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In the Balance Community Shop, there are a number of different slackline webbings to choose from. Each of these webbings is unique in its own right and each has special characteristics that are favorable for certain types of slacklines and slackliners. I would like to take a look at the characteristics in detail to help people decide which webbing is right for them.
First off, there are a number of characteristics that are similar across all slackline webbings that can be used to compare two webbings very easily. Here is a list of these properties:
I will go into detail about each of these below.
The breaking strength of a webbing is a very important property as it defines (in combination with stretch) how safe a webbing is for use in slacklines (specifically, highlines). The stronger your webbing, the safer it will be. A good rule of thumb to go by is that your webbing should be 3 times stronger than the maximum tension you will ever tension said webbing to. For instance, if you plan on setting up a line that is 600 feet long with about 8 feet of sag, that will require roughly 3,000 lbs of tension. This means you should not use a webbing that breaks at a force lower than 9,000 lbs.
Be very careful with the strength of webbing though, for there are more, somewhat ambiguous factors to take into consideration. The most important detail to consider is the safety cushion that is placed on the strength rating of the webbing. Typically, webbings made in the US are rated very conservatively in order to protect the mills that produce them. This is because there are such large fluctuations in the finished product. The process of milling a webbing allows for many things to go wrong, such as the width of the webbing, the tensions of the individual monofilaments, the tightness of the weave. Also, other things can happen during the weave that can affect the strength of the finished substrate. These include broken monofilaments, miss-weaves, loose fiber ends, and a few others. All of these combined can allow for HUGE ranges in the breaking strength for webbing, even within batches from the same manufacturer. This is why it's important to not read too heavily into the breaking strength numbers for all webbing. As I said before, webbing in the US tends to have a large cushion placed on the breaking strength for this reason. Webbing made in other parts of the world does not usually have these kinds of safety margins, which is why it's important to look at how the company that sells the webbing rates their material.
The strength is not the only factor to look at when considering the safety of a webbing. The stretch plays a VERY large role in how safe your line will be, which we will be looking at next.
The stretch of your webbing plays a very important role in how safe your line is for highline use. The higher the stretch of your line, the less strong it needs to be. The reason for this is that during a leash fall your line will be shock loaded by the impact force of your fall. In a low stretch webbing, the fall happens very quickly, which results in a high impact force, thus enabling higher shock load values to occur. On a high-stretch webbing, the leash fall happens a lot slower. This is because the webbing stretches as you fall, which lengthens the time for the impact force to peak. The slower the fall, the lower the impact force, the lower the shock load on your webbing. So, high-stretch webbings experience lower shock load values compared to low stretch webbings. This is why the lower the stretch of your webbing, the higher the strength needs to be. This isn't to say that low stretch webbings are unsafe for highlines though, it just means that you should use only the highest strength materials if you choose to go the low-stretch route (i.e. Mantra and Spider Silk MKII).
Not only is stretch an important factor in highline safety, but it's also a characteristic of highly dynamic webbing. High-stretch webbings lend themselves to more dynamic tricks on the slackline. For instance, surfing and bouncing the line become much more powerful on a stretchy webbing compared to low-stretch lines. If you like dynamic slacklines, then high stretch webbing is definitely for you (i.e. Lift).
Stretch also plays a big role in how easy your line will be to setup. A webbing with higher stretch will need to have more slack pulled out of it to get to walking tension compared to a low-stretch webbing. More slack being pulled out means more work, and more rope for your Pulley System, which means less energy for walking. If you are into quick setup times, then low stretch webbing is for you (i.e. Mantra and Spider Silk MKII).
The weight of your line (combined with the stretch) determines how difficult it will be to walk. Lightweight webbing will always be easier to walk than heavyweight webbing. This is because there is less weight to react to your movements when you walk the line, and the subsequent movements have less momentum that has the potential to throw you off the line. When a heavier webbing starts to move, it takes more energy to stop those movements, thus making it harder to control. There are other aspects of webbing that can determine the difficulty besides the weight, such as the hand and fiber type. Although, the weight is the most critical of these aspects.
Just because heavy webbings are more difficult to walk does not make them any less enjoyable. A heavy line is one of the best training tools for teaching yourself how to keep the line calm while walking. A calm line is always easy to control since it is not moving. Heavyweight lines provide a way to train this.
The thickness of your webbing is mainly important for use of locking devices as well as determining how sharp the line is for catching on a highline. Thicker webbings tend to not do as well as thinner webbings in webbing anchors. This is because when a thick webbing bends around a radius, the inside fibers stretch much less than the outer fibers (depending on the size of the radius), resulting in low breaking numbers. The thickness is not the only factor that determines this though--stretch plays a large part.
Also, for catching on a highline, a thicker webbing is usually far less sharp than a thin webbing. This is wonderful if you take a lot of falls on highlines and don't want to get scraped up too badly.
The hand of a webbing is basically how it feels in your hands and on your feet. Some types of webbing are soft, some are stiff, some have ridges, and some are very rough. There are many variables that determine how the webbing feels, all of which affect the other characteristics above. Each individual webbing has a different hand, so I will describe the features that affect each webbing below.
The main variable that affects the hand of a webbing is the weave pattern and fiber size. A tighter weave with smaller fibers will produce a much softer hand compared to larger fibers with looser weaves. The hand is important for how a webbing feels on your feet when you are walking it. A softer hand will be much nicer to walk than a stiff handed webbing. This makes the walking experience much more enjoyable.