raising little ones in the great outdoors

Return of the Slackline

One ray of sunshine in the low-pressure trough of spring is the return of the slackline. Similar to a tightrope, a slackline is simply a length of nylon webbing, usually 1″ wide, strung tightly between two trees or other solid objects. It differs from a tight rope in that it is not rigid. It bounces and quivers like an extremely narrow trampoline.

Originally created by Yosemite climbers, the first time I tried it at a climbers’ festival several years ago I was hooked. Our small trees couldn’t support the load, so when our new neighbor hired a contractor to put in a fence on our property line, I had the crew drill two additional holes, about 35 feet apart. The two wooden posts, which I cemented in, continue to baffle visitors. We now have our very own backyard slackline.

A little lower to the ground, Hannah gets the hang of the line.

A little lower to the ground, Hannah gets the hang of the line.

While the trampoline is a tried and true method of breaking or bending children’s limbs, the slackline has plenty of potential. So far we’ve been lucky, but not for a lack of trying. We’ve incorporated the slackline into Cub Scout activities and birthday parties in which it’s served as a pirate plank and a Jedi training course. It’s taken some time, but Abby (13) and Caleb (11) can now walk the length of the line. Seth (8) jumps off as soon as he starts to lose his balance, and Hannah (4) will walk back and forth for as long as I’ll walk along holding her hand.

The downside of my backyard setup is that I have to wait until the ground has dried out somewhat so I don’t pull out the posts when I tighten the line. I finally decided to take the risk on a beautiful Saturday on Easter weekend. I beefed up the width to two inch webbing to see if it would be easier for the kids. I set the line low to minimize the lever-action on the posts and watched nervously as I ratcheted up the tension. Everything held, and the kids crowded around for a turn.

Steve walks the line. So adept.

Steve walks the line. So adept.

Abby walked all the way across on her first try, complaining that it was “too easy”. Caleb gave it a few tries, but was more interested in shooting hoops. On a whim, I strung my old 1″ line tight between the tops of the poles as a sort of handrail. Afterwards, Seth and Hannah spent a couple hours walking back and forth, relying on the overhead cheater line, but having a lot of fun and feeling proud of themselves. Jealous, I raised the line to an “adult” height and was re-tightening it when Abby yelled that the pole was tipping. I guess it wasn’t quite dry enough

If this catches your attention check out this clip….ridiculous.
Editors note: The title image comes from our good friend and pro photog, James Q Martin. Check out his site, here.

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5 Responses to “Return of the Slackline”

  1. Mike A says:

    If you want to add something equally cool to the poles try Greenland rope gymnastics (it was a way to work on balance and flexibility for rolling a kayak when the water was hard and lumpy…)


    Very cool, and my kids love it!

    Mike A
    Kitchener, ON, Canada

    • Ahh…dubside. Mike makes a good point — I bet kids would dig that Greenland rope gymnastics. I haven’t seen dubsides web site, but Bryan Smith’s Pacific Horizon’s has some great footage of Dubside doing his thing. I never even knew or heard about this training until I saw that flick.

  2. Tobias says:

    check out the slackline tour through the US: http://www.gibbonslacklines.com/blog/
    maybe they stop at your place, too 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the tip! We all went down and watched some tricks, tried a few ourselves, and had a great time. And now I’ve got my eye on that 25m Gibbon slackline.

  3. steve friedson says:

    I need help please. My son is 10 . I have been bringing him rock climbing , camping , hiking etc in the mountains since he was 6 months old. Ouick history: His mom and I are divorced, she is bitter. and a control type person

    My son has asthma , 3 weeks ago I brought him camping , climbing with his friends for a few days , gave him all his medications when we came back to NYC where we live he began to have trouble breathing (tightness in chest). I gave him the prescribed medication for that , by the next day I had to put him on a nebulizer. He then went to the doc and is fine.

    My x wife took out a court order not to let me bring my son upstate during allergy season. march – November. This is breaking my heart. Any articles or help on asthma in NYC or re entering NYC after being up state or any help. PLEASE help. Thanks Steve

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