The ability to climb trees can be nostalgic and enjoyable as a pastime, but also a means of survival as well.
If SHTF or if you ever became lost in the woods, knowing of tree’s numerous resources could mean the difference between life and death for you. Not only to climb, trees can provide a number of resources including tool material, food, shelter, lines/ropes and fire-starting materials.
You can use a tree as a shelter, camp spot, hide-out or for hunting. Pack a tree hammock, otherwise known as a tree boat, for sleeping within the tree. These are a perfect addition to your bug out bag and add the option to sleep elevated safely and inconspicuously.
Gear and Safety for Tree Climbing
Inspect the tree well before making your first ascent. Try to find a sturdy, big tree for your climb. Inspect the tree before you make the initial ascent and make sure it has strong branches, especially if you’re not planning on using rope and gear. Branches measuring around 8 inches or 20 centimeters in diameter are typically a decent size to hold the average person.
Always take caution and consideration when not using climbing gear. It’s always advised to use safety gear when climbing a tree for the fact that even the smallest fall can cause major damage both to the climber and belayer. Check it’s roots to make sure that none have been eroded, heavily exposed or are weak.
Avoid trees that have many low branches, which is a sign that the tree may be sick, rotting or drying out. Be sure to check that there are no power lines nearby that could electrocute the climber. If the tree is missing bark, it could mean that it’s suffering from a virus or fungus which could make it a weaker and less sturdy tree to climb. Check that there are no animal nests in the tree which could cause problems with their territory and end up hurting you during your climb.
A knowledge of handy knot techniques is also extremely helpful when climbing a tree. Practice makes perfect. When you’re under pressure or in a dire situation, trying to remember knots is something you won’t want to be wasting your time with. Get used to making the same consecutive knots over again so that they are both safe and quick.
Blake’s Hitch, Figure Eight and self-repel knots such as the Prusik knot can be extremely helpful. Never take yourself off of your protection while aloft on your climb. You can see how to make the Blakes Hitch here, Figure Eight here and a Prusik knot here.
Always try to stick with the same routes to ensure that they are stable and consistent with your experience. The base of the tree is always going to be the most sturdy and strong part. Always try to climb near it to make for an overall safer route.
Various Tree Climbing Techniques and Styles
There are many different techniques including free climbing and self-belayed climbing (solo climber with just a rope) that you can use to climb a tree. Depending on the situation, reason and the climber’s preference, you can learn a variety of techniques to ensure that you’re covered in all situations you might come upon for safety and survival.
Free climbing has been around since the beginning of the human race and is used more than any other form of technological aided climbing in the world.
The difficulty of the actual climb is dependent on the width of the tree and branches themselves, the kind of bark (rough or soft), the height of the tree, natural climate and current weather at the time of the climb.
How to Climb a Tree With a Rope
Self-belayed climbing using the double rope technique (DRT) is important to know in case of TEOTWAWKI or in any situation that leaves the climber to solo climb. You can use this technique by yourself and can retrieve the rope without having to ascend back up the tree. One end of the rope is fastened to the climber’s harness.
The rope is initially draped over a stable branch to a friction hitch, which is also attached to you, the climber. Both ends are then tied with climbing knots that allow you to ascend and descend the tree.
If you decide to stop climbing at any point in time during your ascent or descent, either to take in the view or for technical reasons, the main knot (Blake’s Hitch) will automatically keep you safely held in place, thus giving you a ‘hands free’ option.
You can simply let go of the rope and this knot will hold you safely making it a great protective piece in case of a branch fall or emergency situation in which could leave the climber helpless or unconscious.
This system allows you to adjust the rope and belay yourself. Keep minimal slack in the rope and stay below the anchor to ensure that you’re restrained during a fall.
Aided climbs are typically used by tossing a rope over a sturdy limb and ascending the opposite end with a friction knot. This of course is dependent on the type of tree you are climbing, especially in the case of a tree containing no branches.
How to Safely Climb a Tree or a Coconut Tree
If you’re ever stuck with no gear and need to climb a coconut tree or a different type of tree without branches, you can do so easily without any gear.
Use a piece of strong cloth or even your own clothing, burlap or rope type material to make a foot strap. Tie the ends to make a loop just large enough to wrap around the soles of your feet.
This should leave your feet to wrap easily around the coconut tree, flat on opposite sides, with the strip lying flat on the base of the tree. This will help keep your feet stable and give you more leverage to move up the palm tree.
Grab the tree between your hands holding onto the back of the tree with one and the other hand placed at chest level, in front of you on the opposite side.
If you place both hands at the back of the tree, try to keep them near the sides instead, very opposite to each other so that you can squeeze the trunk. This video shows a perfect example of the foot strap as well as the different hand techniques:
If the tree is too thick to wrap your arms around, make another loop similar to your foot strap and loop it around the tree to grab with your hands or to loop yourself inside of it.
Once you are gripped to the tree by both hands and feet, push yourself up the tree with your feet, extending your legs straight. Then, quickly slide both of your feet up as high as you can, pressing your hands as hard as you can to keep yourself stable.
You can then descend the same way as you climbed up the tree by sliding your hands slowly lower, one at a time, while your feet then slide softly below you.
Climbing a Tree Without a Rope
You’re going to end up using a lot of the same technique as the above with the coconut tree, however, if you’re caught without material to use for a foot or hand loop, knowing how to climb a tree without anything is helpful and can save you a lot of time in case the SHTF:
Try finding a tree with a few knots or more texture on it. The smoother the tree, the more difficult it will be to climb. If it has a long base without branches or weak branches, practicing the following will help tremendously.
Start by finding the tree’s lean. You can do this by either looking at the way the tree is leaning or by wrapping your hands around it with feet on it and seeing which side you end up swinging towards.
You will then want to condition yourself for the muscular strain climbing a tree can entail. Start by wrapping your hands or arms around the tree and bringing one foot off the ground at a time.
Once you’re conditioned to stay on the tree, off the ground for a good amount of time, you can start moving higher up the tree.
Do this by sliding your hands one by one, up the tree as you inch your feet up below you. Try keeping your feet high, as close to your hands as you can to balance your weight to prevent sliding back down the tree. Once at the top, climb down using the same technique, but more slowly as you slide down.
How to Climb a Wall
Always try to find a short wall to practice on before you have perfected the art of climbing a wall. If you can grab the top of the wall, do so with both hands attempting to get ahold of as much as you can on top of the wall.
Place your feet on the wall with one as high as you can bring it and the other extended lower for balance. Keep your feet flexed and your toes in contact with the wall for better grip. Push off with your legs and up with your arms until you are over the wall.
If the wall is taller than you can reach, you’ll want to start by running up to the wall.
First measure out where you will want your first foot placement on the wall by standing away from the vertical surface, and placing your first foot on the wall next to your pelvis. This will be your first point of contact when running up the wall.
Add speed to your approach, and then with the leg slightly flexed upon contact with the wall, push off of your foot to propel yourself upward. Drive hard through that leg as you reach high for the top of the wall.
Once you’re dangling from the wall, scramble your feet up beneath you to push you upward through your legs as you push up with your arms to clear the wall. Here’s a good instructional video of how to do this on various kinds of walls and textures :
Now You’re Ready to Climb!
Whether it’s outrunning a Grizzly bear, TEOTWAWKI or for pleasure, there’s a number of reasons to utilize the art of climbing a tree. Trees are everywhere, while you don’t typically have to look much to find a decent one to climb. Whether it be an urban or rural setting, finding a solid tree with your new climbing skills could save your life in a number of ways.
An excellent add-on for your bug out bag, your tree climbing gear will provide you with efficient gear for alternative options such as wall, rock or mountain climbing if ever need be. You never know what the situation or terrain may bring when SHTF.
Enjoy the new perspective of the climbing experience through the variety of trees. Grab your gear, be safe and have fun!
Stevie grew up in the woods of Oregon eventually ending up in the heart of the Alaska wilderness. An avid adventurer, she spends her time traveling the states and beyond to explore and understand other cultures and documenting through journalism.
2 thoughts on “How To Climb A Tree”
Climbing trees solo, especially when SHTF is extremely dangerous because one bad move and you are dead because even the slightest fall will break bones. Very tough to walk with a broken ankle or worse a knee. Wait until you flip upside down in a harness. Or slide down a tree truck 20 feet until you are wedged with the flip line or hit bottom.
I do have spikes/gaffs/harness/ropes/locking hardware, etc. ready to go in a suitcase, unless I had a vehicle to carry it, I think I would leave it behind. Once you add up all the “proper” things to use for climbing, you are talking the same amount of weight as a BOB.
Same thing with the climbing sticks, I have one of the best rated ones from SMG and one of the lightest steel ones. Despite them taking my review of it down, the weight is wrong. It packs out at 27 pounds ! That is without a safety body harness and flip line (actually they use webbing).
You have to be in very good shape to use SRT/DRT, much more then using gaffs/spikes. This is one of the “skills” you better practice with a partner before you rely on it to save your life or to use when SHTF.
The benefit of SRT/DRT climbing is you leave less evidence you were there.The drawbacks is it requires you to be in better health and to have lower tree limbs.
For a safety factor, with or without gaffs/spikes, you really should have a person to belay you.
Climbing sticks might be a better option, even if they do weigh more, as they are more idiot proof and do not require the level of fitness as the other ways do. The problem is their 20 foot reach is still under what you need if you are planning on eating stuff from trees such as pine.
One food source you can get climbing trees is the same as squirrels, the new tender pine cones (you eat the nut at the end of each tab) and the pine needles themselves. I suppose you could get acorns at the proper time of the year, but, they require an extreme amount of prep work to eat and a good water source.
I would like to point out, you do not look for a good branch, you look for a good crotch, when climbing just with ropes because branches can suddenly give way, that look good from 20-30 below.
You have to stay usually two feet below your anchor point or your climbing “knot” will lose friction because of the stretch of the rope around the anchor point.
If you notice, the pictures above are NOT of guys weighing 30# more then they should with a beer belly or someone 65 years old. The biggest thing to prevent a successful climb is probably the condition of your body, not the equipment or technique used.
Great video – thank you. I’m tempted by this but what I’d really like to do is ‘free climb’ trees in the natural way, like we used to as kids. It’s the contact with the tree I enjoy, the clambering up the trunk and through branches. I’d like to have a safety rope – just in case I slip! – but really I’d rather it wasn’t there.
Is there a way of doing that?