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When Should Beginners Buy Their Own Gear

Buying skydiving equipment for the new skydiver

Wing Loading

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When Should Beginners Buy Their Own Gear

Q. 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.

I Have 30 Jumps. What Equipment is Right for Me

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 very important.

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.

A Student Wants to Buy Gear

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 for you.

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 otherwise.

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.

What Types of Gear Should I Buy?

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)  on www.dropzone.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 some injuries.

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 ownership.

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.

The Cypres 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 distant vendors.

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 it.

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.

The Cost of Parachute Gear

Q. What does it cost to learn to jump? How much is equipment?

A. SKYDIVING'S Kim Griffin telephoned seven big and small DZs across the U.S. and pulled together these average figures:

Training by the AFF method through A license (first jump through graduation and including three repeat dives): $2,500.

New "top shelf" gear with a state-of-the-art rig, main, reserve, AAD, altimeter, jumpsuit, helmet, goggles (an average from various manufacturers): ($5,900 - $9,000)

The budget-minded can get all-new equipment for $4,500 if he or she opts for less expensive components (Dolphin rig, PD 9-cell main,  Sapphire altimeter, Flite Suit, Protec helmet and goggles).

After studying our classified ads, Kim calculated that a set of used gear (main, reserve, rig and AAD) costs on the average $3,000-$3500. Average cost to rent student gear: $20 per jump.

Then there's the cost of several obligatory cases of beer, placating a seldom-seen spouse, etc.


Getting Good Prices on New Gear

Q. What's the best way to get the best prices on new equipment?

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 that loop.



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