For a lot of students, the middle to the end of April is the start of freedom known as summer holidays. Some will move back home to work and pay off student debts, many will book flights leaving the second they finish their last, torturous exam, and a few will pack their life in a backpack and head out into the bush to fight off starburst-sized, black flies and plant trees.
Tree planting is a form of piecework employment and is a common summer job for students, artists and travelers as it is a chance to make as much money as possible in just a couple of months.
Piecework means the planter is paid a fixed rate for every tree that they plant regardless of the time it takes.
The motivation which gets one through a tree planting contract is quite possibly one of the most important tools for the job. It is this motivation, whether it is to be debt-free or to buy a one-way flight and travel for a year, which will get you through the tough days when it feels like the world is against you. Whatever the motivation, tree planters are tough, hard workers that don’t mind getting a little dirty in order to reach goals and chase dreams.
If you are a returning tree planter you know how strenuous and demanding the job can be and if you’re new, well you’ll have a summer to remember full of stories with a montage of emotions. Although tree planting isn’t for everyone, for those who can’t stay away, the ‘Christmas toe’ and ‘the claw’ will keep them coming back for the experience year-after-year to orchestrate another few months full of roller-coaster emotions and connecting with like-minded people from all over.
Planning Your Tree Planting Journey
The first step to a positive start for your tree planting experience is being prepared. There are numerous tree planting sites that offer packing lists and tips for rookie tree planters so do your research and ensure your first experience tree planting is a good one.
Tree-Planter.com has a great collection of tips from descriptions for the planting gear you’ll need to the pros and cons of using duffles and backpacks.
Stuart, a friend who is currently out in the bush in BC starting another season of tree planting has recently shared with me the run-down on tree planting fashion. A day in the life of a tree planter is a long one and can be upwards of 10 hours so you’ve got to be comfortable in what you’re wearing.
Headgear for Tree Planters
Starting from the top down, some companies will have planters wearing hard hats depending on their rules and regulations. For those companies where a hard hat is mandatory, a light headband like one of the many products offered by Buff to wear underneath can keep the sweat at bay and the bugs out of your ears in the warmer months. If you’re unlucky to receive some snowfall while out on the block, this light headband can be used to keep your ears warm and prevent the wind from blowing in on the gusty days.
Buff products can be worn in multiple different ways ranging from being a headband to a neck-warmer and even a neck protecter to combat against the smouldering sun.
There are merino wool options which are ideal if you’re going to be wearing it day-in and day-out for the next few months thanks to their odour resistance. If you’re not down with merino wool, the Original Buff has a 100% Polyester Microfibre option as well.
If you’re working on a crew where hard hats are not mandatory, you’re ideally going to want some sort of hat to protect your head from the elements. On the colder days, a toque can be used to keep your body heat in and the elements out. A wool toque would be optimal because of its odor resistance and heat retaining characteristics so try to look for a wool toque like the Arc’teryx Diplomat Toque or something with a percentage of wool like the Icebreaker Oasis Beanie.
On the warmer days, some sort of sunhat can be worn to keep the sun off the top of your head and the shade on your neck and face. This particular hat, if waterproof like the Outdoor Research Sunshower Sombrero, can be used to protect you from the rain as well.
When looking at sunhats you will ideally want to pick one with an adjustable drawstring to ensure the hat stays on your head.
In some locations, the weather on the *block can be paradise for the buzzing critters (horse flies, black flies etc.) that will eat at your sanity for the duration of your day. In these instances a bug net can be your only solitude although they may interfere with your ability to see the trees you are planting and watching your step.
*A block is the land on which the trees are being planted.
For some planters, a bug net can be a necessary essential for tree planting depending on their location, but for others, it is either left at home or usage is limited to around camp when the planting is done for the day.
Now that your head, face and neck are covered and protected from the sun, rain, snow, wind and bugs, the focus is on the rest of your body. With the terrain and weather that is endured while tree planting, good working gear is an essential.
Perfect Tops for Tree Planting
It is no fashion show out on the block so if it works and it ain’t pretty, let your creative style flow! Save the stylish garments (if you brought any) for the off days when you and your crew hit the town and show everyone how tree planters celebrate a well-deserved break from work.
When you’re out there crawling over *slash and digging through layers of *duff with the scorching, sun beating down on your back all you want to do is rip off the layers that are sticking to your sweaty skin and jump into a pristine pool of water. Unfortunately, this fantasy may still be far from reality for at least the next few days. Although it can be uncomfortable being fully covered up on a 30°C day, the sunburn and/or back covered in bug bites will leave you uncomfortable for more than just the length of your work day.
*Slash is the debris that is left on the ground after the logging has taken place. This debris can include small bushes, logs, roots, rocks, etc.
*Duff is the layer of moss and twigs which hides the soil underneath.
Having light, breathable clothing is a must and will be your savior when you can’t apply enough sunscreen to combat against the burning sun. On hot, sticky days having a breathable, moisture-wicking shirt will keep you comfortable and cool so you can focus on the trees you’re planting and the terrain you’re covering.
As mentioned earlier, wool is going to be worth it’s weight in gold (merino wool especially) for a tree planter as it it with other outdoor enthusiasts. Wool garments will keep the wearer warm when the weather is dismal and chilly and provide cool protection from the sun when the weather is blazing and the bugs are ready for action!
To keep your skin protected try a looser fitting merino top like the Icebreaker Sphere Long Sleeve which is available with and without a hood. This top can be worn on its own when the weather is warm or can be paired up with a long sleeve baselayer like the Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve for added warmth on the colder days.
This is where your creative style will flourish! According to Stuart, dress shirts have made their way up in the rankings in essential tree planting attire. Their lightweight and breathable, characteristics have made them worthwhile to hunt out in the thrift shops and dig through the boxes of old clothes in your parent’s basement.
So go wild and find the whackiest coloured button-up that will brighten up your day when the going gets tough out in the bush. Who knows, your one-of-a-kind button-up could bring your crew some laughs and smiles when they need it most and the rain is coming down sideways.
(A little tip that may save your sanity in a bug infested block: try to avoid any clothing with the colour blue as that seems to be the colour of choice for the type of friends you don’t want buzzing around you all day.)
If wild colours and whacky patterns aren’t your thing or you’re simply looking for something a little more technical, check out the Fjallraven Sarek Trekking Shirt or the Marmot Evelyn Long Sleeve which are pictured below. Both are lightweight button-ups that will offer sun protection when you’re out in the block.
While venturing into the outdoors we are always taught to layer up no matter what the activity; it is always safer to be too warm rather than too cold. Some days you’re going to know at 6am that it’s going to be a scorcher and there’s other days where the weather can be skeptical and go either way.
If you’re ever unsure, be smart and throw on an extra layer just in case. Whether is be a fleece like the Patagonia Lightweight Synchilla Snap T Pull Over or a wool sweater like the Fjallraven Sarek Knit Sweater, every little bit of extra insulation counts and if it’s quick-drying, even better! There is nothing worse than being stuck out for hours in the cold unable to get warm.
Dealing with the Rain
When the tempestuous clouds are glaring down on the camp at breakfast and open up just in time to hit the block and start planting you’re going to wish you could strut around with an umbrella all day. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly practical so a competent raincoat will be necessary.
Check out our raincoat guide for everything you need to know about raincoats.
You’re going to want to look for a breathable raincoat that offers ventilation so you can remain dry inside and outside. Some rain gear made of rubber has rain drops dribbling off like its nothing but due to the lack of ventilation and breath-ability, you’ll be soaked with sweat inside.
When the rain is really coming down and you need to waterproof your body from head to toe you can add a pair of waterproof pants such as the Marmot PreCip Pant for the ultimate rain protection.
Pants & Shorts for Tree Planting
When it comes to bottoms you want to make sure your legs are protected while thrashing through the block. As a tree planter, your limbs are what gets you around and gets the work done so you want to make sure you are safe and protected from the debris littering the block.
Picking a lightweight breathable pant will keep you cool when the sun is strong and can be paired up with long johns when the weather is bleak. Most hiking pants and/or rock-climbing pants like the Men’s Arch Rock Pant and the Rab Women’s Helix Pants are made of lightweight and quick-drying materials and would make good options.
Tights with shorts over top are a winner for ‘creative style’ and the duo is commonly worn on the block. But when it’s a balmy day and tights won’t cut it, gaiters can be worn to protect the lower leg if you prefer to wear just shorts.
The tights under the shorts look can allow for better movement as sometimes pants can be restricting and interfere with mobility. Most tights or baselayer bottoms are tighter fitting and move with your body so when you pair that with a pair of shorts, it is almost as though you are just pounding about the block in a pair of shorts. If you are one that likes the mobility and freedom of wearing shorts but the terrain in your block wont allow you to go barelegged, rocking the tights-under-shorts could be your new favourite look!
Remember you’re out for long hours for the next few days and your gear won’t always be dry and clean so go for comfort. Too tight bottoms can restrict movement and become uncomfortable as the hours and days wear on. If your pants aren’t tight showing off the glutes you’ve worked hard squatting for all winter, relax, you can show it off on the off days.
Pants and tights that are breathable and waterproof can be hard to come by but The North Face Horizon 2.0 Pant offer a lightweight protection that are also water repellent. These pants are available in a convertible model too which gives you the best of both worlds; pants one minute and shorts at the zip-of-a-zipper next!
Socks for Tree Planters
Our feet take a beating in regular day-to-day life so to imagine the beating they take over a few months of tree planting can make a grown man squirm a bit. Something called Christmas toe is a common condition that occurs in the Silviculture industry which includes tree planting.
Christmas toe is the result of continuously hiking on steep terrain. Someone who experiences Christmas toe will have loss of feeling or numbness in their toe which in most cases will regain feeling around 4 to 6 months later. The tree planting season generally takes place from May to September so the toe is in this state until 4 to 6 months later when Christmas rolls around, thus the name.
You want to treat your feet with respect and prevent all that is preventable while you are away tree planting. Obviously some things are out of your control and cannot be prevented but some fresh, moisture-wicking socks can be like a breath of fresh air to your tootsies after spending a long day in some smelly boots.
When it comes to socks, look for something that will be comfortable in your boots all day. You don’t want to get ankle socks that are going to slip down constantly or rub awkwardly causing blisters. Hiking specific socks are made to keep your feet comfortable in boots for long periods and are often made with merino wool to combat against stinky feet. Wool socks will keep your feet warm when the weather turns and keep the stench down when the sun is a-blazin’
Boots Not Shoes are a Tree Planters Friend
Last but not least: boots! which are probably the most important piece of gear for tree planting. Wearing the right pair of boots will keep not only your feet happy, but your moral high. Not having to worry about shoving your sore, blister ridden feet back into the wet and soggy torture chamber of a boot that you convinced yourself would be good enough would be the first personal accomplishment on the block. Happy feet, Happy planter!
Your boots can either make you or break you if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere for an extended amount of time so shop wisely. If you’re going to be purchasing a new pair of cheap boots halfway through your contract or at the start of every season, the cost will add up and makes that $400 boot not seem so bad. When it comes to your boots, you want a durable, waterproof pair that you can rely on.
Keep in mind the weight of the boot when you’re shopping. The heavier a boot is, the quicker your legs are going to fatigue while scrambling around all day. Most good quality hiking and trekking boots are made of lighter materials to create a more lightweight product.
Keep your boots simple. Ideally you want to pick a boot that is made up of mostly one piece of material with fewer creases and stitching. These creases of stitches where two pieces of material meet may be more prone to damage from the elements and could be torn or just simply give-out with repetitive use. If the stitches begin to weaken, you may experience some surprise leaks while sloshing through muddy and wet terrain leaving your foot soggy for the rest of the day.
Enjoy the Planting Season
Tree planting is a character-building job and will leave you either hooked on the lifestyle or with some very memorable memories at the least. How prepared you are can have a great influence on your experience so plan a little and do some research. If you’re a tree planting vet, you already know what works and what doesn’t and if you’re a rookie, well you may have some trial-and-error to go through but that’s all part of the learning curve.
Every experience in life is what you make of it so be prepared and wear a smile even when your feet are wet and you’re covered in bug bites. The situation may be less than optimal at the moment, but surely you’ll smile and pat yourself on the back about it later.