How Do Ziplines Work?

How Do Ziplines Work
Photo by caropat

Ziplines are one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can get outside of jumping out of an airplane, so it’s no surprise that they’re also some of the most popular attractions at theme parks and vacation spots worldwide.

Did you know that ziplines use similar technology to suspension bridges? In both structures, cables are anchored at the top and bottom of the span, with additional cables connecting them regularly along the way.

Suspension bridges use these cables to hold up their decking and allow you to walk across, while ziplines hang from them to provide an exhilarating outdoor experience! How do ziplines work? Here’s more.

What Does Zipline Mean Anyway?

Zipline is a generic term for any aerial cable, and it can refer to any number of mechanisms for taking people, animals, or objects from one place to another.

A zip line is a long rope anchored at both ends and guided over pulleys pulled taut to enable safe passage.

There are two different types of ziplines: mechanical and natural. Mechanical ziplines use hand cranks to power pulleys, while natural ziplines use the weight of the passenger or vehicle as an energy source.

Although they come in many shapes and sizes, these devices have one thing in common: they are amazingly fun!

Does each have different key features that make them unique from the others? You’ll find a variety of shapes, sizes, tension, speed, and distance in these aerial adventures that make them exciting for everyone.

But How do ziplines work? Let’s look at some design details that make this one-of-a-kind activity possible.

Parts of a Zipline

These are the parts of a zipline: The point where one line ends and the other begins, called a clew. It is usually located near or at the top of an anchor tower. The anchor tower is usually high on a hill, cliff, or tall structure close to both endpoints. 

A pulley system with two parallel ropes provides most of the tension needed to hold up two zippers that go side by side down the length of the cable. It also helps to provide braking power so riders can slow down before they reach their endpoint.

How Do Ziplines Work?

Here is a full explanation of “how do ziplines work?”. To start, we must consider what happens when you pull a zipline taut.

The tension in the line causes it to stretch and snap back. Imagine if you were pulling apart two pieces of string.

As you pull them apart, they are forced to snap back together with force proportional to the amount of tension applied. 

In other words, more tension = more force (or speed). When the line snaps back, it generates energy that can be harnessed and used to power an electric motor at one end of the cable.

A pulley system captures this energy by turning it into rotational motion at some point between this motor and where your feet are dangling. 

Turning rotational motion into linear movement is like converting circular to linear movement. Just as a wheel moves linearly along the ground, an axle or disc attached to the wheel will rotate.

From this pulley system, wires run up through poles until they reach a tower at the top, of which there’s another set of pulleys that transfer this rotation back down through wires to another pulley system near your feet. 

This second set of cables then turns again to generate more rotational motion, which drives another electrical generator at the base station near where you started climbing up. Now you know!

How to Stop a Zipline From Working

A kill switch is a safety system to stop a malfunctioning or errant zip line from gaining speed. Kill switches come in three types: active, passive, and vehicle.

Active kill switches are connected to an alert on the ground that will stop the line when triggered by any device placed along the path of the zip line. 

Also, a passive kill switch slows down momentum so that when the rider eventually stops accelerating, they have no more energy left to continue onward and fall into a net below.

Vehicle-based kill switches are common at high speeds because they can quickly catch up with fast-moving lines before you risk coming off.


Zip lines, from Peru to Costa Rica to Canada, can be found worldwide and are an increasingly popular activity for tourists and residents alike.

How do ziplines work? Is it like sliding down a hill, or are other factors at play? This article explains it all.

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