Aug 6

by Scott Rogers

As more and more people are setting up slacklines in parks and yards across the country, it is necessary to stress the importance of tree protection. In my experience, many people don’t use tree protection, while others use it to an unacceptable degree. In order to prolong the lives of the trees that we use, and to promote the good-natured acceptance of the sport of slacklining, it is important to take care of the trees that we are allowed to use.

There are several different types of tree protection being used today, carpet, blankets, cardboard, pipe insulation, padded or non-padded 2 inch webbing, and some other innovative and creative designs. Obviously some are better than others, but protection is extremely important both for the health of the tree and for the longevity of the webbing.

Tree’s are incredibly strong or incredibly delicate depending on the species. It is always best to anchor your slackline to a strong, healthy and mature tree that is at the very least 12-18 inches in diameter. Any smaller than this and you could damage not only the vascular sap system, but also the roots (in addition, the tree can sway while you slackline, making it more difficult to walk). Always make sure that you are slacklining on a tree with hard bark. This is where the tree protection is most important. The forces applied to a mature tree usually are not high enough to restrict the sap flow of the tree or induce any internal damages, but the protective bark on the tree is extremely important to help the tree stay alive. If the bark is damaged, or stripped away, the tree can slowly die from its lack of protection from the elements, and its inability to control the flow of nutrients from the roots to the tips of the branches. I can remember countless trees that have died in my neighborhood from deer scraping the bark off, and porcupines eating away a ring of bark around the tree. The fact of the matter is, trees need their bark to stay alive. That being the case, we need to be extra careful not to damage this part of the tree as we slackline. A layer of cardboard, carpet, or even thick pipe insulation can do the trick. However, some pieces of tree protection are better than others.

Cardboard:

  • Cardboard is nice because it is cheap and easily accessable.
  • It adequately protects the bark, while also providing a smooth surface for the tree sling to sit on so that it minimizes damage to either one.
  • You can cut it to whatever length needed for that certain tree circumference.
  • If you’re slacklining in snow or if its raining, the cardboard will fall apart when it is wet, almost eliminating whatever protection you had.
  • Make sure that you use a thickly corrugated type of cardboard so that it provides adequate separation between the tree and the sling.
  • Use a wide piece if possible, but know that cardboard doesn’t adequately spread the load of the slackline over a wider area, so it is best used in combination with a wide sling such as padded 2 inch webbing or a spanset
  • For most intents and purposes, cardboard is a good choice!

Carpet:

  • Carpet isn’t as easy to acquire as cardboard is, but you can usually find abandoned scraps of it at your local carpet store.
  • Carpet is much thicker than cardboard, providing excellent protection of the tree as well as the slackline.
  • Depending on the type of carpet being used, excessive movement and friction of the sling on the carpet (for example, from jumping a lot, or surfing the line, etc) can damage the slackline. Any synthetic to synthetic friction can cause high enough temperatures to melt the nylon slackline, so this needs to be taken into account and avoided while using carpet for tree protection.
  • Carpet holds up extremely well to moisture and rain, so it will last much longer than cardboard will.
  • Carpet is an excellent choice as it will last you a long time and provides excellent protection for trees of all different bark types

Pipe Insulation:

  • Pipe insulation can be found in your local hardware store. It is typically used for protection while rigging highlines, but can be used for tree protection as well.
  • The amount of protection you provide for the tree is entirely dependent on the thickness of the insulation you buy. Obviously the thicker, the better.
  • Pipe insulation doesn’t provide nearly as much protection as carpet, as the force is not distributed whatsoever, but it does protect the webbing, and something is always better than nothing.
  • I would recommend pipe insulation to be used only if you don’t have access to any of the above two methods of protection.
  • Pipe insulation is cheap and easy to obtain, and can be cut to fit any size tree. It is especially good for shorter lines that aren’t as tight, but you can damage the bark still with pipe insulation if you do any aggressive tricks with it

2 Inch Webbing

  • 2 inch webbing is an excellent way to distribute the load of the tree sling to create less shear stress on the tree itself, but it does very little to mitigate the damage of the bark, which is the most important objective of tree protection.
  • 2 inch webbing is best used in combination with another tree protection method such as cardboard or carpet, to further enhance the protection.
  • 2 inch webbing can slide around on the tree during aggressive tricks, and while under tension can severly damage the outer layer of bark on the tree itself, while also damaging the webbing.

Hopefully this information is helpful when deciding what to use for tree protection. There are obviously other methods that have been used and will continue to be innovated upon in the future. If you can think of any types of protection, leave a comment with your experiences using that type of protection. Remember, protecting the trees that we use for slacklining is the first step to protecting the future of the sport.


14 comments so far...

  • auntieslackline Said on August 6th, 2008 at 11:39 am:

    At the Phoenix Boulder Blast years ago I was given some mountain bike tire, cut and flatenned into a long strip. It wrapped sweetly one and a half times around our tree set up and worked great.
    Take a mountain bike tire, cut it then turn it inside out so the tread is up againt the tree.It cradles the webbing on the inside and voila! A recycled great tree protector…I’ll pull the soap box out to say: ” All tree friendlies work. Some better than others to be sure. And if you are doing tricks you must get your anchor/sling to fit real close to the tree to minimize the rub factor.”

  • Treeguy Said on August 20th, 2008 at 10:30 am:

    Thanks for this blog! I’m the City Forester in Boise Idaho. Slacklining just started to show up in some of our city parks this year. Initially, there was a bit of hand wringing due to concerns about tree health (and slacker safety). I am not too concerned as long as some good tree protection measures (like described above) are in place. Just this week, we had an instance where bark was completely stripped off a small tree (6 inch diameter) in the same area that some slackers were practicing. I don’t know if the straps caused it or some of the slackers just peeled it off or even if it was done by slackers at all.

    I’m in the process of updating city ordinance and writing policy to allow slacklining in some Boise parks provided certain conditions are met. I will post this policy draft in the forum, if you’d like to have a look and comment, please do. I’m working with a local young slacker who was kicked off some trees a couple of months ago, and wrote a complaint. Hopefully this will work for all slackers.

    I agree for the most part with what’s in this blog. I might add that slackers must not break or strip branches from trees in order to place the lines. I DO NOT agree with the use of the bike tire as auntislackline describes above. The weight of the contact should be spread out as much as possible…this method would appear to protect bark and the line, but not distribute weight. Carpet seems to work great, and cardboard is probably OK too, but probably wouldn’t last long. I strongly agree that the “rub factor” needs to be minimized or eliminated.

    Trees are living things and will outlive any of us. As they are a necessary part of this sport, they should be well cared for.

  • Slackline.com: Leading the Balance Sport Revolution - 10 things you need to bring when slacklining Said on April 10th, 2009 at 12:07 pm:

    [...] protection for the trees. Protecting the trees is of utmost importance. Slackline is still not accepted in many places. In fact, it has been [...]

  • Paco Said on July 11th, 2009 at 3:58 am:

    Hi there, i’m new in slacking and in this site. It’s GREAT that as we develop a “new” sport, we develop as well new tools that shows a wider and deeper awarenes of our environment. The trees gives us new and fresh air, shadow, fruits and now support to slacking… we MUST be respectfull with them and take good care as well. does anyone know if it’s better to buy a tree protection from a slackline retailer? is that better since it is thought, made and slod for this pourpose?

    Peace.

  • Dillon Said on November 8th, 2009 at 5:45 pm:

    Does using denim work, like from a jean leg? because carpet is very bulky and not easy to carry

  • Robin Said on November 11th, 2009 at 12:52 pm:

    Hi Dillon,
    No, denim won’t work. It is necessary to use some sort of material that distributes the force across a rather large area.
    That way there is not an excessive amount of pressure in one spot.

  • June Said on March 16th, 2010 at 9:13 am:

    I am so excited. We just purchased a 49′ slackline from gibbons for our 5 VERY active grandchildren to use when they come to visit. Last year the zip line kept them happy this year we hope the slackline will do the trick. I love this website to learn more about what we are doing, thank you! Any tips on ages 11 through 4? Probably ages 60 as we are both interested in it also!!

  • Matt Said on June 15th, 2010 at 1:20 am:

    Yello! I have found that old rugs and towels work great, thicker ones by themselves and thinner ones can be doubled. Also since they are old they can be cut to the size needed, and the rub factor is less because they are often made with a softer fabric than carpets.

  • Marc-AndrĂ© Said on August 8th, 2010 at 8:09 pm:

    Princess Auto carries “tree savers” essentially 4 inch wide nylon straps that can be fastened around the tree and hooked to the slack line.

  • Dan Mc Said on August 24th, 2010 at 12:36 pm:

    Would a foam roll matt (the kind you would sleep on whist camping) be any good for tree protection?

  • Noah Said on June 14th, 2011 at 12:02 pm:

    I would love to get into Slacklining but I don’t have two trees in the right position. Is there anything I can set up as an anchor point instead of a tree? Thanks!

  • Heya Said on September 15th, 2011 at 3:55 pm:

    I usually use paper bags, like 3 or 4 on each side. They grip well and don’t damage the trees. Please try to remember to protect the trees when you set up your slackline, presents a healthy image for the sport.

  • Stephanie Said on September 20th, 2011 at 6:21 pm:

    Currently I use cut up yoga mats. I typically only use a tree for 3 or 4 hours at a time and it works fine. This weekend, however, I used a tree for three days ended up getting some sap on my mats. I read on Wiki about using blocks to evenly distribute the weight. Has any one else heard of this or tried it? If so, how many blocks, how far apart, etc?

  • Becky Said on February 12th, 2012 at 11:05 pm:

    I purchased a Gibbon Treewear protector which is made from a thick felt and it works great and so far I have not seen any damage on any tree. We bought it for $18 at MEC and its been worth it for its ease and light weightness. I have also heard that old foam sleeping pads work great.
    Also Gibbon has some videos on how to anchor slacklines without trees. Dig a hole (sand or snow would work best but dirt would work too) about waist deep and then tie the slackline around a 2×4 or 2×6 and put in hole. Fill in hole and then run the slack line up over something.. a milk crate would work. Haven’t tried this yet, but looks like it would work great, can’t wait for beach slacklining!

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