Tools of the Trade for Tree Climbing

In regard to the tools stored on my saddle, I make a conscious effort never to carry a tool that can’t perform at least two functions unless I absolutely have to, such as a first-aid kit or foot/knee ascenders. Photos courtesy of the author.

One of the greatest benefits of being a tree climber is the ability to climb the style you wish to climb, as long as it’s within the parameters set forth by the ANSI Z133 and A300 standards. We have never had so many tools available to us as an industry as we do now, and that couldn’t be more true than it is for climbers. Some of us choose to climb one style over another while others use both styles, letting the day and the work being done dictate if we choose to climb MRS (moving rope system) or SRS (stationary rope system).

But before we begin to look at all the tools, we need to start with our PPE, our personal protective equipment. First and foremost for the climber is the helmet. It needs to comply with the Z133 and the ANSI/ISEA Z89 standards and be in compliance for the work being done, such as a Class E helmet when working around electrical conductors.

Next is eye protection. With the surge of shields on the market, you now can choose eyeglass-style eye protection or opt for a visor/shield. Make sure that either the glasses or shield/visor are rated and stamped with the Z87.1 eye-protection-standard marking. In order for visors to be approved eye protection, they need to be worn in the full-down configuration and in contact with the bridge of the nose and cheeks.

Hearing protection is next, and can be accomplished with the use of earplugs or over-the-ear, muff-style protection. The key to success here is making sure the hearing protection has, at a minimum, an 85dB (decibel) rating, since it is required when 85db will be achieved over an eight-hour period.

Now that we have covered the basic PPE, let’s look at how we choose to transport/carry and organize our gear. Having your gear in an easy-to-transport and methodical layout allows for more efficient travel and setups. I prefer the Notch Pro Access Bag for my gear, as it allows me to stow all my components separately but also to open up the bag easily to retrieve what is needed. There is a multitude of gear bags on the market. Also, take a look at camping/hiking bags and even some travel luggage for ideas on how you can transport your climbing gear to the tree and then have your gear readily accessible to you and others if you need something sent up.

There is a multitude of gear bags on the market. Also, take a look at camping/hiking bags and even some travel luggage for ideas on how you can transport your climbing gear to the tree.

In my bag, my saddle is stored on top, so let’s take a look at saddles. Just like all the other tools we have talked about so far, there are a multitude of options. I encourage new climbers to talk with other climbers and read as many reviews as possible before purchasing a saddle. For your first saddle, maybe stick to one with fewer options and configurations until you learn what you do and don’t like. A higher-end saddle will allow more configurations, options and customization, but it’s hard to know what things you’ll like and want until you have climbed a little in an
entry-level saddle.

One thing to look for or make sure to get in any saddle is individual leg straps. This will provide greater freedom of movement and security in the event you become inverted, and it will help prevent fatigue. Next, I prefer a bridge as my suspension point versus D-rings due to reduced fatigue and the greater range of motion it provides. But take time and find what fits your style of climbing and what you value in a saddle.

In regard to the tools stored on my saddle, I make a conscious effort never to carry a tool that can’t perform at least two functions unless I absolutely have to, such as a first-aid kit or foot/knee ascenders. I carry a work-positioning lanyard instead of a buckstrap or flipline, because a work-positioning lanyard allows me to use it as a flipline, a second MRS climbing system, an SRS climbing system and in numerous other configurations. I carry a recoil and tear-away chain-saw lanyard with double-action carabiners versus triple-action, so they cannot get confused with providing life-support functionality. I carry a DMM Revolver carabiner and a DMM anchor ring to use as an M-rig (aka V-rig), an additional friction point on long descents or as a midline redirect or canopy anchor.

I always have my first-aid kit, which has QuikClot and a tourniquet in the event I suffer a chain-saw injury that is life threatening and I need to control the bleeding. A few additional things I carry are an additional thimble Prusik for use in my climbing or work-positioning system and at least two other triple-action, double-locking carabiners for life support.

Other tools I keep in my bag but not on my saddle all the time are things such as different anchor systems. The three I carry are the ART SnakeTail anchor, the Teufelberger flmblSaver cinch device and the Teufelberger pulleySaver for frictionless canopy anchoring for MRS climbing.

In my bag I also have my Silky handsaw. I prefer a curved blade with extra-long teeth over a straight, fine-tooth blade due to the majority of work I do. The curved XL blade is better for larger cuts found more often in removal and structural pruning, whereas a straight, fine or medium blade is better for ornamental pruning and fine pruning.

I always have my first-aid kit, which has QuikClot and a tourniquet in the event I suffer a chain-saw injury that is life threatening and I need to control the bleeding.

I also carry another first-aid kit in my bag that has an assortment of bandages, gauze, tweezers, antibiotic ointment and spray bandage. I carry a chain-saw multitool for working on small equipment, my EpiPens
in case of allergic reaction and a few odds and ends like extra throwballs, pocket wedges, retrieval cones and such. I also carry a throw-line cube with two 16-ounce weights, my 200-foot climbing line with Petzl’s Zigzag and Chicane already on the line and a few additional climbing devices. One of my favorite additional devices to carry is the Rock Exotica Akimbo, which I use primarily as a secondary system when making long traverses or when needing to redirect through an opening and not be on my primary system.

As you can see, the tool selection is almost limitless, but the key is to understand why you carry what you carry, what each item’s uses are and if it is worth the weight and clutter on your saddle. Find a way to store all your gear in an easy and efficient means and, last but not least, always make sure your PPE is up to standards and ready for work – it could be the one thing in your kit that saves your life today!

Travis Vickerson, CTSP, QCL (Qualified Crew Leader), is vice president of operations with Chippers, Inc., an accredited, 21-year TCIA member company with offices in Vermont and New Hampshire.

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2 Comments

  1. Are there any CEU quiz opportunities in the TCI magazine still. Perhaps I am over looking them but haven’t seen anything in a while.

    1. Thanks for visiting the new website, and congratulations on being the first person to leave a comment! We are working on CEU opportunities in TCI Magazine, and hopefully will be in touch with good news soon!

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