Survival Gear photo

Illustration by Jack Unruh

I really don’t want to die falling out of a treestand. One of the things I most dislike about death is that you don’t get to speak at your own funeral. Which means that nobody would object when someone got up and said, “Well, at least Bill died doing something he loved.”

At this moment, I’d like to be able to rise up from my coffin and say, “Yep, nothing ol’ Bill liked better than falling from a height of 27 feet and hitting the ground like 170 pounds of cube steak.” And then I’d go back to being dead.

I was thinking about this the other day when installing a hang-on stand in the woods behind my house. Never having had my own land to hunt, I’ve always used climbers, which allow you to stay tethered to the tree as you climb. But with a hang-on, you’ve got a problem once you reach the stand itself, in that you have to unhook the tether to get around the thing. So at one of the most precarious moments up the tree, you are untethered.

I’m aware that there are various solutions to this. There are, for example, systems like The Fall-Guy Retractor and the Life Line. (Although what’s up with the Life Line not supplying any information about what kind of rope your $39.99 gets you? That’s nuts.) An increasing number of safety-minded hunters I know are opting for a safety harness tethered by a Prusik knot tied to a line that stretches from above the stand to the ground. But that ain’t that simple. I know enough about physics to know that it’s really important to know what kind of rope to use—which I don’t. (to learn this knot, check out

Here’s what I do know:
–When you fall, the physics get really complicated really fast. If you want to make your head spin, visit the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation’s website describing the factors at work. See page 12.

–Ropes come in a bewildering variety of materials and constructions. Again, don’t take my word for it. See

–People whose lives depend on rope (fire fighters, arborists, etc.) don’t cut corners. The Seattle Fire Department uses half-inch kernmantle (which is continuous filament polyester core overbraided with a unidirectional nylon core) safety rope rated at a breaking strength of 9,000 lbs. The rope they use for a Prusik knot tether is rated at 3,100 lbs.

Long story short, I’m not sure what kind of rope to use. As always, I don’t want to spend any more money than I have to. And climbing rope gets spendy quick. On the other hand, gravity is pretty quick too.