Nothing you can buy will affect your freefall flying more than your jumpsuit. This is true no matter what body orientation you prefer to fly in, thus making your choice of jumpsuit one of the most important gear buying decisions you’ll make.
Because your suit affects your flying so much and because every skydiver is built differently, jumpsuits are one piece of equipment that are best ordered custom. It’s difficult to find a used or new “in stock” suit that fits well; depending on your body shape and size it can be impossible to find one that fits perfectly. If your budget insists on used, don’t buy any suit unless you’ve had a chance to try it on. If you’re buying long distance insist on a money back guarantee in case it doesn’t fit or fly the way you need it to.
Many novice skydivers haven’t decided which freefall discipline they want to pursue and hope that there’s a suit out there that will work for both belly flying and freeflying. Unfortunately, for the majority of jumpers there is no one magic suit that does it all. Some heavier jumpers may be able to add grippers to a baggy freefly type suit and use it for both disciplines. Some highly experienced skydivers can fly in any body position in any suit. The majority of skydivers need at least one suit for RW and at least one suit for freeflying. Many experienced recreational jumpers have an entire fleet of jumpsuits – one or more snug suits for fast falling RW jumps (like competition 4 and/or 8 way or when they are in the base of a big way), one or more slightly bigger suits for slower falling RW jumps (like on the outside of a big way or when jumping with lightweight people), and a freefly suit and/or a pair of freefly pants for sitflying, head down and tracking dives.
Think of jumpsuits as tools. You can drive a nail with a screwdriver but the job will get done faster and better if you use a hammer. Likewise you can do basic RW in a freefly suit but the extra drag on the arms and legs of a freefly suit make flying precisely on your belly much more difficult. Few average recreational skydivers can sit fly or fly head down well in an RW suit, especially one with booties. Having the right tool for the job makes the average jumper’s skydives more fun and their flying more precise. For the novice, having the right tool for the job will make learning to fly in whatever body position easier and far less frustrating.
Since most skydivers learn to fly on their bellies before proceeding to other orientations let’s look at RW suits first. There are three basic types of suits available for belly flying – snug fitting “fast” suits worn by most competition jumpers and many lighter weight skydivers, looser fitting but still somewhat trim suits worn by many average sized recreational jumpers and baggier fitting suits with a lot of drag or “wing” designed to slow the natural fall rate of heavier jumpers. Each of these suit types can also be built out of different fabrics to increase or decrease the jumpers fall rate.
Snug fitting “fast” jumpsuits will generally be built with a nylon front (taffeta and zp nylon fabrics are common), spandex on the backs, hip area and forearms and a lightweight nylon or polyester material (supplex is a common choice) for the butt and back of legs. The spandex on the back and hips make the suit fit snug while still allowing for freedom of movement. The spandex on the forearm eliminates drag in this area, resulting in a faster fall rate. Nylon taffeta or zp nylon is less porous (ie less air can pass through it) than other materials, also resulting in a faster fall rate. Material used on the butt and back of legs is chosen for durability since it is not exposed to the relative wind as much as the front of the suit is.
Looser fitting suits for average sized jumpers generally substitute supplex or it’s equivalent for the spandex in the forearm and often in the hip area but may still include spandex backs. The front of the suit is usually built from a more porous material such as the ones used on the butt and legs of snugger suits.
Baggier “big boy” suits are generally built completely out of a porous mid to heavyweight cotton or polyester material. Often more than one layer of fabric is used to add drag without requiring large amounts of extra fabric (or “wing”) which can beat up the jumper’s arms and legs.
If you have questions about which type of RW suit and/or fabrics are right for you, call or email the manufacturer. Most have been building jumpsuits for years and can quickly tell you which of their suits and fabrics will work best for your body type and size. Since freeflying is constantly evolving, freefly suit fabric choice and suit cuts are also constantly evolving. It may be a good idea to talk to an experienced freeflier or freefly coach in addition to the manufacturer about which material and cut will work best for you before ordering.
NOTE: Watch this space next Friday for part 2!