The History of Zip Lining

08 March 2024

Zip lining is a huge amount of fun, and without a doubt a fantastic way to spend a day - but where did it all start? In this article, we’ll be looking into both the history and the evolution of ziplining, and how it became an activity that providers like us here at Gripped can offer as a thrilling way to forget the everyday for a while.

What is a zip line?

A zip line is a method by which to get from a high point to a slightly lower one, via suspension from a steel cable by a harness or seat. Traditionally used as a practical transportation method in mountainous areas such as the Himalayas and the Alps, it’s become a super fun outdoor activity in other areas, providing a unique way to take in the scenery.

The history of zip lining

As we’ve alluded to, zip lining wasn’t always the exhilarating leisure activity that it’s become today; for instance, they were once used in ancient China to traverse tricky or dangerous areas, such as rivers, before structures such as bridges were constructed.

In fact, it wasn’t until the late 70s that the concept of zip lining was considered as a recreational activity, and it was all down to one man called Donald Perry.

Who is Donald Perry?

Donald Perry was a graduate student from the University of California, who didn’t exactly invent ziplining, but is responsible for its rise in popularity. During research into Costa Rica’s diverse rainforest wildlife population, the idea occurred to him to create a ‘zip’ course, from which visitors could get around the treetops and enjoy a unique view of the forest floor below. He then went ahead and designed and built his own zip line course. The early versions of this are reported to be quite primitive, with the zip lines themselves made of rope.

Current uses of zip lines

Zip lining as transport

Believe it or not, zip lines are still used as a form of transport around the world. For example, in the Bolivian region of Yungas, harvested crops such as coca are transported 200m above valleys via zip lines. In fact, in the age of climate change, there is a renewed interest in this type of transportation due to its low energy usage.

Zip lining for recreation

Children playgrounds

On a much, much smaller scale, zip lines in playgrounds can provide kids with a ‘flying’ experience in a safe way. They’re available in a range of sizes, with safety surfaces installed below to soften any falls. On a much, much smaller scale, zip lines in playgrounds can provide kids with a ‘flying’ experience in a safe way. They’re available in a range of sizes, with safety surfaces installed below to soften any falls.

Canopy tours

Canopy tours differ from zip lines in the sense that zip lines simply go from A to B, whilst canopy tours allow you to get around a wooded area via platforms connected by zip lines. It’s a super exciting way to see a forest or mountainous area!

Adventure zip lining

This is your traditional recreational zip line experience, which is a thrilling journey from one point to another, during which you see some fantastic scenery.

How does zip lining work?


Ultimately, the angle of the line, the weight of the passenger, and the friction provided by the mechanism are the key factors in the zip line experience. However, at a technical level, the attachment to the cable is what handles your descent down the sloping line, and it comprises a pulley with a grooved rim, known as a sheave. This wheel-type mechanism turns as you travel along the steel ‘line’, with minimal friction which would otherwise slow you down.


Without the capacity to brake, the zip line would come to a very abrupt end indeed. Thankfully, it’s possible to brake in one of two ways, depending on how the zip line is set up. Many zip lines give the user or the instructor control over the braking, or you’ll find that the line starts to incline at the end, naturally slowing the user down.


As you’d expect, zip line passengers are secured to the pulley system and therefore the ‘line’ via a harness. It’s also essential to wear a helmet, to protect your head against anything unforeseen. The braking systems that we mentioned before are also a vital safety consideration for zip line operators.

Zip lining records

Where is the longest zip line?

You’ll find the longest zip line at the Jebel Jais peak in Ras Al Khaimah, which is the northernmost Emirate in the UAE. Its unbroken span is a whopping 2,831.88 metres long - that’s 9,290 feet!

Where is the steepest zip line?

The steepest zip line is at Saint Martin's Rockland Estate Rainforest Adventures, which drops 320 metres across the 853 metre cable. There are a couple of others that are also considered to be amongst the steepest, which are Letalnica bratov Gorišek zip-line, found on the ski jumping hill in Planica, Slovenia, featuring a 202 metre vertical drop, and the ZipFlyer in Nepal, which has a vertical drop of 610 metres.

Who is the oldest person to go zip lining?

Jack Reynolds, a great-grandfather from Britain, became the oldest person to go zip lining in 2018 at the incredible age of 106. He became the record holder at Cumbria’s Go Ape in Grizedale Forest.

Where is the highest zip line?

France is home to the highest zip line, with the La Tyrolienne in Val Thorens boasting a zip line at 10,600ft.

Where is the fastest zip line?

In North Wales, at the Penrhyn Slate Quarry, near Bethesda, there’s a zip line with some serious credentials - it’s the fastest zip line in the world , and it’s the longest in Europe.

Join Gripped for a zip line course

Whether you’re brand new to zip lining, or you’re looking for a new course to get to grips with because you know you love the thrill of flying through the air, make Gripped your next adventure destination.

Located by Houndslow Heath just outside London, Gripped provides exhilarating zip line trekking, which is so much fun for people of all ages and abilities. Find out more about what we can offer groups, schools and individuals here at Gripped.