How to climb a coconut tree
Coconut is the most important fruit in the tropics for it gives
precious water full of potassium and other minerals. The young flesh
looks like yogurt and is delicious. The old flesh is hard and can be
good to eat in small quantities, or is a great addition to various
dishes. In addition to its nutritious value, coconuts also have some
medicinal properties. The juice of green coconuts (immature fruits) is
recommended for heart, liver and kidney disorders, as well as
In case of dehydration, it can be excellent mixed with some lime juice
or even lime and baby formula.
The problem is to obtain those immature coconuts. When you find
coconuts on the beach, they are already mature and can be used for
their hard flesh or to make coconut milk and oil, but they contain
very little water. So there is no other way but to climb coconut trees
(unless of course you can get someone else to climb for you. It's
usually a better solution as local people learn how to climb coconut
trees from childhood).
In our effort to be self-sufficient, we've tried hard to learn the
necessary skills to climb coconut trees. The few first times, we
barely managed to go up a few feet. In addition to fear, our soft
skins on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet have made it
hard. The first time we went down, we scraped our skin on the chest
and forearms. This is what happens when you slide down hugging a
coconut tree as hard as you can. But if you really want or need to
climb, all this shouldn't stop you. There are two basic techniques and
they are easy to learn. After, you just need practice and to forget
that your skin is soft. It will probably get cut a bit the first time
on the tree, but if you get a dozen of coconuts full of water and
flesh, it is well worth the effort.
I wrote this specific page to explain those two techniques and their
How to climb a coconut tree
All techniques should be done barefoot and barehanded. As well, a long
sleeve T-shirt might save your skin from abrasion against the tree.
The front-foot technique
You might have seen rock climbers challenge some crack climbing. They
stuff their hands inside cracks, pull on them and push on the legs in
opposition against the rock. This front foot technique to climb
coconut tree is very similar. You put your hands close to each other
on the back of the trunk, and pull one foot in front of the other one
in front of you on the tree. By keeping pressure on the trunk with the
balls of your feet and toes , you walk up alternating moving your feet
and hands. This technique is Luke's favorite. I only use it to climb
wide trees at the base when the trees are leaning slightly.
The Frog Technique
I find this technique much more efficient to climb vertical trees,
unless they are very wide. Your legs should be flexed on each side
of the tree with the sole of your feet applied around the trunk. This
position looks like the legs of a frog, this is why I titled it the
frog technique. Unlike the front foot technique, you place one hand up
and behind the tree and the other hand at your chest level on the
front side of the tree. In that way you apply pressure from both side
lifting you up while pushing up with your legs by extended them. You
quickly bring up both of your feet at the same time and squeeze the
trunk in the frog position. In this position, you can rest for a
few seconds if needed before repeating this move up.
On Top of the Tree
When you reach the top of the tree, you can do a few things:
- You can hold yourself with one hand on the back of the tree using
the frog position and with your free hand grab for the coconut,
which you twist until the stem breaks.
- Or you can grab a hold of one of the palms. Make sure you don't
hold on to the bottom layer, you should grab a palm on the second
or third level, hold on to it while your legs are in the frog
position and use your free hand to twist a coconut.
- I was told by my Garifuna friends, that the best way was to make
your way up through the palms and stand up on top of them (again
make sure you only stand on palms which have at least one more
layer of palm below them). From there you can easily grab all the
coconuts without effort. You can either twist them, or even bring
up a machete by climbing with a small rope on which you attached
it. Just pull on the rope and you have your machete at hand. (It
isn't safe to try to climb while sticking your machete somewhere).
To go down, it seems like there is only one technique although in
theory if you master the front foot technique you might be able to use
it, I have never seen anybody doing so. The technique is very similar
to the frog technique. You keep your legs and feet in the same
position. You can try hopping down step by step in the inverse to the
way you went up, but most people just lower their hands one by one
behind the trunk and just let the sole of their feet drag against the
tree. Now you understand why our soft skin suffers. Natives have no
problems doing this. We sometimes cut ourselves on our soles and
palms, but hopefully we will build some tough leather in the future.
It is also while sliding down against the tree that we scrape our
forearm skin and even sometimes on our chests. Only a week after
successfully climbing our first coconut trees, we made great progress
both in climbing and descending coconut trees.
All this sounds like a lot of effort but young coconuts are worth the
trouble. If you ever spend any extended time in the tropics, this
could be one of the most important skills to master.
Frog Technique Variation
I have also seen and tried another technique, which is a variation of
the frog technique. The technique is the same except that you put your
two feet in a circle of rope or sarong. This helps you to keep the
pressure with your feet against the tree. Also the added surface of
the rope (or sarong) applied against the tree helps you by adding more
contact area and giving you more leverage to go up. It is a very good
technique, especially to learn the frog move (because the feet have to
Some people might not feel that they could possibly master any of
these techniques because they require a minimum of fitness and the
risk of falling and getting hurt is always possible.
If these techniques don't work for me, what can I do?
There are other techniques that can possibly be used in a survival
situation. The best one would be to use pieces of webbings or ropes.
One goes around the waist as a belt. Then three are made into loops
and used with a prussick knot, one for each foot, and one for your
hands. The one for your hands is also tied to your belt as a safety
measure. To make a prussic knot, make a small loop in one end of the
rope, wrap the free end around the trunk and insert through the loop.
Pull on it and you have a prussick knot. Those knots grip the tree
under tension, and allow you to go up (or hold you if you fall). Once
the pressure is released (for example the pressure is on your feet
releasing the tension on the rope in your hands), you can raise the
knot higher and re-apply pressure to it. It is a very slow process,
but less physical and safer than climbing with bare hands and feet.
The use of crampons such as those used in the past by telephone
technicians can also be used on coconut trees. The problem is that you
need to have those crampons with you and it isn't always convenient to
carry them around. Also you might not have them the day you really
need to climb a tree so make sure you practice the other techniques.
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