Slacklining is a difficult, yet entertaining sport that is similar to the death-defying feats of circus tightrope walking, minus the balancing pole.
The act of balancing while walking on a length of rope has been around for centuries, but only in the last few decades has it taken on new life with those who are looking for an exciting form of exercise and concentration, without the fear of long falls without a net.
There are numerous places to go for professional slackline setups, but if you’d like to have a line to walk in your own backyard, you only need a few items and a simple list of instructions on how to make a slackline to achieve your goal and impress your friends with your amazing skills.
The History of Slacklining
Though acrobatics on high wires has been performed in Greece, Rome, Korea, and many other countries since the Middle Ages, it has only recently begun a new path in the form of slacklining.
This sport began in the 1980’s, where a group of young rock climbers began to entertain themselves by balancing on railings, chains, and ropes they found in the Yosemite Valley campgrounds. For more information on how to choose the best ropes you can use, see our article on this.
It was two young men, Jeff Ellington and Adam Grosowsky who incorporated the use of tubular nylon bands for their balancing purposes, because of its lightweight, elastic qualities. These two men encouraged each other to go beyond their own limits, and inspired a new generation of slackliners.
One of these newcomers was Scott Balcom, who would be the first to cross the Lost Arrow Spire Highline on a slackline in 1985. This feat changed slacklining from a way to learn proper balance and coordination into a whole new sport of overcoming your fears and breaking through to a life of freedom and exhilaration.
After this death-defying feat, famous climber Dean Potter, along with Shawn Snyder and Braden Mayfield, introduced this new sport to the American Freeclimbing Scene, giving it the media attention it needed to reach all areas of the globe.
It is now popular with more than just rock climbers. Skateboarders, skiers and surfers have all jumped aboard the slacklining train.
And new aspects of the sport have taken shape to meet the needs of those looking for a way to better their skills in coordination, balance, and fitness, as well as those of thrill-seekers everywhere.
Types of Slackline Disciplines
There are a few different types of slacklining disciplines, ranging from beginner methods for those just starting their slacklining training, to expert methods for anyone wanting to push themselves to the limits of their skills.
- Lowlining: Also called tricklining, this is the easiest and most common type of slacklining. This is because it can be set up anywhere you have the room for it, as long as you have two secure points in which to anchor your line.
This is the best way to learn, because you are low to the ground, reducing your fear of falling. It is also great for learning new tricks once you’ve achieved the skills you need to stay upright on the line. This type of slacklining is also used by experts who are trying out new tricks they are just learning.
- Long Lines: Long lining is a bit trickier, because the longer the line, the harder it is to maintain your balance. You must move very carefully, because the more you move, the more the line vibrates, and calming it again takes a great amount of skill and patience.
It is also harder to set up a long line, since finding the proper tension is a bit more difficult, and may require the help of a professional.
- Freestyle or Rodeo Lines: These are much more difficult to walk on, because instead of a taut line to walk on, it has a bit of slack to it. This means that moving too quickly can not only vibrate the line, but can add some swing to it as well.
This is a good line to use when working on slower paced walking on a steady slackline, or “surfing” on a controlled swing. Both can help to increase you balancing skills.
- High Lines: This type of slacklining is best done by those who have mastered the other three easier, backyard types of slacklining. This is because it is quite a bit more dangerous. The lines are anchored very carefully over two fixed points that have been precisely measured to ensure the proper line length.
The height of a high line is usually over 60 feet, though some have gone much higher than that. If you were to fall off a highline, you would most likely be severely injured, which is why most highliners wear a safety harness in case they happen to slip off the line. High lines can extend between rock columns, mountain peaks, or over rivers. Again, this is best done by professionals.
- Water Lines: Though high lining can be done over water, water lining is a bit different. The slackline is usually hung about 1 meter above the water, and there should be no debris underneath in case you fall.
The water depth should also be enough that you will not hit the bottom if you do tumble off, so injury is kept to a minimum. Even though the risk is less than on a high line, it is a bit more difficult. This is because of a lack of focal points, as well as the reflectiveness of the water below you. Concentration is key to keeping your balance.
- Jumplines: This is a relatively new trend in the world of slacklining. The line itself is usually less than 15 meters long, and is kept as taut as possible. It is used for slackliners to perform jump tricks, such as 360 degree rotations, backflips, or somersaults. This line is usually kept low to the ground, to prevent serious injuries, especially during training.
- Skating: This discipline has taken hold with skateboarders looking for a new place to perform their own brand of tricks. The line becomes a replacement for benches, railings, and other surfaces they are known to use to show off their skills.
How to Build A Slackline
When you’re ready to set up your very own slackline, first you’ll need to find an area large enough to support it. It should be at least 10 feet less than the amount of line you’re using, and free of any obstacles or debris.
Once you have decided on the best place to set up your line, it’s time to gather the necessary gear. This includes:
- 1-inch climbing webbing, though you can choose 2-inch webbing if you prefer a wider line to walk on. This webbing should be about 40 to 50 feet long, depending on the amount of space you have to work with. Remember, the longer the line, the more vibration and sway you may be dealing with.
- 5 oval climbing-strength carabiners. If using thicker line, you can substitute a ratchet for easier tightening, especially if you are on a budget, because it is a bit cheaper if you don’t already have the carabiners.
- 2 climbing slings, each 6 feet long.
- 2 old towels, pieces of cardboard, carpet, or something similar to protect the trees being used as anchor points.
After you’ve gathered your supplies, it is time to get down to work. For a review of the top carabiner in the market, do read our piece on this topic.
It is quite simple to set up your slackline, especially if you follow these easy steps.
- Hopefully, you’ve already selected two strong trees on which to anchor your slackline. They should be thick enough to hold the weight of everyone who may be using the line. If there are no trees in your area, you can also use posts, the trailer hitch on your vehicle, or some other sturdy point that will not buckle or break under your weight.
- Next you need to wrap one of the climbing slings around the tree, over the towels, carpet, or whatever padding you’ve selected to protect your tree. Depending on the width of the tree, you may need to do two loops around with the sling. Attach the two ends of the climbing sling with one of the carabiners.
- Then you must attach the webbing line to the sling, using a simple overhand knot. This knot will not hold indefinitely, and if you’d prefer a stronger hold, you can use a Munter Hitch followed by a Half Hitch knot instead.
- Move over to the second tree and repeat the anchoring process demonstrated in step 2, though this time, two carabiners are required for the power point.
- Take your two remaining carabiners and attach them to your slackline using a clove hitch. You should have about 3 feet of webbing free on the loose side to attach to your second anchor.
- Now you’re going to create a pulley system for tightening your line. This is done by taking the free end of your line and clipping it to one of the carabiners on your anchor. Then loop it back to one of the carabiners on your line. Repeat the process on the last two carabiners to create a four to one advantage. Tighten the line using this new pulley as much as you can, so there is as little slack as possible.
- Using three Half Hitch knots, tie up the line around the layered webbing in your pulley.
- Hop on and start practicing!
Helpful Tips to Make Your Slackline Experience A Good One
When deciding to begin training with a slackline, be sure to follow these simple tips to ensure your experiences are good ones, giving you the confidence you need, without sustaining too many injuries.
- If you are not sure which is the right equipment to buy, check out a slackline kit. These come with all the items you need to properly set up your slackline, as well as detailed instructions, sometimes with pictures so you can see exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Of course, if you are already a rock climber, you most likely have all the equipment you need already.
- If you are searching out your equipment and find that the professional kits or items are a bit above your budget, you can always find a cheaper way to build your slackline. For instance, below video demonstrates how using a 25 foot ratchet tie down set along with 2 tow rope cables can be used to make a sturdy, yet budget-friendly, slackline for your backyard.
- When setting up your first slackline, keep it low to the ground. About a foot high is perfect for a beginner, because it will reduce your anxiety about falling off, as well as keeping you safe when the inevitable tumble actually happens. It should also be shorter in length for those just learning their technique, to minimize any bouncing as you learn your balance.
- Be sure your anchors are placed over something that won’t tear easily, to keep the tree beneath safe from harm. There is no reason to destroy the tree’s bark, so be respectful to the sturdy trunk keeping you off the ground.
- Remember that the webbing you’re walking on will likely stretch with use. The more you walk and bounce on it, the more give it will have. You made need to use your pulley system repeatedly to tighten it back up. When to do this is simple to figure out. If you are standing on it and the ends of the line are knee height or higher as you bounce, it needs to be tightened.
- When you are about to take your first steps on your new slackline, it may be a good idea to elevate a small section between a couple of boxes to help reduce the wobble of your movements. Before you try to walk, spend some time just learning to balance while standing on one foot. When you’ve learned to remain steady this way, it will be easier to stand on both feet and begin to move along the line.
- When on the line, don’t look down. Keep your head up and focus ahead of you instead.
Keeping your arms up in a horseshoe shape will help you to keep your balance, as will the foot not holding your weight.
Simply putting out your free foot can actually help you to regain your balance if you start to feel yourself wobbling. When steady again, put it back on the line and keep moving.
Now You’re Ready to Begin
If you follow these simple steps to make a backyard slackline for yourself, your family, and your friends, you will have no trouble mastering this amazing skill. It can help you achieve better balance and coordination, both on the line and off of it, and before long, you will be strolling your way across the high lines of your choice.
Of course, if there is any other method of building your own slackline that you think is better than this one, or if you have any tips for those taking their first steps, please feel free to let us know.