Photo: Jordan Siemens/Tandemstock

How to Slackline

Improve your core strength and balance—and have some fun—with a slackline.

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.

Width 

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. 

Length

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. 

Materials

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. Put tree-protection pads in place around your first trunk (towels will work in a pinch).
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.  
  5. Pull the slackline over to the trunk of your second tree.
  6. Girth-hitch the ratchet strap around the second trunk at the same height as before, again using tree-protection pads. 
  7. Feed the free end of the slackline through the ratchet. 
  8. 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.

Widely-spaced trees? 

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). 

Photo: Soloveyigor

How to Set Up a Slackline Without Trees

No trees? No problem. You can anchor your slackline directly to the ground with long, purpose-made screws, usually a foot or more in length. Simply dig a small hole, then follow manufacturer instructions to screw the ground anchor into place. To set up the line, follow the same steps as above, girth-hitching the slackline and ratchet to their respective screws instead of to two tree trunks. You’ll also need two slackline frames to prop the line up off the ground.

You can also purchase a slackline that comes in its own stand or rack, which doesn't require any external anchors. These are generally much shorter, which means you’ll outgrow them pretty quickly as you advance. However, they’re more portable and easier to set up, and they can be used indoors or outdoors. 

Shoes or No Shoes? 

Is it better to slackline with tennies or barefoot? This is a matter of some debate, which means it comes down to personal preference. Highliners and longliners—those walking lines strung over great heights, or those hoping to notch new personal distance records—tend to go barefoot. That’s because bare feet often provide more control and sensitivity. Trickliners, on the other hand, usually wear shoes to protect their feet and provide traction while bouncing and working out new tricks. 

It’s your choice whether to wear shoes or no shoes. That said, if you’re new to the sport and know you’ll be falling off the line a lot, shoes can be a great choice for protecting your feet during unexpected landings. 

How to Stand Up On a Slackline

When you start out, standing up on the slackline, or “mounting” the line, can be the trickiest part. Here’s how to do it right. 

  1. Set up your line at about mid-thigh height (or lower—just make sure the center of the webbing doesn’t sag to the ground when weighted). Start with one foot placed gently on the line, centered beneath your body. Your toes should be pointing down the length of the webbing. Resist the urge to use the tree for balance.
  2. Raise your arms into a “touchdown” pose. Your upper arms should be roughly parallel to the ground, and your elbows should be in line with your shoulders or a little above. Keep your forearms vertical, and sway them side to side as needed for balance.
  3. Pick a fixed point at the opposite end of the line at about eye level. Keep your gaze there. 
  4. Kick off from the ground into a tall, straight, one-legged stand. Aim to pop up in one swift, confident motion. The faster you stand, the less the line will wobble.
  5. In the beginning, try to practice standing on one leg before you take your first steps. When you can stand on your leg right for a full minute, then practice with your left.

How to Walk on a Slackline

Confident standing up on a slackline? Here are some tips for taking your first steps.

  1. Have a friend walk next to you, and lightly touch their hand for balance when you’re starting out. (Trekking poles or a piece of webbing strung overhead as a “helpline” are other good alternatives.)
  2. Engage your core to steady yourself as you place one foot in front of the other. Keep your spine straight and shoulders back. 
  3. Keep your gaze fixed on an unmoving point on the opposite end of the line; don’t look down at your feet or at the slackline.
  4. Bend your knees slightly. Keep elbows and wrists relaxed and loose, and sway your forearms and hands to make small micro adjustments for balance. 
  5. Avoid sticking a leg out—it’s easy to overcorrect and throw yourself off. 
  6. Remember to breathe! Calm, even breaths will help you stay focused.
  7. Always place your feet in line with the webbing; fight the urge to place them at an angle or perpendicular to the line. 
  8. Keep practicing! Try not to rely on a friend or helpline for too long.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.