No matter what type of stand you have, it's important to check your gear thoroughly, then check it again. Make sure nothing is broken, missing or old. If you leave your stands out over long periods of time, check carefully before climbing up or sitting as straps can easily dry rot. You also need to check your tree. This may sound obvious, but for newer hunters, it's worth mentioning that you need to make sure the tree is alive, healthy and big enough to hold a stand and hunter.
First and foremost, make sure you use a lineman's belt. These come with most safety harnesses. In my experience, hanging a lock on is the most dangerous step and a linemen belt could possibly save your life.
Prepare your steps or ladder before heading up the tree. I use climbing sticks so I put the first few sections together and raise them up against the tree so I can adjust and tighten straps as I begin climbing. Have someone on the ground feeding you pieces if need be.
Keeping your hands free makes things easier. Some harnesses have many pockets and loops for holding tools. You can also screw in steps or bow hangers to hang things from. For example, I place my stand on one side of the tree and attach a rope that I carry with me up the tree. Once I get to the top of my climbing sticks, I usually screw in a step I can tie the rope to. This way I can safely take a break while hoisting up my heavy stand if need be. This also saves me from having to make a bunch of steps up and down the tree. Once I tighten down my stand, I attach my safety harness as if I were sitting in my stand. I do this before stepping onto my stand in case any straps give way or something breaks.
There are a few things to remember each time you climb back into your stand, too. First, when climbing in and out of a lock-on, maintain three points of contact. Also, extend the ladder, climbing sticks or steps past the stand so you step down onto the stand instead of having to stretch up and over on the last step. Use a rope to pull your weapon or gear up once your harness is attached so you can climb safer. You should also use those extra screw-in steps from your setup to hang gear making your stand clutter free.
My go to stand is definitely a tree climber. I think they are easier and more fun, plus you get to choose a new spot each hunt! Unfortunately, you have to be a little pickier with your trees to avoid low branches. It also helps to have a straighter tree. Those of you who have attached your climber without speculating the narrowness of the tree at your sitting point know what I mean. Nothing is worse then getting to where you want to stop, only to have a poorly angled and pinched climber.
It's important to put weight on the top portion of the climber to make sure it is locked into the bark before sliding the bottom up. Do the same with the bottom before raising the top. Make slower and smaller moves if you feel uneasy. A neat hack I've learned is to keep a folding saw with you so if you get to a small branch or knot you can cut it off and go over it. Most importantly, make sure the bottom and top are connected with rope in case you drop a bottom. As always, attach your harness immediately once you are stopped.
A mistake in or with your stand can not only ruin your hunt, but it can also ruin your life. Stay safe out there!