How to Set Up a Slackline: Primitive System

Short or beginner slacklines usually feature one of two basic tensioning systems: the Primitive system (also referred to as an Ellington, after its inventor) or the widely popular Ratchet system. We are going to start our series of articles by discussing how to set up a primitive style slackline.

Primitive tensioning system (top/green) Ratchet tensioning system (bottom/red).

Primitive tensioning system (top/green) Ratchet tensioning system (bottom/red).

Anatomy of the primitive tensioning system.

Anatomy of the primitive tensioning system.

Make sure to always use tree protection when slinging trees with tubular webbing. Tree protection can come in many forms such as carpet or cardboard, and is important for preventing harm to living trees. Is it also important for preventing wear on the webbing itself. Note that pre-made climbing slings under 1” and small diameter rope are generally not suitable for this application, since these materials do not adequately distribute load across the surface of the tree. Overtime, this can harm and/or kill trees. We will elaborate more on this in future articles.

A water knotted (top) and beer knotted (bottom) sling made from tubular webbing. Popular choice for primitive setups.

A water knotted (top) and beer knotted (bottom) sling made from tubular webbing. Popular choice for primitive setups.

Once the anchor sling is set around the tree, you can connect the static side of the slackline webbing to your carabiner and sling. Connecting the webbing can be done by using a small ring or chain-link in conjunction with the carabiner to create a linelock.

Note: The STATIC side is the side of the slackline that will not contain the tensioning system. The side that contains the tensioning system is referred to at the TENSION side.

To create a linelock, pass a bight of webbing through the link or ring, then loop the bight around the link and back through from the same side. Now add your connector through the eye of the bight. This can seem confusing when you are first learning the system, but with practice it will become second nature and you can find all sorts of ways to use a linelock.

Anatomy of a linelock.

Anatomy of a linelock.

The TENSIONING side (or the side with the Ellington tensioner) requires a linelock positioned about a fifth of the way into your slackline from the tension side anchor. We use the 1/5th rule because it works well with the most common webbing used for primitive systems; nylon tubular webbing. Once the linelock is created, the Ellington tensioning system can be constructed by running the webbing from the linelock to the carabiner at the tree sling. Pass the webbing through the carabiner and start heading back towards the anchor sling carabiner. With this pass you’ll actually tuck the webbing underneath the first piece. This creates the first of 2 friction contact points that hold the slackline in place. The second contact point is created at the linelock carabiner and it is the last pass of webbing within the tensioning system. This is how you turn a loose piece of webbing into a walkable slackline; admittedly it helps to watch an instructional video.

Anatomy of the primitive tensioning system.

Anatomy of the primitive tensioning system.

Adding tension to the slackline using the Ellington is simple; just pull on the webbing tail coming out of the Ellington. As you tighten the system, the outer layer of webbing holds the tension by keeping the inner layer of webbing in place through a series of friction locks. If you need to increase mechanical advantage, you can use additional carabiners within the Ellington. This technique may be useful if you are struggling to get the line tight enough on your own. Using a system with more than two carabiners generally leaves only one friction lock at the front of the system, so it is extra important to tie-off or back-up the tail end of the webbing before slacklining.

High efficiency primitive tensioning system (NOT to be used for high tension or with low stretch webbing).

High efficiency primitive tensioning system (NOT to be used for high tension or with low stretch webbing).

To release the system, untie any back-ups and pull the tail out from underneath the friction lock. Once the friction lock is released, you can feed slack through the carabiners. This removes all tension from the slackline. You can then take it apart and pack it up for next time. Don’t forget to remove your tree protection when leaving the park.