Treestand Safety - Climbing Aids By Richard L. Holdcraft, BA, MS, HHD Consulting Group LLC
Oct 27, 2009 - 9:47:36 AM
As a safety professional for more than 30 plus years and a treestand hunter since the early 70's, I still cringe at the thought of climbing a tree using climbing aids that are currently sold on the market. Most of them are inherently unsafe any way you look at it. Here is a critical look at several devices.
Let's first look at climbing sticks. If you examine hunting catalogs, there are a wide variety of makes and models from which to choose. Keep in mind that there are no safety guidelines for their design and construction, and have no rated or tested load capacities. It is no wonder why the Treestand Manufacturers Association (TMA) does not "certify" most climbing aids. The only ones they do certify are a 16-foot and a 20-foot climbing stick (2004). Most climbing sticks are light weight, portable, and allow the hunter to climb to various heights using multiple sections.
They attach to the tree with straps or ropes that are difficult to sufficiently tighten and have a tendency to slip when weight is applied. The angle of the steps often causes the hunter to climb in an awkward fashion with their feet splayed outward. The design and construction of most climbing sticks do not prevent the hunter's feet from slipping off the steps, especially when the boots are muddy or snow-packed. The steps are generally narrow, have no slip resistance and the rise varies on each stick. In most cases, if the hunter does slip and fall, he will probably be impaled in the abdomen by the step, even if wearing a fall arrest system.
Let's take a look at screw-in steps and strap-on steps. There are so many designs of screw-in/strap-on steps on the market today that it will make your head spin. They are all designed to be small and compact so you can carry several in a backpack. Once again, they have no TMA rating or tested load capacities. When you examine them closely, you will see that there is minimal thread to go into the tree. Trees with thick bark are a problem for these devices because you cannot get a good solid bite on heartwood. Some manufacturers use pop rivets on hinged steps; these are subject to deterioration and eventually to failure. The poor design also provides a minimal slip resistance surface. The steps are typically not wide enough to accommodate the entire width of a hunting boot. If your feet were to slip and you fell any distance, you would likely be impaled on the step. Falls most always result in serious injuries.
Although much better than a wood block step attached to a tree with rope, sectional climbing ladders present some safety concerns. There are also many designs and configurations for ladder sections on the market. They also have no TMA rating or tested load capacities. The ladder sections attach to the tree by straps, chains, or ropes and have the same safety issues as climbing sticks. The side rails come in all sizes and shapes of square or round tubing with the same for steps.
They can be nested together to make one contiguous piece or attached separately to the tree as you climb. There is no slip resistance on the steps and your feet can easily slip off. Attaching the ladder sections require them to be placed flat against the tree. In comparison, the base of an OSHA-approved ladder is placed one-third the length of the ladder away from the base of the tree. This angle provides stability and makes climbing easier and much safer. With the ladder sections flat against the tree, there is no toe space for the boot, which can easily result in a misstep.
Hunting from a treestand can be an enjoyable experience and it doesn't take much to be safe - just use a little common sense. Staying safe requires you to carefully consider all aspects of the design and construction of the equipment you use. Just because the fancy, slick advertising says it is the best thing since sliced bread, that doesn't make it so. Cheaper isn't always good either. The bottom line is to use your common sense and sound judgment when buying your hunting equipment.
Whenever you are climbing a tree, no matter if you are using sticks, steps, or ladders, always wear a full body fall arrest system. The Rescue One 'CDS' is the best harness on the market. If you fall, and cannot recover back to your stand, you can descend to the ground without injury.