How to choose the right tree climbing spurs.

by Trevor Douglas November 16, 2015 0 Comments

How to choose the right tree climbing spurs.

6 min read

How to choose the right Tree Climbing Spurs. Here’s the Long and the Short of it!

When it comes to climbing trees for the purpose of cutting them down and removing them, one of fundamentals of your arborist equipment is a pair of Tree Climbing Spurs. Also known as Spikes, Hooks, Climbers, Gaffs, Irons or Stirrups depending on where you’re from.

So if even just calling them by the right name is hard, it’s understandable it can be confusing trying decide between all the different types available. Especially if you’re new to tree climbing!

Really there are 3 main considerations…

  1. The material the main shank is manufactured from.
  2. The design of the shin pad.
  3. The length of the gaffs.

Let’s start with looking at the material they’re made of, and the benefits and drawback of each…

Material Choices — Is lighter really better?

Steel, Alloy, Titanium or Carbon Fibre are the materials used to make up the main part of the climbing spurs. Steel based ones are going to be the heaviest by quite a bit. They are also going to be extremely durable and will out-live the leg straps, gaffs and shin pads. Fortunately they are all replaceable, so you can keep a set of these in service for many years. Steel spikes in themselves are not necessarily bad, but the biggest downside is they are limited by the design requiring leather pads over a sleeve with no fixed pad option.

At the other end of the spectrum, Carbon Fibre spurs are extremely light weight but are usually more fragile and prone to wear. If you’re the type of person that takes good care of their gear this might not be a problem. One issue is wear on the bottom of the stirrup if you walk around in them on hard surfaces once on the ground. Distel Gecko have made carbon spurs for years and now there are also the ultralight Kiwi Klimbers available. The Kiwi Klimbers advantage over the Gecko Carbons is being even lighter due to titanium gaffs but also that the shin pad is adjustable in height — Geckos are fixed, so you must buy the right height for you.  *Update: Gecko has now released a new version of the Carbons with an adjustable height shin cup.  Click here to view.

Alloy and Titanium are light, but also strong and durable. Im my opinion Alloy is a great compromise between steel and carbon fibre. Noticeably lighter than steel, but can still take a beating in the tree. Alloy Gecko Spurs are also relatively affordable.

Shin Pads — Design trumps padding when it comes to comfort.

The style of shin pad is probably the biggest influence on the comfort or discomfort you’ll experience while on spurs — beside wearing good solid boots! In my opinion, the biggest difference is fixed shin pad versus sleeved shin pad. Buckingham grew out of a little blacksmith workshop and have been making climbing spurs for over 100 years! Bashlin or Klein have been making spurs for many many decades. One basic thing that has still never really changed with these traditional spur makers is the sleeved attachment of the shin pad. Sure they continue to improve the pad, making them bigger, wider, thicker, more straps, velcro straps, but the underlying problem is the sleeved concept itself. If the pad moves relative to the shank, when loaded up under your weight it is always going to shift and cause discomfort.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”― R. Buckminster Fuller

 Enter Gecko and Kiwi Klimbers. Both more recent manufacturers. They’ve both made climbing spurs that solve the problematic design of shin pads moving around by mounting them direct to the shank of the spurs. They are fixed in place with bolts so there is no free play, but you can still adjust them to the height that suits you. In my opinion it’s the superior design of these that allows them to be lighter and less bulky, not needing as much padding. Thanks to good design they achieve more with less.

Gaff Length — The long and the short of it.

Short Spikes or Long Spikes for tree climbing
It’s not just length, the long gaffs also stick out much further away from the foot too. Good on large diameter trees with thick, rough bark, not so good on small diameter thin barked trees.

What’s better, long gaffs or short? I’m asked that all the time… Unfortunately I feel there is no one correct answer to this. There are climbers that favour long gaffs, and others that swear short is best! One thing I have noticed though is that most are firmly one way or the other. I don’t think I’ve ever spoke to a climber who wasn’t fussed and is just as happy with either. The best theory I can come up with for this is your favourite will most likely be whichever one you first learned on. Switching to the opposite after a few years climbing will just feel weird regardless which way round! So which am I? I like short gaffs personally. Yes, my first set were short, so it’s what I know and am comfortable on. 

Here’s my theory on why they’re better for me though anyway…

Long might be great for digging in on really thick rough bark, granted, but how much of the tree has really thick rough bark? On most species it’s usually just the very lower part of the trunk. Maybe the bottom 10–15% of the tree. How much time do you spend there? Not that much! Not if you access the tree with a climbing line, especially if you use SRT. So you bypass it on the way up, and often on the way down you can drop that last section of trunk anyway. So for the rest of the tree i’d rather the benefit of what feels like more natural foot placement, particularly when up high on small diameter stems. I feel that I have better balance when the gaffs are in and the insides of my feet are touching the tree than when teetering on long spikes when the gaff is in but I still have no contact with the tree. Because the gaffs are set on an angle, the longer they are, the further away from your feet they become.

So what would I recommend? You might have me figured by now…normally I’d say Alloy Geckos with Short Gaffs, and I still think they are a great choice and very good value for money right now. 

Kiwi Klimbers Spurs and Spikescender
Kiwi Klimbers + Spikescender = Killer Kombo!


But the new Kiwi Klimbers would have to be very tempting…they tick all the boxes for me and seem a bit more durable than the Carbon Geckos with also the plus of adjustable height shin pads. * Note, now the Gecko Carbons also have the adjustable tops.  Both Geckos and Kiwi Klimbers step up to a whole other level when fitted with the Spikescender. If your budget allows that would be a Killer Kombo!


So remember these 3 points when considering your next set of spikes:

  1. Light weight materials & durability.
  2. Shin pad design. Are they fixed to the shank? Are they height adjustable?
  3. Long gaffs vs short gaffs. How does if fit with your climbing style and the type of trees you will mostly work on?

Thanks for reading ;)

If you’re new to climbing I do hope this added some value to you and helped make sense of things. Please let me know and feel free to ask any questions below.

If you are an experienced climber, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below too! 

Trevor Douglas
Trevor Douglas

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