There are a few pieces of gear a student pilot absolutely needs.
- Long pants and sleeves to protect from thorns, paraglider lines, insects and the sun.
- Boots with good traction and ankle support.
- Gloves with leather on the fingers and palm.
- Glasses or goggles to protect from wind and sun.
- Helmet for bumps on the head and face-first drags through the underbrush.
- Harness and Wing. Duh.
- Water and Snacks. It’s what your body craves— electrolytes.
New or Used?
Because everyone was a beginner once, there is a lot of used beginner gear for sale. A lot of this stuff is hardly used as a certain percentage of pilots drop out of the sport early or quickly upgrade to sportier gear. Any used equipment needs to be inspected by a professional, the line strength and cloth porosity need to be measured. A new-looking glider might be useless due to invisible damage from UV, salt water, mold or misuse. A responsible seller will have paid for an inspection already and can show you an air-worthyness certificate.
I purchased all new gear from my instructor midway through training. I had no doubt paragliding was something I was committed to and I was eager to have a wing of my own to practice ground handling on non-school days. As most schools do, my instructor offered me a deep discount as part of the lesson package. I like the peace of mind that comes with knowing where my equipment has been and the final price was not so far off craigslist used prices.
Looking at my early ground handling videos, I maybe bought a little early. It’d be nice if some of that wear and tear was on someone else’s wing. On the other hand, I got a lot more practice in by having my own wing.
I was offered several brands/models of wing my instructor felt were appropriate for me and I picked the lowest priced one at the top of his list. I’d read online reviews of all the gliders and they al read pretty much the same way: good safety, easy take offs, long life, high performance, excellent value, pretty colors, blah blah blah.
The Equipment I Use:
- My glider is a Swing Arcus 6 Compact, a 2009 design. The Arcus 6 is a beginner/intermediate glider, rated LTF 1/1-2, which means it will automatically correct most in-flight problems with minimal drama if I just relax and stop pulling the controls for a second or two. I’m unlikely to outgrow it quickly.
- My harness is also by Swing, the Swing Connect Reverse. It’s as comfy as a hammock and when I’m done flying, I turn it inside out and it becomes the backpack for everything. It has a built-in water bladder with drinking tube so I can sip water without taking my hands off the controls. Every few weeks I discover a strange new pocket or clever bit of velcro. It has a holder for ski poles.
- Under the seat is my backup parachute. It’s a single-surface, classic round chute which is designed to open quickly at low speed. If my glider becomes uncontrollable, I reach down and throw the reserve. It’s not steerable, but it’s better than nothing.
- The helmet I bought is like the one I wore in school, a full-face Charley Insider (black with sexy subtle gold fleck). I wish the pads and lining were removable, they could already use a wash.
- I’m looking for better gloves, the ones I use were leather palm bicycling gloves off the clearance rack at REI. The stitching is coming apart already and they’re not nearly warm enough now that I fly above 500 feet. I’m told sailing gloves have most of the qualities I’m looking for.
- I have very wide feet and have found Red Wing makes a few sturdy work boots in sizes that fit me. I wear the Men’s Hiker boot which comes up a little above the ankle, has a thick tread, good arch support and a reinforced toe. I like that I can kick rocks without breaking my toes. I paid the local guy $10 to replace the lace hooks with D rings so I don’t snag or cut a line.
- I’m getting good mileage out of my North Face zip pants and Pro-Fit quick-drying, uv-blocking shirt. Now that I fly high, I also wear a second shirt and a light weight windbreaker shell. Sometimes a balaclava to keep my nose and face warm.
I don’t technically need these other things, but they have been useful.
- Video camera. I’ve recorded 90% of my training and practice, I’ve re-watched every minute of it, sometimes several times over. I spot mistakes I don’t remember making; I can see my successes and visualize repeating them; I always learn something reviewing a flight. I think repeatedly watching myself not fall out of the sky has helped reduced my anxiety on a subconscious level. My third high flight was surprisingly natural, probably because I had watched the first two flights about 30 times each the night before . For price, video quality and features, I bought the GoPro Helmet Hero Camera and am happy with it. It’s ugly and not easy to use at first, but it’s still great. Seems to be the pilot’s camera of choice these days. Highly recommended.
- Sutff Sack. I got one of these a few weeks into my training and which I’d had one from day one. It’s just a big Santa Claus bag with a drawstring that I throw the wing and harness in when I just want to carry it a few hundred yards. Everything is in a loose pack you carry on my shoulders. So much better than lugging a rosetted glider and lines, especially through high weeds and wind. And infinitely faster than folding up the wing properly. This thing has paid for itself already in time and frustration saved. It protects the glider from UV and rain when parawaiting and it’s a safe way to transport a damp wing to a drier location. Highly recommended.
- Wind Meter. I thought I’d get more use out of this. They’re all pretty much the same for any given pricepoint. Mine has a small numeric display and a propeller. It measures peak and average wind speed. That’s it. I assumed I would be using often to decide if it was safe to fly, but I have quickly developed a feel for too weak and too strong. Getting dragged a few times hones that instinct. I keep the meter in my pack anyway, it will probably talk me down from flying in conditions beyond my abilities some day. Or perhaps help me convince someone else not to fly. Not especially necessary.
- Vario/Altimieter/GPS. This was a relatively expensive piece of equipment, but the price my instructor offered me was the same as I saw used online, and I will definitely need this at some point. This instrument is most useful when flying in mountain thermals or doing cross-country flights, nothing I’ve tackled yet. I expect to have it several years and to grow into this instrument. Meanwhile it is still useful as a teaching aid. It tells me my height, if I’m climbing or sinking and shows me my airspeed vs. groundspeed. It records all my moves, so I can view my tracklogs in google Earth. Everyone needs at least need an altimeter to fly safely. Quite useful.
- Orange traffic cone and Caution tape. When ground handling in the park, I have found putting out a cone or two ensures people give me the space I need to practice. The yellow and black caution tape makes a decent streamer when tied to a stick held up by the cone and almost looks official somehow. Cones also make decent GoPro tripods. I learned not to put my water and extra clothes next to the cone after two dogs peed on it.
Stuff I expect I’ll be getting before too long
- Flight suit. The higher I go, the colder it gets. I’m starting to appreciate the concept of a light weight, windproof, moisture-wicking, pocket-covered jumpsuit that stays tucked into my boots and gloves. They’re not cheap, I want to spend some time thinking about what features are important to me. I also want to get a little better at not landing in the bushes. There’s no point in shredding a brand new flight suit.
- Concertina bag. This is a special zip-up bag with pull strings and clips to make packing the glider nice and small very easy. I’ve seen a few people using these and it seems quite convenient. Others tell me I should just get better at folding. The bags aren’t all that cheap, so I’m thinking about it.
- HAM radio. A must for cross-country safety and retrieves, it’s also useful for staying on top of weather and chatting with buddies at the local site. I need to pass some tests before I can transmit on one.
- Helmet audio. I’ll need some system to use the radio hands-free. If I can also pipe music through the same system, that would be awesome. I still need to be able to hear the rushing wind, so this won’t be hifi, probably not even stereo.
- Stirrup. An extra bit of nylon webbing would make it easier to get into my harness and be more comfortable on long flights. I’ll bet my instructor will retrofit my harness, he did it to his own.
- In-flight DVD system. Or maybe blu-ray. Probably doesn’t matter for small screen. It won’t be long before I start clocking multi-hour flights. It would be nice to have movie and snack service for the longer hauls.