Buying Your First Rig

Following are recommendations from myself based on 21 years experience in the sport. In that time I have been a professional parachute rigger and skydiving instructor for 14 years, have bought and sold many rigs and canopies. The following recommendations are my opinions based on experience. There are many routes to follow and pitfalls to fall into when buying gear. 

I. Price - do not brake your budget buying custom state of the art gear right out the gate then not be able to pay for jumps or your bills. I have seen people do that. They are so concened about getting in with the cool crowd (even though everybody knows you don’t know anything yet, no matter how cool you think you look) that they empty their account for new stuff then can’t afford to jump. Spend your time and money on getting good in the air, especially your canopy, then spend it on looking cool going to the airplane. 

Two things that help with this are:

  1. Go used - there is a huge amount of good used gear out there. Do not be afraid to buy used gear as long as it is in good shape. 
  2. Do not be afraid of older gear - most people would draw a line at 20 years old. However, CONDITION  and DESIGN are more important than age. 
    1. Skydiving equipment is made of sturdy material: cordura and ripstop nylon, usually coated in some way for protection and performance, the hardware is either plated cadmium steel or increasingly stainless steel. My personal experience has proven to me that despite what many in the industry say, age, within a reasonable amount, does not degrade equipment integrity to a point of affecting safety. Usually, any degradation due to age or sun exposure is overwhelmingly at first cosmetic, and usually gets so bad in appearance that the gear is grounded due to cosmetics before it becomes structural. 
    2. It is possible for age and especially UV exposure to cause degradation to a point of structral compromise but takes a very significant amount of time or sun exposure. So if in doubt, avoid it. Unfortunately, the easiest way to test material integrity for age and UV damage is visual inspection and can be very hard to tell the difference from cosmetic to structural. For canopies, pull testing can be conducted to determine structural integrity. 
    3. Physical wear due to use and abuse is much easier to judge. When materials become worn and compromised, they appear so. Therefore, luckily for most of us it is not rocket science. Excessively worn webbing, especially around the (selvage) edge, torn container material and binding tape, damaged grommets, unseated grommets, cracked plastic stiffeners. 
    4. Some older gear, though still perhaps technically airworthy, should be avoided because of design issues. This can be a complicted area so ask an expert. 

II. Rig Sizing - a rig is two parts, harness and container 

  1. Harness - the harness must fit your body type and size. The mail lift web, hip laterals and leg straps must be properly fitted to you. This is like buying a suit off the wrack, sometimes you have to be willing to accept a less than perfect fit as long as safe. Like a suit, a custom fit will either be a stroke of luck or take time and expense. 
    1. Avoid adjustable main lift webs and hp laterals commonly found on student and rental gear. The adjustment points are subject to premature and excessive wear that can be difficult to notice by the average jumper during a pre jump gear check. These points will be in critical areas of your harness that will result in fatal accidents if structural failure occurs. This has happened causing people to fall out of their harness. 
    2. Articulated harnesses have proven themselves with exellent track records as long as properly constructed, used, inspected and maintained.  The great advantage of an acticulated harness is that repairs to damaged areas or modifications/alterations to improve fit are much easier and cheaper. With the older style one piece fixed harness it often meant a complete replacement of the entire harness. 
    3. less velcro is better - the hook portion of velcro causes abraision wear that really makes gear look ugly. It takes a tremendous amount of this to become structural but it is possible. Most manuvacturers have been working hard for the last 10 years to find ways to reduce the amount of velcro on their rigs. Even though most velcro damage is only cosmetic, it can get structural and can be very hard to determine when it crosses that line from cosmetic to structural. 
  2. Container - your cotainer has two carry two parachutes and has a finite limit to the sizes of parachutes it can carry. We constantly find peopl trying to fit too large or small a canopy into a container. This is a safety issue. Do not do this. All manufacturers have sizing charts. Adhere to these guidelines. They have done testing and research to determine compatibility. 
    1. Your body size type and weight as well as experience will determine what type and size of canopy you get. Make sure the container size is compatible with this. 

III. AAD - not required by USPA or FAA but by some dropzones, all tandem rig manufacturers and rigs used by students. Many people, myself included think that in some ways AADs have overly complicted things and have created as many problems as they have solved. AADs have absolutely saved lives but in most of those cases competant skydiving discipline (like the simple act of being altitude aware) would have avoided the problem in the first place. Most AAD activations are a result of human error and not actual life saving situations. Many choose to avoid AADs entirely thus saving them time and money, simplifying emergency proceures and emergency situations, and resulting in our being more aware. I have encountered an incredible numbe of skydivers that aren’t even competant enough to properly turn theri AAD on and check it for proper function, much less know how it works or affects safety and emergency procedures


If you do choose to have one do not go by price, cheap is not good. Choose based on track record. Obtain the opinions of impartial NON SPONSORED individuals such as myself. Many people will give you opinions based on predjudiced reasons such as sponsorhip with that company or some sort of fiduciary relationship. There are two most heavily used AADs on the market at present. This forum is not meant for equipment recommendation. So, contact me directly for my opinion on that. 

AADs are manmade, battery powered devices that open your parachute when certain parameters are met, regardless of what the facts are. This is not always a good thing. if you do choose to use an AAD is is absolutely vital that you are familiar with how it works. All this is easily obtainable from manufacturers equipment manuals. If you are too lazy to read them, then you are too stupid to skydive, stay on the ground. 

IV. Main Canopy - this is a tricky area. You need something that is appropriate for your abilities based on body weight (wing loading) experience and type of skydiving (beginner, learning to swoop, accuracy, video, CRW, demo etc) Again, cheap is not good but do not be afraid to buy used starting out. 

Things to avoid:

Canopies made by manufacturers no longer in business or relatively unknown. This makes after purchase service questionable. The ones that have been in the game for a while are the ones you want to go with. 

Color schemes that make seeing your canopy difficult. visibility is key. If you jump in heavily wooded areas, earth tones are bad etc. 

Excessive amounts of overly bright florescent colors - these fade and wear out more quickly than darker colors. This admittiedly makes the visibility factor difficult. It is a catch 22 that the darker colors seem to last longer and the brighter, particularely florescent colors degrade more quickly. My recomendaton is stay with highly visilble colors but avoid the very bright and florescent colors

Line types - there are four main line types, dacron, spectra, vectran and HMA. All have their respective advantages and disadvantages. 

I will have more info on this site soon regarding line types and what to consider. 

Fabric type - two basic types are used, permeable and non permeable (ZP). The older permeable was called “Low porosity”, F111 or 0-3CFM. This is commonly used on reserves but should be avoided on mains. Some new permeable fabric is used on mains with good result but generally in the past the permeable fabrics to not last as long or provide as good performance as the non permeable. One advantage is that it is easie to pack. 

Non pemable fabric - ZP - comes in a couple different types but is generally the same, calandared rip stop fabric with a silicon/teflon coating that closes up the gaps that allow air molecules through, thus the name Zero Permeability. 

I will have more info on this site soon regarding fabric types and what to consider. 

© John H. Lyman LLC