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Published Sep 26, 2023 1:00 PM
My first exposure to tree saddles came when reading the work of fellow Michigan native and bowhunter John Eberhart, who should be credited as the godfather of saddle hunting. He has an impressive track record for tagging above-average whitetails in a state that has intense hunting pressure. And he credits his use of a tree saddle for much of his success.
When I first started hunting from a saddle, there were few options available and, truth be told, it seemed to be a niche product that would never really garner mainstream attention. Boy, was I wrong. Today, the world of saddles is expanding and options abound. Below we reviewed and ranked the best tree saddles from top brands like Tethrd, Trophyline, and Cruzr.
How We Picked the Best Tree Saddles
As mentioned, my experience with saddle hunting long surpasses recent trends that have made mobile hunting and saddle use the talk of the bowhunting world for the past few years.
It is this old-school exposure to what I’ll dub “first generation” saddles that allows me to see just how much better today’s saddles are than those of the past. I’ve spent a lot of time hunting from a saddle over the years and I definitely have opinions on what makes or breaks a truly great hunting saddle.
With the majority of the saddles on this list, in-season use hasn’t happened yet because these are brand-new models that just became available. However, I was able to lay hands on test models for offseason use in addition to scoping out new models at various dealers and outlets.
I based all of my saddle evaluation on previous saddle experiences and the shortcomings and successes of saddle models I’ve used and loved over the years.
Best Tree Saddles: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Tethrd Lockdown
- Weight: 3.75 pounds
- Style: Expandable panel
- Innovative LockDown Link system
- Lockdown haulers are hands-down the best gear storage system on a saddle
- Super comfortable for extended periods of use
Tethrd can be credited for fueling the surge in tree saddle popularity when it shook the hunting world just five years ago with the launch of its saddle-focused lineup. The Tethrd LockDown is the brand’s best saddle yet and arguably the best overall hunting saddle ever made.
It started with the Tethrd Phantom, which has been an industry standard since it was released a couple of seasons ago and for good reason. It’s outstanding. The LockDown takes the best of the Phantom and adds an expanding saddle body that uses “LockDown Link” construction that allows the saddle to conform to movement and activity in ways other saddles simply can’t. The end result is a supremely comfortable saddle experience whether in the tree or walking to your next location.
Another highlight of the LockDown is its genius storage system. Saddle storage has long been an issue, with most hunters opting to use basic dump pouches that were a bit of a pain to work with. Tethrd solved that issue with the LockDown Haulers, which feature an integrated frame that allows for true one-handed operation and all but eliminates the frustration factor.
Most Comfortable: Trophyline Venatic
- Weight: 1.25 pounds without bridge/carabiner; 1.88 pounds with bridge/carabiner
- Style: Single-panel
- Two rows of MOLLE, including one of rigid rubber
- Bridge garage for bridge storage while walking
- Raptor buckles on waist and leg webbing
- Rubberized waist belt prevents slipping while walking
- Ripstop fabric is a bit noisy when brushing against tree bark
There’s much to love about this saddle. Trophyline is a pioneer in the saddle hunting game, creating the first hunting-specific saddle in the 1960s. The Trophyline Venatic is the culmination of decades of experience and user feedback. Thanks to the breathable ripstop material that’s both soft and durable, the comfort is unmatched—and that comfort is evident while you’re using it in the tree and while you’re transporting it. The adjustable leg straps are excellent while in use. They don’t ride up and they help the saddle keep a cradle shape that’s made for long hours in the tree.
With other tree saddles, walking around can be an exercise in frustration. The bridge of the saddle often gets in the way and the saddle is always falling down. Trophyline addresses these issues with thoughtful features like a rubberized waistband to prevent slipping and sliding while walking. You can also tuck the bridge in the cool keeper in the belt that TrophyLine has dubbed the “Bridge Garage.” It does the job well.
Best Value: Cruzr XC
- Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Style: Single-panel
- Bridge design is excellent
- Simple to adjust
- Vertical configuration of lineman’s loops are easy to use and identify
- Lacks top-end features of competing models
If you’re new to the saddle game and are looking for a rock-solid entry at a price that won’t cause too much consternation, we recommend the Cruzr XC. With a pleated pleated mesh panel, you get a saddle that’s breathable and comfortable. It features a pair of MOLLE loops that are positioned in a manner that allows you to easily access any accessories or extra gear.
The leg straps are comfortable and I really appreciated the quick-release buckles and solid Raptor buckle on the waistband while using it. I also liked that the integrated linesmen’s loops are basic and easy to use. At $260, the XC isn’t the cheapest saddle option on the market but it delivers excellent value for the price. It’s a comfortable, performance-laden saddle that gets the job done without hitting the top-shelf prices of other similar models.
Best Budget: XOP Mondo
- Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Style: Single-panel
- Can be used as a safety harness in a tree stand as well as a stand-alone tree saddle
- Most affordable option for saddle hunting
- Dual-purpose design means the Mondo suffers a bit as a true saddle-first option
The XOP Mondo is a hybrid tree saddle and safety harness that offers hunters a great option for dabbling in the saddle hunting world without spending a ton of cash in the process. The Mondo builds on the dual-purpose functionality of the Renegade, which XOP released in 2022. The Mondo adds buckled leg straps, an improved waist belt and elastic straps to help with strap management.
The unit offers fully adjustable shoulder straps, chest strap, leg straps and waist belt. The waistline is lined with MOLLE loops for accessories and the package includes carabiners, bridge, tether and linemen’s ropes for less than $150. Rugged, sturdy, and easy to use, it’s a great option for beginners.
Best Lightweight: Timber Ninja Black Belt Nano
- Weight: 1 pound with bridge rope
- Style: Single-panel
- American-made fabrics
- Magnetic holders for sticks and platform
- Incredibly lightweight
I’m a big fan of Timber Ninja’s lineup. From crazy cool carbon fiber climbing sticks to thoughtful aider designs, the brand clearly understands saddle hunting. The Timber Ninja Black Belt Nano is meant to be a minimalist hunter’s dream. And it is. It’s crazy light thanks to American-made technical fabrics that are super light yet super strong.
The magnetic strips for holding climbing sticks is a genius solution to a very real problem and the overall build quality of the saddle is outstanding. If you’re looking to go light and go long, this is the lightest single-panel saddle available.
What to Consider When Choosing a Tree Saddle
There are two types of tree saddles for hunting: Single-panel and dual-panel. As implied, this refers to the number of fabric panels that make up the seating portion of the saddle.
Single-panel models are more popular than dual-panels because, for the most part, a single-panel tree saddle is easier to work with for those just getting into the saddle game. Thus, for the purposes of choosing the best tree saddles, I focused most heavily on single-panel models.
One of the biggest benefits of a tree saddle is its portability and light weight. Overall weight and ease of transport are critical factors when evaluating the top saddle options. It doesn’t take a ton of walking to know whether a saddle will be a pain or a pleasure to walk in between hunts.
Comfort is another big consideration. Saddle hunting requires a bit of a learning curve. The more familiar you become with the way a saddle works—like how to adjust the tether and bridge for a better overall fit—the more comfort you will be able to squeeze from your saddle of choice. That said, I’ve certainly used some tree saddles that proved to be more comfortable than others. Long-term use can reveal issues but typically, you’ll know in the first few minutes whether a saddle is going to be comfortable or not.
Q: Are tree saddles better than tree stands?
Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. If you’re looking for a definitive answer to the question of whether tree saddles are better than tree stands, you won’t find one here. That’s because, in this hunter’s opinion, there is no definitive answer. It’s situational.
In some instances, a saddle is hard to beat. It’s ideal when you want to be more mobile or when you’re hunting areas with “standard” timber sizes and tree configurations. But if you’re hunting woods with exceptionally large, limby or crooked trees, a quality lock-on or ladder stand will prove to be a better option than a saddle.
Q: Can I nap in a tree saddle?
Can you nap in a tree saddle? Oh yes. When used correctly, tree saddles are exceptionally safe and provide enough comfort and support to allow you to doze off. Which, of course, is exactly what the neighborhood swamp buck is hoping you’ll do.
Then that buck will have the opportunity to prance right past your location without you even knowing it—until you check the trail cam positioned over that hot scrape you’re hunting and you later realize the buck of your dreams was standing broadside at 15 yards while you grabbed a quick nap…
Q: What can I hunt from a tree saddle?
All of my saddle experience comes from chasing whitetails. That said, I’ve had multiple encounters with mule deer while hunting whitetails in Western states and they had absolutely no clue I was hanging above their forked antlers. Elk hunters could also benefit from a saddle as their lightweight and highly portable design is ideal for use in rugged terrain.
Best Tree Saddles: Final Thoughts
Whether you’ve never hunted from a tree saddle before or you’ve been using them for years, these are the best tree saddles available right now. While there are specific saddles for specific needs and preferences, we like the Tethrd Lockdown as the best overall—and the best for anyone—thanks to its comfortable design and flexibility.
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