How Tree Climbing Works

Tree Climbing Gear

Before setting their sights on the canopy, tree climbers need to focus on matters that are a little more down to earth -- namely, the gear they need to make an expedition into the arboreal world successful and safe. This is important not only for the climber, but also for the health of the tree.

First-timers don't need to buy out the store, or technically buy anything at all if they're going to be taught by an organization that provides equipment during a training session. Lots of tree-climbing gear is only suitable for people who've been climbing trees for a while and have the experience needed to try new tricks. A few items that should be used on any basic climb, however, include a helmet, a saddle (that's the harness that climbers sit in), carabiners, rope and a throw bag and line to launch the rope over the first branch.

Tree climbing ropes are typically made out of braided polyester, which is soft and pliable for easy knot tying. There are different thicknesses available, and each has subtle pros and cons depending on the climbing situation. The length of the rope is also important. While 150 feet (45 meters) is an oft-cited length, a good rule of thumb is to estimate the height of the tree you want to climb, then double it. That's how much rope you'll want.

You can never have too many carabiners. Heavy-duty ones with locks can attach the climbing rope to your saddle, while lighter ones are convenient for hauling gear. When it comes to a throw weight and throw line, these can be as simple as a stuffed beanbag attached to a nylon cord that climbers chuck over a reachable branch. In the case of taller trees, a slingshot or a bow and arrow may be needed to lob the line over a desired limb. Tree climbing can also cause little bits of debris to rain down on climbers, so it's smart to wear safety glasses. Tree climbers can't go wrong with nonslip gloves, either -- they protect hands from blisters and help climbers maintain traction.

As tree climbers gain experience, they can purchase additional items to enhance their adventures and make their aerial forays gentler on the trees. Some climbers, for example, even haul up hammocks or portable platforms so they can spend time relaxing on elevated perches, enjoying the view and sometimes spending the night. But for our purposes, this is enough equipment to get us started.