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Innovations for Climbing Arborists

By Michael “House” Tain


The tree care industry is an innovative one; and never more so than when the “working folks” get involved in design and development. Rare is the tree crew where the branch managers and climbers aren’t suggesting a “better” way to do things on a daily basis, often in quite strident terms. Although some of these “suggestions” may be best left in the truck with the empty coffee cups and Skoal cans on the floor, many have the potential to make tree work easier, safer and more efficient. Fortunately, industry manufacturers and retailers seem to be recognizing the value of ideas “from the field” in recent years; and the result has been several innovative products available to everyday climbing arborists that certainly can make for easier and safer days aloft. Some of these innovations have been taken all the way to market by the tree people themselves, while others have involved existing manufacturers working with the developing tree folk to make the product available. Both are certainly viable options with their own individual advantages and disadvantages, but the end-user needs to consider a few things prior to putting the new innovative piece of gear to the test. A discussion of the lens through which to view new products, along with a description of just a few of the new “toys” will be helpful to tree crews making choices about innovation, and help ensure that the new tools chosen do indeed make the job easier, safer and more efficient.



Lockjack by ART. Photo provided by SherrillTree.


Rope Wrench by ISC. Photo provided by SherrillTree.


Spiderjack by ART. Photo provided by SherrillTree.


Wraptor by RopeTek. Photo provided by SherrillTree.


Hitch Hiker by RopeTek. Photo by WesSpur.



Arborwear Ascender climbing pants. Photo by Arborwear.

 Is it legal?

A tool or piece of gear that is purchased from any reputable manufacturer or retailer will state clearly what applicable standards the tool meets; and often give information on what uses the tool is not intended for. This is important information for end users, particularly if they do not wish to meet their end while using the new gizmo. All professional tree care personnel should be aware of, and familiar with, the standards that apply to their work in their particular geographic location, but key standards they should be aware of include ANSI Z133, CE and EN certification, along with a variety of other provincial/federal standards dependent on geographic location.


Use it or lose it

All organizations — whether they are tree companies, military units or sports teams — have their own way of carrying out tasks and interacting with one another. This can be considered the organization’s culture; and it can not only have a great deal to do with whether an innovative idea of tool is accepted and used, but also with the basic safety practices of every member of the organization. A truly great piece of gear that perhaps cost the company a decent amount of money is not doing anyone any good if it rolls around in the back of the truck or in the bottom of the gear bag unused. “Buy-in,” or whichever trendy phrase if fitting, is imperative from the end users before a purchase is made. In some cases, it may simply be a matter of educating the crew on how the new gear will make their lives easier. In others, it may be a matter of training in how the new tool can be used or how it is safer, regardless of the need. Simply presenting a new toy to a tree crew and expecting it to be used correctly and completely is a fool’s errand, so some preparation and enthusiasm will be required. In addition, just because something is new or innovative does not mean it makes sense for that particular company’s or crew’s workload. A crew that specializes in spur takedowns may not necessarily require the “latest and greatest” in rope ascent/descent devices.


Data, data, data

Although eyewitness accounts and respected tree folks’ opinions are certainly still incredibly valuable in discovering the “ins and outs” of new gear, modern tree crews no longer have to rely solely only on this information. More and more often, professional organizations, academia, and manufacturers are sponsoring research that looks at how gear performs in the “real world” in “real” applications. The plethora of information sources provided through social media and the “interweb” also make this data readily available to the majority of tree folk out there. As always, prospective purchasers/end-users should consider the sources of the information they are perusing; and, if possible, examine their testing protocols and qualifications. After all, an online endorsement with no attribution could just as easily be an ITCC champion or a 13-year-old in South Dakota with time on his hands and access to the Internet.


New toys

As anyone who walked the floor at TCI EXPO this past fall could readily affirm, there is no shortage of new and innovative “toys” out there in the tree care industry. These innovations run the gamut from very basic tools such as cordage all the way up to complicated mechanical devices such as chain saws, chippers and aerial lifts. Obviously, with such a wide range of innovation available, space will allow only a few products to be discussed here. But the items discussed will provide a “taste” of the innovation that is taking place.


Single line tree work

While the appropriate terms used to describe this technique continue to be debated and discussed, several innovative products are available on the market to make working in trees off a single line easier and more efficient. Among these are Rope Wrench manufactured by ISC and the Hitch Hiker manufactured by RopeTek. Both are fairly simple mechanical devices that are intended to be used in conjunction with an appropriate climbing hitch on a single line; and, by providing additional friction to the system, allow for ascent, descent and work movement through the canopy.


Doubled line tree work

The new and improved Petzl Zigzag provides a mechanical climbing hitch for doubled line climbing systems, much like the previously available ART Lockjack or Spiderjack, although the Zigzag uses an obviously different design to provide the needed friction. In addition, the Zigzag has an incorporated swivel and fairlead pulley, thereby including two pieces of gear that might otherwise have to be added to the system, depending on climber preference.


Mechanized tree ascent

The Wraptor, manufactured by RopeTek, allows for motorized ascents on a single line. Although some climbers might view this as a “bit much,” the reality is that in most cases the ascent is simply the climber’s commute to work; and anything that can save energy for the actual work required should at least be considered — particularly when one’s commute involves hundreds of feet multiple times throughout the workday.



For older arborists who endured decades of soggy, uncomfortable cotton and sensitive-area chafing, the innovations in tree industry clothing and PPE are more than welcome. Although there are a variety of new products available, the most common innovation is the use of technical outdoor recreational fabrics and materials in clothing and chain saw protective gear by companies such as Arborwear and Pfanner. The use of technical fabrics has allowed for clothing that is more lightweight, durable, breathable, and flexible than previously available. All of these qualities lend themselves to tree personnel who are more comfortable, able to move freely, and less dehydrated through the course of their day.


Melon protectin’

While the last decade has seen a number of innovations in helmet/hardhat development for the tree industry, it would seem that a new surge is taking place with manufacturers such as ArbPro and Protos making helmets designed for the particular environment of forestry/arboriculture use. Available in a variety of colors and combinations for those ever fashion-conscious tree folk, both helmets have a number of options for eye and ear protection to meet the appropriate standards, along with the use of modern materials to protect every climbers best tool — their melon.


The tree care industry is an innovative one, not only in gear/technique development, but in the work itself. After all, how easy is it to think of how to move a piece of large woody debris in three dimensions easily, safely and efficiently without thinking innovatively. Along with new innovations, a new year brings with it new challenges, particularly in the physically and mentally demanding world of tree care. But the few innovative pieces of gear discussed here, along with an understanding of how to evaluate the wide variety of other innovative products available, will help tree folk better meet those new challenges safely and more efficiently.


Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions, www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com, and Arbor Canada Training and Education, www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at house@houseoftain.com.

Main photo: RopeTek Wraptor in use.
Photo provided by SherrillTree.

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