Get the right work wear to dress for success
When your life is on the line, literally, it’s easy to appreciate a good quality climbing rope. The same goes for equipment. Without a quality saw or saddle, work can be slow, unpredictable and even unsafe.
What about the rest of an arborist’s outfit? The shirt, pants, boots, gloves, helmet, etc., that tree care professionals don every day. These accessories are also important when it comes to working comfortably, safely and efficiently, and few professions dish out as much wardrobe abuse as the tree care industry, so the garments have to be ultra durable, as well.
Clay Thornton, with arborist gear supplier SherrillTree, says many customers order apparel along with their equipment, understanding that both are important in the tree business. In particular, he says, high-visibility safety vests are popular. “In some settings, such as when working near a highway, these might be a requirement, but they’re very helpful on any job site, just so people within the crew can see each other. It helps with safety for everyone to be noticed, for example, if they’re backing up trucks or moving equipment around. And, in particular, it’s important for those in the tree to be able to see those on the ground,” says Thornton.
SherrillTree is offering a safety apparel “starter kit,” which includes a high-visibility vest, a high-visibility shirt and several other basic items. “We also have a ‘tear-away’ vest, that anyone using a chipper or grinder should use,” Thornton says. “It’s made in two or three pieces, so if a piece of equipment grabs one part of the vest it simply breaks off rather than yanking the person wearing it into the machine.”
SherrillTree carries the Arborwear line of clothing, which is popular in the industry. “The durability, the way the clothing fits, the number of pockets, people really like them,” says Thornton.
For those working with trees day in and day out, it’s hard to put a price on safety and comfort, stresses Thornton. “The clothing and saddle they buy really make a difference in keeping fatigue down and lessening the chance of accidents, especially late in the day,” he says.
Bill Weber of Arborwear says that was one of the key factors in the design of the new polyester blend Dri-Release Tech T-shirts. “Our moisture-wicking T-shirts keep you cool, and it’s in an employer’s best interest to keep their employees cool on the job so that they’re levelheaded and making good decisions. When you get hot and delirious, you can start making mistakes,” he explains. Not surprisingly, these work shirts have proven to be popular. Arborwear is also working with materials such as nylon and polyester that offer additional performance features in certain models of shirts and pants.
Weber says that, in addition to working comfortably and safely, more tree care firms are now using work apparel to help present a professional appearance. While Arborwear started with one model of pants and one shirt, Weber says there is now an entire array of clothing options. “We even have a uniform program, where we can outfit an employee or a whole company head-to-toe, complete with their company logo,” he adds. One uniform option is Arborwear’s new button dress shirt, which can be used for meeting with clients, as well as light work. “Arborists are highly trained professionals, and people need to set themselves apart with a professional look,” says Weber.
Jeff Elarton with Treeman Supply, which carries the Arborwear line, says that the cold weather experienced in many parts of the country this winter has made one particular clothing product very popular. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in Arborwear’s new double-thick, zip-up sweatshirt,” Elarton explains.
Treeman Supply will also be carrying the latest Italian-made Kask work helmet. “The comfort is really impressive with these,” says Elarton.
Perhaps no part of a work wardrobe has a greater impact on performance and comfort than footwear. Kris Oman, with West Coast Shoe Co. (Wesco), which offers a number of high-quality boots, says footwear should be selected depending on the application. For tree removal work, the company’s Highliner boot offers maximum protection against getting crow’s foot from wearing gaffs. “Gaffs aren’t being used as much in the tree care industry anymore, so Wesco offers a number of other boots, such as our Jobmaster,” says Oman. “Unlike hiking boots, which some people have gone to, these offer steel shanks for arch support, which is really important when you’re standing on a branch.” The company also manufacturers a number of other models for ground work with different types of soles.
West Coast is now offering a boot with Kevlar thread stitching, which helps the boots stand up to the extreme abrasion encountered in tree climbing. “That material is particularly popular with tree care professionals in the South, where they have a lot of palm trees, because they really tend to cut through traditional tread,” Oman explains. And, when time does finally take it’s toll, he says that West Coast’s boots are rebuildable, allowing wearers to send them back, and, in many cases, they can be rebuilt. “That process often is cheaper than buying a pair of lesser-quality boots,” Oman adds.
In addition to the manufacturers and distributors above, we also talked to four tree care professionals to find out what they personally wear out on the job.
Tom Morra, Tom’s Tree Care, Providence, R.I.
“I’m pushing 40 now, so I’ve learned to appreciate things that make my job easier,” says Tom Morra, a certified arborist. Apparel is one of those things that can make tree work either easier or more difficult, depending on quality, he says.
“For tree climbing, Arborwear is a really good product,” he says. “I use their Tech pants. They really hold up well. I also use their double-knee and flannel-lined pants. It’s durable stuff for all seasons.” For ground work, Morra often wears Carhartt pants.
When climbing, he wears a variety of Merrell and Columbia hiking boots. While not designed for tree work, there are similarities between climbing trees and mountains, he observes. “They’re made for getting used in rough terrain, so they work.” When working on the ground, he opts for Chippewa work boots.
Morra prefers Atlas gloves when tree climbing, regular weight in the summer and the company’s Thermafit rubber-coated gloves (with a layer of air for insulation) in the winter. “They’re tight-fitting and offer protection when handling ropes,” he says.
On his head, Morra wears the same helmet for climbing and ground work: a Petzl Ecrin Roc. “It’s one of the most popular helmets. It’s got a suspension system inside so it fits really well. It offers good protection and it’s ventilated,” he says. “Attached to it, I use the forestry earmuffs/face shield package. I can work up in the tree with it, and then come down and use the chain saw and chip brush with the same helmet. I don’t have to keep switching back and forth.”
David Schaldach, Arbor Vital Tree Care, Boulder, Colo.
Certified Arborist David Schaldach picks pants that can stand up to the rigors of tree work. “I wear Carhartt. I buy the unwashed models with the double-thick thigh area and back pockets,” he explains. “The back pockets are an area of heavy wear, so if they’re not double-thick, they wear through, and then anything you put in the back pockets can fall out. With these, if they start wearing, there’s still a second layer of material there.”
Cotton T-shirts or turtlenecks are Schaldach’s preference for tops. “If it’s colder, I wear fleece pullovers,” he says. “I’ve found that fleece is amazingly tough. The first fleece pullover I bought I wore every day in the winter for almost five years. Fleece material is made from plastic, and it just wears incredibly well and stands up to tree work.”
Schaldach wears Red Wing logger boots when doing tree removals. “Then I’m climbing with spurs, and you need something really solid,” he explains. “For pruning, I wear a light hiking boot. They have good flexibility, grip and the light weight helps out during a long day of work.”
For hand protection, as well as dexterity, Schaldach opts for Golden Gripper gloves (by Wells Lamont). He wears a Pacific Kevlar helmet with a brim in front and attached earmuffs, adding, “I like to wear a thin hat underneath the helmet. In the summer I wear a cotton beret to absorb sweat; in the winter, I wear a thin microfleece beret for warmth. It really helps with the comfort, rather than having the helmet right on your head. The little bit of material really helps.”
Schaldach “wears ear and eye protection religiously,” and has found that Croakies eyewear retainers, which connect to the frame of glasses and loop over the wearer’s neck, can be a huge help with safety glasses. “Sometimes when you’re climbing, a twig can snag the glasses and knock them off. That’s a hassle, because then you have to get your ground man to find them, and tie them to the rope and get them back in the tree. The Croakies really save a lot of time.”
Doug Metcalf, Aerial Arborist Tree Service, Pittsburgh, Pa.
“Good boots are a key thing,” says Doug Metcalf. “Up in a tree, you really need to stand on them, and it’s usually on a pretty narrow perch, so you need a steel shank.” He also recommends steel-toe protection. “Actually, I now use a composite toe, because steel can get cold,” says Metcalf. “You need that crush-proof protection, because, as I’m sure everyone who works with trees has discovered, you need to use your toe to keep logs from rolling when you’re bucking.” Metcalf wears a Carolina CA7921 logger’s boot with these features. “They’re a really good boot,” he says.
In wintertime, Metcalf wears a goose down vest undern ath a fluorescent waterproof shell. “I like high-visibility,” he says. “It’s bright with reflective stripes on it, and it even has a hood that will fit over a helmet.” In the summer, he opts for fluorescent shirts beneath a highway-type, high-visibility safety vest. “I think all tree workers should wear high-visibility clothing,” he says. “Not so much when you’re in the tree, although it’s good for my crew to be able to spot where I’m at, but when I get on the ground a lot of time we’re working around traffic, so the more visibility the better.” He’s not picky about the brand of fluorescent T-shirt he wears. “I shop for those at Goodwill,” he jokes. “I treat them like rags, because they turn into rags so quickly in this business.”
Metcalf is a stickler when it comes to choosing quality head protection. He uses a Stihl helmet with face shield and ear protection. “I go through them, too,” he says. “I’ve had every different component get knocked off of them because they just get pounded on by logs and branches,” he says. “I’ve got one with a huge crease in it that probably saved my life.”
Dan Atkinson, Complete Tree Care, Millsboro, Del.
“We give out Dickies tan canvas work pants to all of our guys to use in the summer, and in the winter we use Dickies quilted-lined jeans,” says Dan Atkinson, certified arborist. The choice is for durability and for aesthetics. “They hold up really, really well and they don’t tend to hold dirt. Plus, bar and chain oil doesn’t tend to show as much on them. They’re functional and they look professional.”
The crews are also issued Arborwear’s double-thick sweatshirts for winter work. “Those are absolutely awesome,” credits Atkinson. “They’re durable, and they are really, really warm.” In the summer, cotton T-shirts or collared company golf shirts, depending on the situation, are worn. “There are times when appearance is really important,” he says.
The company also issues mirrored sunglasses that meet ANSI standards. “If the guys don’t like that style or color, they can go buy their own, as long as it meets that standard,” he explains.
The crews use Husqvarna helmets with integrated face shields and hearing protection. For climbing, Atkinson wears a Petzl helmet, which also has integrated face and ear protection. “That has a chin strap, which is important when you’re climbing,” he says. Everyone—climbers, as well as those on the ground—wears safety vests. “It’s not required, but it really helps with safety. When you’re up in a tree, especially in the summer in the canopy, it’s easier and safer to see the guys on the ground. And, they can see me to see if I’m hanging or working. They’re rip-away with Velcro fasteners, in case you get caught up in the brush.”
Atkinson prefers Red Dawg boots. “I’ve been climbing for 20 years, and I’ve gone through maybe three pairs in all that time. They hold up really well,” he says. “I wear them all the time, for climbing, as well as ground work.”
Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories.