A beginner’s guide to tree climbing

Fond memories of a childhood spent climbing in the trees? You can always relive it – ropes, carabiners and all….


For most of us, tree climbing conjures up memories of a long-lost childhood. Out in the back garden, challenging siblings to see who can climb the highest, with the winner claiming to be ‘The king of the castle’. One or two of us might have not-so-fond memories of falls, scrapes and nasty bumps.

But tree climbing has taken a whole new form over the past 30 years, from fun scrambling in the back garden to competitive climbing, complete with ropes, harnesses, helmets and a whole lot of nerve!

What is tree-climbing?

Simply put, it’s climbing and moving around a tree using ropes and harnesses. It all started back in the 19th Century when tree surgeons in the US started climbing trees as part of their day-to-day work.But it wasn’t until the 1980s that it stopped being just a practical necessity and became a recreational pleasure.

Peter Jenkins, a retired rock climber and tree surgeon, decided to open the first-ever tree climbing school in Georgia, USA. It uses modern climbing techniques, such as single rope and double rope techniques, rather than free-climbing without ropes or harnesses.

Now there are even competitive tree climbing events, where tree surgeons battle it out amongst the foliage.

Why do tree climbing?


Other than being an amazing work out –  it’s good for the spine and strengthens arms and legs no-end – it’s as fun and invigorating as you want it to be (you can even string up a hammock somewhere in the crown).

It’s also a lot safer than ‘free’ tree climbing (the type without ropes/the type practised by fearless children), so long as you know some basic rope skills and are aware of which branches are safe to climb.

On top of all this, it has to be one of the most accessible outdoor sports of all time and is suitable for all ages. You just need some gear, a little bit of know-how and, well, a tree. Surely nothing can bring you closer to nature?

How to climb trees

Unless you already know your carabiner from the Caribbean, it’s best to start off with a beginner’s course to ‘learn the ropes’ (quite literally).

For the rope-savvy among you, here are a few guidelines:

  • First up, select your tree – make sure it’s healthy, sturdy and within your ability. The branches you’re planning to loop your rope over need to be able to take your weight – so they should be at least 6 inches in diameter. You should also check there’s no potential hazards nearby, such as power cables.
  • The double rope technique is the simplest and best way to climb trees.Loop the rope over a branch using a throw line and bag, and then set up a double rope system with a friction hitch, and attach a harness to it.
  • Then use your arms to self-belay up to the branch.From there you can try branch walking, descents, more climbs or just take in the views.


Where to go

If your rope knowledge leaves a lot to be desired, best get yourself on one of these tree climbing courses first. They make for a great day out with the kids or mates:

Tree Climbing Gear 
If you fancy doing it our self, take a gander at our tree-climbing gearguide. 

Photos courtesy of Goodleaf climbing school in the Isle of Wight