Different types of slacklinesIt used to be that “slackline” meant any one-inch tubular rock climbing webbing pulled reasonably taut so that it could be walked by a human. Then people started using Type18 flat webbing. Then polyester webbings. Then 2-inch flat and tubular webbing. And so on. Rigging methods now involve not just the old-school “primitive” or “Ellington” setup, but also ratchets, pulleys, chain hoists, line locks, web locks, line grips, slack bananas, slackdogs, and myriad other devices.
Just as bicycling has many different disciplines, so now does slackline. I’d like to write a quick beginner guide so that someone getting into slackline can figure out what is best for him or herself. To figure out what is best for you, I think it is smartest to decide what you’d like to do.
Slackline walking? [Cost: $50-100] This is the purest form of slackline. Balancing, walking, sitting cross-legged, maybe doing some yoga, this is what you find most climbers engaged in at their base camp. Most traditional slacklines are rigged with the simple “primitive” method, and can be made yourself at a climbing store for around $40-70 in gear.
Tricklining? [Cost: $80-200] Tricklines are usually 2″ wide, although sometimes 1″, and are invariably tightened as much as possible to provide a lot of ‘spring’ for tricks. Gibbon is the undisputed leader in tricklining, as their products have literally revolutionized the sport in the last three years. Two-inch lines are infinitely easier for tricklining. If you want to get into doing jumps, spins, butt-bounces, even flips, I would highly recommend a Gibbon line. The Classic line is about $80, and the other lines go as high as $120. (Gibbon’s site explains the difference.) I’d be happy to let anyone try my various one and two-inch lines before you commit to buying, just ask. I may also produce a “how to get into tricklining” video series soon, if there’s enough demand, so stay tuned for that. Also, one last benefit of a Gibbon or other trickline is that they are initially easier to walk.
Because of the lower height you can set them at (due to less sag from high tension), and the reduced lateral movement from the high tension (a movement your body is very confused by, at first anyway), people tend to be able to walk a Gibbon line in a matter of minutes, rather than the traditional hour (or more) it might take for a normal one-inch line. On the other hand, 2″ lines tend to be sort of boring to simply walk, since they are not very ‘slack’ and present little challenge, so they are mostly preferable for this category — tricklining — as opposed to general walking and balance challenges. Without actually becoming a slackliner first it is hard to say whether walking loose lines will appeal to you, or bouncing and doing tricks on tight lines, and so this is why I recommend you hook up with someone who already has a line (or come to one of our meetups!) and try it all out for yourself. I personally enjoy both by like the dynamic nature of a one-inch line better.
Longlining? [Cost: $400-2000] Longlines are typically greater than 100′ (30M) in length, and it’s really at this range that the feel of the line begins to shift drastically. Suddenly wind, the weight of the line itself, and the dynamics of the material are all a factor. As you introduce a “wobble” into the line, you can watch as the sine wave of this wobbly heads down the line, hits the anchor at the other end, and bounces back at you, possibly making you wobble even more! Longlining is great fun, but takes a lot of equipment (to get the proper tension) and dedication. If you’d like to get into longlining in Seattle, drop me a line, as I need more longline partners. Single tubular lines work great up to 150 or 200 feet, but going beyond 200 feet is difficult due to tensile strength limits of the line. This can be circumvented by “threading” a 9/16″ or 11/16″ line inside the one-inch. Other types of webbing now allow for lines up to 2000 or more feet long. See my webbing page for info on webbing types, strengths, and costs.
Highlining? [Cost: $400-2000] Highlines are typically any line rigged beyond 50 feet in height. Midlines are in the 20 to 50 foot range. Most highlines are walked using a climbing harness and a “leash” of climbing rope, although swami belts (a hand-made belt of 2″ webbing) and even unleashed solo walks are not unheard of. Highliners have two main impediments: first they need to have a place to rig their line, second they need all the gear and knowledge to rig the line safely. Rigging highlines requires a lot of gear and knowledge, and the golden rule is: backup, backup, backup. Nothing should ever be depended upon such that if it failed a death could occur. This means the leash from the highliner to the line has two ropes. The leash ring is actually two leash rings. The line itself has a backup (if not two). The rigging hardware is backed up. When possible even the main anchor points have backups in case they fail. My best advice for getting into highlining is to find someone who is already a competent rigger and approach her to see if she’ll let you tag along on her next rig and explain her gear and rigging processes to you.
The only upside in cost for highlining and longlining is that a lot of the gear overlaps. Because of safety issues involved in both disciplines, it makes sense to have really strong gear, so highliners often use the same gear for a 40ft line that a longliner might use for a 400ft line. So if you want to get into both disciplines the cost may not be so prohibitive!