Tree Padding

Adam here, making an edit to my original 2008 post now in the summer of 2012. Tree padding is a serious issue — we should pad trees where our equipment comes in contact, and we should do it both because scientists believe this is required to ensure the health of the trees and because the recent rise in popularity of slackline has made access to public spaces a political issue.  I am fortunate enough to have already had this become a political issue in Seattle (where I live), and my use of good tree padding, knowledge of the laws and practices surrounding this sport, and a friendly parks administration led to the endorsement of slacklining in city parks (provided tree padding is used).  In many other areas of the US this is still an issue, however, and the large numbers of new slackliners who use no padding what-so-ever pose possibility that slackline may be banned outright in many public places (currently Austin, Boulder, San Francisco, and San Diego have done this or are headed in this direction).

If you own a slackline, or know someone who does, you can play a part in keeping this sport legal and viewed as an enhancement of community spaces — you can do this by being reasonable, friendly, and using good padding.  Because of the lack of good padding solutions on the market, and because I have seen many people admire my padding yet not have the time to make their own, I have released a $5 padding product based on the same padding I use. I am leaving my original post intact below if you want to read it, but basically to summarize:

Either buy a set of Towel Tubes for $5/pertube, or go to a thrift store, buy a fluffy bath towel for $5, cut it in half, roll the towel strips around your slings, and use that for padding.  In the years since the post below, I have begun making my padding into tubes, which are much easier for setting up your line, but strips (although a little annoying to use on fatter trees) will work fine for padding, they are just more difficult on setup.

The clear winner for tree padding, in my book, is a bath towel. You can buy long and fluffy bath towels for a few bucks at a thrift store and cut them into 10-12″x50″ (approx) strips. These wrap nicely around a tree, provide lots of padding, pack up in your gear bag without taking much space, and also keep your slings from slipping (unlike cardboard).

_MG_0841I see a lot of people not using padding, and it makes me sad. I was talking to a couple of girls the other day, who had setup a line on a tree in GG without any padding, and objectively I could see what I was doing probably sounded to them like lecturing. Tree padding is a serious issue, though, and it’s important to respect the environment around us. If you’re going to attach a slackline to a tree, please use padding. Doing otherwise risks killing the tree (yes, seriously). I know trees seem big and tough, but they have delicate circulatory systems just under their bark.

To summarize:

  1. We don’t want to kill the trees; where would we rig our lines?
  2. We don’t want to get kicked out of parks (and ruin slacking for everyone!) by angering park service / police / municipalities / etc.
  3. We don’t want to damage our anchor slings by abrading them on tree bark.  At the least they will wear out and need replacement way sooner.  At the worst they might snap explosively and hurt someone.

This post on the blog covers most of what I have to say on the issue, so rather than re-iterate what they said, let me just expand upon your options for cheap/free padding…

(gray Items in italics are already on their list)

  • Cardboard – essentially free, and can be cut to any length.  For instance: [link].
  • Carpet – I haven’t used carpet as I worry about the synthetic-on-synthetic friction.  Plus it’s heavy.
  • Pipe Insulation – Popular for highlines.  Cheap, lightweight.
  • 2″ Webbing – Protects your slings well, but doesn’t really “pad” the tree very well.  Not the best choice.
  • Newspaper – Free (Seattle Weekly, Stranger), available everywhere, use when done reading, one Seattle Weekly will be sufficient for 1 line using 3ft wide trees, or many lines using smaller trees
  • Firehose – I have yet to use this, and I suspect would basically just be a slightly more adequate version of 2″ webbing, as far as ‘padding’ value
  • Towels – These are what I use most of the time; generally I use a couple of old beach towels I have cut into strips.  If you want to travel really light, cut them into 5ft long 4″ wide strips (or 8″ wide strips that you fold over once).  See anchors [link] and [link] or just look at the image above!  Towel strips are nice for rigging alone as you can wrap the towel around the tree once or twice and then “tuck the end under” in the same way you wrap a towel around your waist/midsection.  This allows you to start wrapping your sling without having to waste a hand holding the towel in place.

My only remaining suggestion is to please consider the padding benefit of the material you use.  Cardboard and newspaper are better than nothing, but not as good as carpet, towels, or pipe insulation.  I have used triple wrapped cardboard before (see above example), but consider towels to be a more effective pad (per square inch — and generally space in my gearbag is at a premium).

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