Depending on the province that you’re going to be planting in, there may be different gear requirements. No matter where you work, it’s very likely that you’ll be supplying your own tree planting gear. In most areas of Canada, the planting companies don’t provide gear, or if they do, they charge you for it. As a consolation, when you’re buying your own gear, you should be more likely to look after it and make sure that it stays in good condition.
When you’re getting ready to buy your equipment, make sure you talk to your foreman or crew boss first, in order to find out exactly what you need. No matter where you work, you are almost certainly going to need two key things: a set of standard planting bags, and a shovel.
The most common planting bags in Canada are the BushPro brand. A set of “three baggers,” which is the standard set with three pouches, will be slightly under $100. There is only one size, but the straps can be adjusted to fit almost any body type. BushPro also sells a set of four-baggers (about $30 more), which can carry slightly more trees. The use of four-baggers is not common except among BC coastal planters who usually have to carry three or four species at a time.
Anywhere else in Canada, you’re likely only going to be planting one or two species at a time. However, there is a small but growing segment of planters who have realized that the four-baggers can be useful for everyone. Although they’re more expensive and weigh a couple pounds more, they do have the advantage of being able to distribute weight around your hips a bit more evenly, so they can be more comfortable than the three-baggers. However, the choice is yours, and the vast majority of planters still opt for three-baggers.
Beyond your bags and shovel, most of the other gear that you might need is optional, depending on where you work. This list includes silvicool inserts, hard hats, hi-vis vests, and bear whistles. Some of these items are “optional” because a planter is allowed to choose whether or not to use them. Others are “optional” in the sense that they might be a worksite requirement in some areas but not others. Let’s look at each individually.
Silvicool inserts (or sacks) are sacks that can fit inside one of the pouches of your planting bags. They are made of fabric so their sides are not rigid, and the inside of each one is coated with a silver lining. Inserts are basically a holdover from the days when the industry planted bare-root trees almost exclusively. The roots on a bare-root tree are very exposed to the elements, and they are prone to drying out very quickly. Once they dry out, the tiny root hairs (cilia) become damaged or die very quickly. By carrying the bare-root seedlings in a closed insert, the roots are more protected from direct sunlight than they are in exposed pouches in a set of planting bags, so there is less seedling mortality.
With plugs or jiffy-pods, this risk is greatly reduced, so inserts are not such a significant benefit. Many foresters recognize this, and realize that when they’re trying to avoid seedling mortality, their efforts are better focused on trying to make sure that trees get watered in storage when the weather gets really hot. In many parts of the country, inserts are not required. On a positive note, they’re handy for keeping your lunch and clothing dry at the cache or in your back bag. If your foreman says that you need them, you’ll want three or four, depending on what type of planting bags you have. Make sure you write your name on them with permanent marker so someone else doesn’t take them by accident!
Hard hats are a contentious safety item. Many planters are not thrilled about wearing hard hats. On wet days they can be nice to keep the rain off your head, but on hot days, they can be unbearably warm. There is probably almost no chance that something will fall out of the sky and hit you on the head in the middle of an open cut block, although an argument can be made that they are useful when working along woodlines, where branches and trees can occasionally fall into the block. In most parts of Ontario and Quebec, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) hard hats is mandatory. In most parts of western Canada and Maritimes, they are not.
High visibility vests generally follow the same rules as hard hats. If you have to wear one, you probably also have to wear the other. Although wearing a hi-vis vest is sometimes a bit of an inconvenience, there is little doubt that they can be beneficial. If a planter collapses from heat stroke on the block, the hi-vis vest might ensure that the victim is discovered more quickly. When a foreman or another planter is trying to spot you out in the middle of a large piece, the hi-vis vest certainly makes you stand out. A hi-vis vest is convenient because it can be worn almost ubiquitously, over light t-shirts (or even bare skin), or over a heavy rain jacket on a cold and snowy day.
In good weather, some planters wear hi-vis shirts instead of vests. The shirts can be pretty comfortable. It’s possible to get everything from a thick long-sleeved shirt to a light yet strong t-shirt with lots of small holes to aid in the evaporation of sweat. Even in areas where hi-vis and hard hats are not required for all planters, it’s common for first-aid attendants to be required to wear them.