This lanyard can be used in an SL configuration, but remain a DbL lanyard.

By its most basic definition, a lanyard is simply a short length of rope or line for securing something. While this definition is true of personal protective lanyards used for climbing in production tree work, a new, more comprehensive definition must be considered. With forethought, planning and proper material selection, a lanyard can become a supplemental positioning system, a second means of attachment and an asset to overall climbing productivity and safety. This new definition is what we will consider in this article.

Single line vs. double line

Lanyards, like climbing or work positioning systems, can be set in two types of configurations: single line (SL) and double line (DbL). Understanding how forces are applied and the resulting reactionary forces involved is crucial. A DbL system is what tree climbers are most familiar with. In this configuration, the climber is part of the loop that encompasses the tie-in point (TIP), the fall and the lead. If a climber weighs 200 pounds, then the anchor must support that weight, but the lanyard adjuster (knot or mechanical device) only sees roughly half of the climber’s weight.

This is markedly different from an SL system. Here, if the climber weighs 200 pounds, the anchor experiences the same weight. However, the adjuster must bear the full weight of the climber. Depending on knot or mechanical adjuster choice as well as the cordage materials used, this can make a world of difference in function and safety.

In an SL lanyard, most knots will hold well-in fact, they may hold too well. The increased weight may cause the knot to overtighten and be difficult, if not impossible, to adjust. In general, Prusik-type knots tend to overtighten in SL configurations. Using a knot is possible, but a knot must be chosen that works well when the lanyard is switched back to a DbL configuration. Internal cam mechanical adjusters are usually preferred for SL, but they are not the only effective device. One solution is to loop the lanyard back to itself by use of a micro mouse pulley. This set-up mirrors a split-tail climbing system and can be very efficient if a climber switches from SL to DbL lanyard positioning often.

Here are two examples of how to keep from cross-loading a snap or carabiner when choking an SL lanyard to a TIP.

There is one more safety concern to consider when using SL lanyard techniques. DbL lanyard systems are typically attached to the side D rings of the climbing saddle, which works well because the climber is supported in a stable position with his weight distributed between two points on the saddle. When a climber switches to an SL system, the anchor or connecting link that attaches the climber to the adjuster must be moved to a central, life support-rated position on the saddle. By definition, the SL system will have only one point of attachment to the saddle. The side D rings are designed to be used in conjunction with each other or another appropriate point of attachment. If an SL lanyard is set off to the side on a single D ring, should a slip or fall happen, the climber will be in a poor, and perhaps dangerous, position. By switching to a central point, the saddle will support the climber as designed should a slip or fall occur. At no time should an SL lanyard be solely attached to a single side D ring of a work positioning saddle.


The term interfaces refers to how the components of a system fit and work together. An interface is said to be good or smooth if the pieces or components of the system work smoothly in the intended way in conjunction with each other. Lanyard interfaces are important for a number of reasons. First, because lanyards are meant for life support, all the components must meet the minimum ANSI life support requirements. Second, a wide variety of materials are available with which to construct a lanyard. Its operation must be consistent and secure. A lanyard that slips or conversely tightens up, not allowing easy adjustment, won’t benefit, but instead hinder, and in some situations, become dangerous.

A slip knot is used to attach to the TIP with an SL lanyard.

How the lanyard attaches to the work positioning saddle is also important. As stated earlier, for a lanyard to move from a DbL scenario to an SL one, its point of attachment or interface with the climbing saddle must move to a central, life support-rated position. Some climbers prefer to tie their adjustment knot directly to the side D ring. This is considered a smooth interface. It reduces the number of components necessary, and hence, complexity and weight. However, it makes moving the interface difficult and all but impossible during a climb. Many climbers also have one or more lanyards of different lengths and/or configurations. The ability to switch systems can be a great help, but a knotted interface between saddle and lanyard precludes this ability, or at best makes it time-consuming. These examples highlight the importance of interface choices and how they affect the overall usefulness, diversity and consistency of a chosen lanyard system.

Connecting the lanyard system to the saddle via screw link has the same drawbacks. To be secure, a screw link should be tightened with a wrench, and some sort of locking fluid should be used to secure the threads. Screw links offer a different level of shape, size and configuration to saddle attachments compared to lanyards and may be just the ticket for some climbers. But, like knotting directly to the D ring, screw links have some limitations.

Two useful adjuster knots are the Knute and the Michoacán. Because of their construction, they tend to work well with or without a slack tending pulley.

The number of materials available for lanyard construction is huge and growing. Interface between the lanyard cordage and adjuster material is vital for safety and ease of use. Start with combos you know work well with climbing systems. Remember, if a Prusik or Prusik-type knot is used, the knot cordage should be about 1/8 inch smaller than the lanyard cordage. As a general rule, the smaller the knot cordage the tighter the grip. If a mechanical adjuster is used, be sure the lanyard cordage is of the proper size. Many of these adjusters are designed for lines less than the traditional half inch. A line that is too large or small in these devices will inhibit the proper functioning.

Do’s, don’ts, suggestions and tips

Lanyards, like all parts of the climbing system, need a blend of form and function. Care should be taken to develop a system that works under most situations regularly encountered. For example, do not use wire core lanyards in proximity to electrical conductors. The chances of conductivity are too great. If you require a stiff lanyard, there are some all-rope materials out there that may meet your needs without exposing you to unnecessary risk.

A Prusik is used to attach to the TIP with an SL lanyard. The Prusik usually starts attached to the lanyard all the time and can be used to tend excess slack when not in use.

Make sure all hardware and cordage are ANSI life support rated and appropriate for tree work. Some mechanical adjusters, while excellent in other high-angle disciplines, are not up to the rigors of daily production treework. Overcomplicating a system is also a danger. When using mechanical adjusters, some climbers prefer to connect the device to their saddle with a short, life support rated sling. This gives the lanyard better rotation capacity and is lighter than a carabiner or screw link. However, like tying a knot adjuster to the D ring, it is hard to switch the lanyard position.

Working a swivel into the lanyard system is a good way to gain versatility and safety. One can be incorporated at the saddle interface or at the connecting sling on the working end. Another way to simplify your system is to eliminate the slack tender pulley by passing the running end of the lanyard through the D ring or connecting link. As long as the D ring is smaller than the adjuster knot, it will act to tend the knot when adjusting the length shorter. Be careful, if the knot slips through the “D”, it will tend backwards.

Here is a lanyard adjuster tied to the D ring of a saddle.

Positioning lanyards are often used on smaller TIPs in the outer canopy. Select TIPs carefully to balance as needed and support when necessary. Always consider the worst-case scenario and plan accordingly. Make lanyard lengths suitable to your climbing style and usage. Don’t fall into the dogma that lanyards should be short. Use any length that offers a good range of adjustability and balances weight concerns with usefulness. Multiple lanyards in your gear bag may also be a solution. Don’t get lost in the search for the silver bullet of lanyards. As always, practice new techniques low and slow. Find a system that is effective for your work situations. Versatility is the hallmark of a skilled climber and a functional lanyard system.

In Diagram 1 (top), A lanyard in this configuration will place half the climber’s weight on the adjuster. In Diagram 2 (bottom), The full weight of the climber is on the adjuster. This difference can have dramatic effects on the lanyard system and must be accounted for in choice of adjuster.

We have redefined the climbing lanyard. While names like “chicken strap” and “scary strap” will always persist in our often-humorous vernacular, lanyards are really secondary support systems. They can be used in two general configurations, SL and DbL, both with benefits and concerns to be evaluated. Interfaces at all levels of the lanyard system must be smooth and safe. Experience and practice will help you develop a lanyard system or systems that work for you. Start by comparing notes with colleagues, qualified trainers and other resources. The right combination exists. It is up to the climber to discover it.

Tony Tresselt, a writer, ISA certified arborist, TCIA certified tree care safety professional and instructor for North American Training Solutions, works for Arborist Enterprises in Lancaster, Pa.