November 23, 2020
Just three short years ago, the relative limitations in the assortment of lightweight, purpose-built gear for saddle hunting meant lots of DIY-rigging, equipment-modifying, and solutions-experimenting. And when it came to product orders being fulfilled, manufacturing constraints often led to lengthy wait times to get the best stuff. What a difference 36 months makes…
Today we have lots of choices in quality, comfortable saddles, from functional value-oriented models to the extremes of luxury and customization in some feature-rich versions. Diverse options, from the lightweight minimalist to the spacious, abound in platform choices — and there are more creative, premium stick options now than I ever could have imagined (let’s hope in high enough quantities to prevent them from becoming precious commodities again this fall!). And don’t even get me started on the innovations in climbing aiders and kit accessories!
As more and more hunters awaken to the benefits of this highly effective mobile-hunting system, more and more innovative manufacturers and creative entrepreneurs are addressing the needs of this market, leading to what I can only describe as an embarrassment of riches for both the enthusiast and newbie saddle hunter alike.
We’ve tracked down best-in-category gear from both a value and an overall performance standpoint and have organized them by category so you can build out a saddle kit from scratch — or just augment your current setup. This gear also can be seen on Bowhunter.com and our YouTube channel, broken down by category for a dynamic display of feature set and functionality.
Priced as saddle alone, although most are offered in kit form with lineman and tree tether ropes plus carabiners, some with MOLLE-attached storage pouches for ropes, aider, drink and accessories.
Aero Hunter continues to offer their exceptionally comfortable Kestrel Flex, which introduced the expanding center-saddle pleat concept; now exclusively in Broadside camo, with an adjustable, heavy-duty webbing bridge that slides smoothly through tree tether carabiners. The lineman and bridge loops are lined with red webbing marked with reflective tracer threads that you can easily locate in low-light conditions. The waist belt is made from 1¾-inch nylon parachute webbing with a 6,000-lb. break strength, secured with an ADF Raptor buckle. Even the 1-inch leg straps are from mil-spec webbing rated to 5,600 pounds. This is a very safe, tough but comfortable saddle. Aerohunter.us for $269.
The Slingshot by H2 Saddles is a value-oriented option at $175 that has some serious features — like a length adjustable, climbing-rated tubular webbing bridge, a tough Cordura fabric seat, and a heavy-duty belt and quick-attach buckle. Included leg straps are attached with convenient T-hooks. And an optional Amsteel Triad Bridge for fine-tuning bridge length and saddle support while leaning or sitting, is available for $25 (and well worth the investment). H2saddles.com.
Tethrd’s new Phantom is a full-featured, premium saddle that introduces many new saddle technologies. Incredibly light at 22 oz., the Phantom fits users 28-40-inches in waist, has patent-pending Comfort Channels that offer high, low and medium settings for dialing-in the exact seat pressure and feel you prefer, which works wonderfully to adjust settings during long sits. Newly designed lineman loops are wider and easier to locate and use in the dark. Perhaps the most significant advance is the new Amsteel Utilibridge, which provides 30 inches of smooth-sliding, on-the-fly adjustability, so you can get the exact bridge length you prefer. $249 at Tethrdnation.com.
Tethrd’s newest saddle, the 24-ounce Menace, is a value-oriented option that has a 30-inch, fixed Amsteel bridge, a deep, comfortable Cordura seat and built-in Side Adjusters for dialing-in seat fit. A quiet, load-bearing waist buckle has a wider belt than found on the original Mantis, making it easier to locate and adjust with gloved hands. A row of MOLLE attachment webbing runs across the back of the saddle, and leg straps with elegant T-hooks make it convenient to get on and keep in place. $179 at Tethrdnation.com. The original Mantis is also available at $199.
Intriguing newcomer Latitude Outdoors has two compelling saddle offerings. The 25-ounce Method is a connected two-panel saddle that can be “hitched” together for the hike-in and climb, then “expanded” so one section fully supports your lower back and another rides under and supports your rear/upper legs. “Fade Loops” permanently connect the upper and lower sections, providing a rigid lineman rope connection when the saddle is folded, and when the sections are expanded the loops “fade” back and act to keep the two sections connected. The VSS Vertical Support System helps eliminate fabric bunching and provides lower panel rigidity. The Oplux rope bridge is adjustable at both ends via Prussic knots, offering a 35-inch span for your preferred bridge length. Removable leg straps allow for snag-free hikes to the stand and are easily snapped in with a custom G-hook design. Available with a D-ring COBRA buckle by AustriAplin that allows for secondary tie-in and redundant safety — or a lighter and unique Oplux rope belt that eliminates buckle-on-buckle contact with your pants. A rung of MOLLE loops cover top and bottom saddle sections, for $269.
Latitude’s 20-ounce Classic Saddle offers a single row of MOLLE loops, low-profile lineman loops, and the adjustable Oplux bridge and removable leg straps of the Method Saddle, along with the VSS feature which also keeps the saddle from sliding up your lower back, for $184.99. On both saddles, the bridge Prussic knots provide enough grab on the loops to allow fine-tuning of pressure, fit and feel. Each saddle accommodates up to a 40-inch waist and is also available in a kit with premium Oplux tree tether and lineman belts with Black Diamond carabiners and 6mm TRC distel hitch cord with tender for easy operation, at Latitudeoutdoors.com.
Making a strong comeback to the market this year is the Trophyline brand, better than ever with the newly designed Ambush Lite and Ambush Pro. The Lite version weighs in at 32 ounces and features a tough, breathable mesh fabric for long hike-ins and warm weather hunts. The 35-ounce Ambush Pro uses a very soft, brushed tricot fabric seat in Mossy Oak Bottomland that is exceptionally quiet and durable. Each saddle features a dual row of high/low MOLLE loops allowing you to fine-tune accessory positions for balance and accessibility. Both saddles use a super-strong, 2-inch, adjustable webbing bridge, have separate lineman loops, roomy leg loops and a deep-seat comfort fit, in two sizes for waists 28-42 inches.
Included in these value-packed offerings are a matching square accessory pouch for your tree tether, a round accessory pouch for a lineman’s rope, plus a convenient Cinch Bag for storage. Available direct from Trophyline.com at $159 for the Ambush Lite and $169 for the Ambush Pro — or in kit form with 8-foot lineman and tree tether ropes, plus a Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner and two Black Diamond Positron Screwgate carabiners.
The Tree Hopper Recon is a unique spin on the old Anderson Sling, crafted from two-inch aircraft-grade webbing and comprised of two separate panels, one for your back and one for your legs and rear. These sections move independently of each other for a huge range of adjustment and comfort, whether you prefer to stand or sit. This makes the Recon unique to most of the other saddles on the market, and while looking different, it’s easy to wear to the stand overlapped on your waist, then fully deployed at height. Included are lineman’s loops, MOLLE loops, special rubber-coated plates to accept either adjustable 1-inch tubular webbing (included) or an Amsteel bridge.
The Recon weighs a scant 21-ounces and is shipped in its own storage bag that can be clipped into the saddle to serve as a rope and accessories pouch. Available in three sizes at $149.95 Treehopperllc.com, with money-back satisfaction guarantee.
TX5 Custom Gear
If you’re looking for a complete custom option, Matthew Tompkins of TX5 Custom Gear has your answer — and then some... Pick your fabric material and favorite camo from an array of options. Choose a comfortable “Stretch” or “X-pand” seat. Decide on an adjustable bridge of Amsteel, webbing or Oplux rope. Choose saddle frame webbing type and color. How about specifying your preferred MOLLE loop configurations with sewn-in VersaLoops or removable ones for hanging your sticks off the side? How about a matching Dump Pouch with front and side pockets? These are just some of the options offered by TX5 that Tompkins can custom build for you — and the price for all this customization is a lot more affordable than you think. Tompkins will even build a saddle for you from your supplied fabric if you wish. Visit their Facebook page: TX5 Custom Gear.
Click here to watch a video presentation on various saddle options
Sectional sticks are the most popular tree-climbing method among saddle enthusiasts because sticks are safe, effective, easy to use, and you only have to hang three or four of them to reach heights of 17-22 feet if you add a lightweight climbing aider (see sidebar on page 66). And the current selection of quality sticks has never been so diverse, with a wide variety of step-to-step distances and packable lengths available to match every need. Of the best new sticks, following is a list covering weight per stick (no strap, as this can be easily customized), the overall length for packing, and the step-to-step distance between rungs for gauging overall height potential.
Beast Gear Mini Beast Sticks
20-inch overall length (OAL); 18-inch step-to-step (STS); 1 lb., 9 oz. The new little brother to the wildly popular original Beast Stick, these fixed full-step, two-rung compacts will fit a wider variety of users, especially in cold-weather clothing, while still providing great height potential with an aider. Impeccable fit and finish, $80 per stick. Order early, chronically on backorder: Huntingbeastgear.com.
Eastern Woods Outdoors Ultralight Climbing Stick
22-inch OAL (as shown); 20-inch STS; 1 lb., 10 oz. The premium, have-it-your-way stick. Choose between 20/18, 22/20, 24/22-inch OAL/STS specs; straight or angled fixed full-steps; one or two-step fixed webbing aider or single-step folding wire aider. Available with 6- or 8-foot Woven Daisy Chain Straps. Proprietary fluting on lightweight 6061 high-strength aluminum tubes, black anodized. Buy once cry once, starting at $115 per stick: Doublesteps.com.
Hawk Hunting 20-Inch Helium Sticks
20-inch OAL; 17-STS; 2 lb., 3 oz. Finally, a more compact Helium stick! A crazy value with a four-pack at $149. Silent-use Versa Button suction-type stacking buttons keep sticks secure and quiet. Two rungs of folding full steps are super-functional and lend themselves to many aftermarket climbing aiders to increase climbing height potential. Add a set of Stealth Strips and flyweight Amsteel daisy-chain tree straps for an incredible performance/value solution: Hawkhunting.com.
Lone Wolf Climbing Sticks
32-inch OAL; 15-inch STS; 2 lb., 4 oz. The OG of climbing sticks, and still supremely competitive, albeit not as packable as some shorter options. Three rungs of reversible, single steps. Pivoting V-brackets follow contours of the tree. A three-pack with a lightweight fixed or moveable climbing aider and a set of Tethrd’s VersaStraps has you climbing tall, well under 8 pounds overall. Add some Stealth Strips to totally pimp and disappear. At $159 a three-pack, a top-notch value: Lonewolfhuntingproducts.com.
Lone Wolf Custom Gear D’Acquisto Series Compact Sticks
18 3⁄4-inch OAL; 17-inch STS; 1 lb., 10 oz. A mere three-quarter-inch profile with fully rotating V-brackets that fold flat and are lengthened to provide more foot distance from the tree. Patented grommet system allows sticks to nestle silently together, delivering a supremely packable, low-profile package. Two rungs of reversible, single steps are wider and curved up at the ends for confident feel and control. Integrated climbing grip and “Hammered Titanium” finish add to overall utility and appeal. $299 for a four-pack; add a set of LWCG’s innovative, folding Cable Aiders and you have the climbing height equivalent of six sticks — for under 7 pounds! Lonewolfcustomgear.com.
Out on a Limb Shikar
19-inch OAL; 17-inch STS; 1 lb., 9 oz. Folds flatter for packing than almost any other stick and can be ordered in a multitude of configurations for specific needs. Available with folding single or full-steps rungs — or combinations of both on the same stick, in 17, 20 or 22-inch STS lengths! Strap options include 6- or 8-foot buckle Pull Strap or a 6-foot, 5⁄8-inch wide Mini Flat Strap. A pre-drilled hole in the bottom of the solid stick shaft allows for multiple climbing-aider mounting options. As tested, we got a four-pack of the full-step model with 17 1/8-inch STS size with OOAL’s Mini Flat Strap, and they are a dream to carry and use at $98 per stick. Outonalimbmfg.com.
Trophyline Mini Sticks
17-inch OAL; 15-inch STS; 1 lb., 7 oz. The lightweight leader of the group. Even with the shorter STS distance, this highly mobile four-pack combined with a moveable two-rung aider can have you soaring to 20-feet, for under 6-lbs total weight! Two rungs of single, reversible steps keep weight down for this proven and familiar base design. Add a set of flyweight Amsteel ropes or daisy chain straps and you have a wicked-light, compact combo that can adapt to almost any huntable tree in North America. A great height-to-weight ratio and super value at $159 per four-pack: Trophyline.com.
Xtreme Outdoor Products 2-Step Locking Sticks
22 1⁄2-inch OAL; 15-inch STS; 2 lb., 8 oz. Most rigid and secure stick locking mechanism tested — dead quiet and rock-solid when cammed together via lower step. Two rungs of reversible, single steps, nicely textured and relieved, angling slightly upwards on the ends to help “capture” your boot. A light Amsteel strap or rope and a climbing aider will provide a more competitive height-to-weight ratio. A solid value at $99 a three-pack: XOPoutdoors.com.
Click here to watch a video presentation on various climbing-stick options
Strap That Stick On … Light
The array of ultra-strong, easy-to-use, light and quiet aftermarket stick attachment options has never been more creative and compelling. The noisier, heavier, harder-to-conveniently-wrap-on-your-sticks metal buckle and strap is anathema for today’s mobile hunter.
After the bulky, potentially noise-generating buckle and strap came 8mm low-stretch climbing rope wrapped around the Versa-button and half-hitched on, or in the case of Muddy Pro sticks, slid through a cam cleat. This was followed quickly by lighter, insanely strong, easier-to-splice and tie ¼-inch Amsteel ropes (A), stronger than steel and so light it floats, then 1⁄8-inch and 7⁄64-inch daisy-chained Amsteel (B) ropes (rope with a full-length of loops every two-inches or so), often with a small ball on the end to sling it around the tree easier. Then we have lightweight straps made of Dyneema (what Amsteel is made of) weaved with a series of continuous loops (C), like the breakthrough Versastraps.
And the latest innovations are simple, buckleless 5⁄8-inch wide flat strap (D), available on Shikar and Lone Wolf Custom Gear Sticks, and the colloquially termed Whoopsie Daisy (E), a daisy chain of fixed loops, typically 2 to 3 inches, topped off with 8–12 inches of a whoopie sling loop — so you can cinch it down tight and never have the issue of being caught between loop openings. Brilliant.
The best sources include numerous solutions from: Mike Isbell’s (Backwoodsmobilegear.com); Trevor Bird’s (Customamsteelproducts.com); Dan Osterhouts’s Eastern Woods Outdoors at Doublesteps.com; and our friends at Tethrdnation.com.
Click here to watch a video presentation on various upgraded tree-stick attachment options
Lose Weight — Ascend New Heights
A climbing aider is a device that you use in conjunction with a stick that helps you gain more height per stick, but at the addition of very little weight to the stick setup. An aider can provide one or two more steps per each stick section, thereby greatly increasing height potential when needed and allowing you to carry fewer total sticks to gain a specific height.
Example: If you have a stick with two rungs of steps 15-inches apart, such as Trophyline’s new Mini Sticks, and then you add a two-step aider with 15-inch spacing per step, instead of that stick getting you 30-inches off the ground (assuming you use safe, highly-recommended equidistant spacing), you now get 60 inches or 5 feet high per stick, doubling your achievable height per stick for mere ounces in weight. Aiders or etriers used in the climbing world with more than two steps require cat-like agility and skinny shoes to work well, and they’re not worth the risk in my opinion. Almost anyone can use a one-step aider with practice, and the well-braced and wider versions of two-step aiders can be mastered with practice.
The three common types of aiders for sticks include:
1. Carry As You Go aiders that you carry and move up and down successively on each stick, most being homemade from ½-inch tubular climbing webbing tied or sewn to your specific step spacing (see: Tree Saddle Demo Climb with Aider Use)
2. Semi-Automatic Wearable Aiders that remove themselves off your stick Versa Button as you climb via an adjustable elastic string (you must remove them by hand as you climb down), like the stick-specific Versa Aider (A) and Multi-Step Aider (B) from Backwoodsmobilegear.com and the unique, stick-adaptable Daisy Aider (C) from Customamsteelproducts.com.
3. Fixed Aiders, typically of Amsteel rope, such as the many models from Customamsteelproducts.com (D, E), or models from tubular climbing-rated webbing (F), and the newest models of folding, plastic-coated cable wire like those from Lone Wolf Custom Gear (G) and Eastern Woods Outdoors. All styles of Fixed Aiders permanently install and live on your stick. Each aider type has pros and cons, but they are all wonderfully empowering and weight saving.
Click here to watch a dynamic video presentation where we demo them all
Platforms & Ring of Steps
We all need a spot to place our feet in life…and even more so when in the saddle. The two options are a platform or ring-of-steps. For longer hunts, platforms are more comfortable and most familiar. Ring-of-steps are lighter and easier to pack for shorter-duration hunts and long hikes. Unlike a treestand, both options allow for 360-degree shooting around the tree. All weights below include factory strap.
Lone Wolf Custom Gear’s Kuhnert’s Ambush
5 lbs., 4 oz.; 14 ½ inches deep; 16 ¾ inches wide. A very roomy platform, the Ambush is also quite adaptable to a wide variety of imperfect trees, thanks to its large throat, top-side leveling system and offset bracket. Multiple “cast-in-platform” strap hooks allow a second strap (included) to be employed for special situations. Onboard stick ports make it easy to pack LWCG climbing sticks. Comes with comfortable backpack straps. While the heaviest tested, it’s spacious and feature-rich at $299: Lonewolfcustomgear.com.
Out on a Limb Ridge Runner
4 lb., 3 oz.; 8 inches deep; 16 1⁄3 inches wide. The Ridge Runner feels larger than it measures, thanks to good lateral width. Milled notches running the entire footbed surface make for very secure footing, and a textured finish adds non-squeak tackiness. A convenient single, large platform- leveling knob makes adjustments easy, even with gloved hands. At $159.99, a very good value: outonalimbmfg.com.
3 lb., 6 oz.; 11 ¾ inches deep; 13 inches at widest end tips. The current standard bearer, the Predator offers a lightweight cast platform, a new tree standoff (not pictured), side traction grippers and extreme platform stability. Can handle side pressure with aplomb. Adjustable platform- leveling screw for leaning trees. ZipCam strap and button make secure installation a breeze. Folds flat for packing down to three inches. $179.99 at Tethrdnation.com.
2 lbs., 6 oz.; 7 ½ inches deep; 15 inches wide. The lightest platform in the group by a full pound — and the heavy duty, locking-buckle with retainer clip accounts for a full 10 of those ounces! TIG welded with a powder-coat finish and steel mesh footbed, the Tree-Suit is available in three solid colors. Once secured on the tree, it’s solid and handles side pressure like a champ. Camo it up and add some traction strips along the perimeter tubing and you have an awesomely lightweight package. Although it lacks a platform-leveling provision, at $99.95, it’s an incredible value; buy two and it’s $80 each! Treehopperllc.com.
Trophyline Mission Platform
5.1 lbs.; 13.94 inches deep by 17.97 inches wide. Made from cast aluminum, with the widest platform dimension in the group, this is the choice if you have big feet or just like the feel of a large surface. A convenient “Top Step” sits above the platform stem, providing a great pressure point for setting the stand, leveraging foot side-pressure to take a shot, or just to rest a foot while leaning or sitting. A refined and spacious package at $180: Trophyline.com.
Bullman Outdoors Silent Approach Ring of Steps
2 lbs., 1 oz.; six steps; 5-foot strap with ultra-heavy-duty ratcheting strap (optional 10-foot ratchet strap available). Although the heaviest ROS tested, it also has the most total steps stock (six at 3 oz. per), but all ROS can be customized for the number of steps preferred. A lightweight (4 oz.) cam-over buckle with 7-foot strap and five-steps makes for 1 lb., 5 oz. package. If you like an ultra-rock-solid feel, go with the ratchet strap. If you want to minimize weight and bulk, go with the cam-over buckle. On most trees, five steps is plenty to “walk” and shoot all the way around it, until you get beyond 5-foot diameter. Starting at $64.99 at Bullmanoutdoors.com.
Eastern Woods Outdoors Squirrel Steps
1 lb., 6 oz.; five steps (3 oz. per), 7-foot cam-over buckle. These are solid, compact, indestructible, milled aluminum, exceptionally packable steps; although they will need Camo Form taped for silence and concealment. Squirrel Steps are the “have-it-your-way” ROS. You choose the strap style (three choices), buckle-type (three) and the number of either fixed- or slotted-eye Squirrel steps you want. Although expensive at $25.99 per step, they will last you a lifetime and make for the smallest, most packable ROS option: Doublesteps.com.
Treehopper Strap On Steps
1 lb., 13 oz., as tested; four steps (4.5 oz. per) step with a heavy-duty strap and 11 oz. cam-over buckle. A redesigned, reinforced and re-engineered take on an old favorite among saddle hunters, Treehopper’s new Strap On Steps have undergone rigorous testing at extremes of heat and cold to ensure safe, dependable, all-weather performance. Serrations on the back of the steps allow them to grip trees better; shoulder “wings” stabilize the upper step on the tree and allow nesting of steps together; in a new “Wolf Gray” color. Can be ordered with one to five steps, $52.95 for the four-pack and COB buckle: Treehopperllc.com.
Click here to watch a video presentation on various platforms and ring-of-steps options