When should a beginner buy his own gear. Would it be better to wait at
least until I have a license, so I wouldn't be "confined" to the gear
used for the training? Can a student rig be modified for hand
deployment. Do gear stores sell student rigs?
A. Generally, it's better if a student
uses the DZ's gear until he or she has transitioned from the larger
"student" canopies to a smaller one. Since rigs are sized to fit the
main and reserve canopies, it's not a good idea to buy a rig with the
plan of putting smaller canopies in it later. If you ski, you know it
makes sense to rent smaller skis until you have the skill to handle
larger ones. It also makes sense to learn with rental gear rather than
new stuff because students tend to put more wear and tear on gear than
more experienced jumpers. Don't buy gear until you've graduated from the
basic course. Also, when computing a training budget, it's better to
spend money on jumps than on gear so you can accumulate experience as
quickly as possible.
Q. I have only 30 jumps. I want to buy equipment, but since
it'll be my first rig, I'm not sure what route to go. Money is an issue
A. At this point in your
career, get used gear. Get a "conservative" canopy, one sized so it will
be loaded at 0.8 or,preferably, less. Make a bunch of jumps on it, getting familiar with
handling your canopy in a variety of situations. Give yourself some time
to let your skills mature--spotting, freefall, landing, packing. (Wing Loading)
(Wing loading is the ratio of
jumper exit weight to canopy size. The formula for wing load is the
exit weight divided by the canopy size).
At some point, you'll be ready to buy
gear that you know you'll want to keep for a couple of years, at least.
Most likely your new gear will include a somewhat smaller (more heavily
loaded) main canopy, and perhaps one that provides zippier handling.
Many experienced jumpers forget what it
was like to learn to handle a small ram-air. Because they've lost touch,
they're convinced any jumper can quickly and safely learn to handle a
canopy loaded at 1.0 or more.
They're wrong, wrong, wrong. Don't get
talked into buying something so small that you load it at 0.8 or more.
It's like putting new drivers in powerful sports cars: Although they can
drive them well enough in easy conditions, they're likely to lose
control if something unexpected happens.
Be sure to get real transition training
with your new gear. A jumper who's used to a 260 sq.ft. canopy will
likely be somewhat terrified on his first jump under a 170 square
footer. Transition training that covers the canopy as well as the rig is
There's plenty of good used gear on the
market, available in pieces or as complete, ready-to-jump rigs. Look at
the complete rigs, ie: Mirages, Javelins, Vectors. Get some
help in the pre purchase inspection, (The
Parachute Shop does this service at no charge) or from an independent rigger or
knowledgeable experienced jumper. Buy mainstream components, ones that
enjoy wide popularity--there are reasons they're popular, and they tend
to keep their resale value better.
If you don't like the rig or canopy
because it doesn't "seem right," then don't buy it, because you'll
probably never be happy with it.
Some dealers sell used gear, and there's
nothing wrong with buying gear from them rather than a private party.
But if you go that route, buy from a local dealer, one you see regularly
at your home DZ. You'll be able to strangle him if you find out later he
sold you junk.
If you're patient and buy intelligently,
you'll be able to recover much of what you paid for your first set of
gear when you sell it. And if you beat it up a bit with a little runway
rash, so what? At least you didn't scuff up your new stuff.
Q. I'm 54 and ready to
start skydiving. I'm going with the AFF method. I would like to buy my
own equipment and want to know who makes the top-of-the-line equipment.
I would think in the sport everyone probably agrees who is the Number 1
maker of gear. I'd also appreciate recommendations on what's the best
models for beginners.
A. We don't encourage
new students to buy equipment. It's generally better to rent until
you're proficient and knowledgeable enough to select gear that's right
Not only do skydivers comes in all shapes
and sizes, there's also a lot of variation in personality. Some jumpers
like to scare themselves every time they go up, while others are much
more conservative. Some people like fast sports cars, others prefer
comfortable sedans. You won't really know what you like until you've
been jumping a while.
In this sport, almost all students jump
gear that's assembled and configured for new jumpers. Student gear
usually has features not found on regular gear, including ripcord
deployment of the main, breakaway pilot chute pouches, adjustable main
lift webs, provisions for radios, and special automatic openers. Some of
these features are inappropriate for everyday gear.
This doesn't mean you can't make
your first and all subsequent jumps in your own gear. It's just not the
best way to go. (If you're still not convinced, then maybe you could get
your DZ to buy your new student rig from you when you're ready to step
up to regular gear.)
In every category of gear component
(mains, reserves, rigs, jumpsuits, etc.), there are several companies
that build top-shelf products that offer comparable value and
performance. It's like Ford and GM (or Lexus and Mercedes); the products
are actually quite comparable, although the manufacturers of course feel
Again, you should focus on learning the
sport and refrain from buying gear now. It doesn't mean you can't do a
lot of shopping so you'll make an informed decision at the right time.
Q. What main, reserve,
jumpsuit, etc., would you recommend for the beginner when she is ready
to turn in the student gear?
A. Generally, look for a
used rig, main and reserve that fits you and were matched to your body
weight, confidence level and DZ particulars. (We're big fans of buying
used gear at first for the same reason it makes sense for a new driver
to buy a used car.) Check with your drop zone pro shop, Parachute Shop (www.parachuteshop.com)
Hire a rigger to conduct a pre purchase
inspection on any major component you're about to buy. Pay him or her
$25 and ask for a written list of discrepancies and how much it would
cost to fix them. The Parachute Shop also has Escrow Services.
But get a new jumpsuit so it fits right
and you look like you want to look. ($250-$450)
Buy a new visual altimeter
(@$150-$160). New because
you're going to keep it for a long time and because you want one that's
in good shape. (An audible altimeter is worthwhile, but a visual one is
more useful, especially at first.)
Soft hat or hard helmet?
($40-$250) Your choice. The
manufacturers of today's helmets don't claim they offer any impact
protection at all, but experience and common sense say they help prevent
Don't even consider a round reserve. It's
not that round reserves are unsafe, but ram-air reserves are safer. You
already know how to fly one. They cope with winds better. They give you
more landing options. They're freebag deployed, which is a safety bonus.
If I were going to jump an automatic
opener, I'd buy new rather than used, as used AADs (Automatic Opening
Device) usually aren't that cheap. The two top AAD's are the
Vigil II & Airtec Cypres, because both
have earned an excellent reputation for reliability and hassle-free
The Vigil II, (@$1395.00), has no life limit, does not
require every 4 year maintenance (which takes 3 weeks for the
Cypres), and the battery lasts @ 10 years.
II, (@$1450.00), has a life limit of 12 years, and requires every 4 years to send
it back to the factory (which takes 3 weeks) for testing, and the 4 Year
test costs $225.00.
What brands of gear?
Mirage G4 @$2100.00, Javelin Odyssey
(@26.00), these are the top of the food chain in skydiving gear.
You want components that are proven and popular in your area and built
by established companies. Only later, when you have more experience and
knowledge, consider new technology and products from unheard-of or
Gear from mainstream manufacturers is
popular because, generally, the products are good and the companies
treat their customers right. If you should ever need factory support,
you can be more confident the factory will still be around when you need
If possible, try before you buy. Many
manufacturers, dealers and DZs have "demo" programs where you can try
different rigs, canopies and jumpsuits. Take advantage of such programs,
even if it means traveling a bit.
If money is a consideration--and when
isn't it?--then spend money on jumps rather than gear. In other words,
it's better to buy good but ugly used gear and jump every weekend than
to buy new stuff and not be able to afford to jump much. New jumpers
need experience more than they need new gear. The safest skydiver is the
current one with experience and judgment, not pretty gear.
A. The best way to get
the best prices on new gear is to shop far and wide for it--there's no
secret to that. Look for Package Deals. Dealers give the best prices to those customers who know
exactly what they want, are easy to work with, and are ready to buy
something they have in stock.
Tell the sales rep that price is important. Be sure to get the
bottom-line price, one that includes any sales tax, shipping charges and
credit-card fees. Many jumpers are willing to pay a little more to deal
face-to-face with a nearby dealer. Service after the sale is easier, and
establishing a relationship with a local dealer can earn better prices
in the future. Other jumpers, on the other hand, are quite happy with
ordering from an outlet on the other side of the country. We hear very
few complaints from skydivers who've gotten poor service from a dealer
(or manufacturer, for that matter), although it may be that we're out of