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 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 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 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.