Imagine this: standing at the top of a hill, perhaps high above the treetops, overlooking beautiful views below. You are helmeted, harnessed, and strapped to a cable that is hundreds of feet long. You take a leap and soar down the line—the wind rushes in your face and your feet touch nothing but air.
This is what it’s like to zip line, and it might be the closest you can get to flying. It’s no wonder the activity increasing in popularity around the globe, with lines found at many adventure camps and upscale resorts and as part of high ropes courses and canopy tours. These professional zip lines consist of a cable strung at an incline.
A trolley rides along the cable, to which the rider’s harness is attached by carabineer. The trolley can also consist of a seat or handlebar for the rider to hold on to. The more adventurous zip lines can be hundreds of feet high and almost a thousand feet long, and gravity causes the rider to reach speeds of up to 100 mph!
While soaring on one of these professional lines can be the thrill of a lifetime, a ride of those speeds and heights can be intimidating for kids or cautious adults. It’s also not nearly as inexpensive or convenient as having one installed in your own backyard.
Personal zip lines offer a ride that is shorter and less steep, but still exciting—with the added bonus of being available to ride as often as you’d like! Here are some options of easy to install zip line kits, as well as instructions on how to get started on constructing your own zip line.*
Before Getting a Zipline Kit, Plan Your Space
Whether you will be installing a zip line from a kit or building one from scratch, you first need to assess the area and decide where the line will run. The easiest anchor for your zip line is sturdy trees at least 12 inches in diameter where the line will connect. There should be no tall trees or obstacles directly in between them, unless you are planning to cut them down. Also remove branches and shrubbery that can hit or scratch the rider. If there are some trees to the side of the path, make sure the area is not too narrow to glide through.
A zip line only works if it is strung on an incline, because gravity is what pulls the trolley along and creates speed. Ideally, your two anchors will be located at the top and bottom of a hill. If your yard is flat, you will need to install the starting point at the higher end of a tree (connecting to an area that is still 12 inches in diameter), and the ending point closer to the base of your second anchor.
If you have a bottom end of the line in mind (like a platform or the ground) you should work from there and adjust the starting point of the line to find an appropriate starting height to match.
A good slope for the line to follow is about six percent—this means the line will drop 6 feet per every 100 feet of cable. Your zip line should be fully planned out before you purchase a kit or any materials, and it might help to draw a diagram: there are a few blog examples of how to design a system over at Build a Zipline and Zip Line Gear.
If your zip line is going on a steep incline, you will need to include a braking system (which we’ll go more in-depth into later). This braking system will attach to a third anchor close to the end of the line by bungee, which will help slow the trolley to a stop. It’s ideal to have a third tree or install a sturdy post near the end of your line, depending on how long the braking bungee is.
Will Your Zipline be Permanent?
There are pros and cons to permanently attaching your zip line as well as wrapping the cable around the anchor. It depends on whether you think you will want to adjust the line’s location in the future. If you are permanently installing the line, the line will be bolted to eye hooks that are drilled through the tree.
Any adjustments to height that you decide to make will require drilling a second hole, which may damage the tree. A non-permanent installation involves wrapping the cable around the tree. You should not wrap the cable directly around the tree, as this can cause the tree to grow around the cable and become misshapen. Wrap the cable around blocks, towels, or a garden hose as a barrier between the cable and the trunk.
Setting Up Your Zipline Kit from Scratch
If you have decided to build your own zip line from scratch, you are up for a rewarding challenge! Ziplinegear.com offers great resources for those who wish to build their own lines, such as this Build-Your-Own Zip Line Kit. The guide explains all the materials you will need to purchase.
They have links to their own products, but it would not be difficult to look for things elsewhere with this guidance. Once you have gathered your materials, their How to Build a Zipline step-by-step guide provides informative details about the process of building a system. This zip line installation tips guide is another detailed resource that can be referenced during the building process.
For our more visual learners, the video below was made by a professional zip line installer and covers the steps and materials needed to build, as he takes you on a tour of a line he installed. You can also easily purchase the Zip Line Construction Guide from Amazon and take advantage of its very basic instructions for beginners.
The Build-Your-Own Zip Line Kit page referenced above has a comprehensive list of the tools, materials, and hardware you will need to build your zip line. When you go to your local home improvement store, be sure to explain what your project is. The employees are often very knowledgeable about the products that will make your installation easiest.
The material that raises a lot of questions is the cable, particularly how long it should be, and how big in diameter. The length depends upon the length of the route you’ve planned for your line to cover. Once you have that number, be sure to get some extra footage in your cable for the ends, and if you are wrapping your cable around trees, keep that extra length in mind as well. Different diameters of cable are recommended depending on its length: generally, the longer the cable is, the wider the diameter should be.
Zipline Kits for Sale Right Now
If you are looking to purchase a kit which has all of the components of the zip line included, there are many options to choose from. Prices of kits vary depending on the complexity of the kit and whether it is intended for children or for adults to use as well. Kits of a more commercial quality can vary in price from $250 up. One of the reasons for this price is that they often include the braking system.
Two of the most popular models are the Viper and Quicksilver kits. The Viper kits include trolleys that already have handlebars attached, saving you an extra purchase and installation later. The Viper Deluxe Kit is an excellent choice, containing all the pieces you will need for your installation as well as a harness for $399.95.
A less expensive Viper version is also available, but you will need to purchase harnesses and braking systems separately. The Quicksilver Zip Line Kit is comparable to the Viper Deluxe, though a little pricier at $459.95. For a kit that will be enough material for two zip line systems, check out the Quicksilver Zip Line Kit Combo Pack. The kit includes enough cable and hardware to set up two runs, as well as two trolleys and two harnesses—one for you, one for a friend, or both for you (if your backyard is big enough)!
You may not want to make an expensive investment into your zip line, especially if it’s an activity only one or two family members will partake in. There are some cheaper, less complex options available, like the Slackers Eagle Series Zip Line Kit. Made by the ever-trustworthy LL Bean, all of the customer reviews read that this is very easy to install. At less than $170, you can even spend a little extra on add-ons like a bungee stop. Another option sold by EMS is the Slackers 70′ Zipline Hawk Series Kit, which has comparable materials at an even more inexpensive price.
If you are purchasing a zip line kit, you may see some ratings on the packaging recommending how much weight it should hold. The Maximum Breaking Strength refers to the absolute max load the line could carry before breaking. The Safe Working Load is the weight you could put on a piece of equipment on a regular basis without wearing it out.
Buy Zipline Parts Separately
If you already have some of the materials you will need to set up a zip line, like eyebolts or cable from a previous project, you can always buy parts individually as well, like these Camp-USA trolleys. These trolleys can go up to 45 miles per hour, but safety is still most important with a function that makes it unable to release the rider while the trolley is carrying weight.
For more trolley options, the Zipline Gear Blog reviews some of the best pulleys out there. The range of trolleys covers all your needs: multiple speeds, different cable sizes, and even an trolley that is typically used by commercial zip line companies.
Zipline Braking Systems
If your run will be going down a steep hill, you need a braked zip line. A braking system is recommended if the slope of your zip line is greater than 6 percent of its length. The kits from Ziplinegear.com include a braking system specifically geared to work with their lines.
The Boa Bungee Brake system uses a bungee to stretch and slow the trolley to a stop before reaching the end of the line. There are 20 feet and 30 feet brake kits to fit lines up to 500 feet in length. There is also an even stronger option for lines that have a high slope and high speeds.
The brake system consists of a block that is attached the zip line, but free to move back and forth. A bungee is connected between this block and an external anchor to the side of the line. This external anchor needs to be at least 10 feet away from the line, and far enough from the end that the bungee has time to slow the rider down. Near the end of the ride, the pulley will contact the block and push it towards the end, but the bungee will pull it back and prevent the rider from hitting the anchor.
Keep in mind when anchoring your braking system that the bungee will stretch when the rider is pushing against it, and to keep the bungee anchor a little more distant from the line to allow for this stretch.
Additional Materials You’ll Need
The safest way to attach the rider to the zip line is by harness, which will prevent the rider from falling and injuring themselves if they are only attached by a seat or handlebars. You can still add on a handlebar or a seat in addition to the harness if you want to feel more secure. A seat or handlebars should only be installed alone without a harness if you are certain that the line is not so tall that a fall would cause injury. A seat is a nice addition to handlebars so a rider does not have to rely on arm strength the duration of the ride.
Another very important piece of equipment to use is a helmet. This is true whether the rider is attached by harness, seated, or hanging by handlebars. A helmet will prevent serious injury if the system breaks due to the line or other material unknowingly wearing out.
This Buyer’s Guide to zip line attachments covers the options that Ziplinegear.com offers, but also gives you an idea of what you can purchase from other retailers.
Add Tension to the Zipline
Your cable must have tension, because otherwise it will sag over time at the start of the line where weight is first introduced, and that spot will weaken. The cable will also stretch over time, so it must be tightened enough to be taught. The cables you will be working with can be heavy and tensioning is difficult, but there are a few ways to make this part easier.
When trying to create tension in your cable, you might need a Zip Line Tensioning Kit to help you install the line and apply tension easily. The video below explains how to use the tension kit properly. The tension kit is typically used on heavier cables, and may not be necessary if you purchase a cable that is shorter or smaller.
When purchasing your zip line kit, you should ask whether a tensioning kit will be necessary. Since the tensioning kit is something you will only use once during installation, Ziplinegear.com offers a 1 year refund on tensioning kits returned in working condition.
Another option that can be used in place of a tensioning system is cable puller tools and a haven grip. These will also create tension in the line and hold it in place as you install it.
Test Your Zipline
A weight test should be done at the center of the line once it is installed to make sure it is secure. Most lines have a max weight of 350 lbs, about the weight of two adults. Have two adults hold the line and bounce a couple of times to make sure it is secure.
You might test a trolley on the line by attaching the cables securely (but not permanently) and sending the trolley down the cable on a little test run to see how it goes. Adding some weight to the trolley that is approximately that of the person who will be riding will show you how fast it goes.
Once you are satisfied with the speed of the setup, you are ready to strap on a harness, attach yourself to the trolley, and soar! The only thing that can make this ride more thrilling is the satisfaction that you installed it yourself!
*Please note that this article does not replace the zip line installation instructions given by zip line kit manufacturers or professional zip line installers. If you are building or installing your own zip line, read and follow instructions included with your product carefully and call the manufacturer with any questions.