In the fast-paced, ever-evolving world of production tree care, improving one’s climbing skills can come in a variety of forms. Often climbers assume that they must always use the newest gear, tool or technique to stay current in the industry. This often leads to a pile of unused, expensive gear that seemed like just the thing at the time, but now awaits resale.

This is not to say that new gear and innovation are not a great way to advance and become a better climber. Certainly they play a role and can be invaluable in the improvement of safety and productivity. However, climbers can improve their skills and become better rounded without spending a dime. In this article we will look at four simple strategies for improving climbing performance that won’t hit you in the wallet.

First, we’ll look at leaving the pole tools behind. Second, we will explore a free training outlet that all climbers should use, regardless of skill level or experience. Third, we will examine a simple method to get more out of what you currently own. Lastly, we will discuss the simplest trick of them all, but one that is often overlooked.

Don’t add, subtract

The default attitude among many production tree climbers is to add to their arsenal of tools to improve climbing. I propose we subtract something. Let’s forgo the use of pole saws and clips. First, let me state that I believe these types of tools can be useful and have a place in modern arboriculture. However, in my own career as a climber, I have found myself using one simply as a default. For me it became a bit of a crutch. I would make cuts from a distance for no reason.

By consciously not unsheathing the pole tools for every climb, I forced myself to climb more. I had to go out on those limbs and get up close and personal with my cuts. This resulted in two things: it made for better cuts, which is the point of pruning; and it made me a better climber, because I had to change my climbing plans and style to suit the work I needed to do.

Yes, there are situations where a pole saw or clip is the tool for the job, but there are many times when it is used out of convenience and/or habit. Use the right tool for the job at hand, but don’t use a tool just because you can.

Watch, compete or volunteer

I spend a good deal of time traveling and training tree men and women in climbing skills. Inevitably the questions arise: “Where can I get some more good training?” “How do I get trained to move to the next level?” “This was great, when can we do it again?”

Almost daily I see the value of a well-executed, well-planned, formal training course. I highly recommend them as an avenue for climber improvement. They are not the only method though. Attend a Tree Climbing Championship (TCC). The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) website ( has information on the International Tree Climbing Championship (ITCC). Most, if not all, local chapters host yearly events, and many arborist associations also hold events.

TCCs are a great way to learn and interact with other climbers in a friendly environment. Information and camaraderie are readily available and there for the taking. Learn by doing, seeing and hearing all in one place. New to the scene and not sure of your skills? Go and watch. If you really want to accelerate your climbing, compete side by side with the best your region has to offer. Not interested in competition? Then volunteer. Observe new climbing techniques first hand, up close, live and in color. All three are great ways to get exposure to the newest and most fun aspect of tree climbing.

Rob Kruljac tends slack before continuing. Focusing on basic techniques will improve climbing. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Rob Kruljac tends slack before continuing. Focusing on basic techniques will improve climbing. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Many times I have desired a better way to climb or ascend and figured I needed new gear. After struggling with learning the ins and outs, ups and downs of new equipment, I find I could have done what I wanted with the tools I already had. What needed updating was my perspective!

Before you go buy new stuff, sit down and determine just what you are after. Is it better work positioning? Faster, more efficient ascent? Whatever it is, define it, then figure out what it consists of. For instance, if you find yourself tired at the end of the day because you spend your whole climb clinging onto branches trying not to slip, an improvement in rope angles might be just what the doctor ordered.

So, how do we go about this? Redirects are a great way to get more comfortable in the tree and come in many ways, shapes and forms. Revisit simple redirect techniques first. If that doesn’t help, take it a step up and employ some loop runners and life support-rated hardware. Better? If not, research retrievable redirects and look into single line work positioning techniques.

Still clinging to branches with one hand while you cut with the other all day long? Perhaps your climbing line angles are acceptable, but you lanyard is lacking. Revisit you second point of attachment. Change it slowly with what you have on hand and make sure it is properly rated. Once you get a system or technique that helps improve your climbing, then look to buy gear to streamline it or make it more efficient or simpler to employ. Diagnose the problem first, and then proceed with treatment, not the other way around.

Back to the beginning

Finally, we will look at one simple trick to improve your climbing. When we started this article, we agreed that production tree climbing is fast-paced and evolving. This is all well and good as the methods and tools available now make us safer and more efficient, leading to longer careers in the trees with less abuse to tree and climber. However, for all the good of new methods and tools, don’t be afraid to occasionally leave it all behind and go back to your roots.

Leaving you current system on the ground and climbing with a simple system will awaken you sensibilities. You will quickly remember why you do it the way you do now. You appreciate those tricks and tools, so common, yet so recent. Going back to a simple system will refresh your perspective and invite you to see your climbing with a beginner’s mind.

Should you choose to try this, choose a time when you can sacrifice a bit of convenience and comfort, but still remain safe and efficient. I love to go back to basics on small pruning jobs.

Sometimes the answer is not advanced new gear, but better application of tried and tested equipment. Photo: Tony Tresselt

Sometimes the answer is not advanced new gear, but better application of tried and tested equipment. Photo: Tony Tresselt

There are many ways to become a better climber. New tools and techniques can go a long way. However, growing your skills and perspective are important attributes to having a long and healthy career as a climbing arborist. As always, there is more than one way to improve. Don’t forget to take simple steps to achieve your goal. Use pole tools only when necessary, striving to use the right tool for the job. Take part as competitor, spectator and/or volunteer at a TCC or the ITCC soon. The experience is worth the time, and the cost will fit any budget. Define the problem and try to solve climbing deficiencies with what you have on hand. Do not be tempted to treat symptoms by buying new gear before you need it. Do not forget to go back to basics and remember where your skills evolved from. It can be an eye-opening experience.

As always, whatever you do, do it safely and continue to increase your experience and knowledge.