What is slacklining? How do you get started, and what equipment do you need? For those of you new to slacklining, let's start from the beginning.
Slacklining is the art of balancing and walking on a soft and stretchy 1" or 2" wide strap called "webbing". The line is suspended off the ground anywhere from 3 to 3,000 feet and fixed between two anchors points. Slacklining is similar to tightrope walking, except with the nylon webbed "slackline" instead of cable or rope. You also won't find any self-respecting slackliner using a long balance pole.
Origins of Slacklining
While there's some debate about the exact "who/what/where/when" behind the first slacklines, most trace the sports' origins to the campsites and communities of rock climbers in Yosemite National Park in the early 1980s. Story goes that a few climbers, looking for a way to pass the time between ascents, started stringing climbing ropes between trees with the challenge of trying to walk across.
Over the next few years these climbers pushed this new "slack" rope activity to new heights, with a slackliner named Scott Balcom gaining national attention in 1985 by walking across a 55’ slackline strung 2,000 ft above the Yosemite valley.
The Rise of Slacklining
While feats like Balcom's put slacklining on the map, it remained a relatively small niche sport until brought to the mainstream by adventure athletes like Dean Potter and Andy Lewis (the "godfather" of slacklining). As pictures of slackliners walking high above valleys and gaps began to circulate in outdoor magazines, the sport gained an audience and following.
In more recent years, the development of the simple ratchet-strap slackline setup has made slacklining accessible to the masses (not just those with advanced knowledge of carabiners, "slings" and climbing knots), which has allowed for a world-wide explosion of the sport. In fact, slacklining now has an International Federation, contests around the world, and Red Bull sponsored athletes.
Types of Slacklining
Whether you're an absolute beginner or have "walked the line" for years, you'll find seemingly endless new options and boundaries to push in the sport of slacklining. Here we try to summarize the most popular "styles".
Lowlining: Here's where to start as a beginner. Find a beginner ratchet-strap setup with wide 2" webbing. Set up with high tension (to make the webbing stiffer and more stable) and about 3 ft off the ground. The consequences when falling are low, and beginners often find it easier to find their balance with this type of line.
Longlining: Usually defined as walking a slackline any longer 100 feet. These longer lines often require advanced pulley systems that are capable of tensioning long pieces of webbing. These types of lines can be strung close to the ground or even over water for an added challenge.
Highlining: A slackline rigged high above the ground is called a "highline," and is viewed as the apex of the sport. A fall from a highline would cause serious injury or death, requiring the use of a harness or tether while on the line. Rigging a highline is complicated and requires advanced knowledge and equipment. Special types of lines, backup systems and rigging equipment is necessary.
Tricklining: Tricklining is the art of performing aerial stunts on a slackline. Tricklines use a special thin webbing that offers a trampoline-like effect. A trickline is usually rigged close to the ground with the expectation that the slackliner will fall off the line due to the high difficulty of the maneuvers.
Fitness Line: Usually a short, wide slackline used in workouts that focus on strength and balance training. Often times these lines are strung on slackline stands for indoor use. Crossfit gyms and yoga studios are starting to use these slacklines and stands for coordinated fitness and strength routines.
Types of Anchor Systems
When thinking about where to set up your slackline, it is important to find two sturdy anchor points. Most people find stringing a slackline between trees is the easiest starter set-up. If you don't have a yard or park nearby with perfectly placed trees, consider creating your own anchor points. For the more adventurous, here are a few DIY setups:
Ways to Tension / Rig a Slackline
Now that you have found your anchor points, it’s time to setup and tension your slackline. There are many advanced methods for setting up a slackline, especially when dealing with longline or highline setups. For beginners, the two most popular systems are the "ratchet" and "primitive" systems.
Ratchet: A ratchet tensioned slackline uses a mechanical ratchet to tighten the line. This type of setup is very quick and easy to use, but has limitations - it can only be tightened so far, requires maintenance to keep the ratchet in good working order, and is bulky to transport around. Ratchet systems can easily be set up by one person, and are most often used by trickliners.
Primitive: A primitive rig is similar to the climbing and rigging setups of the original slackliners. They are lightweight, and take up less space and are typically less expensive than ratchet systems. The biggest drawback? Primitive systems aren't as beginner friendly to setup, and aren't as good for tricks. We find that most people will start slacklining with a ratchet system, and then progress to the primitive system when they're ready for a new challenge.