What Is a Ropes Course?

Tara Barnett

A ropes course is a type of outdoor activity that is often used in team-building activities but may also have physical components as well. Generally, the goal of a ropes course is to encourage participants to cooperate, collectively solve problems, and face fears. When the course is more closely related to traditional obstacle courses, the goal of the activity may be to demonstrate or build physical fitness. A purely recreational ropes course may not be educationally oriented and can be thought of as a type of playground.

Rope courses are often used in team-building exercises.
Rope courses are often used in team-building exercises.

There are two broad types of ropes courses, although some courses combine elements of both. The first is a high ropes course, which involves elements that are high off the ground. In this type of course, users must often take extra safety precautions, and people who are afraid of heights may be extremely uncomfortable. A low ropes course, by contrast, is at a safe distance from the ground and involves activities that pose problems to solve.

Ropes courses require balance, coordination and teamwork.
Ropes courses require balance, coordination and teamwork.

Most of the time, there are activities designed to go with these courses. When the goal of the course is to build or test physical strength, the user must typically go through the course along a predetermined path within a certain amount of time. Usually, recreational use of a physically demanding course is not timed, although some people do race on these courses. In team-building activities, the way in which the group goes through the course is usually considered more important than how long it takes. Solving puzzles, working together, and making sure no one is left out are usually the key elements of teamwork in these courses.

The design of high courses is often very complicated because the course must be frightening enough to give participants a sense of danger but safe enough to traverse without much training. Usually, safety on a high course is maintained by attaching all participants to safety lines. Safety wires run parallel to the ropes on which the participants walk, and if a participant should fall, he or she will be easily caught. It is also possible to work with a person on the ground who will belay the participant to safety if he or she falls.

Many groups claim that this type of course is beneficial in psychological or social ways, but this has not been scientifically demonstrated. People who advocate this type of training for improvement of group dynamics often claim that ropes courses improve self-confidence and leadership skills as well as trust and friendship. When the courses are designed to be physically challenging, there are potential health benefits if a person does the course regularly. In the very least, it is clear that this type of course is enjoyable for many people, and is a very effective recreational activity.

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