Introduction: How to Get a Rope Into a Tree (without Climbing It)

Picture of How to Get a Rope Into a Tree (without Climbing It)

So you have a sixty foot tree in your backyard with a branch that's just begging to be used for a swing. Except, unlike me, you're not an arborist and you're afraid of heights. Well - allow me to share an industry trick with you that will allow you to set a rope way up in a tree and get it out after.

If you know any arborists, you will notice they look up a lot. There is a reason for that - arborists, unlike most other mortals, are very interested in things falling on them. So should you be. If you're about to throw a rope in a tree, have a good look at the tree first. If there are any dead or broken branches up there, get a professional arborist to make the tree safe!

In the USA (or anywhere else) I recommend you use an arborist who is a member of the International Society of Arborists (ISA) or the local national body - in New Zealand, NZAA, in Australia, ISAAC etc.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

This instructable is written from an arborist's point of view.

Have a look at this related link How to Climb a Tree (with prussiks!) - I am working on another instructable on tree climbing too :)

To set a rope in a tree you will need the following:

A rope
You need a rope twice as long as the branch is high (ie if the branch is 12m off the ground you need at least 24m of rope). You'll figure out why. Do NOT compromise on the quality of this rope - your life depends on it. Go for a polyester or poly-blend rope that has sufficient break-test to support your life. The IDEAL rope will be a rated, arborist's climbing line which will have a break test of around 5400lbs or 2700kg. There is plenty of yachting rope around that is strong enough - it just isn't break-tested. Polypropylene rope is also very strong - it's just a bitch to work with. OK for a swing, but not for climbing on.

A throw-line
This can be a commercial arborist's throwline (like Zing-it) or monofilament nylon or even sash cord or string. Basically, a thin, slippery cord that you can throw over a high branch. Good-quality throwline is easier to throw and less frustrating, and not highly-expensive, but you can cut costs here without compromising your safety.

A throwball
The best throwballs are made by commercial arborist's suppliers. Arguably the best throwballs are made by Andy Harrison in NZ ( and you can order them via e-mail. They're not expensive, and they work really well. Throwballs are filled with lead shot so they're soft but fairly heavy.

If you're a cheapskate you can throw any heavy object you like over the branch. I don't care if you choose to throw a piece of rail or an anvil - just remember when it comes down it can hurt you. I am not responsible for damage that you inflict to your neighbour's glasshouse or Porsche.

A helmet
Wear a cycle helmet, a skate helmet, or a climbing helmet. Then the anvil falling on your head won't hurt as much.

A cambium saver
You don't really need a cambium saver. But if you're climbing in a tree and you want to set a rope, use one. It saves the bark, and it makes it easier to climb the tree, and it's easier on your rope. I'm just showing you the right way to do it. I appeal to your deep-green moral conscience.

A cambium saver is a rated load sling with two rated metal rings at either end (pictured). You can improvise one from a load sling or a loop of rope and carabiners, but make sure that everything you use is rated.

Gear advice - never scrimp and save on climbing gear. Find the best price for the good stuff. There are heaps of commercial websites. Start at and work outwards.

Step 2: Get the Cambium Saver Into the Tree

Picture of Get the Cambium Saver Into the Tree

Put the end of the throwline through the BIG loop on the cambium saver.

Attach the throwball to the end of the throwline. Any old knot will work, but there are good knots and bad knots. Do some internet research! You need a knot with a loop that can be easily undone later (like a shoelace knot).

Throw the throwball over the branch. With practice you can shy a throwball easily 20m / 60 ft. Practice in a place where nothing can get broken!! Your neighbour will not appreciate getting socked in the head by a 20g lead weight!

The weight of the throwball will bring it back down to the ground. For obvious reasons, keep hold of both ends of your throwline.

Put the weighted end of the throwline through the SMALL loop of the cambium saver.

Pull on the unweighted end of the throwline.

The cambium saver will now sail up into the tree and flop over the branch with the two steel loops hanging down.

Let go of the throwline.

The weight of the throwball will make it fall back down to the ground.

Step 3: Get the Rope Into the Tree

Picture of Get the Rope Into the Tree

Now to get the climbing rope into the cambium saver.

Untie the throwball from the throwline.

The idea is to tie the climbing line onto the throwline so you can pull it up, through the SMALL loop of the cambium saver, through the BIG loop of the cambium saver, and back down to the ground.

To do this, tie the throwline to the climbing line about a foot from the end. There are lots of hitches that will work for this - research the topic online. Refer to the photos below too.

Now tie a couple of hitches towards the tip of the climbing line, with one hitch right at the tip. The idea is that the climbing line will follow the throwline up the tree, through the cambium saver loops, and back down to the ground. Got it, eh?

Pull on the throwline. The climbing line should run up, through the cambium saver loops, and back down. If it sticks at the small cambium saver loop, try setting the last hitch closer to the end of the climbing line.

Step 4: Where to From Here?

Picture of Where to From Here?

Permanent rope
If this is going to be reasonably permanent swing, you can miss out the cambium saver and just set the rope over the branch. Then make a bowline in one end of the rope, slip the other end of the rope through, and pull it up into the tree. Now you will HAVE to climb the tree if you want to get the rope out again.
Because the rope is looped over the branch, it will re-set itself as the branch grows - no etiolation.

Climbing anchor
A rope through a cambium saver is the ideal anchor for climbing the tree. The friction of a rope over a branch can do permanent damage to the bark

Temporary swing
Attach a swing to both ends of the rope, and do whatever comes to mind.

Step 5: Getting Back Your Cambium Saver

How to get you cambium saver back
Take hold of both ends of your climbing rope.

Look carefully up at your cambium saver. If you're short-sighted or have a long rope, use binoculars.

See which end of your rope goes to the BIG ring on the cambium saver.

Tie an overhand knot in this end of the rope. This knot should be small enough to go through the BIG ring but too big to go through the SMALL ring.


Pull on the end of the climbing rope without the knot. The knotted end should sail up, pop through the BIG ring of the cambium saver, catch the SMALL ring, and the cambium saver will fall on your head (unless you move). Any arborist will tell you that it is quite satisfying to have your rope and cambium saver at the bottom of the tree.

Step 6: What Can Go Wrong

Your throwball gets stuck in the cambium saver ring and won't come down
Solution: jiggle the throwline until it drops. If all else fails, you may have to climb and get it out.

The small loop of the cambium saver goes through the big one
Solution: You're climbing for sure!

You pull your climbing line or throwline out of the cambium saver, but leave it in the tree
Solution: see above

You pull the wrong end of your climbing rope when retrieving the cambium saver'
Solution: see above

Best you learn to climb trees, 'cos sooner or later you'll have to!

Climbing trees places you in mortal danger if you climb high enough and without suitable safety equipment. Please research tree climbing on the internet. There are recreational tree climbing clubs that can teach you to climb (e.g. Tree Climbers International). Please put your life in danger in a responsible fashion'


fidgety2 (author)2011-01-15

for me personally 550 cord AKA paracord is awesome throw-line it has never broken on me and while it is farily expensive is (in my humble opinion) worth at least 3 times it's weight in gold per foot

swolff1234 (author)fidgety22014-09-21

Sorry I am bringing your conversation back from the dead here, but I wanted to tell you that you should return you paracord to the manufacturer immediately. You have most likely received a defect batch of cord, but you may be buying from a bogus seller. Paracord should be AT LEAST 50 times its weight in gold per foot.

P.S. On a more serious note, depending on where you get your cord, there are many places you can get it $0.07 per foot, or 17364 times its weight in gold. (Yes that is the actual price)

Good luck and stay safe!


Alibaba is .07 per 100 ft

gator235 (author)2015-07-24

I usually use a Gatorade bottle full of water for the throw weight, because it has several notches and curves for you to tie your rope around.

Bigz1998 (author)2015-03-10

What kind of screw link are you using

gmostert (author)Bigz19982015-03-11

It's a pre-manufactured cambium saver. Basically, it's a forged steel ring, a screw link and a strop. All three are rated. I think Petzl has some similar products - check their catalogue. Lots of large arbor firms in the US would have cambium savers on their inventory and could tell you where to buy one

vitex (author)2015-02-20

No prob Rose - took me ages to figure it out, and it's kinda counterintuitive

RoseH1 (author)2015-02-20

I've been trying to figure out how to do this in my yard. The tree is too big to climb up so I wanted to try and toss it. Thank you for explaining each detail. This is really clear and helpful!
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gibson_se (author)2010-12-16

In rock climbing, you're "supposed" to discard any loadbearing metal gear (ie carabiners, belay devices, etc) if it has been dropped from any significant height onto some hard surface. It is said that small invisible cracks can form, weakening the gear without showing any visible signs, causing unexpected failure at a later time.

The two rings on your cambium saver seem like they would take some severe drops quite often. Sure, you're probably working over grass more often than over rock, since trees tend not to grow on the rocks, but still... Did your training as an arborist mention this at all? Is it a question of materials? Most rock climbing gear seems to be aluminium, what about your arborist gear?

af3556 (author)gibson_se2014-05-28

"Microfractures" is one of the biggest and most bogus rock/rope activity myths.

  • Chris Harmston, quality assurance manager at Black Diamond: “I have test-broken hundreds of used, abused, and dropped ‘biners (even some that fell 3000 ft. (1000 m) from the top of the Salathe Wall on El Capitan). Never have I noticed any problem with these unless there is obvious visual damage to the ‘biner. ... Immediately retire any carabiner that is crooked, has deep indentations, or has a gate that doesn’t operate smoothly.”

Actual tests (summary: gear dropped 200+m breaks at rated strength)

vitex (author)gibson_se2010-12-16

It's one of those things. Do you discard your gear every time something gets dropped? One of the pluses with a cambium saver is that (depending on how it's hanging) neither end is loaded 100%. The rings are also high tensile steel rather than the aluminium of carabiners, so I think they're designed to bounce (even though I try to avoid doing that). Even climbing a tree the way arborists do - on a single rope - is a bit of a no-no in the rope access business, so perhaps it's a 'horses for courses' approach. If you're gonna trust the tree, you're already taking some small risks. I have an answer that would sound like it's straight from the Petzl catalogue.... if you want

wannabeinventor (author)2012-04-02

Just a comment, arborists are awesome. My grandfather was one and my uncle taught me to climb rope, etc. (climbing trees is like my family's main hobby as children [and adults]) Great instructable and thanks!

glorybe (author)2012-01-22

Those of us that need to pull rope frequently use slingshots, rods and reels and even arrows to carry a thin line with a weight on the end. The Line then pulls a rope and then on some occasions the first rope may pull a heavier rope, cable or guy wire. It would be safer to use something softer than lead but a half ounce sinker in a sling shot can toss a thin line a long way.
In small pipe we use crumpled cellophane and a vacuum to suck the cellophane which carries a string and the string pulls wire or cable. This can take very great forces at times and is nasty work.

Waste Of Space (author)2010-04-18

Hi Vitex
I was a tree lopper for quite a dew years and I used a similar but different method for getting a line 50 metres up into the top of the really tall gum trees we have here in Australia.
I used a sling shot to fire a lead fishing weight attached to a fishing line. I shot this over any branch or fork that I wanted to use and then attached a clothes line rope to the end that I had shot through the branches. I pulled this through and back down to the ground (using the method of attachment that you specified) and then attached the heavy line to the clothes line and pulled that through the tree as well.
I used this method for quite a few years and it allowed me to get far higher than I could have done with a throw line.
Strange as it may sound, I found that the best rubber to use to make the sling shot was several linked large rubber bands. The surgical rubber that you can buy for "proper" slingshots was too strong and did not allow the accuracy that was achievable with the lighter rubber bands.
The beauty of this method is that even if you miss and get caught up in the branches, the most you have lost is a lead weight and a bit of fishing line. But then again, I never missed. :)

The only time I put a rope into a tree is if it looks like it doesn't want to fall where I want it to.
I tie a 1/4" rope to a trailer hitch ball and toss it over a branch.
Then I use that rope to pull up one end of my 3/4" X 140' tree falling rope.
I pull the end down and tie it around it's self Then I pull it tight.

Yes, You MUST watch where you throw a trailer hitch ball.

BTW, I made that little tree falling rope. 8>))

vitex (author)Waste Of Space2010-04-19

 Yeah, NZ trees are smaller mate - not many that are over 20m... Those gums are eye-watering.  I suppose the only downside of sinkers is the occasional glass skylight?

spamified88 (author)2009-09-11

wouldn't tying the throwline in-line with the overhand knot work, should you happen to guess the wrong side of the rope? If you picked the wrong side, just pull it back down and tie it on the other side.

vitex (author)spamified882009-09-11

Yes, that does work well.... Trouble is at the end of a long day climbing about, you tend to forget. I might change my behaviour and do just that - especially on tall trees (or in the dark) when I can't see the cambium saver rings clearly! Cheers

vitex (author)vitex2009-09-12

Been thinking about your suggestion of attaching a throwline to the rope for cambium saver retrieval.... There is a problem. WHen you pull the rope through the cambium saver, using an overhand knot to collect it and pull it out of the tree, the cambium saver flips round the branch. If you have a line on the other end of the climbing rope 'just in case' this line then loops through the cambium saver and prevents it coming out of the tree. The only way to work it is to pull the rope through, check, then pull it back, detach the throwline, and then pull out the cambium saver.... So there WAS a reason that we did it that way (as i am relieved to find out)......

g0dswilll (author)vitex2010-07-21

are you sure the cambium saver would "flip around"?... i was thinking the climbing rope would still just be through both ends of the cambium saver, but the knot on your climbing rope would still be pulling on the small ring. then you'd just have to keep pulling and the force of you pulling would pull the cambium saver up and over while the slickness of the throw line would keep the cambium saver moving back down to you while you had a funny little loop on the throwline running back over the branch. eventually, the cambium saver would make it back down to you and you'd pull your throw line all the way through. your throw line would definitely have to be slick though... thoughts?

vitex (author)g0dswilll2010-07-21

What happens in practice is that you look very carefully which end of the climbing rope is which, and then just tie a knot in the end that's through the big ring, give it a pull, and it pulls through the big ring, collects the small ring and the whole thing falls at your feet. No need to fiddle with a throwline. Otherwise you go back in the morning (when it's light) throw another line into the tree, and go fetch your cambium saver! Proprietary throwline is very slick, btw - (e.g. zing-it) Some of the others are polypropylene, which is real slick, but kinda nasty also.

user103 (author)2010-04-18

The knots are important, so why not at least name the ones you have found best for each application in your instructable?

rhaubejoi (author)2010-04-04

a good sized marble, or ball bearing in a monkey's paw knot with a tail to attach to your rope works beautifully.  That is what sailors use to throw those super heavy anchoring ropes to people on the dock.  I also have one that has a tail with a loop in it that I can slip my hand into that I used to keep in my truck for self defense when I was single.  A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  I got the idea cause my brother who works offshore said one of the guys on their boat got hit in the head with one by mistake and it knocked him out cold and gave him a concussion.

Wafflicious (author)2008-12-05

I attach a rope to my bow and arrow then just shoot it up... hey! it works ;)

Lol, me too! XD What poundage you use?

my bow is 45 i think. hbu

35, But i has a recurve, hbu?

Oh I was wrong I checked the poundage mine is set to 30 at the moment but I'm not sure what recurve.

Wafflicious (author)Wafflicious2009-09-15

I mean what re curve is.

vitex (author)Wafflicious2008-12-06

Hey, as long as you get in the tree it's cool :) Truth is, most trees can be climbed without resorting to this sort of trickery

Wafflicious (author)vitex2008-12-06

true. And if not the easiest way is with a latter =)

Speedmite (author)2009-06-07

Um yea, I dont see much difference than tying rope to a rock and throwing it, just this is a tad bit more fancy. Sorry, but i dont see much difference. And Just make it easy. Shoot it up there with a potato cannon. If its pneumatic, then you can dial in to the right psi.

cptully (author)2009-05-28

If I were going to climb many trees this way, I'd skip the prussics and spring for a couple of Jumars - mechanical equivalent of a prussic, but faster to get on and off the main rope. The primary reason that I can think of that prussic rope is so thin is that most (rock) climbers think of prussics as a last resort for getting up and so only carry them for emergencies....

vitex (author)cptully2009-05-28

You can actually make a prusik out of any rope that is the same diameter or smaller than a climbing rope. Jumars work, but prusiks are simpler. Jumars have a way of 'walking' off a rope....

Here's why you should always back an ascender with a fail-safe (like a prusik)

Warning - second link may prove disturbing!

I use an ascender but i back it up with a prusik as a safety knot. Also, prusik loops are real cheap compared to ascenders... <always read the label> One of the good things about buying Petzl products is they give you cool little folders full of Awful Accidents. So at least you know how you're going to die if you get it wrong..... (pardon my sense of humour)

UltraMagnus (author)2008-11-26

have you considered trying a bow and an arrow with nuts glued on the end? would probably be more reliable than a weighted ball...

vitex (author)UltraMagnus2008-11-26

The reason they use throwballs is to limit collateral damage. Otherwise you might find some innocent suburbanite lying in the garden with an arrow sticking out of his back. Actually they use longbows and crossbows to set lines in really tall trees (like Redwoods) - for which google Steve Sillett - but in most normal trees a throwball is quite enough. I am lousy with a throwball and I can set a line about 60ft up - you don't usually need more'n that

shrimps (author)2008-07-12

Well written and illustrated. You clearly know what youre doing. Its good to see someone demonstrating extra caution by wearing a helmet. The only minor point I would suggest (and it might possibly belong in the follow-up instructable on what to do once the rope is in the tree) is that although you can save money by using polypropylene rope and various varieties that can be bought from hardware shops, they arent designed to deal with the intense abuse from a friction knot sliding up and down them (or the squeezing and tearing effects of dedicated ascenders). A rope may be able to hold the weight of 20 elephants but if it doesnt have a durable sheath thin prussik cord will tear through it. A quick google search reveals you can buy seriously strong 11mm semi-static rope for $0.72/metre, at that price youd be silly not to. Look forward to the sequel.

pmac93 (author)shrimps2008-07-26

thats 72 cents per foot not metre.
you got me a little excited there

vitex (author)shrimps2008-07-12

Thanks for your comments - I was trying to encourage people to try. You're right, the only redeeming feature of polyprop rope is strength! Experience is a great teacher, and after struggling with bad rope, good rope makes all the difference... I tend to avoid thin prusik cord. It looks sexy, but I'm not sure if it works well - it binds very tightly. I've had better success with prusik made out of rope close to the same diameter as the climbing line. I figure the only reason to use thinner rope is to save weight if you're going very high (which, in most trees, you are not)...

moomoocows (author)2008-07-06

Very well done. Ropes are a fetish of mine and anything new on them is appretiated.

vitex (author)moomoocows2008-07-11

Hmmm.... I think ropes (like knives, water, fire) are one of those aboriginal tools that provoke a visceral response. You immediately start figuring out things to do with them. I am fascinated by the outrigger canoes built by pacific islanders - nothing but fire, rope, woven plant fibre and wood. Zero-footprint technology.

treenail (author)2008-07-11

You're right, Harrison Rockets are the BEST throwbag in the world. Ask any group of pro arborists and most will tell you that the Rocket is worth every penny!

freakin_biggs (author)2008-07-06

arborist, arborist, arborist, arborist, arborist, and... arborist. That makes an even 300 for this page :)

vitex (author)freakin_biggs2008-07-06

It's called indoctrination :)

joejoerowley (author)2008-07-06

Very Cool! Great Instructable!

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-07-06

Awesome! Unfortunately there aren't many trees over 15 feet here

ll.13 (author)2008-07-06

Nicely done Instructable, and interesting technique. =)

About This Instructable




Bio: A consulting arborist and tree-climber
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