There’s nothing quite like your first zip-line experience. You pop on a helmet and a harness, clip into the trolley, and stand at the edge of a platform. Somehow, it’s a lot higher from up there than it looked from the ground. But after working up the courage, you take a deep breath, grip the handles, and leap from the platform.
Zzzzzzhhhhhhhhhhh -- the trolley whistles as it glides on the zip line. You fly over the treetops before the brakes kick in and you slow to a halt. The guides pull you in to safety on the next platform. Exhilarated, you can’t believe your first zip-line ride ended so quickly -- and you’re ready for the next one.
Zip-lining is one of those quintessential adventures every thrill-seeking traveler should experience at least once. Looking to try it on your next trip? Here’s what you need to know before you zip-line for the first time.
By and large, zip lines have a reputation for being both fun and safe. However, there are some risks associated with riding a zip line that everyone should be aware of. A 2015 study looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and found that there were 16,850 zip-line-related injuries between 1997 and 2012. Almost half of the zip-line injuries occurred in people 9 years old and younger, and the majority of the injuries were the result of falls. Deaths, while rare, have also happened on zip lines.
A little proactivity can go a long way toward keeping yourself safe at a zip-line course. First, be discerning when it comes to where you choose to zip-line. Regulation from state to state varies, and there are no countrywide standards for constructing and operating zip lines. If you’re considering booking an experience at a particular place, it’s worth picking up the phone to ask how they train their staff, how frequently they inspect their courses, what kind of safety record they have, and whether they adhere to safety standards set by industry organizations such as the Professional Ropes Course Association or the Association for Challenge Course Technology. Only move forward with a company whose answers make you confident in your safety.
When you’re on the zip-line course, pay attention. Follow rules on any signage, and listen to the staff’s instructions. Keep your safety gear on at all times. And if you ever have any concerns about the zip-line course, mention them to the staff.
All of that being said, zip-lining is an extremely popular activity. Tens of thousands of people have a safe experience on zip lines every year. Do your due diligence, follow directions, and you’ll likely be fine.
As someone who has tried 20 or so zip lines around the world, I’ll be honest: It’s scary. Not terrifying, but zip lines will definitely make your heart pound. The scariest part of riding a zip line is jumping off the platform. You have to fight your natural instincts and put trust in your guides and gear to finally make that jump -- but it’s worth it. You’ll feel completely free as you defy gravity and zoom over the trees, the wind blowing in your hair and your feet dangling below. You’ll find the experience so exhilarating that you’ll want to clip into the next zip line and take off again as soon as you finish your first ride.
It’s common for zip-line operators to boast that their equipment is capable of holding a truck. However, their zip lines usually still come with weight restrictions in order to protect guests. A rider who’s too light might inadvertently stop in the middle of the zip line, making for a less than optimal experience. Riders who are too heavy may hit the landing platform too quickly, which could potentially cause injuries.
Generally speaking, zip-line riders should be between 60 and 275 pounds. Some courses have limits on waist circumference as well. Ask your operator about his or her course’s specific restrictions.
Your clothes will have a direct impact on how comfortable you are throughout the zip-line tour. Wear breathable layers that you can easily move around in. Long shorts, trousers, leggings, or capri pants will give you some padding against the harness and make the ride more comfortable. On warmer days, throw on a T-shirt or tank top. A long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt might be a better option in cooler weather. Opt for close-toed shoes, like hiking boots or sneakers -- flip-flops and sandals are a no-no on many zip lines, since they’re prone to falling off in the air. You should also avoid accessories and garments (like scarves, hats, and long necklaces) that could get tangled in the zip-line trolley or fly off during the ride. If you wear glasses, secure them around your neck with a cord. As for safety gear, your guide will provide all the protective equipment you’ll need for the zip line.
Haven’t hit the gym in a while? Don’t sweat it -- ziplines are friendly to people of many levels of physical ability. While you will grip the handles, you’re actually supported entirely by the harness, so you won’t be exerting any upper-body strength to hold yourself up. You may experience a little bit of stress on your ankles and knees as you climb from the zip line to the landing platform, but guides typically reach out to help riders during that process. The most physical activity required is the walking between the zip lines. Some zip-line courses involve short hikes, stairs, and suspension bridges. Check with the owners to see what their specific courses entail.
The speed at which you fly down the zip line is one of the most thrilling parts of the experience. Zip World in North Wales is reputed to have the world’s fastest zip line, hitting top speeds of 125 miles per hour. Most zip lines are a lot tamer, though. According to a survey by Head Rush Technologies, which sells zip-line equipment, 31 to 40 miles per hour was the most frequent top speed achieved by riders. Many others experienced zip-line rides between 21 and 30 miles per hour and 41 and 50 miles per hour.
There are two main types of braking systems on a zip line: passive and active. As the name implies, passive-braking zip lines use speed-reduction mechanisms to slow you down automatically -- no need for you to do anything. Active braking, on the other hand, will require you to slow yourself down. You may need to grab the cable (wearing leather gloves provided by the operator) or pull down on a brake to create friction at the right time. Asking which type of brakes a particular operator uses can give you clarity before your first zip-line experience.
There are hundreds of zip lines across the United States. Here are a few standout zip lines to consider:
Mega Zips at Louisville Mega Cavern: A former limestone mine is now home to the world’s only fully underground zip-line adventure course. The tours, which take 2 hours and 30 minutes, involve six underground zip lines, including a dual-racing line.
KapohoKine Adventures: KapohoKine Adventures takes aerial thrills to the next level on its HeliZippin’ Volcano tours. You’ll start by taking a helicopter ride over Hawaii’s most impressive volcanoes. Then you’ll work your way through an eight-line zip-line course that takes you 160 feet above waterfalls.
Mica Moon Zip Tours & Aerial Park: Each one of Mica Moon’s 10 zip lines offers something special, taking guests over forest glens, a private valley, a mountain stream, and the historic “moonshine camps” at Liberty Lake, just outside of Spokane, Washington. But the most adrenaline-inducing zip line at the course is known as “Big Mama.” At 3,500 feet long, Big Mama will take your breath away.
New York Zipline Canopy Tours: Experience the excitement of zip-lining after dark with New York Zipline Canopy Tours. Under the twinkling night sky, you’ll race across six zip lines and test your balance on four suspension bridges on this tour in the Catskill Mountains. The grand finale is a 65-foot rappel down to the forest floor.
Historic Banning Mills: Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia, holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest continuous zip-line course. This means that your guides don’t have to clip you in and out between zip lines and makes for a seamless adventure. The attraction features more than 100 zip lines and 10 miles of canopy tours.