Let’s Go Ziplining! Try a New Kind of Family Adventure.
Have you ever been ziplining? It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience to add to your bucket list. You get to feel the wind in your face, see a gorgeous landscape from the aerial POV, and feel both the thrill and the relaxation that come with coasting through the air like a bird.
Of course, it can be intimidating too –– especially for a first-timer. Before you and your family decide to take the leap, it helps to do a little research, so you can know what you’re getting into (and get excited about it!).
To learn more about the art of the zipline, we talked to an expert: Chase Buffington, the director of Cispus Learning Center. Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Cispus Learning Center is a 68-acre campus that provides a unique Northwest outdoor learning environment for students and adults. Their focus is to get people to feel connected with the land, understand stewardship, and make memorable experiences in the outdoors. (If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can plan a visit.)
Chase has 15 years of experience building ziplines and running tours, and has taken out adventurers between the ages of six and 96. “Watching ziplining and experiencing it are two different things,” he says. “When you experience it, the thrill becomes normalized and a really relaxed feeling follows. Once that happens, you can really start to take in your surroundings. I just love taking tours and showing groups what the great outdoors has to offer.”
One of Chase’s favorite things about ziplining? It’s a way to enjoy nature while treading lightly. “Thousands of people can roam the forest without even touching the ground.”
Chase filled us in on what to know when planning a ziplining adventure:
A group called The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) sets the building and maintenance safety standards for zipline courses. When choosing where to zipline, find parks with ACCT approval. Before you go, ask each company how often it inspects the courses; the answer should be "daily."
And there’s a different type of safety to keep in mind right now too: COVID-19 safety. Ziplining is an outdoor activity (which is safer than indoor activities), but there may still be shared buses to reach destinations and other moments that present higher levels of COVID-19 risk. Remember to research each company’s COVID-19 safety policies before booking your trip; in general, you can expect to wear a mask (and probably disposable gloves or frequently sanitize hands) the whole time, and be part of much smaller groups than normal. Play it safe and refer to the CDC’s guidelines on outdoor recreation.
There are size requirements
All zipline companies have height and weight requirements to safely use their equipment, and every business varies. Yes, you can be too big/heavy, but you can also be too small/light –– which means you won’t “zip” down the line so much as just “dangle.” You should check ahead of time that everyone in your group will be in the correct range for a safe, fun zip.
KEEN story: One member of the KEEN team remembers this not-so-fun zip: “I was in Chiang Mai, and on one of the longer ziplines, I got stuck in the middle because I didn't have enough momentum. So they were talking about having someone go after me, crash into me and move me along like a bocce ball! Instead, they ended up pulling the zipline up and down to get me to move down to the bottom.”
Proper dress is required
You should wear comfortable clothing, and opt for pants or shorts (because dresses and skirts can cause problems with the harness). Judge the weather, and wear layers you can remove if you get too hot. Bring sunglasses, and secure them with a strap. Same deal for regular glasses — contacts would be best for zipline day, but if you can’t wear them, hang on to your glasses with a lanyard.
Another must-have: closed-toe shoes that will stay on your feet (no flip-flops!). Chase is a longtime fan of the KEEN Newport sandals. “They have a tough toe guard, great grip, breathable, and comfortable,” he says. “All day long you can be on your feet, climbing trees, and landing on platforms.”
Take it one step at a time
“With most ziplining experiences, the goal is to reach a little further than you ever thought you would,” Chase says. “Whether that’s getting into the harness, climbing onto the ladder, or taking the zip, it’s a cause for celebration!”
Ziplining is a little bit scary –– and that’s part of the fun! But kids (and adults, for that matter) can get panicky and have a bad experience if they feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with. When you make your plans, remember your kids may need time to get comfortable and work up to making the leap. Feeling nervous is normal, but don’t force it if a child gets cold feet and doesn’t want to take the zip.
One KEEN teamer advises, “We’ve ziplined in both Costa Rica and Washington state. Both were fantastic experiences, but the Washington zipline was a lot smaller and less intimidating. Before you decide to go big, I’d find a smaller, local zipline and test your mettle there. Once you know everyone enjoys it, build it into a big vacation!”
Prepare to be out for hours
“The big one is go to the bathroom before you start, especially before putting on the harness,” says Chase. That’s because it can take longer than you might think. “Parents should remember that tours can last from an hour to several hours, depending on the tour. Guides will check on this as they reach the midway point. By design, most tours have back out points if need be between zip, sky-bridges, and other elements.”
And because you’ll be out for so long, eat a good meal before you show up. “As a guide, I’d always keep an energy bar and water on hand just in case someone was feeling fatigued. Ziplining is not strenuous, but you should come fueled.”
This is far from everything you need to know to pull off a zipline adventure — but it’s a great start to get you daydreaming about your own flying squirrel moment. And if you do take the zip and have an awesome time, remember to tip your guide!