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 personal and budgetary preferences. I’m happy to test and reviewing gear, upon request.
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.
What many consider an adequate length of climbing rope can differ, depending on typical tree size and the objective of any particular climb. While some trees, including the Redwoods, 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, throughout the world, are usually well within the 150 foot height range.
Many agree at least a 120′ or 150′ rope length is adequate for most new climbers. It’s lightweight for packing and goes well with a carry-able climbing kit, suited specifically for backpacking and/or air-travel. Depending on various climbing objectives, static tree-climbing ropes are also usually available in lengths of 200′, 300′ and even 600′. Various splicing options are available at many tree climbing outfitters and adding a sewn or hand spliced eye on the end of a climbing rope is useful.
Mechanical devices can flatten a climbing line, some more than others. Most work well on a broad range of static climbing ropes, while others like the Akimbo and Rope Runner can be more finicky. Weather conditions can certainly effect the performance of various climbing devices, as well. When purchasing climbing rope/s, be sure the rope is well suited to your gear preferences and the environment where it will be used most often.
The following list provides an overview and a general guideline for the kind of gear used primarily for tree climbing purposes. The list is not all inclusive and certain items, like carabiners, may have multiple manufacturers producing similar products with the same functionality. Products in development, or currently available for pre-sale only, may be overlooked. As new items become available, I will try to keep this list properly augmented, but make no guaranties. Please use your best judgment when selecting appropriate gear for your climbing system.
- Tree Climbing Helmet or an equivalent brain bucket (required): Kask and Petzl are a couple good brands to consider.
- Tree Climbing Harness: I like TreeMotion, Petzl Sequoia SRT, New Tribe Onyx or some sort of commercial grade tree climbing harness with at least one floating rope bridge.
- Multicender: With the easier set up, new climbers may want to start with a Rope Wrench, or maybe a Unicender … here’s more about multicending devices.
- A Knee Ascender, goes with a foot ascender for rope walking (I prefer a Haas Velox, but the Saka is very popular knee ascender).
- Foot Ascender (right or left foot): CT QuickStep or Notch JetStep are my two current favorites.
- Hand Ascender: A Quick Roll Hand Ascender by CT includes a built in pulley to set up an efficient 3:1 (RAD) climbing system. Other ways to make a 3:1 / RAD setup can include a Blake’s hitch or a hand ascender, with a carabiner and a micro-pulley or a Roll Clip.
- Ascender Foot Strap; Singing Rock makes a nice lightweight footloop.
- Descender – a Petzl Pirana, a basic Figure 8, or Munter Hitch on a carabiner serves as a backup descending device.
- A Chest Harness: Both the 4SRT and a Petzl Torse are nice lightweight chest harnesses, but an over the shoulder lanyard works for tending, as well. A more substantial chest harness can offer greater security and comfort when sharing the load of the harness and gear weighing on the climber’s hips.
- Protective eye wear
- Good climbing gloves, fingerless gloves are not recommended.
- Lightweight high-top hiking boots to comfortably secure the foot ascender.
- 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.
- 120′ – 200′ +/- climbing rope – 11mm to 13mm / SRT &/or DdRT static climbing line. Lower diameter ropes are lighter, but larger diameter ropes are usually stronger and easier to grip with your hand.
- At least a 15′ or longer rope lanyard kit, including the lanyard line, rope snap or carabiner and a lanyard adjuster … here’s more information about climbing lanyards.
- A few double-auto-locking carabiners (Oval and/or D-Shape) for specific uses.
- A few screw-locking carabiners (Oval and/or D-Shape) for specific uses.
- 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, good for use as an adjustable rope harness or in 3:1 Rad systems.
- 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.