TFTC #31 How to Buy the Best Climbing Gear for You

Sherrilltree Sep 10th 2021
This could be the most difficult job you’ll ever have. But, if you stick with it long enough, it might become the best job you’ll ever have. Sadly, most ground workers don't last very long. The majority quit within the first couple years of employment. You may be inclined to do likewise, even after only a few weeks of work.

With so many options in every category, whether micro pulleys, foot ascenders, hitch cords, etc; how do you find what works best for you?

Let’s talk about the 3 E’s of gear buying—Ergonomics, Economics, and Expertise.

Evaluating these three categories will help you narrow down your selections in any category of climbing equipment.


The mistake many make in choosing new gear is putting economics before ergonomics. Why is that a mistake? While in the short term you may save 20, 30, or even 300 dollars, keep in mind the long term toll that tree work can have on the body. Surgery, recovery, and lost revenues multiply into the thousands or more, quickly! For this reason, ergonomics is a big part of the economic consideration for gear purchases.

Besides repetitive motion injuries, what about the much shorter term reality of time and energy lost on a jobsite because a system is less efficient? Sure, using a Blake’s hitch in a closed system will drop the price of a shopping cart, but how much more money could you make with a more efficient hitch cord and tending pulley helping you ascend faster, with less effort, giving you more time and energy to increase production?

Think about the efficiencies (or inefficiencies) of the gear you’re considering, and think about what effect your choice will have in the long run. Also, think about how frequently you’ll be using the gear. A mistake that new climbers make all too often is buying a “budget” kit because they aren’t climbing much at the time. Then they find themselves climbing full-time in gear that is bulky, awkward, or even painful, but they can’t replace it yet because they just made the big kit purchase 6 months prior and can’t afford another one.


Of course the balancing factor to ergonomics is economics. We looked at not using economics as the primary factor in purchases, but it is an unavoidable reality that must be considered. For example, while mechanical hitches can be more ergonomic to a degree, the initial cost may be more than you're able to swing for your first system. The right combination of hitch, rope, and pulley can be a huge improvement over older systems without breaking the bank. The goal is to get started as comfortably as possible, without getting too uncomfortable financially. As opportunities to climb increase, kit upgrades become more justifiable.

Talk to your employer to see what they might contribute to your kit. Some employers fully outfit their climbers, while others use a blended approach. If you don’t care for particular tools in the kit they offer, discuss the option of you personally buying a substitution, subject to their approval. Before making any purchase, get familiar with your employer’s equipment policies.

“Talk to your employer to see what they might contribute to your kit. Some employers fully outfit their climbers, while others use a blended approach.”


Climbers must get honest about personal levels of experience when considering new tools to add. So many close calls and, even worse, incidents, could have been avoided if the person involved had avoided using a tool they weren’t qualified to operate. It's not that climbers shouldn’t try new things or advance their production with more complex, more efficient tools, but climbers have to get serious about whether or not he/she is ready to add those devices to a setup.

There are two areas of expertise to evaluate to make the best tool selections—personal expertise and team expertise.

Personal Expertise:

In a production setting, it’s best to use gear that is familiar and doesn’t take your focus from the task at hand. If you’re worried about a new device while executing a technical maneuver, you’re more likely to make a mistake. Remember, mistakes aloft aren’t just potentially expensive, they’re potentially deadly. Mark Chisolm, one of the best-known, most skilled climbers in the industry, once shared an experience of switching climbing devices mid-climb to something more familiar, because the wind had picked up and he was close to power lines. He didn’t want the mental load of working with a newer device to distract him from the hazardous environment. When the ego comes whispering to you, remember that even the best in the game are subject to the law of learning curve.

Here are questions to consider for personal evaluation:

  • Have I used this tool before?
  • How long?
  • How well do I understand how this tool works?
  • Do I understand the limitations and proper inspection of this tool?
  • Do I know how to function without this tool if necessary?

Team Expertise:

Team Expertise is the skill and experience of those around you, whether at your place of employment or personal community of fellow climbers. Online community doesn’t count here. We’re talking people you climb with side by side. So why does team expertise matter? If the people around you don’t understand the tools you want to buy, do you have a plan for developing your own understanding? Are you comfortable going it alone in figuring out new tools and techniques? Even if you say yes, know that without quality team expertise you are at greater risk than someone surrounded by qualified, competent professionals. To evaluate the expertise of your team, ask these questions-

  • Who is my team?
  • Are they committed to safe work practices?
  • Do they use and understand the tools I want to add to my kit?
  • Are they willing to help me understand and incorporate new tools into my climbing?

Putting It All Together

The 3 E’s will produce different results for people in different situations. That’s the beauty- they must be used as checks and balances with one another to yield the best decision for you in your current situation and direction. When a circumstance changes, so will the “best” choice. There are a lot of great tools available today. Use the 3 E’s to assemble your best kit, and go enjoy life in the canopy!