Tree Climbing Ropes
Size. Tree climbing (arborist) ropes come in a few different sizes. The largest is ½ inch (13mm) diameter. These ropes are somewhat easier to grip than others, but they are also the heaviest. The smaller diameter ropes for doubled-rope technique climbing are 11mm. These, of course, are lighter in weight, which makes them easier to carry; but they are harder to grip with bare hands because the exterior sheath has a tighter weave, making them more slippery. Climbers who use a smaller diameter rope solve this problem by wearing latex coated gloves, which improve grip considerably. There are a few other arborist ropes with diameter sizes between 11mm and 13mm. All of these are used for doubled-rope technique. 10mm ropes ropes are also available; these are used for single rope technique climbing, and should not be used for doubled-rope technique.
Tree climbing ropes also come in a variety of colors. Which one you choose is a matter of personal preference. Bright ropes are easy to see, but the muted earth-tone colored ropes make the climber less obvious to others.
Construction. Arborist rope is built using a braided construction. Don't use twist-constructed ropes for tree climbing, as these will make you spin in the air while you hang suspended during a climb and you'll end up in a twisted mess. Choose a rope with 16- or 24-strand construction. Those with fewer strands (12-strand ropes) often have "flat spots," which makes descents jerky and unpredictable.
Arborist rope is soft and pliable, which makes it possible to tie the special knots needed to climb trees safely. Stiff ropes will not hold the knots.
Sheath. Tree-climbing (arborist) ropes are built with a polyester-dacron exterior sheath. Unlike the nylon sheath found on rock-climbing ropes, polyester is highly heat tolerant and rarely melts. This is very important, because even if it passes through a cambium (or “friction”) saver as you climb, the rope creates heat as it moves over the anchor point. The polyester will usually resist the heat effects of that friction, but the sheath can still melt if your descent is too fast. This is why you should always come down at a slow rate.
Elasticity. Tree climbing rope is “static,” meaning that it has very little stretch. Rock climbers use “dynamic” ropes with elasticity designed in to absorb the impact of a fall. Since tree climbers don’t fall (at least not on purpose!), the elasticity of a rope would only serve to make the ascent more difficult. It would feel like climbing a rubber band with a pronounced bounce every time you pull yourself up.
WHAT ROPE LENGTH?
To figure out the length of rope you need, double the climbing height of the tree (150 foot rope is needed to climb 75 feet up). Start with a rope that is 150 feet long unless you are climbing short trees, such as 50-footers, where all you will need is a 120 foot rope. If you plan to climb taller trees in the future, purchase a second, 200 foot rope.
Tree climbing ropes will last for years of recreational climbing use if cared for properly. If you are a professional tree climber who climbs daily, you will need to replace your rope every year (this is the current ANSII standard). The old rope should be destroyed by cutting it up into short pieces.
Your climbing rope is your lifeline. This piece of gear must not fail while you are climbing. A short fall of only a few feet can change you life forever, or even end it. Always pay attention to your rope. Inspect the rope before, during, and after every climb by running it through your fingers and visually inspecting it. If you see a nick or damaged section, cut the rope immediately with a knife. It is easy to forget about a damaged section of rope that you would never want to use! Carry a roll of vinyl tape to prevent rope ends from fraying. Use a bright color so you can find your rope ends more easily.
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