by Tree Climbing Instructor Tim "Tengu" Kovar 

A "Tengu Tip" might be an article about a new climbing technique, a note on familiar techniques, news about gear development,

or a tip from other climbers. It could be anything noteworthy that Tim wants to share having to do with climbing trees,

tree climbing gear, or facilitating others into the canopy.

Tip #5: Traveling with Tree Gear

August 2007

With the 6th annual Recreational Tree Climbing Rendezvous in Colorado right around the next branch, and with many tree climbers traveling to this destination, I’d like to share some traveling tips that I have learned on some of my stouthearted adventures.


The most challenging part of any tree climbing travel is deciding what and how much gear to bring along. My carabiners always outnumber my underwear and outweigh my socks. What you decide to bring will be as unique as you are. I always make a checklist with my priorities being my tree climbing gear over my personal items (other than prescription medicine). It is much easier to find a tube of toothpaste in the remote areas of the Amazon than it is to find a Petzl Grigri. Don’t skimp on tree climbing gear, or Murphy will get ya—if you leave something behind, you’ll need it on the trip.


But this is not a recommendation of what to bring. Instead I want to suggest how to pack your tree climbing gear in a way that gives it the most protection while traveling. This is the gear you hang your life on. Take the time to pack it tight and right. Don’t just throw it all carelessly into your duffle bag.


I learned this lesson the hard way. On a trip from Atlanta GA to Omaha NE for the third annual Recreational Tree Climbing Rendezvous, I was traveling with a hardware store worth of gear. I thought I had it packed well enough. But upon arrival in Nebraska, I found one of my AMD Ball Lock carabiners had trenches carved into it from 1000 miles of driving vibration against a tiblock ascender. This caused major damage to the carabiner, which had to be retired, no questions about it.


I use military duffles as my travel bags. When packing, the first thing I put into the bag is my saddle (a New Tribe Tengu saddle, of course). I turn it inside out so all the buckles, side Ds, and gear loops are facing inward and slide it into my duffle bag. This also acts as an additional buffer zone, for the next step of packing.


After that Nebraska trip, I now wrap all my carabiners in cloth to keep them separate from each other. You can use your t-shirts, socks and the rest of your clothing as “wrapping paper” for all your hardware.


I have had the problem of packing so much gear that I didn’t have enough things to wrap my carabiners, descenders, ascenders and pulleys in. So after my last trip to the Amazon I had the idea of a ’biner bag. It is simply a minimal roll-up soft folder for my carabiners, designed with pockets to carry gear safely while it is being transferred over long distances.


So I brought this idea to Viola. And the sewing wizard that she is came up with a better design than I had imagined. My ‘biner bag idea has now become the Pack Rat, with compartments large enough to hold 10 carabiners, 10 ascenders, 10 Grigris, at one time. The Pack Rat has built in padding that provides great protection for my gear.


After I wrap my gear into either my clothes or the Pack Rat, I stuff what I can inside of my helmet, adding a little more protection to my hardware. Then I turn my helmet upside down and fit it snug inside the saddle, inside the duffle bag. The hardware that I hang my life on is in the center of my bag, protected by clothing, a helmet, the saddle walls and finally the bag itself. This is one of the safest routes to go, unless you have one of those awesome Pelican cases.


I then stuff my remaining clothing articles, towel, sleeping bag, Cozy (if I’m Treeboating) in the bag leaving space in the center for my climbing rope, which is stuffed in a durable rope bag, and then wedge it into the center of the clothing. I make sure that all my gear has extra protection around it. Clothing is cheaper than life-safety gear, so I use that clothing as an insulator. It could save my life. On top of the rope bag I place my toiletry kit. This adds another buffer layer over my rope. I then top it off with my jackets for extra protection at the top of the duffle. When I arrive I may need a jacket right away. Nice to have it handy, if needed.


Note: I MAKE SURE to have a New Tribe or Arborist catalog in my luggage with my gear at all times. I was detained at LAX for three hours trying to explain to the authorities what a lead-filled throw bag is. LA’s finest men in blue were there with me and my ID. I missed my flight. Finally a supervisor from another wing came over, looked at the throw bags and said, “Yeah those are chalk bags for rock climbers, he’s OK, he can go…” “Sure,” I said, “…chalk bags.” And this was in my checked luggage—don’t even try to bring more than one carabiner in your carry-on bag. “They could be used as brass knuckles,” a security agent once told me. I now travel with a couple of catalogs on me and one in my luggage. It clarifies what I am talking about if I ever end up having to explain my gear.


If I’m worried about having to pay extra weight charges when flying, I find out what the restrictions are for my airline. I may want to pack two bags and split up the load.


See y’all at the ‘Vous.


Pack it tight, Pack it right