The last decade has seen a large influx of new climbing equipment that can potentially make climbing safer and more efficient. But it is important we use products that are reliable, safe and intended for tree care, so we can keep our focus on the work to be done and doing it safely. And how do we do that?
Part 1 of this article, “Seven Important Questions to Ask When Buying Climbing Gear, Part 1” (TCI Magazine, May 2023), looked at the first three of seven questions aimed at helping you decide if a product is the best product for you.
1: Do the features and benefits of what I’m buying align with the intended use?
2: Would the consequences of equipment failure exceed my tolerance level?
3: Does the equipment meet safety and industry standards?
This article now picks up where Part 1 left off.
Question 4: Are the instructions comprehensive?
This piece of the buying decision might actually be easier to accomplish online than in person. That’s because product instructions are becoming a thing of the past, at least the “hard” copies that accompany the product. There should be guidance with the product on where to get the instructions online, e.g., a QR code. If not, that’s a red flag.
Some of the information to look for within the instructions may include the following:
Manufacturer name and address.
- It’s good to know where the product is being manufactured.
Serial number and markings decoder.
- This should tell you the date the item was manufactured. Are you receiving an item that “sat on the shelf” for years?
Standards the product adheres to.
- It can get tricky when the manufacturer is in a different country than your applicable standards. This one can take considerable effort. See Question #3 in Part 1 of this article.
- If you are a person of average size, then this probably doesn’t matter. If you are not, then understanding size range can avoid annoying and sometimes dangerous misfitting.
- Infinite? Ten years? Single use? Understanding what the manufacturer says about life expectancy of their product helps align your expectations and justify (or not) the cost.
Compatibility or incompatibility with other equipment.
- If your new gear is going to interact with other gear, then the compatibility consideration is real.
How to use the equipment.
- Is it thorough? Does it include detailed diagrams or pictures? Thorough instructions are a significant investment that can be a good indication of how committed the company is to its customers.
How not to use the equipment (this information can be important as well).
*See previous bullet point.
- Maintenance (cleaning, disinfecting, storage, lubrication, etc.).
- Retirement criteria.
- Area to write inspection and maintenance information.
- Available accessories.
In general, if you are searching for information about a product and are unable to find it in the instructions, you should start to be concerned. Perhaps contact the manufacturer, a trusted distributor or a competent colleague. Lastly, don’t be intimidated by long instructions. Often, the manufacturer is required to provide instructions in many different languages, so a 25-page instruction booklet might only include one page in your preferred language.
Question 5: Is the manufacturer reputable?
Brand-loyal customers are more likely to purchase products from their preferred manufacturer. Brand loyalty exists for products ranging from trucks to carabiners. One factor that can lead to brand loyalty is if a manufacturer is reputable.
In this industry, your life can literally be hanging on the line, so having trust in the manufacturer and product is important!
Consider the first time you heard about a manufacturer. How did you determine if they were the real deal? How did you build trust? Trust needs to be earned, and there are different ways manufacturers gain trust. Manufacturers can gain trust through longevity, transparency and commitment to the industry, to name a few ways. When making a purchase, you should ask yourself, “Do I trust this manufacturer?” If you aren’t certain of your answer, you should investigate further. A common way to find reputable companies is to ask your peer groups who they trust.
Beyond a feeling of trust, you also can look to see how accountable a company is. A reputable company will make contacting them easy. If you have a complaint or compliment, the manufacturer should make it easy to contact them and then be responsive to your comment.
Determining a reputable company
Should you have a complaint, does the company have a means of recalling their product? If they use serial numbers, they likely have a way to recall a certain batch of their product to ensure nothing defective remains in the hands of end users. In addition, does the manufacturer issue recalls or safety notices? This is a good sign that they take accountability for their product, listen to their end users and are constantly improving.
Manufacturers who need to meet industry standards in the manufacturing process should clearly state the applicable standards. Manufacturers will often ensure quality standards are clearly marked on websites and products and in advertisements. This is not much different from how an arborist will clearly indicate to customers their certifications or credentials.
Question 6: Is the seller reputable?
What makes them reputable? Much like with the manufacturer, it is our responsibility to determine what makes for a reputable seller. It could be as simple as saying, “If they sell any product from a manufacturer I respect, then that’s enough.” But is it enough? Do you know you are actually getting the product they’ve advertised?
Consider the following analogy. If you wanted to purchase a great breakfast and chose a diner with six menu items, all breakfast, your chances of getting a great breakfast are high. If they didn’t make a good breakfast, their chances of staying open become slim as their reputation diminishes. Comparatively, if you went to a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll still likely get a good breakfast, but the kitchen staff may be less focused on a great breakfast, since they’re also preparing several other meals. Finally, if you went to a restaurant that also has an arcade, sells novelty items and has a bowling alley in the back, chances are they are less interested in your breakfast experience.
Let’s translate this to seller terms. If you purchased tree-climbing gear from a seller who only sells to arborists, your chances of getting good gear are high. If they sold poor-quality products, their chances of staying in business become slim as their reputation is affected.
Many of our sellers market themselves to several at-height industries. This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that, as customers, we need to be more diligent about ensuring the products we are purchasing are approved for tree care. A screw-gate carabiner may be appropriate for rock climbing, but not for trees. Finally, sellers who sell anything and everything have no accountability to the tree-climbing community, and they can afford to lose us as a market.
So then, how do you choose a good seller? Look for accountability. Same with manufacturers. It’s a good sign if you can get someone on the phone who knows the products and will take accountability if something goes wrong with a purchase. You also can ask sellers what their process is for introducing new equipment to their store. A good company will have key people who research the product and its manufacturer to ensure quality.
Question 7: Is pricing in line with similar products from reputable companies?
If the price is too good to be true, it probably is! When shopping for a product, research the common price. Look to multiple vendors selling the same product and see if the price is close. You also can compare similar items. Vendors may be able to negotiate better prices on products, but if the price is substantially lower, it may be worth checking further on the product.
A stereotypical example of a knock-off is a designer product like a Rolex or an Oakley. If I am hopeful of purchasing a legitimate product, I should be skeptical of the person selling the item for a tenth of the cost from their car trunk a block away from the retail store. Counterfeit products are not prevalent in our industry, but we have seen items that appear to be knock-offs, i.e., designed to closely resemble or appear to be the authentic product. These knock-offs may not be tested to the same standards.
Products often require an investment in research, development and testing. This investment in R&D may be reflected in the price of the product. Manufacturers can potentially reduce the cost of a product by copying a product on which another company has already done the R&D. A substantial price difference could indicate the product is of inferior quality or not tested to the same standards.
In the absence of comprehensive regulations, it is up to us, as the end users, to determine what criteria we employ for determining what equipment is safe to use. There is no right answer, but getting it wrong could spell disaster. We leave you with some parting words of wisdom.
Don’t make assumptions.
Just because you saw another climber using the product, or you saw it on a website or even in a booth on a trade-show floor, do not assume the product is safe for use. Do your research. Find out from other climbers what research they did. Build your own trust with that product.
Reach out to your (qualified) peers.
There is a reason three of us wrote this article. No one person can know everything. Our strength as an industry is our collective knowledge and willingness to share vital information with one another. Leverage your network, including building connections with manufacturers and sellers. A reputable company will appreciate being asked, particularly a manufacturer that spent good money on product development and testing.
Proceed with caution.
A lack of any one of these things doesn’t mean the product is necessarily bad. The U.S. does not have good standards for our manufacturers, so there could be inconsistencies even among reputable manufacturers. But if you start to see a pattern of red flags, stop and reevaluate.
Keep asking questions (lots of them).
Inquire directly with manufacturers and sellers. If something isn’t adding up, or you can tell you’re getting the runaround, they might be trying to hide something. But if you can reach a real person who will answer questions clearly, that is a good sign. It is a good sign they know what they are talking about and that it’s important to them that you understand.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
If the price is too inconsistent with similar products on the market, something could be wrong. Much like if you found a truck on Marketplace or Craigslist for $25,000 under Kelley Blue Book, you would be suspicious. Compare prices with other sellers and make sure you aren’t getting duped.
Look for indications that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind its product. This could include a product guarantee, a contact page dedicated to guiding you to the right person on staff to answer your questions or even just a working phone number. It costs a lot for a manufacturer to go through all the right channels, gaining proper testing. If you want to support these companies and future innovations, purchase responsibly.
Determine your own personal criteria for what’s OK.
With U.S. standards as minimal as they are, it is up to you to determine how much digging is necessary. Perhaps you just want to see an EN marking. Perhaps just seeing it on a reputable seller’s website is enough for you. Or maybe you really want to dig and find that declaration of conformity and visit the testing facility. That might be a bit much (and expensive), but it is entirely up to you how much homework you want to do. Consider developing a company policy so you can consistently evaluate new equipment brought into the field.
At the end of the day, it is your life – and those of your employees – on the line. What’s it worth to you or them?
This article was based on the trio’s presentation on the same subject during TCI EXPO ’22 in Charlotte, North Carolina. To listen to an audio recording created for that presentation, go to TCI Magazine online at tcimag.tcia.org and, under the Resources tab, click Audio. Or, under the Current Issue tab, click View Digimag, then go to this page and click here.
Special thanks to the following contributors:
Kevin Bingham (Singing Tree), Fabio Cardarelli (Kask), Chris Cowell (Treemagineers), Chris Delavera (Buckingham Mfg.), Jason Diehl (@Height), Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll (Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop), Brandon Nance (Sherrilltree), Tobe Sherrill (Sherrilltree) and Bill Weber (Arborwear).
Tim Bushnell, CTSP and ISA Certified Arborist, is an arborist-skills specialist with The Davey Tree Expert Company, an accredited, 49-year TCIA member company based in Kent, Ohio. He chaired the ANSI A300 Committee and participated as a voting member in current and previous ANSI Z133 revisions (2006 and 2012). Tim is a past head technician for ISA’s ITCC. Most recently, he received the TCIA Pat Felix Volunteer of the Year Award and ISA’s Millard F. Blair Award for Exceptional Contribution to Practical Arboriculture.
Alex Julius (she/her) is the employee-development and safety-training specialist at The Davey Tree Expert Company. She is a Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA) and Certified Tree Worker Climber Specialist, and is Tree Risk Assessment Qualified. She is the co-author of “Tree Climbers’ Guide (4th edition),” and resides in Urbana, Illinois.
Emmett Shutts, CTSP, is a supervisor of arborist-skills trainers at The Davey Tree Expert Company. He is a Connecticut Licensed Arborist and lives in Connecticut with his wife and two sons.