Let’s take a look at one of the most basic, yet most useful tools we have on our side: your work positioning lanyard. Whether you call it a Buck Strap, a Sissy Strap, a Scare Strap, Safety Strap or Lanyard, they all do the same thing; that is keep you safe while climbing trees. Now let’s go back a couple years and I’d like to share my own evolution through positioning lanyards and some climbing systems. Hopefully, this can help you choose a lanyard that works for you and how you climb!
Back In the Day
When I first started climbing, I used my Buck Strap to keep me attached to the tree while I climbed up through the limbs and branches. At that time in my career I was doing line clearance for a company out of Michigan and climbing with a closed system using a Blake’s Hitch, which made moving past limbs quite the process! We were trained to spike trees from the ground up and, obviously, tie-in at the top of the tree. Though this is not a proper way to prune trees, at the time it’s all I knew! So bear with me as I explain my process of climbing trees at that time without getting too critical of the things that were done wrong.
When I would climb trees back then, I would throw my Buck Strap around the tree and kick my spikes into the tree. My Buck Strap was a simple three strand adjustable lanyard, which, as its name states, is made of three strand rope and is adjustable. Adjustable is a bit of an understatement though because the lanyard actually needs two hands to adjust. As I would climb up the tree I would keep flipping my Buck Strap upward until I reached a limb. At that point I would do one of two things: I would either take my rope, throw it far above me over a limb and then tie two half hitches to my center D ring and then tie my Blake’s Hitch; or throw my arm over the limb, unclip my Buck Strap, throw it over the limb, and then clip it back into my side D ring.
I’m sure you can see the inefficiencies in the first process and the unneeded dangers in the second process. There is no need to ever free climb or not be attached to the tree while climbing. The first process works well enough and keeps the climber attached to the tree, but takes far too long with all of the gear we have available to us today!
Easy Adjustments Made for Easier (and Safer) Climbing
The other major downfall with a three strand adjustable lanyard is the simple fact that it is really hard to adjust. I remember multiple times where I would make my way up into the tree to find a spot where two leads met, making a much larger diameter section of the tree than what I had experienced below. So at that point I would find myself trying to reach the back side of the tree (where the adjustable part of the lanyard hid) to adjust my lanyard with both hands! This was hard on the best days, and absolutely awful once the lanyard had been cursed by some nasty pine sap!
After dealing with a three strand adjustable lanyard for longer than I care to say, I was given a Flip Line style lanyard from the company owner. I was living the dream once I started using that device!
The setup is pretty simple. You start with an 8-10’ section of rope with an aluminum snap spliced to the end and a rope grab on the other. A rope grab is technically an ascender that is used to hold your rope in place while it is attached to your hip. The lanyard can also be adjusted with one hand! When I could simply just pull the tail of my rope to tighten up my lanyard, this was a game changer! Climbing became easier and positioning on limb walks was made far easier as well because I could hustle out onto the limb, throw my lanyard around the limb and just pull that tail to tighten up the entire system. The one major downfall of using the rope grab is the fact that the adjuster can’t be adjusted when it is under load. This can make adjustments hard after you’ve already tightened up your system.
The other problem that can occur with this type of adjuster is when taking the top out of a tree and the bark rips down the trunk. If the top were to catch your lanyard, there would be no way to release the enormous amount of tension on your body because the adjuster can’t be released when under tension. This should be brought into account when looking for a new lanyard.
The Next Step in My Evolution
After I used a flip line style lanyard for a few years I finally moved on to a Lanyard Climbing Kit style lanyard. This is essentially a short climbing system that is used as a lanyard. The main advantages of this setup are evident when you need a longer lanyard for a secondary attachment while working in wide spread out trees or when you are climbing trees with large trunk diameters. The lanyard can be easily adjusted with one hand, plus all the parts are easily replaceable with typical climbing gear. I love using this lanyard for a quick tie-in point above because it gives me about 10’ of movement from that tie-in point.
As I evolved through these different lanyards I also evolved in my climbing systems as well. My climbing systems moved from a closed climbing system with a Blake’s Hitch into an open system, by way of a split tail with a Blake’s Hitch. This allowed me to use my climbing system as a lanyard as well. By using my climb line as a lanyard and having an extra lanyard has helped make my climbing much safer because I can use them both to help me move over limbs that are in my way. Something as simple as this can make it safe enough for me to have a successful day on the job and return to climb another day. That’s the whole point, right? Climb safe!