Slacklining began almost 40-years ago as a rest day activity for rock climbers. They used old retired climbing equipment to rig lines for something to do when they couldn't go climbing. Nowadays, slacklining is a burgeoning sport all on its own with specialized gear designed specifically for the various disciplines. You can still rig one up in the same style as the Yosemite climbers of the 1980's did, but that method is becoming more and more uncommon. With the advent of new tricks and longer lines, higher forces are being placed on the gear than ever before. That banged up oval carabiner you found at the base of the rock wall, or that old tow strap you dug out of Mom's garage doesn't cut it anymore. It is important to know that the pieces of gear you are using are safe, strong, and not going fail mid-walk or jump and leave you bruised and broken.
There's a lot of terminology and different types of new gear out there, so we've broken all the main categories down for you. Keep reading to learn about the nitty-gritty of this sport from the types of webbing used to how the system is tensioned, with recommendations for which types to choose based on your ability or sub-specialty.
Types of Webbing
1-inch wide webbing is the original style used for slacklining. It may look more intimidating than the now standard 2-inch lines, but don't judge a book by its cover and let this guide your purchase. The main factor in difficulty is more about tension and stretch than webbing width. 1-inch lines come in a combination of materials that affect the feel underfoot and the stretch of the line. From pure nylon like the webbing found in the Balance Community Primitive Kit to polyester models, the material of your webbing is an important factor to consider.
Nylon webbing is stretchy, giving a line the potential to move and sway if not rigged with significant tension. However, the stretchy nature of nylon does mean that it is very strong. This strength is one of the reasons that nylon webbing continues to be a favorite in mid-length highlines. Adversely, the stretchy nature of nylon makes it difficult to achieve adequate tension in your line, causing the line to sway too much or even causing the walker to bottom out (hit the ground) while walking in the middle of the line.
1-inch nylon slacklines are generally sold as tubular webbing. This means that instead of one piece of woven nylon, you are essentially walking on a flattened tube of webbing. The circular webbing and the soft feel of nylon make for gentle edges on the tensioned line. Some lines feel coarse underfoot and, when tensioned, create sharp edges that have been known to cut fingers or toes. Fortunately, this is not much of a concern with nylon webbing especially if you opt for the tubular variety.
Polyester 1-inch webbing, doesn't have as much stretch as nylon. Its best-suited longlines whether close to the ground or a couple thousand feet up. The low stretch makes it easier to tension such a long line. It's also good for static/yoga poses, but its lack of bounce makes it a poor choice for tricks.
Hybrid 1-inch webbing is a blend of both nylon and polyester which provides a mix of the features of those materials. Its mid-stretch makes it good for a little bit of everything.
While 1-inch webbing was the maiden form of slacklining, 2-inch models now enjoy significantly more popularity. The perception is that the wider surface area is easier to walk on, and their ratchet rigging systems are less intimidating for first-time users. Unlike the popular tubular version of the 1-inch webbing, 2-inch lines are flat woven (not a circle) almost always a mix of both polyester and nylon. This makes the lines fairly stiff and low-stretch but still gives them a nice powerful bounce. The low-stretch quality of these lines lets you set them up much closer to the ground than a 1-inch line without having to worry about bottoming out.
The more "classic" style 2-inch kits, like the Macaco Classic Line and the Gibbon ClassicLine, have some of the stiffest webbing out there. Minimizing stretch limits its ability to sway, which makes it easier for a never-ever to learn to walk on it. In comparison, the lines designated as tricklines, such as the VooDoo Gold Trickline and Slackline Industries Trick Line, have thin stretchy webbing that acts more like a trampoline. This lets slackers get big air and perform aerial maneuvers on the line when it's adequately tensioned.
One end of most 2-inch models have a reinforced loop. This is so the main line can be used as one anchor — you wrap the line around a tree and pass it through the loop, to "girth hitch" it. The rest of the line then runs towards the ratchet side. The benefit to this system is fewer extra parts, but the downside is added wear on your line from rubbing against the anchor point and a decrease in your walkable line length.
Types of Tensioning Systems
There are three main types of mechanisms popular in tensioning slacklines. First is the traditional set-up using primitive non-mechanical parts with 1-inch webbing. Next, and the most popular these days, is the ratchet system. Finally, complicated pulley systems are used to rig extra-long and/or high lines, however, we will not cover those in this guide.
These systems are low cost and easy to travel with. A primitive rig uses a couple of carabiners, some rings, and your main webbing to create and hold the line tight. Using a line lock hitch to avoid placing knots in your webbing, primitive systems rely on friction to hold tension. The main webbing is wrapped around a few carabiners and passed underneath itself. As you pull out the slack, the webbing cinches down on itself. Simple in mechanics, but the high friction required to hold the line up means that as you pull, you are working against an inefficient system. This makes it difficult to get the line tight enough to keep a slacker off the ground when in the middle of the line.
This set-up is great for travelers and those who already have a basic understanding of rigging or climbing. While the set-up is not too complicated and fairly basic compared to more advanced pulley systems, it is more involved than ratchet systems. Also, systems made of smooth polyester webbing cannot have enough friction against themselves for the friction hitch to hold. While this was not a safety issue in our case as we had it relatively low to the ground, care must be taken when rigging primitive setups as you don't want them up too high or over hazards.
Similar (but not equal) to the ratchet found in your local hardware store, slackline ratchets use a lever-and-lock ratchet to help you quickly and easily get your line super tight. First, you feed your line through the bar inside your ratchet and pull all the slack out. As you start to crank down on your ratchet, it is incredibly important that you keep the webbing stacked neatly on top of itself inside the ratchet. If the webbing gets misaligned, it can catch in a cog of the ratchet as you continue to tighten, or, more dangerously, as you try and release tension. This shreds the edges of your line and eventually makes it unusable.
To release the tension in a ratchet system, you must pull the release trigger and open the ratchet a full 180 degrees. This causes the cog lock to release and the line makes a loud POP as it comes loose. The sudden release of tension is dramatic and can scare novice slackers. On top of it, your hands are right there in the action. Some models have a nice rubberized grip that softens the release. No matter what, you must always be extremely careful when releasing a ratchet and remember to tend your webbing to avoid it getting caught.
Choosing the Right Kit
The first question to ask yourself is "What do I want to get out of my slackline?"
If you are a casual beginner or looking for a fun addition to backyard barbecues or Sundays at a park, read on:
Basic ratchet lines are going to be your best bet for years of fun. One of the least expensive models, but also one of the most basic, is the Macaco Classic Line. This model gets you up and walking for only $38, almost have the cost of the Gibbon ClassicLine. While we can't speak to the Macaco's long-term durability as it is a new product on the market, we recently came across an old Gibbon line that was left out for two full summers in Yosemite National Park, and although it was pretty worn out, it was still walkable.
If you're looking to get into slacklining but have bad knees or are timid about falling, then one of the models with the overhead hand line, such as the Flybold Kit or the Slackers Wave Walker is a great buy. The overhead hand line helps you keep your balance and start walking with confidence.
Tree protection is another important feature to consider whether you are dipping your toes into the world of slacklining for the first time or a seasoned veteran. Preventing your line from damaging its anchor trees is both good ethics and mandated by law in many places. Many kits include tree protectors designed for that sole purpose which simplifies the set-up process.
If you are a beginner or intermediate slacker with the potential and/or desire to take it up a notch, this section is for you:
If you fall into this category, pretty much every line in our review will suit your growing needs. Our first choice for you is our Editors' Choice winner, the Flybold Kit. It's bouncy and fun, and also includes an overhead hand line with arm trainer which helps you learn how to walk and start your journey into tricklining.
Another option is Slackline Industries Base Line. This affordable kit is one of the longest 2-inch ratchet based models on the market at 85'. It's a fun high-quality line that lets you push your boundaries beyond the 50-some feet of the other beginner-intermediate models.
If you are certain that tricklining is for you, the Voodoo Trickline does a great job at getting you through the early stages of dynamic tricks.
All serious slackers are also masters of the 1-inch line. If you want a primitive 1-inch kit that grows with you towards a future in longlining and highlining, the Balance Community Primitive Kit, our Top Pick for Traditional Slacklining, is the way to go. The Gibbon Flowline is another option for a 1-inch line but comes with double-sided ratchet system for anchoring making it a great choice if you plan to rig it solo.
If you are an intermediate or advanced slacker and are looking to bolster the depth of your gear pile, we've got some advice for you:
A slackliner can never have too much gear. For those of you on a budget but serious about tricklining, the Voodoo 82' Gold Trickline is significantly cheaper than the other professional level tricklines on the market. It is a quality, bouncy line that will take you to the upper reaches of tricklining.
As well, our Top Pick for Traditional Slacklining, the Balance Community Primitive Kit, keeps your skills up to date for your weekend highlining trips and longline excursions.
Slacklining is a great activity to get you fit and take you to wild places you have never before imagined. As this sport has grown and the quality of the equipment has risen to an exceptionally high standard, it's hard to go wrong selecting a new line. Take the time to suss-out your personal goals and needs and you'll be able to find the line with the right criteria.