One outdoor activity that many adventurers love is tree climbing. This outdoor sport is a great way to get some exercise while immersing in nature from an entirely new perspective.
Wildlife watching from the treetops in particular is an exciting and fun experience unlike any other. For others, tree climbing is simply a way to prune some branches or get a job done.
Either way, if you’ve climbed before, you know that specific equipment is needed so you can do so safely and efficiently.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything we’ve learned about tree climbing equipment, including the different types of equipment and things you need to look for in good-quality equipment.
Things to Consider Before Buying Climbing Gear
Before heading to the store, here are some of our top tips for buying tree-climbing gear.
Before buying anything, you need to think about the purpose of your gear. Since you’ll be tree climbing, you want to make sure you get the right gear for the job.
Rock climbing and mountaineering can have slightly different types of equipment, so do focus on gear specifically designed for tree climbing. Any gear you get should be reviewed for tree climbing and be UV resistant, abrasion resistant, and have a high rating for falls held.
Make sure everything you buy meets industry safety standards and certifications! If it doesn’t, you could run the risk of a serious injury.
We also recommend getting gear from brands with solid reputations for producing reliable and high-quality gear. The more durable the equipment, the safer it will be to use in the long run. Two of our favorite brands for climbing gear are Petzl and Teufelberger.
Look at ratings for falls held or factor falls. This tells you a bit about how strong some equipment is in case of a fall.
A fall factor is determined by the distance someone falls on their rope. This number ranges from 0 to 2, with 0 being no fall at all and 2 being a fall twice the length of the amount of rope you’ve climbed.
Most rope testing uses a fall factor of 1.77. Then, a fall is mimicked every five minutes until the rope breaks. Single ropes need to withstand at least 5 falls to pass UIAA testing. It is not recommended to use climbing ropes that have not passed this testing.
Reputable ropes will advertise how many UIAA falls a rope has tested for, and this can tell you how strong the rope is.
Avoid equipment with low fall ratings as these likely aren’t as safe as they should be.
As suggested previously, the quality of your gear definitely matters. It may be tempting to get cheaper gear to save money on your trip, but the last thing you want is to end up high in a tree with some junk that can put your life at risk.
Make sure you do your research on high-quality gear made of strong, durable materials. Reviews can help you determine the quality of some types of gear if you can’t see it in person at the store.
While you don’t have to spend the big bucks to get some good gear, you should definitely take a look at the materials used in your equipment, as well as weight capacities and other care requirements.
Not all climbing gear is compatible with one another due to different dimensions and specifications. For example, some carabiners or descenders may be designed for a specific thickness of rope, and hence a thicker or thinner rope may not work well with it.
Make sure all the gear you purchase is compatible with one another, so you don’t run into any issues with safety or functionality.
This is especially true as you set up several layers of security to prevent falling. The more compatible your ropes, carabiners, spikes, and harnesses are to each other, the less likely you’ll be to fall.
Finally, you need to consider your overall budget. While you don’t need to purchase all the most expensive gear out there, it’s better to invest in high-quality now than risk injury or having to re-purchase gear in the near future.
The most commonly accepted price ranges for tree climbing equipment are:
- Harnesses – $50-200+
- Helmets – $50-150+
- Climbing Ropes – $100-500+
- Carabiners and Connectors – $5-25+ each
- Ascenders and Descenders – $50-200+ per device
- Climbing Boots – $50-200+
- Climbing Gloves – $15-80+
For an entire collection of tree climbing equipment, you could pay anywhere between $300 and $2,000, depending on the exact items you purchase.
Remember that this is an investment, so you want to make good decisions up front. We recommend searching for tree climbing gear sets or sales at your local outdoor shops to try to save on your total cost.
Gear Required for Tree Climbing
There are many different pieces of equipment you need to climb trees safely. Here is the primary gear you’ll need to climb trees on your own.
Tree Climbing Harnesses
Harnesses help support your body as you climb. These strappy pieces help distribute your weight evenly, so you can attach yourself to ropes or carabiners without struggle.
Harnesses also help climbers sit securely within trees, so you can stop and perform any tasks you need to, such as drinking water or cutting a branch in your way.
The main types of harnesses are sit harnesses and full-body harnesses. Sit harnesses are the most common, and have a waist belt and leg loops to hold your waist and thighs. We recommend cushioned waist belt for added comfort.
Alternatively, full-body harnesses also support your arms with shoulder straps so you’re held even more securely.
Tree climbing harnesses specifically have a low central main attachment point. It will also have some side D rings for your flipline attachment.
You should always make sure that any harness you get can hold your body weight and feels comfortable on your back, arms, and legs, or you could get seriously hurt.
Some tree climbers use a flipline, sometimes called a lanyard, to climb the tree. Fliplines are made of wire-core arborist rope so climbers can “flip” the rope to climb up the trunk.
Some lanyards are more flexible as they don’t have a wire core. Some climbers say that this makes climbing a bit easier, as the rope conforms to the tree’s shape more easily.
The flipline attaches to either side of your harness to attach you to the tree and keep you steady as you climb.
Keep in mind that this equipment is used alongside spikes.
Tree Climbing Ropes
You won’t get very far in the trees without climbing ropes!
The two main types of ropes for tree climbing are dynamic and static.
Dynamic ropes are stretchy and absorb energy in the case of a fall, which helps reduce the impact on your body.
Static ropes are less stretchy and are better suited for rigging up systems in the trees as you explore.
Always consider factors such as diameter and material when it comes to your climbing ropes. Thicker ropes tend to be able to handle more weight, though this also depends on what they’re made of. Usually, tree climbing ropes are made of braided strands of nylon or polyester.
If you look at reviews, ropes with higher rankings on “falls held” tend to be the strongest.
We also like ropes that have waterproofing on them, as this can prevent them from getting heavy or freezing if you’re climbing when it rains or is cold. UV resistance and abrasion resistance are also important for ropes used in tree climbing.
For most types of tree climbing, you should get a rope that is at least twice the approximate height of the tree you’re trying to climb.
Make sure you inspect your ropes regularly to assess for any wear and tear to prevent injury.
Ascenders, Descenders, and Prusiks
Okay, so you have your ropes, harness, and carabiners… Now how do you get in the trees? That’s where rope grabs and prusiks come into play.
Mechanical ascenders attach to your climbing ropes to help you control how you ascend, gripping the ropes tightly as you keep going up. They have a handle that you hold and use a toothed mechanism to grip the ropes to keep you in place.
There are two types of ascenders: hand and foot.
Hand ascenders require manual use of your hands as you climb, while foot ascenders help support your feet as you climb.
Descenders do the opposite. These help you get back down once you’re up in the trees. These tools have a rope channel and use friction to help you control how quickly you can descend.
The two main kinds are figure-8 descenders and mechanical descenders.
Figure-8 rope descenders use friction on the rope to help you get down, but mechanical ones are a little more advanced, using levers and cams for greater control.
We recommend using mechanical descenders as they tend to be a bit safer as you’ll have better control over your speed. They also tend to be more compatible with different rope types.
Some tree climbers prefer using a prusik instead of a mechanical ascender or descender. A prusik is a friction knot with two loops that lets you climb or descend on your climbing rope. It’s easy to make and use, though not always as secure as mechanical ascenders and descenders are.
Carabiners and Connectors
Carabiners and connectors connect the rest of your climbing gear, such as ropes and harnesses. They can also be used to attach other gear to your climbing system, such as food packs or first aid kits.
This gear is typically made of durable, lightweight material such as aluminium. However, heavier-duty carabiners are often made of steel. We tend to prefer steel carabiners, as they’re stronger and more resistant to damage compared to aluminium carabiners.
There are also many different shapes when it comes to connectors. The main shapes include:
- Asymmetrical D-shape
- Symmetrical oval shape
- Pear-shaped (called HMS)
Most tree climbing gear uses asymmetrical D-shape connectors, though other shapes can be used just as well.
They also have different opening types, including screw gate, twist lock, and auto lock. Screw gate must be manually screwed closed, but some climbers prefer these as they give you a sense of control over your safety.
Others prefer the convenience of twist lock and auto lock, which lock automatically upon being closed.
Keep in mind that you need to pick carabiners and connectors based on their strength. There are different strength ratings depending on the part of the carabiner, including major axis, minor axis, and gate strength.
Be sure to look at the weight and force capacity for each of these axes before choosing a carabiner or connector. We recommend getting carabiners or connectors that are as strong as possible, to reduce the chances of one breaking.
Spikes, sometimes called spurs, help you climb up trees using your own footrest. The spikes dig into the bark to keep you sturdy as you pull yourself up with your ascender or flipline.
Any spikes you get should fit your calves and shoes comfortably. The sturdier the straps, the more secure you will be while climbing. Look for thick straps made of durable materials like nylon or polypropylene.
Spurs can damage trees, so you only want to use them if you absolutely must. Look for natural footrests before using your spikes in the tree.
Protective Gear and Tree Climbing Clothing
You can’t just go tree climbing in any clothes.
Climbing can be tough on your body, so you want to keep as comfortable as possible using gloves and proper footwear.
Just like for any other outdoor activity, you should wear a helmet while climbing! Just think about all the branches, acorns, or pinecones that may fall on you while climbing.
Make sure the helmet you choose has a hard outer shell made of durable material. Some common materials are ABS and polycarbonate.
Your helmet should also have high impact resistance to protect your head, and ventilation to keep your head from getting too hot or sweaty while you climb.
If you plan to climb at night, finding a helmet with a headlamp is an added plus!
We highly recommend buying a pair of climbing gloves to protect your hands against climbing gear and rough tree bark. These gloves are designed to offer excellent grip, so you don’t have to worry about your hands slipping from branches or ascenders.
They also come in different levels of insulation, so consider the temperature you’ll be facing before picking a pair. Climbing trees in colder weather means you’ll likely want a warmer, more insulated pair of gloves to protect your hands against the elements.
You also need to have the proper footwear to go tree climbing.
You may want to opt against regular tennis shoes as well. Regular sneakers may not have the right traction or security that is best for your feet and ankles while you climb.
Instead, we recommend getting some durable boots or climbing shoes to keep your ankles stable as you climb, and to give you good protection on your feet as you climb.
Always make sure your climbing boots fit comfortably, and that you don’t run the risk of one falling off as you climb. They should also be somewhat flexible, so you don’t struggle to find your footing as you climb trees.
Other Tree Climbing Gear Guides
To learn more about some of our favorite tree-climbing gear, check out our other articles on this topic.
Best Tree Climbing Gear Reviews
General Guides to Tree Climbing
Tree climbing is a great outdoor activity for those wanting to explore the world from an entirely new perspective. We love being able to see things we’d otherwise never be able to see from the ground, and it’s a great opportunity for any nature photographers out there!
Remember that staying safe while tree climbing means buying safe and durable gear. From helmets to carabiners, there are many things you need to buy, so keep an eye out for sales for all of this gear.
If you’ve gone tree climbing before, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your favorite gear!