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Climb On Up: Tips For Safe Tree Climbing

Have you ever climbed a tree? It turns out quite a few kids — like 25 percent! — have never scaled a trunk, not even once, according to a study published in the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Yet there are so many wonderful reasons to reach for the top branches. So, let’s all go out and climb a tree.

What’s keeping us on the ground?

People worry about climbing because it seems like a dangerous activity. And it’s true that you might get some scrapes or scratches, but only a very small number of tree climbers ever break a bone. Think of it as more of a calculated risk. Just make sure to use the buddy system so someone is around if you need help.

The other problem can be finding a tree you can climb. Lots of places don’t let you climb trees, including the Forest Preserve District. Make sure you have permission to climb a tree before you start.

Climbing is the best!

Why should you climb? Navigating from branch to branch makes you a better problem solver, builds self-reliance and makes you figure out risks through informed decisions. There are also physical benefits: increasing your strength, flexibility and dexterity and figuring out how you move through space.

As you learn to climb and have successes, you will gain confidence and self-awareness and learn perseverance. There is a freedom to climbing that is empowering. It can give you some peace and a space to meditate or to just be. At the same time, when you bring friends into the mix, it’s a great social activity that promotes sharing.

Up for a climb? Great! But before you head to the nearest oak tree, here are a few tips to keep you safe and happy while tree climbing.

Check the weather: Make sure the weather is good. Don’t try climbing when there’s a thunderstorm brewing or strong gusts of wind. Wet conditions can make trees slippery and dangerous!

Dress for the occasion: Your clothes need to be loose enough so that you can move and your arms and legs can stretch in different directions. Just don’t wear something too baggy – then it can get snagged on a stray twig. Leave the fringe and jewelry at home. Try a pair of flexible shoes or go barefoot.

Choose wisely: Hardwood trees like oaks, mature maples or pines are usually stronger and make good climbing trees. Stay away from fast-growing trees like willows, because their branches are more likely to break. Watch out for wildlife like bugs and nests. Do not climb a tree near power lines.

Walk around the tree to see if it is good to climb. Look at the tree’s branches. Are they dead or rotten? They are unsafe and won’t be able to support your weight. Are there hanging or broken branches that could fall on your head? Are the branches close enough together that you can reach them easily? Are they thick enough to support your weight?

Here are some signs of trees you should not climb:

  • Deep cracks.

  • Large areas with missing bark.

  • Many dead branches around the bottom of the tree.

  • A large hole at the base.

  • Trees with vines. (It could be poison ivy!)

Do it yourself: If you can’t get into a tree by yourself, it’s not a tree you should climb. Don’t rely on other people to boost you into a tree, and don’t use blocks or other things to climb into a tree. You don’t want that under you while you are climbing. Only go up if you are sure you can get back down on your own.

Climb on!: If a branch is as thick as your arm, it can usually hold you. When you are first learning to climb, hold up your arm to compare it to the branch. Climb close to the trunk. Always follow the rule of three: You need three parts of your body touching the tree — two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand.

Enjoy the freedom and thrill of spending time with a tree. As you get more confident, remember the real reason you are out here — climbing trees is fun!


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