throws and another 75′ bite of throw line to store in a throw-line saddle bag while climbing and to assist with advancing a climbing line. I recommend Target Line, a 1/8” diamond braid polyethylene line
- Two or more – 10oz or 12oz , unleaded throw bags
- DMM Captain Throw Hook Kit, or just a DMM Captain Throw Hook with a custom 50′ +/- lanyard line … here’s more about throw hooks, 2-in-1 climbing lanyards and secondary climbing systems
- A Petzl Rig, or another similar mechanical progress capture and descending device, for use in a 3:1 RAD, a rescue-able basal anchor, or with a DMM Captain’s lanyard
- A DMM Axis Swivel – or similar large eye swivel, for the floating bridge to help keep things untwisted and for enhanced orientations
- CT RollNLock
- Anchor Ring, or an extra swivel, to use on a rope bridge
- Folding throw-line cube, for feeding a clean throw-line on long tosses (reusable self-standing grocery bags are good too)
- Big Shot (8′ tall slingshot), used with a throw bag and throw line to achieve higher tie-in-points and with far better accuracy, compared to hand throws. Similar launching devices may include a crossbow, or a bow and arrow, usually with a spinning fishing reel to manage the throw line, or air cannons designed specifically for launching throw bags.
- Tree Camping Hammock, Treeboat or Portaledge – rain tarp and bug net optional
- A lightweight plastic tarp or nylon ground sheet – keeps your rope and stuff off the ground, dry, etc.
- Go Pro, or similar, Action Camera for helmet mounted photos and videos
- Spring loaded, self rewinding throw line reel (Shapespeare Silent Tru-Art Automatic, Model No. 1837, with throw line used in place of fishing line)
- No climbing spurs, but maybe a Silky handsaw for clearing deadwood, cutting firewood and light pruning, when and where it may be expressly permitted.
- The Tree Climber’s Companion, 2nd edition – a great beginner’s guide and reference tool
Excluding the Big Shot, the above system fits into a standard size rolling duffel bag, in my case, weighing just over the airline’s 50lb weight limit. When traveling by air, some prefer to put the climbing hardware in a personal carry on bag, but getting gear through airport security can be touchy, so I prefer sending all my gear through checked baggage. By properly redistributing some of the weight, using a second piece of checked luggage, I’ve been able to meet the under/50lb weight requirement. Thereafter, I moved all the gear back into the one duffel size bag, for added convenience. Without the 10+/- lbs, or either the climbing rope or just the climbing hardware, my remaining gear weighs in at just under 50lbs.
Certain non-life-bearing (PPE) items noted above can be used or shared among a crew of climbers, and while many items might be considered optional, I still feel strongly about each item being a vital component of the overall system. Specific trees may warrant more or less gear, such as a giant Redwood, where the lowest branch to launch a line into far exceeds 100′. A climber must be able to adapt to individual challenges.
In conclusion, gear preferences do change and evolve as new products become available. Recreational or sport tree climbing has clearly a different purpose than for someone performing tree climbing services as a profession, although the two are not mutually exclusive, the sport climber’s gear is less cumbersome and risky without items like chainsaws and climbing spurs.