Slacklining is a bit like tightrope walking but instead of balancing on a thin rope or wire you walk along a flat webbing, the sort of thing that’s normally seen securing haulage. The line is anchored at each end around solid structures – usually trees. A ratchet is used to tighten the line, but the material has a fair amount of flex so the line becomes springy.
Slacklining originated in the 80s mountain climbing scene where climbers spent rest days attempting to walk and balance on ropes tied between trees. However, since it’s humble beginnings the pastime has exploded into a whole scene of it’s own and many distinct disciplines have developed such as highlining, tricklining, longlining and even yoga-lining!
Who’s it for?
For some people slacklining is as much about controlling the mind as the body and so they like to go solo when practising. For others it’s more about time hanging out with pals and having some freestyle fun over a cool ale or two. Either way, it’s great for anyone who fancies a tricky new challenge and to develop their core strength and balance. Once you’ve got the basics, there are no limits to what can be done further down the line:
Slacklining also lends itself nicely to family time. Kids love to get involved – their fearless confidence sends them way ahead of the pack as the adults flail around just trying to get on!
Where can I do it?
You can set up a slackline in more places than you might think. A free standing rig in the backyard is suitable for most people to start out on. However, the most common and best place to learn to walk the line and progress into a seasoned slacker is in your local park with your line rigged up between trees.
And for those after something a little more… high level, you can set you sights on the thrill of perilously crossing from one hot air balloon to another. It really has been done!
What to expect
Most people will find this insanely frustrating but endlessly entertaining when they first try it. Even with a helping hand for support, the line can wobble uncontrollably beneath the feet of a novice. But muscle memory soon kicks in and progress is made with every new attempt, making it more and more rewarding with each tentative step.
Your core muscles, hips and legs will be worked pretty hard and you can expect lots of ungraceful moments when dismounting.
How to get started
Slacklines have started to pop up at indoor climbing gyms and outdoor pursuit centres, so that’s a great place to have a go as the landing will usually be padded. Some climbing centres even have clubs you can join which is great way to get some tips on how to master the basics.
Many outdoor expo events will have lines set up for trying and there are even slacklining festivals raising their heads as popularity for the sport continues to grow.
Alternatively, take a walk through any city park on a summer’s day and you’ll likely spot some lines joining up the trees. Most slackers are super friendly folk and keen to spread the balancing word, so will jump at the chance to let you have a go if you ask them.
And if you’re feeling inspired then why not buy your own slackline and just have a go! They’re fairly inexpensive, especially if you split the cost between a few friends and they’ll add hours of free entertainment to picnicking in the park or lazy days at the campsite.
What to wear
Anything comfortable is fine. Some people wear shoes and some don’t, you’ll figure out what suits you best the more you do it. Bare feet will allow you to feel the line better but flat plimsolls offer a larger surface area and you’ll be less concerned where you land (hint: avoid prickly things!).
How to set up a slackline
Setting up your own line is fairly straightforward and most ‘kits’ will come with instructions. Here are a few extra things to consider:
- The trees should be healthy and greater than 12” in diameter.
- Choose trees that are 10-15 feet apart.
- Protect the bark, especially if you regularly use the same trees. A lot of slackline manufacturers offer specially made tree protectors but you could just wrap some tough canvas or a folded towel around the tree beneath the webbing.
- Make sure that you set up the slackline in an area that is free from sharp objects or holes and has enough room for the inevitable sideways tumble.
- Set up the line around thigh height and make sure that it is as tight as possible. You can play around with the tension as you progress but it is easier to start on a really tight line.
Where to learn more
There are loads more great videos out there that will give you more of an idea of where slacklining can take you. We particularly like this clip of pro slackliner, Theo Hanson walking across Castle Valley in Utah.
Read more about him and his balancing act here.