Updated: Apr 8
As the aerial community continues to grow, I've noticed a concerning trend of more people rigging from trees. While I admire their creativity and resourcefulness, I must say that I have some serious reservations about this practice. I get it, the allure of practicing amidst nature's beauty is hard to resist. But, let's take a moment to talk about why this is a high risk option. Here are five reasons why I strongly advise against rigging from trees:
The tree and branches need to be able to take a LOT of weight to be safe. When you simply climb, the weight generated on the overhead anchor generally doubles. When you do dynamic skills such as beats or drops, the sudden shock load can be many times your body weight. In aerial rigging, we aim for a 10 to 1 ratio. Meaning, whatever you’re hanging from needs to be 10x stronger than the max force that you’ll be generating, not just your body weight itself.
The amount of weight a tree can take is affected by many variables that are difficult if not impossible to control and quantify. These variables include age, species, soil conditions, insect infestations, disease, root systems, bark and circulatory system, internal conditions of the trunk, and weather conditions. Plus, rigging on a branch damages the internal circulation of the branch, so even if the branch is safe at the outset, by using the rig, you are damaging the branch’s connection to the trunk.
To more 'safely' rig from a tree, in addition to hiring an aerial rigger, you would need to hire a professional arborist to inspect the tree’s health, and would need to do this frequently for maintenance. The cost of all of this will likely be in the thousands so you’re better off just getting a free standing rig.
Several fatalities have been attributed to Sudden Branch Drop Syndrome. A tree will shed large limbs and branches without warning when stressed. The high risk is just not worth it!
Uh oh, it's time to face the tree-th: Rigging from trees could potentially be breaking the law! Hanging your silk from a tree could be violating rules in your local park or forest. And let's not forget about the trees themselves - these beautiful living organisms took years, even decades, to grow into the majestic creatures they are today. So, let's be responsible aerialists and avoid causing any long-term damage to these natural wonders.
I asked aerial rigger Craig Lewis from Night Owl Circus to chime in and share his take on the situation.
"Rigging from a tree branch is a type of cantilever. This means that your "beam" (the branch) is supported at one end (by the trunk) but the other end has no support. This gives you a lot of leverage, and creates some tremendously amplified internal forces (also known as "bending moments") inside the wood of the branch. And unfortunately, there's no way to know how strong or healthy that tree is. A tree can appear completely healthy from the outside, but actually be rotted or full of insects and hollow on the inside. An arborist can help you to make this determination to some extent, but even any arborist will tell you that it's not an exact science. The spread of the invasive Bradford Pear Tree in the US is worsening this problem as it breeds with other trees and creates weaker variants of trees that would normally be considered quite strong. My general strong advice is, just don't rig from trees. An outdoor rig is a much better option if you want to do aerial outdoors!"
Thank you for your insight, Craig! As aerialists it's important to be savvy about not just the skills and technique, but what you're hanging from. To expand your aerial mind, check out his virtual rigging workshops here.
In addition, while each country is different, in the USA, aerial insurance policies don't cover rigging from trees if you're an instructor or studio owner.
You already know that practicing your craft requires skill, strength, and dedication. But it's also crucial to recognize that being an aerialist comes with a great deal of responsibility.
Not only are you responsible for your own safety, but also for the safety of those around you, as well as the equipment and rigging you use. Let's collectively aim for new heights with the power of knowledge and responsibility.
P.S. If you're an aerialist, teacher or studio owner who would like to encourage others not to rig from trees feel free to share this blog post!