Thrill on a Zip Line

Zip lines are an amazing adventure for any outdoor enthusiast. Zip lines speed the rider through tree top canopies or down mountain sides at speeds of over 120km/h providing a thrilling ride and incredible views.

Zip lines are also known as zip wires or flying foxes. Flying foxes are generally designed lower to the ground and have slower speeds for children and equipment. Adventure-size zip lines or professional courses usually run at great heights down mountains, across gorges, and through jungles. These lines will often start at heights over 30’ (9 metres) and run for distances of over 1500’ (450 metres).

zip line adventure travel
This zip line takes riders through the depths of the Costa Rican jungle. Note the heavy leather gloves the rider is wearing for gripping the wire to slow his descent and to stop.

Zip lines work by stretching a long cable usually made out of stainless steel aircraft cable between two points. Lines can also be made from rope for children’s rides or for a zip line that is a temporary bridge across a canyon or waterway.

The starting point on zip lines is always higher than the stopping point. As riders descend the line, speed increases rapidly giving them the thrill of a lifetime. Speed increases until the lowest point in the cable is reached. Most cables have a certain degree of sag to them (thanks to gravity) and the lowest point on the line where speed generally starts to slow is known as the “belly”. As riders pass by the belly the trolley slows down as it starts to go slightly up hill on the wire approaching the stopping point making for an easier stop.

jungle zip lines
You can’t get much closer to flying than riding a zip line through the tree tops at 120km/h

Riders of a zip line connect to the line by a trolley. A trolley is a metal box which contains one or more pulleys. The box has either handles for holding onto or a point to attach a carabineer. The handles are usually used on smaller flying foxes which are located quite close to the ground or over water.

Professional zip lines connect riders to the trolley with a harness or boson’s chair and a carabineer suspending them under the wire. The harness which is similar to a rock climbing harness prevents riders from falling off at high speeds. Usually a safety line is also attached to the rider in case the trolley, harness or carabineer should fail.

Travelling on a zip line is safe despite the fast speed of travel. Riders on some lines can reach speeds of 120km/h and even up to a blistering 160km/h. All professional zip line operations require riders to wear a helmet and heavy gloves for stopping or controlling speed. Long sleeved shirts and pants are recommended to protect exposed skin in case you brush by a tree branch or two along the way-just keep sleeves away from the trolley so nothing gets stuck in the pulleys.

Most zip lines require riders to sign a waiver before riding and should give riders a detailed description of how to stop, control their speed, and what to do if the trolley gets stuck or they come unhooked. Before purchasing tickets for the zip line ask questions such as how often do they inspect the lines and trolleys, along with harnesses and other equipment? You should also ask if there has ever been an accident and if so what caused it. If the zip line operators give you any vague answers to these questions, then you may want to reconsider riding with them.

zipline adventures
Zip lines aren’t just for jungle tours anymore. This line passes through incredible rocky mountain scenery. For safety’s sake, it is not recommended to let go of the wire though

Zip line operations can be found all around the world. Some of the longest and fastest can be found in Whistler, British Columbia; Icy Strait Point, Alaska; Africa, Florida, Wales, Australia, Nicaragua, China, and don’t forget to try The Eye of the Jaguar zip line near Cusco, Peru which is the world’s longest at over 6900’.

The low cost and high speeds make for an exciting ride through some of the greatest places on Earth. Even if zip lining through the jungle isn’t your thing, keep in mind you can also use a zip line to deliver harvested crops or get food and tools to workers in difficult places. Adventure seekers, families, or even casual tourists should make plans try out a zip line on their next holiday.

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson