Guidelines for Safe Climbing

TCI has an impeccable safety record. No climber has ever been injured during one of our classes or events. Why? Because we practice what we preach. Our guidelines come from years of experience, and we insist that our instructors and students follow them.

We want everyone to enjoy safe tree climbing, and we want the trees being climbed to be protected as well. Trees and the creatures which live in them are fragile living things. Treat them with admiration and respect, not as obstacles to be overcome! If you observe these simple rules for tree climbing, neither you nor the tree will get hurt.

  • Always stay on rope. This is the most important rule for tree climbers. A few seconds off rope protection to move around an obstacle in a tree could be fatal. Unforeseen circumstances, such as sudden high winds or an attack from a protective wildlife parent, make it imperative that you always be connected to your rope. Don't be the climber whose thinking "it won't happen to me" is proven wrong. Your rope is literally your lifeline.
  • Never climb near power lines. If you or your rope touches a live power line, you can get electrocuted! Do an area-wide survey (Zone 1 of a thorough tree inspection) to make sure there are no power lines near your climbing tree.
  • Always climb in safe weather conditions. Get out of a tree and take shelter at the first sight or sound of a thunder storm. Don't climb during an ice storm. And make sure you know how to take care of yourself before you climb on freezing cold, snowy, or exceeding hot days.
  • Inspect a tree before you climb it. Our article, "A Climber's Guide to Tree Inspection," is an excellent resource for how to perform a thorough evaluation. Obviously, if the tree has obvious danger signs, damage, or weakness, don't climb it. (In fact, do that tree a favor. Some trees can be restored to health. Ask a certified arborist for suggestions and/or assistance).
  • Take training from a qualified instructor. Climbing by trial and error is risky business. One mistake can radically change or end a life. Take a tree climbing course from a qualified instructor. Then use TCI's online Forums and "Climber Finder" to hook up with experienced climbers who can answer your questions and help you along. It's best for beginning climbers to go out with a buddy who has solid training and experience.
  • Always wear a helmet to protect yourself from falling branches and other objects. Helmets must be worn by everyone on, under, or near the tree regardless of their climbing experience.
  • Never wear leg spikes. Leg spikes open up a tree to attack by fungus, bacteria, viruses, and insects that often carry harmful diseases. In some cases these punctures can lead to a tree's death. Puncture wounds also create unsightly scars that can last for decades. Leg spikes should be used only by professional climbers when they are removing a tree.
  • Always use a branch (cambium) saver to protect the tree. If you don't, the moving rope will cut into the tender inner bark layers of a branch, creating damage which can kill the branch. This is particularly important on thin barked trees such as beech, eucalyptus, sycamore, and plane trees, but TCI uses branch savers on every climb and in every tree.
  • Be careful in old-growth trees. If you are climbing wilderness old-growth trees that host moss mats or other plant communities growing on branches, be careful! A thoughtless boot swipe could dislodge a plant community that took hundreds of years to develop.
  • Only people with experience should trim dead branches. Don't use a handsaw high in a tree unless you have been trained or have significant experience. One flick of a handsaw on your climbing rope can instantly sever it! If you must cut, make sure other climbers and people on the ground are out of the way. Throw dead branches from the tree rather than randomly dropping them. Don't let the large pieces bounce against green branches, which can be broken or damaged by the impact. Make proper pruning cuts, and keep trimming of green branches to a minimum.
  • Desi"Ooops! I didn't expect to find this critter here!"
    Photo courtesy Desi Mora (pictured)
    Stay away from nests and nesting animals. You can get attacked by protective parents if you get too close! Remember, you are a visitor to their world! Never take wild animals as pets. Invariably they will either die or be miserable in your care.
  • Avoid trampling ground cover as you prepare to climb. You could be damaging fragile and rare ground plants. Create a single distinct path to trees you climb regularly. You can use a thin coat of mulch (no deeper than 2 inches is best) around high trafficked trees to avoid soil compaction and root damage.

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