Guidelines for Safe Climbing

Guidelines for Safe and Responsible Climbing

TCI has an impeccable safety record. No climber has ever been injured during one of our classes or events. Why? Because 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 (see our "Tree Climbing Ethics" for forest climbing guidelines). 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.

    Do you know what our favorite safety slogan is? "One fall, that's all!"

    Always stay on rope 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 a requirement 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 your lifeline!

  • 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).


  • 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.

    Moss hikes to winter climbYes! Tree climbing is a year-round sport! Here's "Moss" hiking in to climb a big white pine in western Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy Andrew Joslin)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 go out to climb on freezing cold, snowy, or exceedingly hot day.

  • Get 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, or learn on your own with our "At Home ("Online" Basic Tree Climbing Course." Then use TCI's online Forums and "Climber Finder" (members only) 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.

    Vertex helmet

    Always wear a helmet to protect yourself from falling branches and other objects. When someone is in a tree, helmets should be worn by everyone in or under the tree regardless of their climbing experience. See our "All About Gear" pages for information about helmets.

  • Never wear leg spikes.

    spikesThe sharp points on these leg spikes can cause severe damage to a tree.

    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 saver to protect the tree.

    leather saver

    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 trees with thin bark, such as beech, eucalyptus, sycamore, and plane trees. TCI uses branch savers on every climb we undertake. See our Gear section for information on branch protection devices.

  • Be careful in old-growth trees.

    Be careful if you are climbing wilderness old-growth trees that host moss mats or other plant communities growing on branches. A thoughtless boot swipe could dislodge a plant community that took hundreds of years to develop.

  • Stay away from nests and nesting animals.

    DesiDesi meets a 'possum

    You can get attacked by protective parents if you get too close! Remember, you are an uninvited visitor to their home. Be respectful! Never take wild animals as pets. Invariably they will either die or be miserable in your care.

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