Zip lines + tyroleans

Adventure race directors love their zip lines (also called flying foxes) and tyrolean traverses. Essentially they look the same – a line anchored at both ends and hanging over an intervening gully or body of water. The difference is whether the line is inclined, so that you need to slide down it (a zip line), or flat in which case you need to pull yourself across (a Tyrolean).

The heights and speeds involved can be disconcerting to some, but these challenges are essentially very simple. Still it pays to know the procedure to ensure your safety on course.


Before you arrive at the line, it is vital that your harness is tight. A prior abseil, or simply your movements during the race may have loosened it and you don’t want to discover this halfway across a void while lying on your back. The approach often involves you being on a fixed line. If so, don’t unclip yourself: wait for the marshal to do this when they are ready.

Typically the setup will involve a double line for extra safety, though one line is easily strong enough to support anyone. You will be moving along this on a pulley system which the marshal will connect to your belay loop (the black loop shown below) – the strongest part of your harness.

A worthwhile precaution is to attach a backup. Even if the marshal doesn’t do this, you will be carrying two slings with carabiners for use on fixed lines so why not use one? Making sure it is slack, attach it behind the pulley so it doesn’t get in the way.

The marshal on the line will then check your hair, harness, helmet and clothing are clear of the pulleys and once satisfied, they will ask you to confirm you are ready.

You should then do a pinch test on all carabiners – making sure they are properly locked. That done, you are unclipped from any fixed line and are ready to go.

Zipping along

On a zip line, you need only slide off, feet first and sitting back in your harness. Keep your body as still as possible to avoid turning around and to maximise speed. Look where you are going but don’t get too close to the pulleys, carabiners or rope, all of which can get very hot during the descent. As you near the end, raise your feet to protect yourself from obstacles.

If you are particularly light, you may move only slowly or are even left dangling and have to pull yourself across. If you are very heavy, you may move so fast that you are in danger of a hard landing.

If you do find yourself careering out of control, use your reserve line to slow you down, just by reaching up and pulling down on it.

Heave ho

On a Tyrolean traverse, you cross using muscle power alone. Keep your body horizontal to reduce air friction and pump your legs as though you are treading water. Pull handover-hand in time with your kicks and keep dropping your head back to see where you are going.

If you are shorter, make sure the marshal doesn’t clip you in too far from the line – they should be able to adjust the sling to bring you closer. If you are too far away you may have to pull straight-armed which is tiring and may result in arm strains.

Getting off the line can be tricky. Help the marshal by taking your weight off it by pulling it down, but keep clear when you are unclipped as it can rebound with some force.

(Thanks go to Asia Pacific Adventure for their help with the preparation of this feature.)