Rope, line, fiber or cordage, regardless of what you call it, it’s something tree workers are intimately familiar with, using it almost every moment of the day in their chosen profession. It is used to ascend high into trees; to move safely and securely throughout the canopy; to lower large pieces or limbs under control; to pull or direct whole trees into desired landing zones; and to descend speedily for that all-important bathroom or lunch break.

All of these applications, and the many not mentioned, can be considered using rope as a tool. However, there is an entire classification of fiber fun known as “rope tools” that is even more specific and unique to the tree industry. Many of these are tools that climbing arborists and tree crews use so frequently they may not consider them unique tools, while others are more specialized and unfamiliar. Regardless of familiarity, each of these applications is intended to make working easier and safer for tree folks. Knowledge and understanding of the individual tool’s capabilities, capacities and construction will assist in their appropriate use.

The tools discussed include those created through splicing, stitching, and simple knots or hitches, but all are meant to carry out specific tasks, and tree workers should avoid the temptation to “make do” with the wrong tool for the job. In addition, crews that use field expedient rope tools created out of knots or hitches should always remember the inherent strength loss caused by those knots or hitches and take that into account when using these rope tools. Rope tools that have been manufactured through a splicing or stitching process will retain almost all of the rope’s strength, but they must be purchased from a reputable manufacturer or require the services of an experienced skilled splicer on staff. Although rope tools are often manufactured out of the same materials as climbing and rigging lines, they are distinctly different in purpose, design and use. An understanding of their applications and limitations can greatly increase the safety and efficiency of climbing, rigging and felling operations.

Three different sizes of endless loop slings girth hitched around a trunk. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Three different sizes of endless loop slings girth hitched around a trunk.
Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Endless loop

This tool, one of the simplest rope tools, can be made by attaching a length of line back to itself with the right knot, splice or an industrial stitch. The most common, and probably the most appropriate, knot or hitch used to create an endless loop is a double fisherman’s bend, or grapevine knot. An endless loop can be used in any number of ways in climbing and rigging systems. It can be girth hitched around a limb or trunk to provide an anchor point in rigging systems or used to form a prusik around the two parts of a static climbing line for a secured foot-lock ascent.

The major limitation of the endless loop is its lack of adjustability; too short of a loop leaves the rigger unable to use it, while a loop that’s too long means extra time and energy making multiple wraps to use up the excess length. Tree workers using an endless loop created with knots/hitches should try to place knots so they will not interfere with its function or are loaded inappropriately with additional sharp bends or pressure.

A loopie sling securing a rigging block to the tree with a girth hitch. Note the unspliced portion of the loopie around the bushing of the rigging block. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

A loopie sling securing a rigging block to the tree with a girth hitch. Note the unspliced portion of the loopie around the bushing of the rigging block. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Eye slings

These useful tools are available in different fiber types and constructions, but the most common are those made from double braid and/or 12-strand hollow braids, such as Tenex. Research and testing has shown that the 12-strand hollow braid constructions tend to retain more strength than the double braids in typical tree care rigging applications, perhaps due to their tendency to “flatten” under load, keeping the fibers as straight as possible.

Eye slings have a large eye at one end and are most often used to securely attach gear or equipment to a tree or branch, such as a block or lowering device like the Port-a-Wrap. The sling should be attached to the block by passing the fixed eye around the bushing or to a device by girth hitching the fixed eye to the long U of the device. Connecting links like carabiners should be avoided as much as possible, especially in dynamic rigging situations, as the movement inherently involved could end up creating side or cross loading of the link, leading to catastrophic failure.

Eye slings are typically secured to the tree through the use of an appropriate knot like the timber hitch or the cow hitch with a half-hitch. While a field expedient eye sling can certainly be created through the use of a knot like a bowline, personal experience has shown this can lead to the “land of bad things” and cause insurance rates to increase, particularly as eye slings are most often being used in rigging situations where loads can be extreme and control is critical. Spliced or stitched eye slings are a much better option, and crews that find themselves in need of field-created eye slings on occasion would be well served to have one member experienced in splicing with the correct tools/supplies available to create one on the spot.

A close-up of the large eye of the sling girth hitched appropriately to a Port-a-Wrap III. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

A close-up of the large eye of the sling girth hitched appropriately to a Port-a-Wrap III. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Whoopie slings

These spliced rope tools are primarily manufactured from 12-strand hollow braids. They have a fixed eye on one end and an adjustable eye on the other, and come in a variety of lengths beyond their own inherent adjustability. The whoopie sling is designed to be used with the fixed eye through the adjustable eye around the tree or branch with a rigging block or lowering device attached to the fixed eye. While this might sound confusing, it’s fairly obvious in the actual application.

In short, the user is passing the fixed eye through the adjustable eye around the trunk or object the sling is being secured to. As with the eye sling, the whoopie should be attached to the block by passing the fixed eye around the bushing or to a device by girth hitching the fixed eye to the device. The whoopie sling’s adjustability to various sizes gives users one tool that can be employed on a variety of tree diameters in diverse situations.

While these slings can certainly be used while aloft, the adjustment can be awkward when suspended from a climbing system or balanced on spurs, thus they are perhaps best suited to use at ground level for the attachment of lowering devices, creating mechanical advantage attachment points, or for the attachment of blocks to redirect lines.

A spider leg being used to balance a limb with a rigging line. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

A spider leg being used to balance a limb with a rigging line. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Loopie slings

Another spliced rope tool typically manufactured from 12-strand hollow braids, the loopie sling is an adjustable endless loop, unlike the whoopie sling, which is an adjustable eye sling. The tool is used in a girth hitch around the trunk or branch, with the unspliced portion holding the rigging block and passing through the spliced portion. Loopies are useful in a variety of applications both aloft and at ground level, and their light weight, adjustability and strength make them a personal favorite among the rope tools discussed here.

Research and testing have shown that loopies retain and exhibit an impressive amount of cordage strength in typical tree rigging situations, which makes them an excellent choice for rigging systems where extreme durability might be required.

Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

A whoopie sling adjusted out as large as possible and in as small as possible. Note that the fixed eye passes through the adjustable eye. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

A whoopie sling adjusted out as large as possible and in as small as possible. Note that the fixed eye passes through the adjustable eye. Photo: Michael (House) Tain.

Spider legs

These tools are sewn or spliced and look like an eye sling with a very large or long eye. While they can be used as an eye sling to attach blocks or devices to the tree, they are intended to be used when balancing limbs or attaching multiple loads to a primary rigging line.

The large eye is used to form an adjustable climbing hitch around the rigging line while the other end of the spider leg is attached with an appropriate knot to the limb to be balanced or to the additional branch to be lowered. The climbing hitch can then be moved up or down on the rigging line to help balance the limb correctly. Care should be taken to use a spider leg 1/8 inch in diameter smaller than the rigging line itself. This smaller diameter spider leg will grip the rigging line more securely and be less likely to slip. Something to keep in mind is that a spider leg with too small a diameter may grip the lowering line too well, even cutting into the fibers of the line, so the 1/8-inch rule is a good guideline to follow.

This is, at best, a very basic introduction to a few of the wide variety of rope tools available to the modern climber and rigger. However, tree crews who increase their use of rope tools with the basic principles introduced here in mind will find jobs going more smoothly and efficiently. In addition, one of the best tools tree crews have available is in their brain housing group, and they should not hesitate to use their imaginations to find more applications for rope tools in the course of their daily operations.