Purchasing your first paragliding rig is fun, but not something you want to do on a whim or without some research and a little education. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for your new kit.
Can I afford to buy new? Nothing feels better than new kit. It launches easier, handles better in the air, and just plain feels good! However, not everybody can afford the latest. If you do need to save money on gear, we recommend saving it on the glider, but still going for a new harness and reserve. Reason being that you’ll likely want to move up in glider performance after your first two years of flight. Whereas a harness and reserve parachute you’ll probably keep until they are not useable anymore (6-7 years for a harness, 10 for a reserve). The cost of those two items new (harness and reserve) is still quite a bit less than a new wing, so you’re generally not saving more than a few hundred dollars when buying used, and run the risk of getting a poorly fitting harness. This may not be obvious in the beginning, but will be painfully obvious when you land after your first long flight. Save money on the glider, not the harness and reserve.
Does it fit? How much back protection does it have? And does it fit? I believe that your harness is probably the most important piece of paragliding equipment. Almost all the information that your glider gives you about the air is received through your harness. It’s where the body integrates with your flying contraption, and if it isn’t comfortable, you won’t be having a good time. Take the time to really check out your potential new harness. Most shops won’t let you fly it before you buy it, but they should have a simulator you can hang it in. So take the time to sit in it awhile, play with the adjustments, and make sure it’s just right.
The main style of reserve parachute is called a PDA. These parachutes are round, and the PDA stands for Pull down Apex, meaning the center of this round parachute is pulled down in the middle. This configuration effectively increases drag and reduces oscillation.
Selection of your reserve will mostly boil down to how much money you want to spend, and your “all up weight” (Your weight plus weight of your kit). The more expensive models tend to be more heavy duty in construction, but even the less expensive ones should be fine as long as you are at a good spot in the weight range. So the question now is how much do you and all your kit come in at? Ideally you want to be below the maximum weight limit of the reserve parachute, and above the minimum. I personally like to be around 75% of the maximum weight. There’s a bit of a trade off with reserve chutes in regards to weight. The heavier your are, the faster you’re going to come down, but there could be a slightly faster opening time. Conversely, the lighter you are on a reserve, the slower you’ll come down, but there is potential for a slower opening time.
Paraglider: Your new Starship Enterprise!
If you decide to go new, have your instructor help you pick out a glider that will best suit you and the type of flying you think you’ll be doing, (translation: pick a color!). If you decided to go used, I still recommend utilizing your instructor to help you pick something you’re going to like, but here are some things to check out when looking at used gliders.
· Is the glider appropriate for my skill level
· How old is it?
· Has it been inspected?
· Does it have any repairs?
Is the glider appropriate for my skill level? Most paragliders will carry a certification from a European testing center. The most common up until recently was DHV, however now you’ll see more and more LTF and EN as certifications.
The gliders are flown through a series of tests to determine how they behave under different and sometimes adverse flying conditions. The result is a number or letter corresponding to the gliders characteristics, which gives us an idea of what type of pilot the glider is best suited towards.
Below is a table that shows the different certifications and how they relate to each other.
As a newer pilot it’s best to stay in the DHV/LTF 1, 1-2 or EN A category. These gliders will give a newer pilot all the performance and handling they’re capable of utilizing, plus keep you feeling safe and comfortable while you get your first year or two of flying under your belt. Getting a higher performance glider will do nothing for a newer pilot except for scare the hell out of them, and most likely cause them to quit the sport.
How old is it? Gliders have come a long way in safety, performance, materials and construction over the years. We usually recommend avoiding gliders made before 2000. Those gliders were good for their time, but every year get a bit older, and nylon fabric doesn’t last forever.
Has it been inspected recently? It’s not rude or unacceptable to ask or request that a glider you wish to purchase be inspected. Most serious sellers should expect it, and an inspection only costs about $140 (don’t quote me).
An inspection will check out the fabric for porosity (how fast does air pass through the fabric), sometime fabric tear strength if in question, and a line strength test of one of the center A lines (most load bearing). Each of these tests has a standard the glider must pass for the it to be considered air worthy. If the paraglider passes all the tests, a number will be assigned that designates approximately how much life the glider should have left in it.
Repairs are not as big a deal as you might think. Gliders end up getting small holes or tears in them along the way, but fortunately they can be easily sewn, sometimes taped (if the hole is small enough), and be just fine. Just make sure if the glider has had a major repair that it was done professionally.
Lastly, don’t be in a big hurry to purchase your equipment before you have had at least a lesson or two. Most of the bigger schools will provide equipment for your first flights so it’s not necessary to show up with your own gear, and this will give you the chance to ask questions.
Your idea’s about what is possible with paragliding and what you want out of the sport may change after your first lesson, so do some research and go to your instructor armed with good questions and ready for a life changing experience.