TFTC #15 Tree Climber's Checklist

North American Training Solutions Apr 29th 2020

The act of climbing a tree for production arboriculture is a complex task that should be treated with planning and preparation. The amount of tools and techniques available for the modern climbing arborist is vast and growing. The ability to choose the right tool or technique for any given situation and then apply it safely and efficiently is more important than ever.

With so many options available, it can help to break the task of production climbing down into workable phases to help simplify and categorize choices. While no two jobs or trees are the same, we can put the task of tree climbing into four broad categories. This helps us evaluate the tasks and assign appropriate tools and techniques for the greatest safety and efficiency.

There are many ways to do what I just proposed. Many books, trainers and educators have a system or method, all with similar goals. Take ideas from others and create a system as needed to suit your job and daily tasks. By all means use what works for you, but use it, do it!

The most important part of the process is not the specifics of how you do it. The most important part is actually doing the pre-planning. The greatest plan is worthless if never made or made and never acted on. So many hassles, injuries and outright deaths can be avoided by simply planning ahead in a thorough, systematic way.

Phase 1: Inspection

Phase One: Inspection

InspectionThis should include a consistent, thorough outer, then inner perimeter survey of the tree, looking for hazards and obstacles in, on and/or around the tree or worksite. Look for red flag hazards. These “flags” might not mean the tree or task is unsafe, but attention, inspection, assessment and planning are required.

Construct a list of the most common hazards and obstacles in your immediate work area. Get input from the whole crew and make a list. Nobody knows your area and work like you do. Take the time to consider the problems you face regularly and common solutions that will make your day safer and more efficient.

Identifying potential problems or concerns is always the first step in mitigating them. Inspection should also be ongoing. As the job changes, so may the hazards and the needs of the crew to manage the work safely. Be sure to constantly assess as work progresses. Take the time to gather the crew and change the plan accordingly if necessary. Make sure everybody on site understands the task and hazards and is in on the work plan.

Phase Two: Ascent

AscentModern climbers employ any number of methods to gain access to the tree quickly and efficiently. A quick trip to the top, establishing a secure anchor, then getting to work is common with proven efficiencies in many situations.

However, while efficient, setting a remote anchor point lacks the up close and personal inspection methods of days gone by. Use good judgment and look for ways to be redundant in systems as well as anchors when setting remotely inspected anchors. You can decrease or outright shed the redundancy once a more thorough evaluation of the anchor has been made.

Ascent methods may or may not be appropriate depending on the tree or work to be completed. Knowing which ascent system lends itself to which situation is key. Develop an ascent system that works well for you, your climbing style and the heights you encounter daily. Be sure to train your crew in how it works and what to do if anything goes awry.

If you employ base anchors or “lower-able” systems, ensure all members of the crew are aware of the advantages and limitations. Tree work is a team effort. The crew must not, through ignorance, create or add to already existing hazards.

Phase Three: Work Positioning

Work PositioningThis is the largest phase and the one climbers are likely to spend the most time in. It consists of the up, down and lateral movement in the tree using rope and/or tree structure to accomplish the assigned work tasks. This lateral movement in a tree is what sets climbing arborists apart from other high angle work.

Throw into the mix sharp objects and a constantly changing, organic structure to climb and you get tree work! Use the structure of the tree in its strongest fashion. Develop work positioning plans and techniques that allow you two hands to work comfortably and without the obtrusive interference of gravity!

When cutting, use a second attachment point if it does not create or exacerbate an existing hazard. Use tools and equipment as designed and within the manufacturer specified limitations. Inventing stuff is all good, but make sure your ideas and equipment co-exist and work within the confines of industry standards and best practices.

Again, many options for good, proper work positioning exist and may or may not be suited to the tree or the climber's ability and/or situation. Defining the best methods commonly used will help get work done as well as identify gaps in skill and/or training.

Phase Four: Descent

DescentThis is the least common phase to be considered, but still worth mentioning. Devising an efficient plan for straight down descent can be quick and efficient, allowing the climber many options that save effort as well as wear and tear on his or her gear. Not all descents are created equal. Often long descents generate excessive heat that a standard work positioning system may struggle with. Often crane assisted removals involve long mid-air descents that can quickly wear or diminish the functioning of normal work positioning systems.

If your job tasks often find you performing long descents, take the time to check into some straight forward descent systems and equipment. Incorporate them as necessary and reap the benefits of an expanding skill set.


Taking the time to break down the complicated task of modern production climbing allows climbers and managers to assess tree and site needs along with safety concerns. It also allows the climbers to apply the best, safest, most efficient tools, techniques and equipment to the job.

Planning and forethought go a long way to a safer, more efficient day. After all, production is defined by efficiency accomplished safely. Follow industry standards and best practices and develop of “checklist” of protocol and procedure. It is not as daunting as it sounds and the benefits are enormous in time savings and safety. Above all, make sure that any plan or process you develop is clear, as concise as possible, and most importantly, put into action.

Download the Checklist: Click here