Watch Out for Widowmakers!


( – To most people, the term “widowmaker” is associated with a massive heart attack. The phrase was coined to describe anything that could kill a man and leave his wife a widow, though it applies to anyone.

In the survival world, however, widowmakers are something else entirely — but every bit as dangerous (hence, the name). When spending time outdoors, whether hiking, camping, or taking a walk through a park, knowing what this kind of widowmaker is could save a person’s life.

What is a Widowmaker?

In this case, a widowmaker is a dead tree branch high in a tree. These branches could fall to the ground and onto an unwary person. They’re often knocked down by a sudden gust of wind, accumulating snow, rainstorm, or other force of nature.

The term “widowmaker” originated in the logging community and has even been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Loggers have long known the dangers of falling branches, both when arriving at a job site and while cutting down trees with loose branches.

What to Watch For

Any time a person is around trees, it’s possible to encounter a widowmaker. Dead branches are common; just look up.

There are some scenarios that make a falling branch more likely, and certain places to avoid in order to reduce the risk. Here are some tips on what to watch out for:

  • When camping, always look up before setting up a tent. If possible, choose a location without a tall tree canopy overhead.
  • Take extra care when selecting a location for a hammock tent, since these require fairly large trees to hold up the hammock.
  • Keep an eye on trees before walking underneath them. Dead and damaged trees should be avoided, as they pose a much higher risk of widowmakers than healthy trees do.
  • When examining trees around the home after a storm, take extra care to look for widowmakers.
  • High winds and snowfall increase the likelihood of widowmakers. The wind can break off or dislodge previously broken branches, and snow can weigh branches down, causing them to snap off.
  • Take extra care when trimming large branches or cutting down trees. Creating a widowmaker is just as dangerous as encountering a naturally occurring one.

The best way to avoid a widowmaker is to be aware of the surrounding environment. Situational awareness is a hot topic amongst survivalists for good reason, and it extends far beyond looking for danger on the ground. To learn more about situational awareness and how to develop it, check out this article.

~Here’s to Your Survival!

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