School kids never ask to sub on a bench press set or draft you on a trail run. But everywhere I take my Monkii Bars—city park, Cascade foothill, national park—there’s a goggly-eyed tyke asking if she can mimic my dips, try an archer push-up, or just swing around like a gibbon. I let them, but they usually only get a few minutes before a jealous parent butts in to give it a go.
I can’t blame them: Monkii Bars are fun as hell. But all that primate whimsy doesn’t detract from the suspension system’s impressive ability to turn the outdoors into your full-service bodywork gym. The original version launched in 2014, and I used it to keep fit everywhere from fridge-size hotel rooms in New York City to the shores of an iceberg-filled lake in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park. According to company founders, over 3,000 customers have soldiered into the woods with Monkii Bars since its debut.
The next version of Monkii Bars launched via Kickstarter on July 11, and will eventually include an app cataloging over 250 custom workouts, geolocated workout spots all over the world, and user-submitted training programs from the growing Monkii Bars community.
Here’s a video of Monkii Bars co-founder, former wilderness ranger, and Tarzan lookalike Dan Vinson showing them off:
I’ve been testing the mid-size Monkii Bars 2 Adventure Kit for about a month, putting it through its paces. Here are my initial impressions.
The concept remains basically the same. Two hollow, nunchuk-size bars with plastic endcaps contain connector straps inside. Sling an 18-foot length of nylon webbing over a sturdy tree limb or the top of a closed door using a specialized door attachment, thread the webbing through the connectors, and voilá—instant gym. Just add sweat.
Version 2 features a few major improvements. Half-inch nylon webbing replaces thin Spectra cord, and a simple friction lock vastly improves on the hook-and-eye adjuster from the old version. Looping the spaghetti-thin Spectra cord into and around the old adjuster was a tricky affair for nonclimbers: I toppled to the ground once or twice when the cord slipped after I hadn’t looped it enough times. Now I just thread the webbing and let the lock snap in place. It's simple and bomber. The new webbing also doesn’t fray at the ends or cut into your arms like cheesewire when you accidentally press against them mid-dip.
The U.S.-made, nine-ounce bars are made of powder-coated aluminum and come in a Skittles array of colors. While I miss the organic, yoga-studio look of the bamboo-only originals, the new versions offer better durability and grip under sweaty palms. The addition of connector straps (rather than having the entire 18-foot length of Spectra cord run through the hollow bar) also makes Monkii Bars 2 more stable than before.
Unfortunately, all that new functionality comes at the cost of packability. Previously, the entire Monkii Bar system—Spectra cord, hook-and-eye adjuster—fit inside each bar. The webbing slings and friction locks won’t, so even the ultralight version requires a minimal case to strap them to the outside. With the previous iteration, it was so convenient to toss the bars into my pack, even if I didn’t know where I would end up, just to have the opportunity to workout somewhere wild and interesting. (Then again, the two individual bars were frequently mistaken for pipe bombs by TSA inspectors—the new Monkii Bars are TSA-approved.) Still, the Adventure Kit I used wraps into a sleek folding case about the size of an extra-large burrito. It weighs about 25 ounces total, and has extra features like a cellphone holder, so you can watch workout demos, and stirrups for exercises like suspended planks and mountain climbers. The case itself doubles as the door attachment.
But hold the door. Unless it’s raining bullets or you’re trapped in a Hanoi hotel room, these babies are best outside. There’s nothing quite like setting a lazy Sunday city run afire by capping it with some upper-body work at a random tree or rewarding yourself for breaking your own muscle-up record with a dive in an alpine lake. Performing bodywork while suspended means you’re also doubling up on balance, core, and fast-twitch strength, too. Monkii Bars are still one of the most fun ways to do all that—and make friends with a bunch of rambunctious 8-year-olds while you’re at it.
Monkii Bars 2 kits start at $119 and are available for preorder on Kickstarter.