The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How to Choose a Slackline

Whether you're looking for a basic line or want to learn tricks  there's a perfect line for you.
Tuesday January 29, 2019

The sport of slacklining has come a long way from the home-grown setups made from old climbing gear that littered the campgrounds of places like Joshua Tree and Yosemite National Park. Lines of all shapes and sizes now frequent local parks across the country and everyone from toddlers to elite athletes are partaking in the sport. With this huge increase in popularity, a slew of complete slacklining kits are on the market today. You can still rig one up in the same style as the Yosemite climbers of the 1980s, 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.

All the new gear on the market aims to meet a few common demands; safe, reliable equipment that is simple to set-up and brings the joy of slacklining to the masses. Different products offer unique features and specialized gear designed specifically for the various sub-disciplines within the sport. With so many options to choose from, how do you know which slackline is right for you?

To tackle this question, you first need to understand the different types of equipment that can be used, like the webbing that forms the main line and the tensioning system. From there, identify your ability level and intended goals including your desire to pursue specialty disciplines like tricklining or highlining.

Once you get the hang of the selection algorithm outlined in this article, head over to the Slackline Review to get to in's and out's of the most popular and highest rated lines available.

Types of Webbing


Webbing is essentially a two-dimensional rope woven out of durable fibers that form either a flat strip or tube. When it comes to slacklining, the material the webbing is made out of and its width are the primary factors to consider.

Webbing Material


Nylon webbing is stretchy, which translate to an incredibly strong line. This strength is one of the reasons that nylon webbing is a favorite in mid-length highlines and tricklines. 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.

Polyester webbing has a low stretch and is the material of choice for longlines and highlines. Tensioning a long/high line can be an extremely difficult process and the rigid fibers of the polyester webbing mean less slack to pull out of the system.

Hybrid webbing is exactly what the name implies, a mixture of nylon and polyester. This combination is considered mid-stretch and good for a little bit of everything.

Webbing Width


One-inch webbing is the traditional width used by early slackliners and the most common width for longlines. It may look more intimidating than the now standard two-inch lines, but don't judge a book by its cover. The main factor in difficulty is more about tension and stretch than webbing width. Many avid slackers prefer the feel of this width underfoot and find it easier to balance on once proper technique is developed.

One-inch webbing looks thin underfoot  but with adequate tension it's a great width to learn on.
One-inch webbing looks thin underfoot, but with adequate tension it's a great width to learn on.

Two-inch webbing is a newer style that gained popularity with the early commercialized ratchet-based kits. It is the most common choice for beginners and trickliners. While one-inch webbing was the maiden form for slacklining, two-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. One end of most two-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.

Common Combinations


Webbing material and width come in common combinations that offer different pros and cons and affect everything from the feel underfoot to the ease of rigging the line.

One-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. The Balance Community Primitive Kit offers such webbing and is super fun to walk on barefoot or with shoes.

Polyester one-inch webbing, doesn't have as much stretch as nylon. It's best-suited as a longline 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 one-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. The Gibbon Flowline is a one-inch tubular hybrid line that combines a traditional line with the modern ratchet based rigging system.

Two-inch lines are almost always a blend of polyester and nylon. Unlike the popular tubular version of the one-inch webbing, they are also flat woven and don't form a tube. 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 one-inch line without having to worry about bottoming out. This is the style of the Flybold Kit, our Editors' Choice winner.

Two-inch webbing has become the new standard in beginner slacklining.
Two-inch webbing has become the new standard in beginner slacklining.

The more "classic" style two-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.

Types of Tensioning Systems


There are three main types of tensioning mechanisms that are popular for rigging slacklines:

Traditional Setups, also called a "primitive setups," use carabiners and loops of the main webbing to create a tensioning system. It requires rigging skills and relies on either brawn or mechanical advantage to create a tight line. This method is often the preference of die-hard slackers.

Ratchet Setups use a ratchet on one or both ends of the line to crank the slack out of the webbing. This method is quick and simple to learn and is the go-to setup style for beginners.

Pulley Systems are the most complex and used to rig extra-long and/or highlines. This system will not be covered in this guide.

Traditional/Primitive Setups


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. It's 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.

The "line lock" method used for tensioning most primitive kits.
The "line lock" method used for tensioning most primitive kits.

This setup is great for travelers and those who already have a basic understanding of rigging or climbing. While the setup is not too complicated and fairly basic compared to more advanced pulley systems, it is more involved than ratchet systems.

Ratchet Setups


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.

Ratchet tensioning systems are quick and easy to set-up for those learning the process.
Ratchet tensioning systems are quick and easy to set-up for those learning the process.

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.

Disciplines


There are a few main sub-disciplines that have grown within the sport. Each requires somewhat specialized equipment using a combination of the features discussed above.

Tricklining is the art of performing static and/or aerial acrobatics while balancing on the line. It requires bouncier, trampoline-style webbing and is often tensioned with a ratchet, but a traditional setup can also be used.

Yoga transplants the practice of traditional yoga asanas from the studio to the slackline. Typically a low-stretch one-inch line is used with a traditional rigging setup.

Highlining takes the sport to serious heights and is often performed between two mountain spires with the walker attached to the line with a harness and leash. One-inch webbing of variable stretchiness is used based on preference and line length. A pulley system is necessary for tensioning. This type of model is outside the scope of this review and we did not cover any highline specific models.

Longlining can be anywhere from two to 2,000-feet off the ground as long as the line uses one-inch webbing around 100-feet or longer. Traditionally, a pulley system is used for tensioning and is still recommended for super long lines, but the new ratchet technology allows for easy setup of the shorter lines in this category.

Choosing the Right Kit


Now that you have an in-depth understanding of the gear and disciplines within the sport, its time to ask yourself, "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 half 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 GClassicLine 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, like the Flybold Kit is a great buy. The overhead hand line helps you keep your balance and start walking with confidence.

The overhead hand line helps the novice walk with confidence and the addition of an arm trainer helps teach balance and proper technique.
The overhead hand line helps the novice walk with confidence and the addition of an arm trainer helps teach balance and proper technique.

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 purpose that simplifies the setup process.

Tree protectors are a necessary part of every setup whether included with the kit or bought/made separately.
Tree protectors are a necessary part of every setup whether included with the kit or bought/made separately.

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 Flybold Kit, our Editors' Choice winner. It's bouncy and fun, and also includes an overhead hand line with arm trainer that helps you learn how to walk and start your journey into tricklining.

Another great option is Slackline Industries Base Line. This affordable kit is one of the longest two-inch ratchet based models on the market at 85-feet. 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 one-inch line. If you want a primitive one-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 one-inch line but comes with a double-sided ratchet system for anchoring making it a great choice if you plan to rig it solo.

Libby Sauter works on her "Buddha" pose while practicing static tricks.
Libby Sauter works on her "Buddha" pose while practicing static tricks.

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.

Our Top Pick for Traditional Slacklining, the Balance Community Primitive Kit, is a fantastic and simple kit that will keep your skills up to date for your weekend highlining trips and longline excursions.

Lightweight primitive rigs are great for travel and provide a variety of challenges from long and loose (seen here) to tight and dynamic.
Lightweight primitive rigs are great for travel and provide a variety of challenges from long and loose (seen here) to tight and dynamic.

Conclusion


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.


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