Zip line

Last updated
Zip-line in Hemlock Overlook rope course Hemlock Overlook - Zip-line - 04.jpg
Zip-line in Hemlock Overlook rope course
Zip-lining in Costa Rica, January 2005 Zip-line over rainforest canopy 4 January 2005, Costa Rica.jpg
Zip-lining in Costa Rica, January 2005

A zip-line, zip line, zip-wire, zip-power-line, or aerial runway, [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] is a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel, mounted on a slope. It is designed to enable cargo or a person propelled by gravity to travel from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable by holding on to, or being attached to, the freely moving pulley. It has been described as essentially a Tyrolean traverse that engages gravity to assist its speed of movement. [5] Its use is not confined to adventure sport, recreation, or tourism, although modern-day usage tends to favor those meanings. [6]



Ropeways or aerial cables have been used as a method of transport in some mountainous countries for more than 2,000 years, possibly starting in China, India and Japan as early as 250 BC, [7] remaining in use in some remote areas in China such as Nujiang (Salween) valley in Yunnan as late as 2015 before being replaced by bridges. [8] Not all of these structures were assisted by gravity, so not all fitted the definition of the zip-line. [7]

Various technological advances in Europe in the Middle Ages improved the power-line's ropeways, some of which were still assisted by gravity. [7]

The first recorded use of the zip-line as a form of entertainment was possibly in 1739, when Robert Cadman, a steeplejack and ropeslider, died when descending from Shrewsbury's St Mary's Church when his rope snapped. In literature, one appears in The Invisible Man [9] (published 1897) by H. G. Wells as part of a Whit Monday fair and referred to as "an inclined strong". [10]

Some sources attribute the development of zip-lines used today as a vacation activity to the Tyrolean traverses developed for mountaineering purposes. [5]

In the Australian outback, zip-lines were sometimes used for delivering necessities to people working in or on the other side of a valley, and they may have been used in conflicts by Australian troops to deliver food, mail and even ammunition to forward positions. [10] [5] [11]

Current uses

Zip-line across river chasm in Ladakh, India Flying foxes across river chasm in Ladakh.jpg
Zip-line across river chasm in Ladakh, India

As a means of transport

Yungas, Bolivia, features a system of zip-lines used for transporting harvested crops, mainly coca, across a valley 200 m below. [12] [13] They can also be seen in the Ladakh region of India.

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the use of aerial ropeways for transporting cargo, partly due to their low energy requirements and environmental impact. Gravity-fed types, i.e. zip-lines, have been built in Nepal, [14] Latin America and India. [7]


Children's adventure playgrounds

Flying fox at Gungahlin, Canberra, Australia Flying Fox cablecar Canberra, Australia.jpg
Flying fox at Gungahlin, Canberra, Australia

Zip-lines may be designed for children's play and found on some adventure playgrounds. Inclines are fairly shallow and so the speeds kept relatively low, negating the need for a means of stopping. [10] The term "flying fox" is commonly used in reference to such a small-scale zip-line in Australia and New Zealand. [15] [16] With playground equipment, the pulleys are fixed to the cable, the user typically hanging onto a handgrip underneath, but occasionally including a seat or a safety strap. Return of the grip or seat is usually done by simply pushing or pulling it via a short wire back to the top of the hill on foot.

Canopy tours and adventure zip-lining

Hocking Peaks Adventure Park, Logan, Ohio Hocking Peaks Adventure Park, Logan, Ohio.jpg
Hocking Peaks Adventure Park, Logan, Ohio

Longer and higher rides are often used as a means of accessing remote areas, such as a rainforest canopy. In the 1970s, wildlife biologists set up zip-lines as a way to study and explore the dense rainforests of Costa Rica without disturbing the environment. The business idea for zip-line canopy tours developed from these. Darren Hreniuk, a Canadian citizen who moved to Costa Rica in 1992, around the same time that a scene in the film Medicine Man incorporated the treetop rides, with the goal of using canopy tours to help raise awareness for reforestation, education and socio-economic development in the surrounding areas. [5] In October 1998, the Costa Rican Patent Office granted patent No. 2532 for an "Elevated Forest Transport System Propelled by Gravity, Using Harness and Pulley Through a Simple Horizontal Line" to Hreniuk. The patent was later annulled and brought uncertainty to zip-line businesses, before being reinstated after twenty years. [17] [18]

A canopy tour (sometimes called a zip-line tour) provides a route through a wooded, and often mountainous, landscape making primary use of zip-lines and aerial bridges between platforms built in trees. Tourists are harnessed to a cable for safety, and many are restricted to adults. Heights vary from a close to the ground to high up near the treetops. [19] Canopy tours are largely marketed under the banner of ecotourism, although the environmental impact of any type of zip-line is a disputed topic. [20]

The terminology varies (canopy tour, zip-lining, flying fox), and the line between using zip-lines for ecotourism and zip-lining as an adventure sport is often not clearly drawn. [21] Zip-line tours are now popular vacation activities, found both at upscale resorts and at outdoor adventure camps, where they may be an element on a larger challenge such as a hike or ropes course. [22] [23]



Departure zip SuperFly in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada Departure zip SuperFly in Whistler, BC, Canada.jpg
Departure zip SuperFly in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

A type of pulley with a grooved wheel known as a sheave is used in zip-lines, and the pulley turns as it travels along, thus reducing friction and enabling greater speed than would otherwise be possible. [24]

The zip-line trolley is the frame or assembly together with the pulley inside that run along the cable. [25] Zip-lines also have some kind of device to allow the cargo or rider take advantage of the pulley system. This could include a harness, seat, a cabin or often just a handhold in smaller playground applications, that attaches to the pulley by a pivoting link or carabiner which secures the load, allowing the person or cargo to travel down the line.


Zip-line spring braking system Zip line spring braking system.jpg
Zip-line spring braking system

To be propelled by gravity, the cable needs to be on a fairly steep slope. Even then the rider or cargo will often not travel completely to the end (although this will depend on the load), and some means of safely stopping the car at the bottom end is usually needed with the larger zip-lines. Users of zip lines must have means of stopping themselves. [24] Typical mechanisms include: [26]

  • Friction created between the pulley against the cable.
  • Thick, purpose-built leather gloves.
  • A mat or netting at the lower end of the incline.
  • A passive arrester system composed of springs, pulleys, counterweights, bungee cord, tire or other devices, which slows and then stops the trolley's motion.
  • A "capture block" which is a block on the cable tethered to a rope controlled by a person who can manually apply friction on the rope to slow the user down.
  • Gravity stop, exploiting the sag in the cable, where the belly of the cable is always lower than the termination point. The amount of incline on a zip-line controls the speed at which the user arrives at the termination point.
  • Hand brake at the end of the zip-line.


There are certain precautions that can be taken. Riders are physically attached to the cable by a harness which attaches to a removable trolley. A helmet is required on almost all courses of any size. All zip-line cables have some degree of sag, so the proper tensioning of a cable is important and allows tuning the ride of a zip-line.


Ziplining through rainforest at San Lorenzo in San Ramon (canton) Ziplining through rainforest at Canopy San Lorenzo in San Ramon, Costa Rica.jpg
Ziplining through rainforest at San Lorenzo in San Ramón (canton)
Rescuing a stuck zipliner Rescuing a stuck zipliner at Canopy San Lorenzo in San Ramon, Costa Rica.jpg
Rescuing a stuck zipliner


The world's longest zip-line as of 31 January 2018 is the 'Jebel Jais Flight' from one of the peaks of the Jebel Jais mountain in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, with a single unbroken span of 2,831.88 m (9,290 ft 11 in). [27] [28] The ride has been closed pending the outcome into an investigation into the crash of an Agusta 139 rescue helicopter on 29 December 2018, killing all on board, thought to have clipped one of the cables. [29]

The "Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre" at 2545 m (8,350 ft) in Copper Canyon, Mexico, was bumped to second place, [30] with "El Monstruo" at Orocovis in Puerto Rico coming in third, at 2530 m (8,300 ft). [31]

The longest zip-line in England is the Skywire [32] at the Eden Project in Cornwall measuring 660 meters (2,165 feet). When it opens, the Skywire at Bluewater in Kent will be the longest in England at 725 meters (2378 feet). [33] The longest zip-line in Europe, at just over 1,600 meters (5,200 ft), is the Zip World Bethesda line in Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, Wales. The Zip World Bethesda line also holds the record for being the fastest Zip-Line in the world. [34] [35]


There is no official Guinness World Record for the world's steepest zip-line, so certainty is difficult to establish, but some contenders have been:

Oldest person to ride a zip-line

See also

Related Research Articles

Funicular Form of cable railway

A funicular is form of cable railway which connects points along a railway laid on a steep slope. Two counterbalanced cars are permanently attached to opposite ends of the haulage cable, which is looped over a pulley at the upper end of a track. The two cars move in concert: as one ascends, the other descends. This arrangement distinguishes funiculars from inclined elevators which have a single car that is hauled uphill. They are also different from counterbalanced inclines which operate on a similar principle hauling vehicles that are not permanently attached to the cable.

Cable transport Class of transport modes

Cable transport is a broad class of transport modes that have cables. They transport passengers and goods, often in vehicles called cable cars. The cable may be driven or passive, and items may be moved by pulling, sliding, sailing, or by drives within the object being moved on cableways. The use of pulleys and balancing of loads moving up and down are common elements of cable transport. They are often used in mountainous areas where cable haulage can overcome large differences in elevation.

Aerial tramway Aerial lift in which the cars are permanently fixed to the cables

An aerial tramway, sky tram,cable car, ropeway or aerial tram is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion. With this form of lift, the grip of an aerial tramway cabin is fixed onto the propulsion rope and cannot be decoupled from it during operations.


A winch is a mechanical device that is used to pull in or let out or otherwise adjust the tension of a rope or wire rope.

Gondola lift Aerial transport by cable

A gondola lift is a means of cable transport and type of aerial lift which is supported and propelled by cables from above. It consists of a loop of steel wire rope that is strung between two stations, sometimes over intermediate supporting towers. The cable is driven by a bullwheel in a terminal, which is typically connected to an engine or electric motor. They are often considered continuous systems since they feature a haul rope which continuously moves and circulates around two terminal stations. In contrast, aerial tramways solely operate with fixed grips and simply shuttle back and forth between two end terminals. Depending on the combination of cables used for support and/or haulage and the type of grip, the capacity, cost, and functionality of a gondola lift will differ dramatically. Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the Cabinovia (Italian) or the French name of Télécabine are also used in English texts. The system may often be referred to as a cable car.

Chairlift Type of aerial lift

An elevated passenger ropeway, or chairlift, is a type of aerial lift, which consists of a continuously circulating steel wire rope loop strung between two end terminals and usually over intermediate towers, carrying a series of chairs. They are the primary onhill transport at most ski areas, but are also found at amusement parks, various tourist attractions, and increasingly in urban transport.

Aerial lift Method of cable transport

An aerial lift (U.S.), also known as a cable car, is a means of cable transport in which cabins, cars, gondolas, or open chairs are hauled above the ground by means of one or more cables. Aerial lift systems are frequently employed in a mountainous territory where roads are relatively difficult to build and use, and have seen extensive use in mining. Aerial lift systems are relatively easy to move and have been used to cross rivers and ravines. In more recent times, the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of aerial lifts have seen an increase of gondola lift being integrated into urban public transport systems.

Singapore Cable Car Gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber to the resort island of Sentosa

The Singapore Cable Car is a gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber on the main island of Singapore to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour. Opened on 15 February 1974, it was the second aerial ropeway system in the world to span a harbour, after Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona, which opened already in 1931. However, it is not the first aerial ropeway system to span the sea. For instance, Awashima Kaijō Ropeway in Japan, built in 1964, goes over a short strait to an island. Although referred to by its operators as a cable car, the listed system is in fact a monocable gondola lift and not an aerial tramway. In 2020, a round-trip ticket cost SGD 35 for adults and SGD 25 for children.

Cable railway

A cable railway is a railway that uses a cable, rope or chain to haul trains. It is a specific type of cable transportation.

Canopy walkway Elevated walkway

Canopy walkways - also called canopy walks, treetop walks or treetop walkways - provide pedestrian access to a forest canopy. Early walkways consisted of bridges between trees in the canopy of a forest; mostly linked up with platforms inside or around the trees. They were originally intended as access to the upper regions of ancient forests for scientists conducting canopy research. Eventually, because they provided only limited, one-dimensional access to the trees, they were abandoned for canopy cranes. Today they serve as ecotourism attractions in places such as Dhlinza Forest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia, Sedim River, Kulim, Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda and Kakum National Park, Ghana.

Material ropeway

A material ropeway or ropeway conveyor is a subtype of gondola lift, from which containers for goods rather than passenger cars are suspended.


The Schauinslandbahn is a gondola lift in the Black Forest area of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It links a lower station in the municipality of Horben, near the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, with an upper station near the summit of the Schauinsland mountain. The line is operated by VAG Freiburg, the city transport operator for Freiburg. The same company operates that city's tram and bus network, including bus route 21 that links the lower station of the Schauinslandbahn to the terminus of tram route 2 at Günterstal.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Llechwedd is a visitor attraction near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales. It details the history of slate quarrying in the town and specifically the Llechwedd quarry in which it is located. The main aspect of Llechwedd is its Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour which has the steepest narrow gauge railway in the UK and travels over 500 feet underground to the disused slate caverns, and the Quarry Explorer Tour which heads out to the furthest reaches of the Llechwedd site to explore the history of mining in the area.

Honister Slate Mine Slate mine in Cumbria in the United Kingdom

The Honister Slate Mine in Cumbria is the last working slate mine in England. Quarrying for Westmorland green slate has been taken place in the area since 1728. Apart from the mining, it is also a popular tourist attraction in the Lake District National Park.

Adventure park

An adventure park is a place which can contain a wide variety of elements, including but not limited to, rope climbing exercises, obstacle courses, bouldering, rock climbing, target oriented activities, and zip-lines. They are usually intended for recreation and embody the spirit and activities often found at outdoor camps and educational facilities, without the facilitated educational component.

Rokkō Arima Ropeway

The Rokkō Arima Ropeway is Japanese aerial lift line in Kōbe, Hyōgo, operated by Kōbe City Urban Development. Opened in 1970, the line links Mount Rokkō and Arima Onsen hot spring. The aerial lift consisted of two lines, Ura-Rokkō Line and Omote-Rokkō Line. The latter, however, is currently out of service, because users shifted to cars and buses.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours is an aerial resort located along the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country. Founded in 2005, the company offers canopy tours, canopy walks, zip-lining and overnight treehouse accommodations for guests.

Experience Based Learning, also known as EBL, is an Illinois-based Zip-line tour and installation company founded in 1993 by Steven Gustafson. Gustafson served on the board of directors for the standards developer for zip-lines, the Professional Ropes Course Association, as its president until 2015.


  1. Who Really Benefits from Tourism, Publ. Equations, Karnataka, India, 2010. Working Papers Series. "Canopy Tourism", page 37
  2. Jacques Marais, Lisa De Speville, Adventure Racing, Publisher Human Kinetics, 2004, ISBN   0736059113, 9780736059114, 160 pages, page 156
  3. "Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS) – Working Paper Series 2009-10". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  4. "Foefie slide definition and meaning – Collins English Dictionary". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Outdoor Fun Store. "History of The Zipline". Archived from the original on 25 February 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2019.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  6. Based on Google search of the term.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Aerial ropeways: automatic cargo transport for a bargain". LOW-TECH MAGAZINE, Doubts on progress and technology. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  8. "Bye-bye Nujiang ziplines". GoKunming. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  9. See the second paragraph here where the phrase is underlined.
  10. 1 2 3 "All about Zip Lines". Zipline Consultant. 2018. Archived from the original on 18 August 2018. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  11. Although these claims are repeated on several sites, an original reliable source of the information has not been found.
  12. "The flying men of Yungas Valley". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. Al Jazeera. "Cocaleros in Bolivia do not walk – they fly". Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  14. "Aerial Ropeways in Nepal". No Tech Magazine. 12 October 2009. Archived from the original on 4 December 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  15. "Zip-Lines, Flying Fox in Australia". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  16. "Zip-Lines, Flying Fox in New Zealand". Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  17. Abogados, CastroPal (10 November 2018). "Costa Rica – patent leaves canopy tours dangling". Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  18. Anders, Wendy (1 June 2017). "Canopy Patent Reinstated to Canadian Man in Costa Rica After 20 Year Legal Battle". Costa Rica Star. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  19. Friedland, Lois (22 November 2017). "Take a Zipline or Canopy Tour". Tripsavvy. Archived from the original on 1 July 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  20. Kershner, Kate. "How zip lines work: History of zip lines". howstuffworks. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  21. "Zipline locations". Zipline Rider. Archived from the original on 23 January 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2019.; also a number of commercial sites such as Adrenaline: Flying fox & tree adventures, Adventure America: Zipline canopy tours
  22. Thayer, Matthew (September–October 2008). "Don't Look Down!". Maui No Ka ‘Oi magazine. Maui, Hawaii. Archived from the original on 26 November 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  23. Friedland, Lois (25 May 2018). "The most extreme ziplines in America". Archived from the original on 24 January 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  24. 1 2 Kershner, Kate. "How zip lines work: Physics of zip lines". howstuffworks. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  25. Some examples can be seen here.
  26. Roper, Aaron. "Zip Line Braking Methods". ZipLineGear Knowledge Base. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  27. Lockwood, Rosanna. "UAE claims world's longest zipline". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  28. "Longest zip-wire". Guinness World Records. 31 January 2018. Archived from the original on 25 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  29. "UAE helicopter crash kills four crew on rescue mission near zipline". BBC News. 30 December 2018. Archived from the original on 2 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  30. "Copper Canyon, Mexico Ziprider". Archived from the original on 29 December 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2015.,
  31. Abney, Clay (10 May 2018). "Take flight on the 3 longest zip-lines in the world". The Manual. Archived from the original on 25 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  32. "One of the best things to do in Cornwall | SkyWire Zip Wire". Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  33. Woolston, Hope; Delahaye, Julie (19 March 2021). "England's 'longest and fastest' zip wire set to open in May". mirror. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  34. "The 100 MPH slide; Riding Europe's Longest Zipline". Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  35. "Zip World Velocity". Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  36. Rizzo, Cailey (11 December 2017). "The world's steepest zip line offers breathtaking views over St. Martin". Archived from the original on 29 January 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  37. "Become hero of Planica" . Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  38. "HGnepal Website". Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  39. "Longest Zip Lines". Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  40. Swatman, Rachel (18 September 2018). "106-year-old sets birthday zip wire record – after getting tattoo and riding rollercoaster". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019.