Article: Building a basic slacklineYou can find slackline kits on the web (like those from Slackline Express), generally in the $50-100 range, depending on options. If you don’t want to put forth any effort, besides punching in your credit card number, and remaining patient for a week or two while the kit is being made and shipped (in my experience, slackline express will require between three days and a week to ship out your orders), this is the best option. My first slackline setup was a 30′ kit from Slackline Express, but I outgrew it within a week or two.
A 50′ setup will take significantly longer to outgrow– in fact, many people will never need/want to build a line bigger than this. I am a bit of a nut, so I moved from a 50′ to 100′ line within another month or so.
Here is my one-size-fits-all suggestion for building a slackline kit yourself:
1: 75ft of 1″ tubular webbing from your local REI store. If you don’t have a local REI, use the web link, or buy from Joe @ SE (100′). You will use at LEAST 20 ft of this in your “primitive pulley system,” so beware that a 75ft line will only be about 50ft once pulled taut).
2: Slings (anchors) can be made from two 60cm runners (if you will ONLY be rigging on poles 5″ thick or less, and never on trees), two spare 10-12ft lengths of 1″ webbing (tied into a loop with a water knot), or custom slings from SE (I had Joe make these in 10ft lengths, but he will presumably make them in any length for you, just ask). I would recommend just getting an extra 25 ft of webbing, cutting in half, and tieing two slings. I would get webbing in a different color from your main line webbing, so as to make it obvious which is which when you’re unpacking your gear.
3: Four carabiners, locking or non-locking are fine. I would avoid wire-gate carabiners. If you want to spend about $5, get these. If you have a bit more to spend ($11), screwgate locking carabiners are marginally safer (and around 30% stronger), but totally not necessary until you get into 80+ft lines (imo).
4: Two rappel rings from REI, or two chain links (below).
If you buy from REI, your kit will run around $70 for a pretty darn nice kit (i.e. room to grow), or as little as $40-50 if you get less webbing, make the lockers yourself, etc. There are videos on YouTube that show how to rig the 3:1 primitive, how to tie a clove hitch, how to setup lockers, etc– but learning in person is easiest (plus slacking with others is more fun). I have yet to meet a slackliner who wouldn’t be happy to show a random stranger how to setup a line, so the best bet is either to ask how (the next time you see someone slacking), or come to one of the gatherings posted here or to the facebook group (or e-mail me, and ask when I’ll be out next).
Specific thoughts on choosing the best kit…
RETAIL vs HOMEMADE — A retail kit is easy (you do nothing but pay for it), but obviously costs more. Most vendors will have 25-50% profit margin over what you would spend to make the kit yourself somewhere like REI. Also, if you assemble a kit yourself, provided you decide to do this during daylight hours, chances are there’s an REI near you that is open *right now* and has webbing in stock; if you’re impatient like me, that’s a huge bonus. However, I do take pleasure in supporting the vendors that help advance this sport, so when I am buying bulk webbing, or spare items that I don’t need asap, I will purchase from Slackline Express. Joe Kuster (who runs SE) is very friendly and helpful, and has custom made several things for me in the past.
RATCHET vs PRIMITIVE vs PULLEYS — (synopsis: build a primitive system) Most of the beginner kits on the net are based on pickup-truck-bed-tiedown ratchets. These are simple to operate, and only require one person to setup, so they are popular for beginners… but they also eat your webbing if you aren’t careful, can jam and refuse to release (I have had this happen personally), and the number one reason why I don’t recommend them is that they aren’t safety rated. A slackline is under a good deal of tension, and I just don’t like the idea of a big metal ratchet, probably made in China (with questionable metallurgic integrity), sitting at the end of my line like a grenade, ready to explode one day and send metal gears flying at my cranium. (UPDATE: Joe @ SlacklineExpress informs me their ratchets are load and safety rated. That said, I still think they are an “unclean” way of tensioning a line, although I cannot completely justify my bias anymore, haha.) A “primitive” setup involves tying a carabiner into one end of the line (a few feet from the anchor) and then running the line through two more carabiners (at the anchor) to serve as a basic pulley system. This allows the users to exert a mechanical advantage when tugging the line tight. A good rule of thumb is the 3:1 primitive will give you about 150-190% advantage, so if you’re 200lbs, expect you can probably put 350-400lbs of tension into the line. The upside of a primitive is that it is lightweight, quick to setup and take down, and the “pulleys” are safety rated carabiners that aren’t going to explode like a ratchet could. The downside is that for anything longer than 30ft, you may require a second person to help you pull. I can generally setup a 30ft line by myself, but 50ft requires a second person, and 80ft will require 3-5 people pulling. Lastly, there are pulley based kits (like SBI offers). These are NOT for beginners, and they aren’t cheap. They are the most efficient method of getting monster tension into your line, though– so if you plan to walk anything beyond 60ft, you had better bring several friends to help pull, or look into pulleys. I waited until crossing the 100ft mark to get pullies, and currently tensioning a 200ft line, I am using a 7:1 system I have built, plus ideally 1-3 people to pull it tight with me.
KNOTS vs LOCKERS — I’ve used knots as well as every type of locker you can imagine. In short, if you’re mega cheap, use a clove hitch. Otherwise, get a couple lockers. Line lockers can be fashioned from rappel rings, or from links of 3/8″ or 5/16″ chain with 4000+LB WLL. I prefer to use steel rappel rings, because steel is stronger and more fatigue resistant than aluminum, but I have not know anyone to have problems with forged alum rings (such as the Omega Pacific rings REI sells). The best value going really is 5/16″ zinc chain (with a 5400lb limit), as it’s around $3-4/ft at Home Depot, and each foot will yield around 4-6 lockers. The downsides to the chain lockers include a separate trip to Home Depot to obtain the lockers, and the annoyance of cutting every other link, as well as the need to file down the weld that will be on one side of the locker. I ran unfiled lockers for a while, because the weld seemed smooth, but eventually it rubbed a “burr” into my line. I should note that this was on a 100ft line, though, so you may be fine on a shorter line (less tension)
30FT vs 50FT vs 100FT vs ?? — 25-30ft is a really good beginner length. Most people will require an hour of work before they can really balance on this line, and another 4-10hrs of work before they can easily walk the line. However, by 20hrs, you may become bored and want to move up to 50ft. Because building a 50ft line is so cheap (only $10 difference in webbing cost), I would say it’s best just to start with a 50 line (rigged to 25-30ft long) in case you want “room to grow.” (NOTE: when I say “50ft” i mean the *span that you walk* is 50ft. If you are rigging using a primitive method, a 50ft line will need to be closer to 70ft in length!) Lines longer than this will require several people to pull tight, and will take months for most beginners to be able to walk. In Santa Monica (CA) I usually setup a 25ft (for beginners to try), a 40ft, an 80ft; there are only a few people who regularly slackline there who will walk my 80ft. An 80-100ft line will need to be at least 6-8ft off the ground just to accommodate the drop in the center of the line when an adult is walking it. Needless to say, you can get hurt if you fall from this height (Leo, a pretty good slacker at the beach in Santa Monica, fell off a 6ft high line a few months ago and broke his arm).