Riding a zip-line is tons of fun, whether you’re zipping through a tropical rain forest, or across your backyard. They are pretty simple to build, requiring only a few parts, and relatively little building or mechanical knowledge. Safety is a chief concern when building a zip line though, so we’ll go over some ways to make your zip line safer as well.
The simplest way to build a zip line is to anchor both ends of a rope to two solid objects such that there is an incline in the rope, which is required for gravity to pull the rider down the line. The objects can be as tall or short as you’d like, and the length of the rope and angle of incline is also up to you. Keep in mind, the danger factor (and some might say the fun factor) increases as the height, length and angle of the line increase. Before anchoring the rope, it must be threaded to a pulley. This pulley is where you’ll be attaching some form of handle or harness for the rider. The pulley should be rated appropriately for the weight of the riders who will be using the zip-line. That’s really it for zip-line equipment; rope, pulley, handle/harness & anchor points.
For a year-round outdoor pulley that you plan on keeping around for a long time, galvanized steel cable can be used rather than rope. It’s almost certain that any steel cable will be stronger than any rope you might use for a zip line. You can even find zip line kits, like the Railrunner Zip Line Kit, that include lengths of galvanized steel, anchoring devices, a turnbuckle for tightening the steel cable, and a specially made zip line trolley. These kits are relatively inexpensive and probably your best and safest bet for a great riding experience.
There are several methods for stopping at the end of a zip line. Many simply come close enough to the ground so you can stand up as you come to the end of the line. This is only useful for slower zip-lines; too much speed, and you’re crashing into your anchor point. Some additional padding is often placed around the landing point, as well as wrapped around the anchoring pole/tree at the end of the line. Another method of stopping, for longer & faster lines might be to allow some slack in the line. This way the initial ride is fast, but as you come to the end of the line, you stop in the dip of the line. This dipping point will generally be just high enough to dismount with relative ease, and again padding can be placed here for a safer landing. Finally, the most fun of all zip-line landings is the water landing. You want to make sure your water landing point is deep enough for dismounting (think 10 or more feet) and wide enough that a rider has plenty of time to dismount before reaching the other side.
Additional safety equipment you might consider are helmets (these are a must, especially with zip lines for kids), work gloves, a harness (so holding on isn’t required, or just in case of slips), and maybe even a secondary safety cable. This secondary safety cable would be run above, and slightly offset from the primary cable. A safety cable, and harness can then be attached to the rider. This won’t impede the rider’s travel in anyway, it is merely a back up system in case the primary system fails for any reason. This type of set up is mostly used for large-scale zip-lines which travel higher, further, and/or faster than most backyard zip-lines.
Basically, a zip line is a very basic piece of recreational equipment that can be as intricate or simple as you want it to be. Make sure you take into account who the line is for when building the line so it is safe, and can handle the weight of its riders. Aside from that, use your imagination to make the zip line run as fun as possible for everyone.