Highline Leash Handling & Positioning

Additional factors come into play when highlining, both rigging and not rigging related. There’s more to it than just rigging a bomber line. For many, there is a ritual or routine one goes through to manage the environment while on a highline. Both upon starting and while walking.  One of the most important new components to manage are the highline leash and harness. We are going to give you some tips and tricks for leash handling in addition to some general good practice for highline sessioning.

Jason Fautz in the Badlands of Central Oregon!

Jason Fautz in the Badlands of Central Oregon!

Leash Handling

The leash and harness are what keep you attached to the highline. For the most part we do our best to keep it managed and out of mind, but sometimes it can interfere with the walking experience. It can also cause injury you if you do know how to handle it.

Leashes can be purchased from slackline retailers and they are typically 11-12 ft long. One end ties to the climbing harness via a figure 8 knot and 2 forged leash rings are tied to the other end; NOT CARABINERS! Carabiners can be cross loaded and fail during a whip and therefore should never be used. A figure 8 knot is used to tie into the rings. This creates a safety system that keeps you connected to the highline in case of a fall or whip. The climbing harness you select should fit snug and the standard fitting process should be followed.

Leash, rings and harness.

Leash, rings and harness.

The distance between harness and rings varies from person to person. A leash length that is good for a tall person may not be the appropriate length for a short person. Adjustments can be made by moving the knot location at the harness. Before stepping out onto the line be sure you have checked the safety points on your harness, be sure the knots are tied correctly and that you’re tied into the lead climbing location in the harness. When using the same leash for multiple sessions, do not to leave the knot at the rings set for too long because over time many whips can weaken the rope at the knot.

Through the legs (left), hip leash clip (middle), Gear loop (right)

Through the legs (left), hip leash clip (middle), Gear loop (right)

Leash Positioning

When walking there are a few options as to where to position and how to handle the leash.  Some people walk with the leash between their legs while others prefer to have it to the side. If you choose to stow it to the side, it’s handy to use a leash holder. This can be a piece of velcro or something magnetic that opens when you take a whip, or you can tuck it into a gear loop and fix it with the tail of the knot. This keeps the knot out of the way and connecting it to your hip isolates the leash rings from the movement of your legs. Not only is it common to develop a routine before starting, it’s also a good idea to try and develop a routine when falling; always try fall to the same side, keep the leash in the same position. Over time things begin to slow down and become less chaotic.

Furthermore, try to keep the leash untwisted so that no loops form that you can catch and wrap limbs. Tuck the rings close to your body and always keep in mind that leash handling is something completely new to learn. To practice, it might be a good idea to rig a leash on a short line close to the ground just to get used to managing it.

Corey McCarthy highlining at Smith Rock!

Corey McCarthy highlining at Smith Rock!

Additional Tips

  • When highlining you are 100% dependent on the system for safety. You would never want to unintentionally jeopardize the security of the system. The following are some tips to keep you safe and make your life a little easier while highlining.
  • Do not wear sharp objects such as belt buckles, rings, earrings, keys, and the like that could damage or cut the webbing. No sharp metal or other hard materials.
  • Do not start from the edge. Every line has a no-fall zone, where a leash fall can lead to you bumping into the wall or other hard objects you do not want to bump into. Learn a sit start and get comfortable on longlines before attempting highlines.
  • It is nice to develop some sign language among your circle of highliners to communicate on longer rigs and in areas where you should not be shouting across the gap all the time.
  • Wearing shoes, gloves, long sleeves and pants help keep your body from taking a beating when projecting. Rashes and burns from webbing can become quite harsh when catching the line repeatedly.
  • Learn how to mount the line from underneath so you can remount the highline after a whip.
  • Make sure hats or glasses are attached to the body somehow so they don’t go flying.
  • Additional padding may be used in the knee and armpit region. Old wet-suit pieces work well for this.
  • If you decide to wear a carabiner on your harness, use a locking carabiner. Regular carabiners have accidentally gotten caught around leashes and tangled in past.
  • Using a line slide or webbing pulley is great to have to move from anchor to anchor on a rigged highline. Always use these devices while being tied into the leash. Never trust it as a single device.
  • Sometimes putting two leashes on a highline is fun. It can allow for a person to untie on the far side anchor and a friend to play during recovery or highline slack battles.

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