Let’s cut to the chase: Learning how to slackline has a ton of perks. It looks cool (because it is cool, important). It’s an incredible way to build core strength and balance. You can do it almost anywhere and with any number of people. It’s a great way to spend a rest day from climbing, biking, or hiking. And when you’ve got downtime in camp, it’s way more fun than lawn games.
Plus, with a little patience, it’s pretty easy to pick up. This guide will go over everything you need to learn how to slackline. We’ll discuss:
- What is Slacklining?
- How to Choose a Slackline
- How to Set up a Slackline
- Shoes or No Shoes?
- How to Stand Up On a Slackline
- How to Slackline: Technique Basics
What is Slacklining?
Slacklining was first popularized by rock climbers in Yosemite National Park in the 1980s. They were looking for ways to hone their balance on rest days (and have a good time doing it). So climbers strung a length of 1-inch-wide webbing—basically a long, flat strip of nylon—between two trees and practiced walking across it. Simply put, it was tightrope walking for climbers.
Today, it’s tightrope walking for everybody, as slacklining has come into its own as a bonafide sport with various disciplines. Do a quick YouTube search and you’ll find everything from “highlines” strung across deep mountain gorges to bouncy “tricklines” supporting all manner of flips and acrobatics. But traditional slacklining remains much the same: Slackliners practice tightrope-walking across a long strip of suspended webbing—usually 15 feet to 50 feet long—using their arms and core to balance.
How to Choose a Slackline
Slacklines have come a long way since climbers first started experimenting with them. Here’s what to look for.
Slacklines come in a variety of widths. Thinner, 1-inch lines can provide more sensitivity and grip, but they may be harder to get the hang of if you’re just starting out. Many beginners prefer a 1.5-inch or 2-inch line, which provides more surface contact area for your foot and a little more stability.
When you’re shopping for your first line, look for something that’s at least 30 to 40 feet long. Longer lines do sag more in the middle, which introduces more challenge. However, more length will give you more options if you’re in a park or campground without a ton of trees to choose from. Plus, you can always ratchet the line shorter if you do find closely spaced trees.
Most slacklines are made of either nylon or polyester. Nylon has more stretch, so it can be a great option for those who are hoping to bounce or do tricks while slacklining. Polyester is more rigid, which makes it easier to ratchet down and more stable to walk on.
How to Set Up a Slackline
In addition to the slackline itself, you may need some extra gear depending on the terrain. Here are some common setups. Note: Always use tree protection: Tight straps can damage the tree’s inner bark, which delivers nutrients. Over time, rubbing can wear away the bark, killing the tree.
Setups for Use with Trees
If you live in an area with plenty of large, sturdy trees, you can stick with a traditional setup. You’ll need two tree-protection pads—broad strips of felt, foam, or carpeting designed to protect the bark of the tree—which are available online from most slack lining vendors. You’ll also need a slackline that has a metal ratchet to help you tighten the line. To set up your line:
- Look for two live, healthy trees at least six inches in diameter. Ideally, they should be around 15 to 20 feet apart if you’re just starting out.
- Put tree-protection pads in place around your first trunk (towels will work in a pinch).
- Girth-hitch the end of the slackline around the tree trunk at the desired height. (Aim for mid-thigh or knee-height for a 15- to 20-foot line). Make sure the line is centered over the tree-protection pads as it wraps the trunk.
- Pinch the strip of webbing in half lengthwise—folding one edge on top of the other so that it forms a “taco” shape—at the spot where it crosses through the girth-hitch and emerges from the trunk of the tree. That way, the webbing will extend from the tree running parallel to the ground.
- Pull the slackline over to the trunk of your second tree.
- Girth-hitch the ratchet strap around the second trunk at the same height as before, again using tree-protection pads.
- Feed the free end of the slackline through the ratchet.
- Crank the ratchet to tighten the line to the desired tautness. Generally, the tighter the line, the easier it will be to walk. That said, this is a matter of preference. Experiment with different levels of tautness to see what feels easiest and most fun for you.
Longer slacklines naturally have more sway and sag than shorter ones, but if you’ve only got widely spaced trees at your disposal, don’t despair. You can effectively shorten the length of the line by setting a “slackline frame” beneath it. This props up the webbing, acting as a de-facto anchor and making the line feel as if it’s shorter. So, if you have a 15-foot line between two trees but your frame is set up 10 feet from one of them, the slackline will feel as stable as a 10-foot line. You can buy slackline frames or build your own.
Only one tree?
Girth-hitch one tree for your first anchor point. Then use a ground screw with a slackline frame for your second anchor point (see below).