How to Make a Rope Swing and Fly Like Tarzan: An Illustrated Guide

by Jeremy Anderberg on August 14, 2013 · 15 Comments

in Just For Fun, Manly Skills, Outdoors, Visual Guides

1. Gather materials: 1. Thirty feet of nylon rope, at least 1 inch in diameter. 2. A sturdy tree branch at least 8 inches thick that leans well out over the water – ideally 10 or 15 feet.  2. Clear the area of debris and test the water. The depth should be at least 8 ft. Make sure there are no rocks or logs in the landing area.  3. Use a running bowline know to secure the rope to the tree. It’s a durable know, and won’t strangle the tree.  4. Use a double overhand knot at various heights for hand grips while swinging. Be sure to have one each for kiddos, teenagers, and adults.  5. Test your weight on the swing and do a few smaller, low velocity jumps to make sure it will hold.  6. To gain maximum distance and height, make sure you let go before you hit 45 degrees. The ideal degree has many variables, but stick with between 30-35 degrees and you’ll fly through the air like Tarzan.

Summer is swiftly coming to an end. One of the ways to enjoy the last of the warm weather weekends is to take an afternoon by the lake or river and make a rope swing. Safety is paramount, and close behind is gaining maximum height and velocity. We show you how to do both. See you at the ol’ swimming hole!

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 CS Balfour August 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I would hang another rope further out on the tree to mark when the first rope is at 30-35 degrees. I, personally, am not very spatially aware and would probably not let go at the right time.

2 Fnarf August 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Any kind of knot that loops around the branch hurts the tree. Use a heavy-duty eyebolt — a buck or two at the hardware store, and screw it in to the underside of the branch. A screw into the wood hurts the branch much, much less than rubbing a strip of bark and phloem off.

3 Volker August 15, 2013 at 3:03 am

Please make sure that the short loose end of the Palstek / bowline hitch is running to the OUTSIDE of the eye, not towards the middle. This way you prevent entanglement or even loosening.

As the knot is a loose sling the rope probably will slip on the branch and thus damage bark. Better wrap a layer of cloth (old jeans) around the bark and tie a Mastwurf / clove hitch with two half hitches to ease load and wear on the bark.

Remove the rope after (each) use (e.g. at the end of each weekend) to prevent 1) strangling the tree 2) prevent accidents by people using the swingline before inspecting water and rope.

4 Stephen August 15, 2013 at 6:51 am

A bowline can’t be untied under pressure, and swinging off it will cause it to tighten.
While it is a very strong knot, and a good method of securing the rope, I would recommend a round turn with at least four half-hitches, as this should take the strain and can be undone under pressure.

5 tim_lebsack August 15, 2013 at 11:12 am

When 5 years old, the local kids had a rope swing to cross the bayou behind the neighborhood. I only got wet a couple of times before learning the technique. As a high schooler, the kids gathered at a stock pond where a zip line had been erected.
Since we’re talking knots, I agree with Fnarf – Use an eye bolt through a drilled hole. Any decent hardware store will have the gear and a quick internet seach will teach you how to secure a hung force rope through a metal eye.

6 KX50002 August 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Just be carefulu, I was almost killed when the tree the rope was tied to broke and fell on me.

Good times!

7 Arnold Cohen August 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Okay everybody, let’s sing along:

“George, George, George of the Jungle, strong as he can be, ayeyah,
watch out for that tree…”

8 Alexander Kucera August 16, 2013 at 1:54 am

Along the lines of awesome extension of this topic: The Worlds Largest Rope Swing — http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4B36Lr0Unp4&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D4B36Lr0Unp4

With a heavy warning of don’t try this at home kids!!!

9 Zach August 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

I have to inform all that these are great guides. I use them at work for safety minutes to either lighten the mood or get folks thinking. Keep em coming.

10 Dean August 16, 2013 at 10:53 am

Can someone explain why 30-35 degrees is the optimal angle? I’m not a physicist but I would expect 45 degrees would give you the most distance.

11 Alex August 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm

@Dean, it’s somewhat complicated, and I’m not sure how you would calculate the optimal angle (though I think I recall that it is 33 degrees…). In short, it just comes down to the direction and speed you are traveling (velocity) and the pull of gravity. You can calculate it with some vectors and other trigonometric stuff, but 45 degrees gives you too much of a vertical trajectory, and not enough horizontal trajectory to stop (not really stop, but slow, but that’s not really the right word either) the pull of gravity, whereas a 30-35 degree angle gives you enough of an extra horizontal force and a minimal height decrease so gravity doesn’t make much difference and it throws you farther.

12 Alex August 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Also, when you let go at a 45 degree angle as opposed to a 30-35 degree angle you have lost a significant amount of momentum, which further decreases your velocity and therefore distance. Although I would like to mention that with a plain projectile (i.e., missile), a 45 degree angle is optimal, because the object has the same initial velocity no matter what the starting angle is.

13 Jeremy Anderberg August 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm

@Dean and @Alex — there’s some fairly complicated physics here, and even more in-depth articles can be found on the subject, but the following link gives a short overview of the science: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/429053/the-counterintuitive-physics-of-tarzan-swings/ Alex – what you said is pretty much spot on. If you release in the 30-35 degree range, your body still travels upward a little bit, so you end up coming down from nearly 45 degrees anyway. Make sense?

14 Dennis Gerber August 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I was a pole vaulter all through high school and the beginning of my college career. We used to use rope swings in our practice routines at various pole vault training facilities (yes, these do exist) and I have seen my fair share of horrible rope swing accidents. Most of those accidents and most all recreational rope swing accidents you hear about happen when people don’t jump back at the beginning of the swing. You need to make sure the rope is pulled tight when you start your swing. The best way to do that by starting your swing by jumping backwards the same way you see a trapeze artist start their swing. The other great mistake is letting go to late or not letting go at all.

15 Dirk August 27, 2013 at 9:06 am

@Stephen A bowline can easily be untied after strong pressure has been aplied. You do this by ‘breaking’ the knot.
Follow the loose end of the rope till it loops around the standing end. There you apply force to slide the loop over the standing end. This will create enough room to open the knot and untie it.

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