When you go zip lining, one of the basic physics properties in action is gravity. Yet you can’t be pulled down the cable without reaching a certain height first, which is where the zip line platform comes into play. What exactly is a zip line platform?
A zip line platform is where you stand when you descend the zip line. Most platforms are made of wood, but other materials can be used like metal. Commercial and amateur zip line courses alike will often have two zip line platforms, the top one which you launch from and the bottom one that you step off of when the ride is over.
If you want to learn even more about zip line platforms, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss the types of zip line platforms, what height they should be, and how you can even make your own platforms at home. You won’t want to miss it!
What Is a Zip Line Platform and What Is It Used for?
Let’s start with the basics. A zip line platform is a must on all zip lining courses both commercial and amateur. The main zip line platform is also known as the launch platform since this is where you launch from when you begin your zip line ride.
The platform has to be large enough to accommodate the average zip line rider, which is why the standard size is 24 inches deep and 40 inches wide.
You might come across even larger platforms at some commercial zip-lining courses, but rarely would the platform be smaller. You need to have enough space to put your feet apart and stand comfortably so you can launch yourself rather than fall off the platform and down the course. That wouldn’t be very fun!
Some zip line courses have a second platform, but this isn’t always necessary. If there’s a tree in the proximity that you can use to bring yourself to a stop, then the tree acts as the end support. A support wall can do the same. Yet it’s still a good idea to have something solid for the rider to step off of when their zipline experience ends, and a second platform is good for that.
Most zip line platforms are made of wood because it’s economical and widely available, yet metal is another popular material. If your amateur zip line course needs extra support, metal is a smarter choice for these posts than wood due to its durability.
Types of Zip Line Platforms
The two types of zip line platforms are attached and free-standing. Let’s discuss both types now.
An attached zip line platform can be built into a surrounding structure such as a tree. If you do decide to use an attached platform for an amateur zip line course, then you must ensure the tree in your yard is in good enough condition.
We discussed this in our post about homemade zip line kits, but the tree needs to be able to support a large amount of horizontal force, upwards of 3,000 pounds. The ground around the tree must be secure, so no loose sand or soil here, please. The tree should be young and healthy without any signs of damage, including rotting. Even with a healthy tree, you still need supports around it when installing your zip line platform.
Free-standing zip line platforms are an option if your yard has no trees or other structural supports like solid walls available. You’d support the zip line from all sides using metal or wooden posts. After staking the posts directly into the ground in your yard, you should pour concrete around the base of the posts. This way, weather and erosion can’t weaken the supports as easily.
What some especially careful people do when making an amateur zip line course is add guy wires around the free-standing supports. A guy wire is a cable with tension that improves the security of a free-standing zip-lining course. Outside of zip lining, you’ll also see guy lines in applications like tents, wind turbines, radio masts, and ship masts.
What Height Should Your Zip Line Platform be?
If you plan to make a backyard zip-lining course for the kiddos, then that means building at least one platform if not two. We’ll assume that you need a launching platform at the very least. At what height should this platform be?
Well, that’s hard to say, as the answer varies depending on the length of your zip line cable. The standard length for many zip line kits is 100 feet. For young children and even tweens, a cable of this length should give them a long enough ride that you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck when you buy a DIY zip line kit.
Assuming that your zip line is 100 feet long, then next, you need to determine the angle at which you’ll install the cable. If you’ve read our other posts on zip lining, then you should recall that a straight-across zip line ride is both slow and not enjoyable. You need to put the cable on a slope to generate some speed and excitement.
A slope angle of three to four percent is fine for a 100-foot zip line. That said, if your particular zip line kit has other recommendations for the slope angle, then always defer to what the kit says.
The zip line cable requires clearance, and it’s typically more than you think you’ll need. The clearance is so if you have a heavier rider use the zip line, they’re not a safety risk. The average amount of clearance is seven feet, but you can feel free to increase that.
You also need at least five feet of separation from the zip line rider and any other obstacles on either side of them. Assuming that you’re building your zip line kit in a backyard, you won’t have to contend with many nearby obstacles besides maybe trees.
How to Make an Attached Zip Line Platform
The proper installation of your zip line platform is critical for continued safe use, so in these next two sections, we thought we’d share steps on how to build your own platform(s) in the yard. We’ll begin with the steps to construct an attached zip line platform that’s built into a tree.
Step 1: Select the tree that you’ll use for the platform. Not only should your tree be healthy as we discussed earlier, but its trunk must have a diameter of at least 12 inches. If it doesn’t, then your tree is too skinny to support the 3,000 pounds of horizontal force that may be applied when zip lining.
Step 2: To build a zip line platform that’s 24 inches deep and 40 inches wide, you’ll need 2x4s, which you can buy at any home improvement store. Shop for pressure-treated wood if you can, as it can resist fungal decay and termite damage.
Step 3: Using a wood saw, cut your 2x4s into six pieces. Two of these pieces should be 16 inches long apiece, two more should be 20 inches long each, and the last two should be 40 inches long apiece.
Step 4: Make a frame that’s 40 inches by 20 inches that will encircle the tree. This will require you to attach the 40-inch pieces of wood to the 20-inch pieces. The two 16-inch pieces should go around the frame’s backside on both sides.
Step 5: Per the information from the last section, measure the height for your zip line kit and install the wooden frame stand at that height. Use wood screws to attach the frame into place. With a level, ensure that the frame is completely straight on all sides.
Step 6: With more 2x4s, make diagonal boards to cover the 16-inch pieces of wood. You’ll need at least two boards, and these will act as the base of your launch platform. Use wood screws to attach the boards to each other.
Step 7: To keep your wooden zip line platform secure, it doesn’t hurt to make a diagonal brace. You’ll need yet more 2x4s for this. Each of the 2x4s should now be 10 inches long. Install the pieces so they’re under your tree yet parallel to the platform’s outer corners. With your leftover pieces of wood, construct the brace, which should go from one platform corner to the other.
Step 8: To reinforce the zipline platform, cut 2x4s to cover the two boards atop the platform. You might have to angle some of your woodcuts so the wood pieces fit around the tree. You can finish the platform with a wood sealer or even paint if you want to make it colorful.
How to Make a Free-Standing Zip Line Platform
A free-standing zip line platform doesn’t use a tree, but rather, supportive posts and guy lines to remain standing. Here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Select a pole with a diameter of at least 12 inches. Metal posts are allowed to be somewhat slimmer, but wooden posts especially must be thick so they’re more durable.
Step 2: Hammer the posts into the ground. Either 10 percent of the post length should be in the ground plus an additional two feet, or the post should be four feet in the ground, whichever leads to the post being staked more securely.
Step 3: Pour your concrete. The thickness of the concrete that surrounds the post should be at least six inches.
Step 4: Your zip line cable should be 12 inches or more from the top of the support pole. The guy line should be equidistant to that.
A zip line platform allows you to launch into sky-high fun. If you’re building your own backyard zip-lining platform, you must plan ahead to ensure the platforms are a safe part of the setup for your entire family to use. Best of luck!