Anyone who uses rope climbing techniques professionally in tree care needs tree climbing ropes. These techniques are specific for climbing in trees and are very different from industrial and sport climbing. For this reason, a tree climber needs ropes with very specific properties adapted to the task. In addition, the tree climbing rope is part of the tree climber’s personal protective equipment (PPE), which defines further criteria for choosing the right rope.
The rope is the tree climber’s life insurance. In contrast to sport climbers, it is not only used for protection in case of a fall. In tree climbing, it is mainly the rope that carries the weight of the arborist in order to put as little strain as possible on the branches of the tree. Weight relief is also an important aspect of industrial climbing. But the tree climber moves significantly more on and with the tree climbing rope. Due to the three-dimensionality of the tree, the conditions are more demanding than, for example, on a straight, even wall of a house.
Which standard is relevant for tree climbing ropes?
Kernmantle ropes with low stretch (max. 5 percent) according to EN 1891 (PDF) are used in tree climbing and in tree care. Ropes according to this standard are used for personal safety and consist of a core, usually the element that carries the main load (except in tree climbing, see below), and a sheath that protects the core but also takes load. Tree climbers use ropes according to EN 1891, Type A.
What are kernmantle ropes?
Kernmantle ropes consist of a sheath and a core. The core is made up of individual, fine fibres or threads that are bundled to form strands. This ensures high tensile strength. The sheath is woven around the core and is normally not interwoven with it.
Splices on tree climbing ropes
This is of particular importance when splicing tree climbing ropes. In order to connect the rope to the climbing system or the rope device, for example, it needs a safe and resilient termination. It should affect the breaking strength of the rope as little as possible and be as slim as possible. A professionally spliced connection of ropes is break-resistant and permanently loadable. Thanks to the special construction of kernmantel ropes, they are usually spliceable. We explain why in a separate blog post on splicing.
In addition to a splice, there are other terminations that are used in arboriculture. The simplest is a knot, where the rope itself is not changed. However, a knot affects the breaking strength of the tree climbing rope the most. It is also not as slim as a splice, for example, and gets caught more easily on branches, sharp branch forks or the like when tree climbing. Another option is the stitched termination. It is slimmer and stronger than a knot.
In most kernmantle ropes used in sailing, for example, the core bears the main load. The sheath serves to protect the core from abrasion and UV radiation. With ropes used in tree care and tree climbing, however, this is the other way around. Here the sheath often carries 70 to 80 percent of the breaking strength and the core is more of a filler material.
The reason is that the sheath displacement is extremely low in this construction. This in turn is important because otherwise the sheath would be displaced too much by friction hitches or rope devices. This very special property distinguishes tree climbing ropes. Particularly when splicing or checking the PPE, special attention must be paid to the integrity of the rope sheath in the field of tree care.
Note on safety lanyards
Safety lanyards used by tree climbers when working with a chainsaw must have a wire core. That is the only way they can offer reliable safety if the chainsaw slips and hits the rope instead of the wood (Attention: Every wire core lanyard can be cut in worst case!).
Industrial climbing vs. tree climbing: semi-static or tree climbing rope?
Semi-static ropes used by industrial climbers are semi-static ropes according to EN 1891 A. Arborists use them mainly for ascending into the tree – in contrast to tree climbing ropes, which they use to climb from workplace to workplace in the tree. Therefore, tree climbing ropes are softer and more supple than ropes for ascent, whose sheath is harder and more tightly braided. This is necessary because the ascenders used for climbing will otherwise damage the sheath.
Ropes for ascent are also somewhat thinner than tree climbing ropes and they are “real” kernmantle ropes: The core is the load-bearing element. The tight braiding makes them difficult or impossible to splice, which is not necessary in this case.
Sport climbing vs. tree climbing: dynamic or static rope?
Dynamic climbing ropes according to EN 892 (PDF) are mainly used in rock and sport climbing. They serve to protect the climber from falling as well as soften falls through their elongation (approx. 30 percent). While it is possible to climb over the anchor point in sport climbing because of the dynamic ropes, tree climbing ropes lack the stretch and the impact force is dangerously high when climbing over the anchor point. In addition, if you fall in a tree, you do not fall unhindered in order to use the dynamic of the rope. Branches, twigs and leaves hinder a free fall. A fall straight into the tree climbing rope should be avoided at all costs.
In sport climbing, the athlete climbs along the rock or similar, the rope serves as a belay and hangs loosely on the climbing harness. The tree climber is constantly hanging in the rope with the majority of his or her own weight. If the climbing rope has a lot of stretch, the arborist has to equalise the stretch with every movement. This is an unnecessary effort and disturbs a flowing, ergonomic work and movement process.
Sustainable, eco-friendly ropes
In the sport climbing and industrial climbing sector, the first eco-ropes are appearing, with manufacturers placing a lot of emphasis on sustainability and ecological awareness in their production. Edelrid produces the Parrot from residual yarns in a resource-saving way. Teufelberger uses the same process for the Chameloen. Hopefully this development will soon continue with tree climbing ropes.
Tree climbing ropes are colourful
Tree climbing ropes for arboriculture come in many different colour combinations. Besides personal taste, this has another, much more important reason: high visibility in the tree. Therefore, tree climbing ropes usually have a bright, highly visible colour scheme. It makes the climber and his or her equipment easy to find from the ground. This is a decisive advantage, especially in case of rescue.
Which tree climbing rope fits my rope device?
Besides the different colours, tree climbing ropes have different rope diameters, usually between 11 and 13 millimetres. This is of crucial importance for the belay device with which the arborist prefers to climb. Not every rope and rope diameter is compatible with every device. Before buying, it is therefore important to check whether the tree climbing rope and the rope device match.
How do I take care of my tree climbing rope?
In tree care, climbing ropes are exposed to the weather and heavy dirt such as resin. If the dirt gets out of hand, it has a negative effect on the service life of the tree climbing rope. Therefore, tree climbing ropes should be cleaned from time to time. You can find detailed washing instructions on our blog.
The proper storage of tree climbing ropes
When tree climbing ropes are not in use for a longer period of time, they should be stored in a dark, cool and above all dry place. This affects the service life of the rope as little as possible. You should make sure that sufficient air gets to the rope so that the residual moisture in the rope escapes. However, climbing ropes should never be dried directly on a radiator.
- Edelrid: Static Rope Handbook (PDF)