Ziplining has quickly become a favored activity amongst tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, and adrenaline junkies for its ability to take users on gravity defying journeys with stunning aerial views at exhilarating speeds. On average, these speeds can range from 5 to 20 miles per hour, and when you’re soaring several stories in the air, a critical question that often arises is “how do you stop?”
All commercial ziplines are required to include a braking system, whether this be active or passive, and adhere to braking regulations set by The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), The Department of Labor, Health, Agriculture, and other relevant parties. However, the braking method will vary.
In this article, we will delve into the various types of brake systems implemented on ziplines, and how each of them works. As you read, you’ll also learn how you can use your zipline’s brake for more than just your final stop, such as deceleration for a more enjoyable descent and the rare emergency.
What Types of Zipline Braking Systems Exist?
Once people learn that ziplines are equipped with a braking system, the next question they have is, “how does it work?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a singular answer to this because not all ziplines utilize the same type of braking system.
Zipline braking systems come in a range of designs that each fall into one of two categories: active braking or passive braking. Within these categories, the most popular and effective methods used include:
Active Zipline Braking Systems
- Leather gloves
- Brake pads
Passive Zipline Braking Systems
- Gravity brakes
- Spring brakes
- Bungee brakes
- Capture block
Each method operates differently and poses its own pros and cons. While the braking system alone won’t “make or break” your ziplining experience, it can contribute to your sense of safety and will directly affect the level of autonomy you have on your decent.
For these reasons, we highly recommend learning the basics of each braking system and researching what method your next ziplining company uses beforehand, so you can determine if it suits your preferences.
Active Braking Systems
The primary difference between an active zipline braking system and a passive one is that an active brake must be engaged by the rider.
This is done by applying a gloved hand, a brake pad, or an alternative item directly to the zip line cable and using the friction this contact creates to slow down their descent. As a result, riders can directly control their speed by applying more or less force on the cable.
While this method might be much cheaper than purchasing and installing a passive braking system and gives riders more control, fewer companies resort to active braking on the ziplines due to their reduced safety and throughput, as well as increased cost of maintenance.
Because riders have to apply the brakes manually their hands and arms come within close proximity of the cable increasing the chances of accidental cuts, burns, and other injuries.
If the brake is not applied enough, the rider might hit the end platform at high speeds, but if it is applied too frequently, they could get stuck on the cable.
When this happens, the rider will either need to pull themselves along the cable manually until they pick up speed (or reach the end) or wait for an employee to assist them. Both options mean zipliners behind them must wait until the issue is resolved.
The culmination of these factors makes active braking systems far less beginner-friendly than passive systems which, in addition to the cable’s increased rate of wear from friction, is why most companies avoid them.
Passive Braking Systems
As you might have guessed after learning about active braking systems, passive zipline braking systems activate automatically without any input from the rider.
Not only does this increase their overall safety but it also allows them to fully appreciate their surroundings and enjoy the ride without worrying about their speed.
Ziplining companies have a choice between several different passive braking systems for their attraction. Below are the most commonly utilized methods and how they work.
The zip line cable is installed and tensioned to ensure the rider naturally slows and comes to a stop before the end of the line. This method has a low throughput but is cost-effective and dependable since it relies on gravity rather than an actual braking mechanism.
Large metal coils are installed at the end terminal and slowly compress with the impact of the rider and their trolley. As the coil safely absorbs the rider’s inertia, it slows their progression and pushes them back out onto the cable. This process repeats until the rider comes to a complete stop.
A padded block is installed on the zipline cable near the end terminal. The block can slide freely on the cable but is also anchored by a heavy-duty bungee cord (usually at least 15’) connected to a nearby tree or post.
When the trolley contacts the block, both will slowly move down the cable as the bungee cord extends and absorbs the rider’s impact.
The bungee cord will then use that stored energy to pull the trolley and its rider back up the cable (much like the spring brake), and the process repeats until the rider comes to a complete stop.
A padded block is installed on the zipline cable near the end terminal. This system works nearly identical to a bungee brake, but the anchored bungee cord is replaced with a rope that is attached directly to the block.
When the trolley contacts the block, friction is applied to the attached rope, allowing it to completely absorb the rider’s inertia. The result is no recoil and a significantly higher throughput than other systems.
A large tire is installed at the end of the zipline cable where the rider can dismount. The tire functions as an end bumper or stop block, stopping the trolley and rider completely upon impact.
These are commonly used on over-water zip lines to ensure riders drop where the water is deep enough to do so safely. Because this brake system is more abrupt, the only other ziplines they’re used on are those where riders are guaranteed to be traveling at a low speed prior to impact.
Although they are all designed for the same purpose of decelerating and braking, their unique designs and features result in some method(s) being better suited to a ziplining course over others.
Having a braking system in place is essential to a safe ziplining experience. Not that you know all about the various types of braking systems and how they work, you should feel more at ease on your future ziplining adventures. (source: acctinfo.org)
You can also research a company’s braking system ahead of time to determine whether it is active or passive, and what this means for you regarding your experience and comfort level.