Introduction: How to Climb a Tree (with Prussiks!)

Picture of How to Climb a Tree (with Prussiks!)

Once you can climb a tree, you can climb the world!

I wanted to learn to climb up stuff using rope, so I selected this fabulous tree on a street in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, and climbed it!

The theory is that you have two self-tightening rope knots. You put your foot in one, and step up.
You loosen and move the knot attached to the harness at your hips a little higher.
Then you rest on that knot, and move the foot-knot up. Step on the foot knot, and repeat.

Perhaps a little slowly, you can easily climb up a rope!

This is kind of a climbing instructable, not just a tree-climbing instructable,
because you can also easily climb anything you can throw a rope over.

Like the tree!

Step 1: Ropes

Picture of Ropes

We're gonna do this with ropes, so put on your climbing harness.

If you're trying to climb a tree the "normal" way, the instructions are your brain, and I won't write them here.

I know you can even make your harness out of ropes, but I don't know how to do that so I can't show you here. I'm just gonna use a store-bought harness lent to me by prank

Go on, put on your harness.

We used webbing straps and two carabiners to attach rope to the tree.
Make sure that you use carabiners approved for use in climbing.
We used a 50 ft. length of dynamic rope.
You really want static rope for rappelling, but in this case dynamic rope worked.
We used a climbing harness each
And two round rope loops for the prussiks.
To round out the ingredients, pick your favorite tree!

Step 2: Sling the Rope Over a Sturdy Branch of the Tree

Picture of Sling the Rope Over a Sturdy Branch of the Tree

First, select a decently sturdy-looking branch, and throw your rope over it.

You'll want this branch to be strong enough to catch your weight if you're falling, so make sure sturdy is really sturdy.

Prank climbed the tree first, and used webbing straps to secure the rope, and then rappelled down with an 8, to begin the true tree-climbing.

I don't remember the words to describe the knotting, but you can tell what happened from the pictures.

By the way, what's the best resource for learning about knots? I'm curious about knot-theory, but diving into mathematical manifolds seem abstract beyond practical. Is there a middle ground between just memorizing knots with your hands, and thinking about knots that don't actually exist?

Step 3: Tie Prussiks

Picture of Tie Prussiks

These are the cool part! Make a rope step ladder out of only rope!

These knots called prussiks (shown below) self-tighten and grip onto a rope when you step into the loop, but can easily be loosened to slide around.

You tie the prussik by slipping a loop of rope through itself a few times.

If you know what a lark's head knot is, tie that, but slip the rope through the loop more than once to get this.

For this, three turns were enough. Four was disastrously frictionful, too much to be useful for climbing this tree.
I started with four and reduced it to three.

You can read more about prussiks here.

Step 4: Become One With the Machine

Picture of Become One With the Machine

Clip your carabiner into the prussik. You and the tree are now mechanically linked!

Step 5: Climb the Tree

Picture of Climb the Tree

Now start ratcheting yourself up the rope, up the tree.

I alternated between standing on my foot, in the foot-prussik,
and hanging from my harness, from the hip-prussik.

While standing on my foot, I slid the hip-prussik upwards.
Then I rested on it and it auto-gripped so I could loosen and slide the foot prussik upwards.

It was a little awkard to only ever have one foot supported. Also, you definitely can't do this barefoot.

When you get to the top, enjoy! Have a tea party or something, enjoy the view, enjoy the breeze
(especially if it's as hot as LA was, that day.)

Step 6: Rappel Down

Picture of Rappel Down

This is where prussiks are (kind of) awesome!

All you have to do is squeeze the prussik knot, and it loosens and you can slide down the rope!

The downside is that you have to successfully do this to two knots at once;
fortunately, if you screw up, you just come to a halt on the rope.

You can also control your descent rate by how much you grip the knot,
which controls the friction between the rope and the knot.

I'm squeezing pretty hard, and making the accompanying face to show what it's like to loosen two four-turn prussiks enough to get it to slide. It worked well enough to prove the theory, but I abandoned the prussiks in favor of using an 8 for the rappelling.


mp 15-22 (author)2014-12-03

Really cool way to climb and seems easy I'm gonna have to try this. Oh yeah nice pits also.

Snidely70448 (author)2013-04-25

Hard to bear a bowline and its variants. With that, a timber hitch and two turns and a half hitch, you can handle most situations.

beat, not bear

mahyongg (author)2010-08-07

Hey *, cool instructable! On this point tough, I agree to disagree too - one of the sacrosanct rules of ropework (or climbing or whereever you might be suspended above ground in reasonable heights to break your something when you fall back down to ma earth) is to never have rope slide over other rope (braid, sling, cord) while one is loaded with you or other weight - the reason being, not only is it gonna melt and the prussik slides (like in this case) but it will likely cut through entirely quite quickly. When using a prussik as a backup for rappeling, it is basically unloaded so thats OK (you just push it further with your hand so it doesnt thighten). Like desciribed here, you would make the prussik take serious friction which will be transformed to heat pretty quick. Ok for 4 meters maybe.. but that fall is survivable too D8. Try this if you want to get a feel for this heat thing: get an 8 or other non-automatic rappeling device (ATC etc), check out how to do it (here?) and then after some tries go as fast as you can still control the descent speed and you feel is safe. Probably the first descent if its more than 5 meters will be enough though - the rappeling device, made from slick aluminum, is pretty hot to the touch! Thats why people often clip their 'biners in to the open end of the eight and never touch the eight themselves after rappeling, because you can burn your fingers.. Burning ropes is unlikely though, because aluminum distributes the heat quickly and it will never get THAT hot ( I know a guy who is an alpine climber who did scientifical tests on that, measuring rappel speed and temperature of different devices with different rope thicknesses - it never got too hot, kind of a myth that it could with a regular rappeling device used for climbing!) Now imagine the a) higher friction and b) less heat dissipation of climbing rope materials on each other. And the fact they're thermoplastics.. all of them. Ouch.. Stay safe, have fun and thanks for the great instructable! Jan

DirtyBrit (author)mahyongg2012-01-14

Good general advice, but speaking as a professional arborist, if you use the right knots/ropes/techniques then rope on rope friction is absolutely fine. Pretty much the who tree industry revolves around climbing trees using friction knots (rope on rope) for climbing, rappelling, rigging etc. very often with no other mechanical descender or friction device even on the same site.

Of course this does rely on your being sensible, one of the golden rules is never to muck around with fast descents etc for the precisely the reasons you mentioned: you burn your ropes.

As an additional point, kind of backing up what you said, arborists use specialist ropes that are more resistant to heat and friction than the kind rock climbers use specifically to endure the kind of punishment they take over a lifetime of work.

But for anybody else reading this, #mahyongg's advice is good, solid advice and should be stuck to in most circumstances unless you're trained in other techniques.

mahyongg (author)DirtyBrit2012-01-15

Hi DirtyBrit!

Interesting, I never knew arborists (in the UK at least) use knots entirely.. I think in Germany it’s probably not even be allowed by the professional organisations and insurances.. not that I don’t believe a proper, pro use of knots would work absolutely fine, but I guess the belief in solutions with a little more technology is just over the top here. Plus the industry lobbies would do everything to sell a 80€ device over a 1€ of tech cord any day ;D

However, as you said - descending with prussiks should really be left to professionals and not be used by novices in any case, other than for test purposes when backed up with a second rope or such in my view.. although its good to know that it can be done, since it could be very valuable in an emergency. Another reason why any climber should carry one or two prussik loops in his/her gear loops ;D



raykholo (author)mahyongg2012-03-16

"Descending" with prusiks can be done in a non-rappel sense by climbing downwards. Literally, the exact opposite of ascending the rope, you sit in the waist prusik, move the foot prusik down, stand in that, move down the waist prusik, over and over again. In my experience, this is even more tedious than ascending with a prusik.

One other thing, when backing up a rappel on an ATC with a friction knot, it is important to note that the knot should provide almost no friction. I can put a prusik above my ATC and clip it into the belay loop.  In that case, I keep the prusik extremely open such that it is still around the main rope but barely touching it, with my left hand.  The right hand holds the brake side of the rope and provides the friction for the descent.  
The alternative is to put a friction knot below the ATC.  I say friction knot and not prusik because a prusik provides way too much friction and is a hassle.  I use an autoblock knot attached to my harness leg loop, or I can girth hitch a sling through my 2 rope tie in points and extend the ATC to about the height where my neck is, and then clip the autoblock to my belay loop.  

How to tie the autoblock

backstab (author)2011-10-09

Isn't this how to climb a rope with prussiks?

falcotheimpaler (author)2011-08-29

I used this method to get on my roof! (temporarily, then I built a rope ladder)

goku ssXXX (author)2011-07-12

This might only be necessary on tall trees with limited reachable branches but wouldn't you be able to climb up that tree without the use of ropes?

xenongamer (author)2011-01-30

Speaking from a scout's point of view, I'll try to describe the knot to tie nto your harness.

1.tie a One(1) ply figure eight knot into the rope, leaving a large amount of slack until the end, about 20 inches.

2.feed that end up through your harness.

3.finish the figure eight knot with a follow-through.

4.Tie an overhand knot over the rope, the short end pointing out from the last knot.

The pictures the author posted should help.

Gtrs45wp (author)2010-12-25

Скачайте фильмы беcплатно на visitors. org. ua it's actually very easy to climb without the help of branches to get to them, there are a bunch of ways to do it...

Gtrs45wp (author)2010-12-25

I climb UP rope in teh gym, but those are much larger in diameter. This is pretty cool. I've never climbed a tree this way.Скачайте фильмы беcплатно на visitors. org. ua

shrimps (author)2008-07-11

With the greatest of respect for trying to introduce people to something which can be a lot of fun I think it might be worth becoming a bit more experienced before you effectively turn instructor. While with many of the instructables on this site all that happens when it goes wrong is that youve wasted your time, you could seriously hurt yourself doing this. Skipping over the first step (having someone either solo or lead climb up the tree) so briefly does not convey just how potentially dangerous either can be. I would not want anyone to try to learn either method from spending ten minutes on the internet but simply not explaining encourages people to 'have a go'. Similarly you are using a sling at the top of the tree as the anchor, you dont explain that to retrieve it someone will have to solo down. Effectively to enjoy this activity someone will have to take serious risks at the beginning and end of the session. Also just to make sure that people can get the most out of this, it would be extremely sensible to give details of what you used. Rope is not just rope, karabiners (even those approved for use in climbing) are not just karabiners, etc. Equipment, especially when dealing with friction knots like the prussik, really can mean the difference between something safe and enjoyable and something dangerous. Its down to each individual to take the risks they are prepared to take, but I think that some readers may not be aware of what those risks are. For example to use two prussiks to descend a rope by simply sliding them down is extremely unwise. Prussiks require specifc numbers of turns for specific diameters of rope and cord, and can and do slip, especially when using dynamic rope as you are in the photos. It might also be worth mentioning that it is always a good idea to protect the bark if any rope is going to be running over it. Sorry if this comes over as aggressive, I would like as many people to get the most of this as possible, so I think it might be worth getting some more experience and writing this in a more detailed way that will keep everyone happy, high and safe.

Patrik (author)shrimps2008-07-11

It's also worth emphasizing how important it is to use something to distribute the weight over the tree branch, like the sling that prank uses here in step 2. If you just throw a bare rope over a tree branch, you can do some serious damage to the tree. It may not look like much to you, and it may seem like a really sturdy branch, but don't forget that the layer just under the bark is the living, growing part of the tree. A compression/friction cut across a good part of a branch may very well mean a death sentence for that entire branch...

sarge89or (author)Patrik2010-02-26

You guys are a trip.  My brothers and I were climbing trees as soon as we were 8 years old.  We have climbed just about every kind of tree from evergreens to deciduous trees.  We have used all diameters of rope from baling twine to larger diameter ropes.  Never once did we do damage to a tree or its limb because of the rope.  We did however break branches because it was not strong enough to bear our weight.  I can not believe how safety conscious everyone here are.  You would think that 45 years ago all of us, our friends and neighbors were dying by the thousands because we didn't know mountaineering techniques and paid some so called expert how to use expensive gear and special techniques.  Why don't you all chill out and let kids have some fun, make a few mistakes and skin their knees.  Good grief!

codeblue12 (author)shrimps2010-02-24

 no need to solo climb. this is the method my first responders class used retrieve an individual if we did not have the metal climbing gear necessary to do it quickly. We learned how to improv meaning we tied our own harness and all. if you tie a knot that acts a a noose and run your rope through it all you have to do when you are done is prussic climb to the top one last time tie a rope to the loop and prussic your way back down. then pull the new rope you pulled up there. this will untie your rope from tree and then you are done.

hazzadobo (author)2008-07-31

IF you want to learn stuff about knotting go to your nearest scout troop, I'm not sure what there is in America but in Australia have sections for people up to 25. You can learn some knotting from there and get outdoors with other people.

mchs60chip (author)hazzadobo2009-07-05

In America There is The BSA Boy Scouts of America and there's generally one to two troops in a city, depending on how big the city is also there's cub scouts for younger kids and venturing for older people Cub Scouts some age-10 BSA 10-18 Venturing 18+ (I don't know what the age limit is for venturing

davejjj (author)2009-02-09

I STRONGLY disagree with this approach. You have inch-wormed your way up the rope and now you should inchworm your way back down. If you slide the prusik knots as described above they will generate a lot of heat AND THEY COULD EASILY MELT AND STOP GRIPPING ENTIRELY. YOU WILL THEN SLIDE DOWN AT A VERY HIGH SPEED!!!!

MoreKnow (author)davejjj2009-07-03

I have to agree. There's a reason why ATCs are made of metal. Bring one with you and use the prussik as a backup. If you don't have an ATC go for the munter hitch with a prussik backup. If none of those are an option inch down as recommended above. Prussiks are awesome!

necropolian (author)davejjj2009-04-01

ehe. but this can be evaded if you use natural ropes...but are those strong enough? i don't know.

skippidydooda (author)davejjj2009-03-10


kiki92231 (author)2009-05-29

the pictures needs to be full body becuse as it is left out a lots of info

Tadec (author)2009-04-01

Use a proper climbing rope and climbing harness and you won't have any trouble.

P1h3r1e3d13 (author)2008-08-20

The Ashley Book of Knots is more or less the knot bible. It's from 1944, but almost no new knots have been invented since then - it's that comprehensive. I don't know how theoretical it is, but it would make a good reference, and I don't think it's hard to find.

static (author)P1h3r1e3d132008-10-25

Ashley book of knots is available here for down loading.
A large file 96.6 MB 638 pages... Enjoy

ker-boom101 (author)2008-09-23

This is really cool a prussick is the know used by a back up balleliar correct? and also this method is a primitive way of ascenders right??

vukko (author)2008-08-18

I find pretty useful. You can watch as the knot 'ties itself' and view each step in detail.

Radiant Creator (author)2008-07-14

so basically a prussik is a double larks head, because i used a larks head on my crappy [ knex pocket handgun].

blacknkhak (author)2008-07-12

a grappling hook and specialized prussic devices can be bought and good synthetic ropes are to be used but this little stunt is a bit nerve wracking in my experience. if the distances to be traveled aren't too great, two "rope ladders" made from sling webbing take some of the work out of it... just slide the prussic ladder up the rope and insert feet.
anyway, this style of climbing feels a bit more like dangling than tree climbing and hitting that perfect branch was a bit of a challenge.

hixair (author)2008-07-11

I like the "machard" better, i have to try the prussiks again, i climb a lot of trees this way. A rope and harness is a blessing when the first branches of a tree are to high to be caught

shrimps (author)hixair2008-07-12

In the UK thats called a French prussik ;)

(your name here) (author)2008-07-10

I happened to have a handbook (by Des Pawson, if you're really interested) that you could probably get for about $10.

What's it called? Why do you like it?

It's called "The Handbook of Knots". It has really nice pictures, and a variety of knots, as well as what they're used for, and techniques for tying them.

osh-kosh (author)2008-07-11

Blake's Hitch is better for ascending trees than Dr. Prusik's knot. It moves up the rope with out you having to touch it, so you can concentrate on keeping your hands where they should be, on the tree!'s_hitch

treenail (author)2008-07-11

This is a good instructable as far as it goes. For even more information get a copy of 'The Tree Climbers Companion' by Jeff Jepson. It costs less than $15 and has been used as the textbook for many treeclimbing classes for years. the book is available in English, Spanish and German!

moomoocows (author)2008-07-06

For all you altra cheep people out there. I've done this many times but I didn't use a harness. I would just use two stepping loops. This is more dangerous but you don't need to spend money on a harness.

shrimps (author)moomoocows2008-07-11

Some people consider their lives to be worth more than the price of a harness...

kimwilliamsg (author)2008-07-10

If you really want to learn to climb trees, then I recommend getting in touch with two brothers in Georgia, Joe and Bill Maher. I took a really cool ("sick" I believe the young people say these days) tree climbing class with them in preparation for climbing trees for research (= studying bats) applications.

But... why no shirts? It was kind of distracting. Not that you both don't look like people who can walk around with no shirts, but they can be useful when encountering nature. :-)

Boomfly (author)2008-07-10

the knot in step two is a figure eight retrace, it's really common when climbing. and it's really easy.

I_am_Canadian (author)2008-07-10

Wow. I did somthing like this a while ago. I even invented my own rope harness, and prussik, and climbing rope all out of one, and climbed the spruce tree in my front yard. Seriously good stuff, man! Keep up the good work.

Broom (author)2008-07-10

Nice instructable: clear, and it's gotten me excited to go out & do it.

Also, in a completely-unrelated comment, nice pics of yourself. Checked your website: serious brains + doityerselfishness + general hawtness = superchick of my dreams! Two decades too far apart, however...

Dorkfish92 (author)2008-07-03

I climb UP rope in teh gym, but those are much larger in diameter. This is pretty cool. I've never climbed a tree this way.

vitex (author)Dorkfish922008-07-04

This instructable is a nice 'appetiser' to what can be a fun hobby. A couple of things - wear a helmet, use branches to climb on when they're available, and don't climb close to powerlines. Use a lanyard to tie yourself to the tree if you need to re-tie your rope. Maintain as many points of contact with the tree as you can! For more info in this vein, try

chilbert007 (author)2008-07-03

Just a word of warning for anyone who want to try this instructable: Make sure that you use a Carabiner that is approved for use in climbing. No reason for anyone to get hurt due to what could be a fun activity.

stasterisk (author)chilbert0072008-07-04

Good safety tip! I'll include it in the directions.

=SMART= (author)2008-07-03

Cool, havent seen this before, i climbed loads of trees when i was younger (still do :P ) but i didn't use ropes, trees where i live have lots of branches so its easier :D

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