When you work in one of the most dangerous professions in the world, choosing the proper gear is critical to staying safe on the job site. Fortunately, research and developing technology have led to tree care gear and apparel that is safer, more durable and more comfortable than ever before. From ropes, to helmets, to saddles, to apparel, there are options to suit any job.
What to wear
Choosing the right clothing for tree work goes far beyond grabbing the first pair of pants on a rack. Arborists searching for on-the-job apparel must factor in a variety of considerations: safety, weather conditions, mobility, to name a few. Will you be aloft? Using a chain saw? In severe weather conditions? Or, perhaps, all of these scenarios at once?
When shopping for work wear, Bill Weber, team captain at Arborwear, says, “Arborists should consider several things when looking for clothing that will hold up to the rigors of tree work. The first and most important is safety. This obviously includes chain saw protection and high-visibility garments. Both of these are typically mandated for certain situations but when it really comes down to it, why not be as safe as you can be all the time. We always recommend wearing chain saw protection when you can and wearing bright colors at the very least, if not class II or Class III, while you are working.
“After safety I would say the two most important things to consider when an arborist chooses his or her work clothing are comfort and durability. Comfort includes features that allow free range of movement to make climbing and moving about the trees easier. It also includes features that help regulate comfortable body temperature. It can become very unsafe very quickly if an arborist gets overheated or hypothermic during the day. Layering is key. A proper base layer that keeps warmth in but allows moisture to move away from the body is ideal. There are many wicking-type products available that are good in both hot and cold climates. Examples would be like our Arborwear Tech T, made from Dri-Release. This is a proprietary blend of cotton and polyester to provide a good balance of comfort and performance.”
While old-school arborists relied on standard cotton and wool, the development of new synthetic materials has given modern-day arborists the luxury of more durable, lighter weight and water-resistant options. Arborwear makes pants with a Teflon coating to help water bead off and has incorporated bacteriostats in T-shirts to reduce that end-of-the-day stench. Two of their newest offerings, are the Canopy Pant and the Ascender Pant, high-performance, four-way stretch synthetic pants that are, according to Weber, “as comfortable as wearing your PJs,” even though they are some of the toughest pants the company offers.
The American National Standards Institute classifies protective helmets as Type I for top protection or Type II for lateral impact protection. Helmets are subjected to rigorous testing for impact and penetration resistance from blows to the top of the head, flammability resistance and water absorption. In addition, helmets are also categorized to determine electrical insulation: Class E (electrical) are tested to withstand 20,000 volts, Class G (general) helmets are tested at 2,200 volts and Class C (conductive) provide no electrical protection. Because tree work is often performed in the vicinity of power lines, a Class E helmet is necessary.
According to John Evans, director of marketing for Petzl, “The ALVEO BEST is a lightweight helmet and a best seller among arborists. Its unventilated shell provides additional protection against electrical risks. Its CenterFit adjustment system adjusts the headband and keeps it centered on the head. The ALVEO BEST is designed to easily accept hearing protection, the specific VIZIR visor, or a PIXA headlamp. Meets ANSI Z89.1-2009 Type 1 Class E.”
Back in the saddle
When working aloft, a climber’s comfort is greatly dependent on proper saddle selection. Proper fit, comfort and mobility should all be considered before making a purchase. Cathryn Bunker from Buckingham Manufacturing says that when choosing a saddle, arborists should look for lateral movement from their suspension bridge that suits their style of climbing.
“Buckingham offers numerous saddle options, and some models offer the ability to change the bridge to better serve them for the job they are performing. Some of the proven saddles developed between ArborMaster Training and Buckingham are the Master, with the suspension bridge attachment close to the waist and still favored among many. There is also the floating dees or rings on the Traverse or Glide Lite for those who like more freedom of lateral movement when suspended. The Versatile, another of the ArborMaster Buckingham collaborative efforts, offers a combination of attachment points on the bridge that restricts movement when it is not needed, but does allow the user to connect a carabiner behind the suspension bridge combined with a high-density roller for very easy lateral movement,” Bunker says.
Saddle manufacturers continue to develop new products with an emphasis on ergonomics. The increased comfort provided by these upgrades may contribute to higher productivity on the job. One of Buckingham’s newest saddles, the ErgoLite, was specifically designed with ergonomics in mind. Bunker says, “The ErgoLite was developed in conjunction with Ergonomic Solutions following extensive field trials of the original Ergovation. During the research and development phase of the Ergovation, it was identified that some climbers wanted many of the ergonomic features of the Ergovation, but in a simpler, lighter weight design. … At the core of all the Ergovation family of products is the patented back pad, which contours the pelvis and supports the low back with lumbar support while climbing.”
Learning the ropes
Rope manufacturers are also on the front lines of developing new products and technology to keep climbers safe. Since Sterling Rope has been manufacturing arborist rope for years, including the HTP Snakebite for Sherrill Tree, naturally they developed a range of fliplines, lanyards and sewn goods. They now offer three different styles of flipline to meet a variety of needs.
According to their website, “The SafetyPro Flipline is 100 percent nylon, which offers energy absorption and a tight sheath to withstand low friction while still being compatible with hitches and rope grabs. The Tech11 is designed with a technora sheath and nylon core. While more static than the SafetyPro, the Tech11 does offer some energy absorption but is much more abrasion resistant when compared in similar situations. The TriTech Flipline is the pinnacle line and is engineered with a nylon core that is wrapped with a Dyneema inner jacket and then covered with a Technora sheath.
This Flipline offers the highest cut resistance of any flipline without a wire core.”
Buckingham’s new rope product, Rigidline, is a very stiff rope that feels like a steel core flipline despite not having a wire core. The patent-pending BuckGrab with 90-degree twisted cam attached is ideal for those who prefer a mechanical device. The Rigidline also features a red wear indicator to alert the user of excess wear.