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Spur Climbing

Spur climbing is one of several methods for climbing trees and utility poles. This technique is named for the spurs used by the climber to gain purchase on the trunk. Spur climbing is perhaps the oldest and most well-known technique for climbing trees, and has been the traditional method employed by tree service technicians as well as spar-pole climbers and other loggers. Over the years, the basic technique has changed very little, however there have been several recent innovations and improvements in spur climbing equipment.

Required Spur Climbing Equipment


buckingham spur kits 1. Spurs

Also known as climbers, spikes, hooks, and gaffs, the spur is the piece that straps onto the climber's lower leg so that the gaff (spike) protrudes from the instep of the foot. Choosing the right spur pad is just as important as choosing your spurs. We recommend spending some time selecting the pad that will work best for you, as some cheaper or poorly-fitting pads can cause discomfort and pain, distracting you from the job.

tree saddles and harnesses 2. Harness

Also sometimes called a saddle. This is the piece worn by the climber around the hips and legs to provide a safe and comfortable way to connect to the flipline or climbing line.

fliplines and lanyards 3. Flipline

Also called a safety lanyard. This is the piece that goes around the tree or pole in front of the climber and connects to metal d-rings on both sides of the climber’s saddle. As the climber ascends, he/she flips this piece up the opposite side of the tree to keep it at the same height as his/her body. The flipline provides a safety link to the tree. A back-up flipline is useful for moving around branches without untying.

flipline adjusters

4. Flipline adjuster This is the item that allows the climber to adjust the size of the flipline going around the tree during the climb. Ascenders or prusiks may be used.

Ascender Also called a rope grab, this device was invented to make climbing rope easier, but has been adapted for use as flipline adjuster. It uses a cam to pinch the rope and hold it in place when under tension. When not under tension, the flipline can be easily adjusted with one hand. Safer for use around saws.

Prusik Loops Prusik

Like the ascender, the prusik was originally designed for climbing rope, but has been adapted for use as a flipline adjuster. Usually, this piece has a locking snap spliced onto a prusik loop, which is then tied onto the flipline using either a two- wrap/four coil or three-wrap/six coil prusik knot.

carabiners5. Carabiner

Used to attach the flipline adjuster to the saddle. The carabiner should be of the positive locking type, where three motions are required to unlock the carabiner, and the carabiner locks automatically when released.

image of tree climber in basic spur climbing gear

How to Spur Climb

1. Pre-climb inspection: Before climbing the tree, it is essential to conduct a thorough inspection of the work site. The climber should be looking for anything that could pose a hazard to either himself or an accompanying ground person. Examples include indications of rot or other structural defects in the tree, such as mushrooms near the base of the tree, conks or other fruiting bodies on the trunk, cracks or cavities in the tree, etc. In particular, the crown of the tree should be carefully inspected from the ground for hangers, dead branches, and stinging insects. Once in the tree, the climber is already committed and may be unable to get back down safely if things don’t go as planned. It is absolutely necessary for the climber to have a plan for the entire job from start to finish.

2. Ascending: Once the pre-climb inspection has been completed, the climber can then strap on the spurs, saddle, and other climbing equipment and begin climbing. Start by throwing one end of the flipline around the tree and catching it in the other hand. Connect this to the positioning d- ring on the opposite side of the saddle from the adjuster. Using the spurs to gain purchase on the trunk and the flipline to keep from falling backwards away from the tree, stab the gaff of the spur into the tree and step up onto it. It is important to make sure that the gaff goes in at the correct angle with the knee 6 to 8 inches away from the trunk. If this is not done properly, the gaff will tear out of the trunk as soon as weight is placed on it. Every 2 or 3 steps up, the flipline should be advanced up the trunk to keep pace with the climber by releasing the tension on it and flipping it up. As the climber ascends, he/she will encounter branches along the way. These can be either cut off to allow passage of the flipline and climber or bypassed with an alternate flipline. Small stubs and twiggy branches can often be passed over with a good flip. As the climber ascends and the trunk becomes smaller in diameter, the flipline should be shortened using the adjuster to keep the climber’s torso the right distance from the trunk.

3. Tying In and Work Positioning: Depending on the type of work being done, the climber has several choices to make upon reaching the maximum desired height. If it is a simple removal, the climber may not need to do anything more than top the tree and start climbing back down, reversing the steps described above. If it is not a removal, or if it is a more complicated removal requiring the climber to go away from the trunk out onto limbs, then a climbing line should be installed and tied into. This can be done either by simply passing the line around the trunk over a stout branch or by installing a friction saver and passing the line through that. If it will be necessary to go far from the trunk or to more than one place in the tree, the tie in point should be selected to provide the best access to the areas needing work. Once the climbing line is installed, the climber should tie in to it. The most common techniques used to do this are the traditional fixed tail system or the newer split tail system. Each requires a few different pieces of equipment, but works in essentially the same way.

4. Descending: Once the work in the tree has been completed, the climber must get back to the ground safely. The manner in which this is done will usually depend on whether or not the climber installed a climbing line. If not, then the climber must back-climb the trunk, using the spurs and the flipline. While not impossible, this is harder to do that going up and is usually only done in cases where the climber is “chunking” down the trunk as he/she goes into firewood sized sections. If a climbing line has been installed, descending is much easier and more fun. There are a number of ways to descend with a climbing line. Some common ones are self-belay using either a friction hitch or prusik loop, and rappelling with a figure 8 but it is also acceptable to have another person belay the climber from the ground.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Spur Climbing: As a technique for climbing trees, spur climbing is fast and efficient but is only appropriate for use in trees that are being removed and in aerial rescue situations. This is because spurs damage the tree’s vascular tissue, forming entry points for disease and insects. Damage caused by spurs is a common cause of decline in a tree’s health after being worked on, and even tree failure.

image of tree climber in basic spur climbing gear

Spur Climbing Kits

WesSpur Complete Spur Climbing Kits contain all the basic spur climbing gear and a big discount. Several styles are available. Spur Climbing Kits.

image of tree climber in basic Rope climbing gear

Other Climbing Methods

There are several alternatives to spur climbing. Most of them involve getting a climbing line installed from the ground and then climbing that instead of the tree. These other methods require the equipment found in our Rope Climbing Kits.

For More Information on spur climbing, check out The Tree Climber’s Companion, 2nd ed. by Jeff Jepson and The Working Climber DVDs from Gerry Beranek.

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