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Rigging From Trees – Magical or Moronic?

With summer in full swing, the hot topic of the week is:

“Is it a good idea to rig from trees?”

GREAT question! Is it safe? Why is there so much controversy? I see so-and-so doing it, so what’s the big deal? More great questions! Let’s chat!


The Allure of Trees

What aerialist hasn’t looked at a gorgeous tree branch and thought, “Man, I would love to hang on that!” Trees are beautiful, seem strong, and totally whisper to our just-a-little-bit-and-sometimes-a-whole-lot-granola side. And don’t we all have fabulous memories hurling ourselves off a tire swing or rope into a river? Or climbing until we were positively giddy with our own daring? Besides, it seems like a super cheap alternative to renting studio time. Why shouldn’t we just grab a branch and get to making the fabulous?


The Problem With Trees

It’s not that you CAN’T rig safely from trees – for sure, it can be done. The big question is, do YOU have the expertise to do it? Unless you’re a professional rigger with an arborist for a best friend, I seriously doubt it. It comes down to what all aerial rigging comes down to: accurately assessing the structural integrity of an overhead anchor, understanding the forces likely to be placed on it, and then rigging accordingly.


Accurately assessing the overhead anchor – Are you SURE you know what’s happening inside that branch? Do you know signs of disease in trees? What about how weather conditions (lots of rain, drought, etc) affect them? How to check for signs of distress in the branch you want to hang from? There are SO MANY things that factor into the health of the tree.


Understanding the forces likely to be placed on it – How familiar are you with rigging REALLY? Do you understand how much force you generate when you climb? What about drops? Were you planning on crawling out on that branch and rigging 5 or 6 feet from the trunk with a span set and carabiner? Or, better yet, were you going to go out and choke your fabric directly to the branch? If you were thinking about doing either of these things, friend (and I say this with love), you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Get off that poor tree. I’m not trying to ruin your fun, but there are a lot of complex factors at play here.


Where This All Leaves Us (Ha Ha – Get it? LEAVES?!)

The bottom line is that it’s a horrible idea to rig to ANYTHING if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Most of the students who come to me with questions about trees do so because they’re looking for a cheaper alternative to studio space. HEAR ME NOW. By the time you hire a rigger, arborist, and purchase proper equipment, it’s unlikely to be a cheaper alternative. Know what’s also not cheap? Hospitals. Lawsuits. Funerals. Get what I’m saying? Don’t be a dufus. Don’t be an ARROGANT dufus. A wise aerialist knows the limit of his or her expertise, and respects it. For the sake of our community, I hope you’ll do the same. If you’re determined to rig from a tree – do it right. Hire professionals!


Here’s a great article (thank you Jordann Baker & Sadie Hawkins for posting this!) on tree rigging – give it a look. It really points out the particular challenges of rigging safely from our leafy friends without hurting the tree or us. Read it read it read it now! Love and pull-ups, Laura


Rigging From Trees Article


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5 comments on “Rigging From Trees – Magical or Moronic?”

  1. jj Reply

    The other thing to consider is being kind to the tree. A spanset with some kind of cushion to distribute the load is essential for treating the tree well. I had a house with big trees in the backyard and all my friends would be like “whoa! you should rig fabric up there!” My response was that we’d had an arborist out to look at the tree for other reasons, and he was clear that it was not particularly healthy, and there was no way I was risking life, limb and tree over something that just looked cool.

    Also <3 for Jordann, she rocks!

  2. Andrea Knox Reply

    Thanks for the link Laura – I really appreciate your article too, and will use it as a reminder to our community once we get back around to summer in the southern hemisphere!

    And in case anyone here is interested in linking with the aerial arts scene in New Zealand, our site is
    We aim to develop better connections and information sharing between aerial artists in New Zealand, and we have a team of bloggers (although blogging is in a bit of a hiatus at the moment while everyone is busy) plus an associated facebook group:

  3. Kyla Reply

    I’m actually lucky enough to have a well known aerial rigger and arborist in my community. I thought I had some idea of what kind of equipment I needed, and where it would be hung before he came out. I was definitely wrong! The first thing he said when he saw the tree I wanted to use was ,” Oh no, that thing is going to have to be removed, it’s dying”. He also pointed out some scarring on another branch I wanted to use on different tree, though so did say it was healing nicely but might not be the best decision. When he showed me where he wanted to hang my stuff, it was about 10 feet higher than I had thought it needed to be, and he reminded me that I would need a good way to take it down if I didn’t want random strangers touching my stuff.

    Basically the point of this really long post, is that it’s amazing the amount of information you don’t know, and how wrong you can be about something that seems so simple. The other great thing about having a professional come out and check out my space, is that he has offered to go buy equipment with me to help me sort through all the different brands to pick out the best stuff for what I was doing.

  4. Summer Reply

    I see lots of pictures of aerialist in our area hanging out of trees at our local parks and trying to hold workshops. I definitely think this is a recipe for disaster. Hopefully this article will enlighten those who are too cheap to just rent the space they need and think long term. Safety has to be a priority and your students look to you for that reassurance. If you aren’t sure don’t do it! Get the right specialist involved to ensure your safety as well as your students. Nothing is worth risking your safety or that of your students!

  5. Tim Cole Reply

    Very well written and well thought out article.

    I am a professional rigger in the Austin area with almost 20 years under my belt. In addition, I have been an arborist since 1983, many of those years I carried a certification from the I.S.A. (international society of arboriculture)

    There are certainly ways to safely rig in a tree. As arborists we are suspended from relatively small branches on a daily basis and accidentally take some severe drops into the climbing line. It’s a common practice to cable weak branches and junctions together to form a stable structure which ties the canopy into a single structural unit. These same practices may be put into play with rigging aerialists safely while providing redundant safety and piece of mind knowing you are not dependent on the integrity of a solo limb. The use of U.S. made drop forged “RATED” hardware is a must! This can definitely get costly however is non-negotiable! Also proper installation is key to the safety factor and the health of the tree. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER “choke” a cable, rope, round sling etc. around any limb….the tree will not like you anymore!

    In summation, GREAT JOB Laura, stressing the importance of consulting and utilizing trained professionals for these projects. It will make for care-free peace of mind allowing you to concentrate on the most important part of the equation, YOUR PERFORMANCE!

    Happy flying, y’all!

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