Buying Used, Part 2

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It’s easiest to buy a used rig complete, but you may have to piece it together to get exactly what you want. When you’re buying in pieces you need to know that a container should come with all handles, reserve toggles (the risers are part of the harness), reserve freebag, bridle and pilot chute, main risers and toggles, main bridle, deployment bag and pilot chute. Main and reserve canopies should come with lines, links and slider. It is common for sellers to not know the above information; make a point of verifying which items are or are not included in the sale. Some of these parts are pricey – new main risers and toggles could cost over $200 depending on the type of hardware used – so be sure to adjust your offer if all parts are not included.

The price of used equipment varies depending on age, make and model and number of jumps. Before purchasing any older item that you are unfamiliar with – especially containers, reserves and mains – talk to someone who has been in the sport for years to help determine if it will be suitable for you. As long as the item is airworthy it can be safe for you to use, but be aware that many older containers were built before freeflying and AAD’s, and many older canopies (main and reserve) were not designed to be wingloaded over 1.0.

Just like cars, container and canopy make and model play a role in determining price. In some areas of the country, certain rigs are worth less than they would be in other areas because they are not as popular in that area. This regional bias can provide you with deals if you know where to look!

The number of jumps on a piece of equipment can tell you how much useful life is left in it. A ZP main parachute can still be flying like new after 1000 jumps, while an F111 constructed main is just about a car cover by then. The ZP fabric has proven so durable it’s not unusual to see canopies with thousands of jump that have been relined multiple times and are still flying fine.

A rough guide to used main pricing is to take $100 off the original purchase price and then $1 for each jump on the canopy. Even with this guide prices will vary depending on current availability of that model/size and how badly the seller needs the money.

For reserves, number of jumps and the number of pack jobs are important. There is no limit on the number of times a reserve can legally be deployed or packed – the airworthiness of a reserve parachute is determined by the rigger, not the FAA or the manufacturer – but a few manufacturers require that the canopy be returned to them for inspection after a set number of packs or jumps. Date of manufacture is very important, as most reserves built prior to the mid-1990’s were not designed to be loaded over 1.0.

Number of jumps is not as reliable a gauge for harness/containers. The overall condition of rigs often depends more on the landing skills and maintenance habits of the previous owner. If cosmetics are less important to you than price, you can pick up perfectly airworthy gear at bargain basement prices by simply buying a somewhat battered looking container. Again, have a rigger inspect it before you jump it! Pricing for used containers will depend on number of jumps, brand, overall condition, options and numerous other items.

By talking to a number of different people and scanning classified sections you’ll get a good feel for what is a fair price for gear that is suitable for you. Like buying any used item, strong bargaining skills may be helpful.

Jumpsuit Basics, Part 1

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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!

 

Buying Used, Part 1

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While there is nothing quite like having all new gear, for many new jumpers spending $5000 or more is a bit more than their budget can handle. If you can’t quite afford to purchase a complete new rig with AAD, you can still have quality equipment that will work for how you want to skydive by purchasing at least part of your rig used.

Even if you can afford all new, you might want to look for used for your first rig. The money you save can buy a lot of skydives, plus you won’t have to wait 6-26 weeks for your custom gear to arrive. Like seeing that first scratch on a new car vs. that first scratch on a used car, you won’t be quite as upset when you buttslide a landing and get grass stains all over those brand new legstraps or scrape the back of the container on the door as you exit the plane.

Mixing new and used is also a good idea if you aren’t average sized or if you’re trying to find something in the more popular entry level canopy sizes. A new harness/container system filled with used canopies and AAD will give you the fit and comfort of a custom harness without the sticker shock of all new gear.

One hassle with used gear is finding a harness/container system that fits both your body and the canopies you intend to put in it. This can be especially difficult if you aren’t an “average” body size and/or shape (i.e. 5’6″ – 6′, 150-200 lbs, not bowling ball shaped or really buff upper body) or if you are looking for one of the most popular entry level canopy sizes (170 – 230 sq ft).

Prior to starting your search, determine what size main lift web fits you best. A simple formula for this is height minus inseam (crotch to floor, no shoes; length of jeans you buy will work) minus 20. For example, Betty is 5’8″ (68″) tall with a 33″ inseam. 68 – 33 – 20 = 15, which means a rig with a MLW of 15″ will likely fit her. Bob, on the other hand, is 6 feet (72″) with a 33″ inseam. 72 – 33 – 20 = 19; a 19″ MLW will likely fit him.

This formula only takes into account main lift web length; other areas to consider are leg strap and lateral length. Leg straps can be easily and economically shortened by a master rigger, or they can be replaced with longer ones at a bit higher cost. Lateral length is much harder and more expensive to change; avoid getting something too small or large here by verifying that the previous owner was of a similar build to yours. Main lift webs can also be lengthened or shortened by the manufacturer or a master rigger; cost varies but is usually less than $250.

You also need to be sure that the container you buy is the right size for the canopies you intend to put in it. You can get container sizing information from container manufacturers’ websites and gear dealers. Note that each container manufacturer sizes their containers differently; a Javelin J1K is not going to hold the same size canopies as a Mirage M1.

If the budget or your body says you need to buy any or all of your rig used, be prepared to talk on the phone a lot and send lots of emails. Ask around at your local dz – someone may know someone who is selling something that will work for you. If you’re lucky you’ll find just what you want at your local DZ, but more likely you’ll find it through classified ads on the Internet or from one of the dealers selling used gear nationwide.

You’ll be jumping your own rig sooner if you remain open to a variety of brands and models. You may think you really want a Pulse 190, but a Sabre2 190 or Pilot 188 (or other similar entry level canopy) will likely be a great canopy for you as well. Especially if there are more Pilots on the market when you are looking – greater supply could equal a lower price. Same thing with containers.

If no one has what you want right now, keep trying. Most dealers get “new” used gear on a regular basis. You can post your wants on skydiving sites on the Internet, including the classifieds on dropzone.com. Ebay is also an option, although many new jumpers who didn’t know what they were looking for have ended up with completely unsuitable gear by purchasing off Ebay.

Before you buy any piece of used gear, either have a rigger check it out and go put a test jump on it or be sure a return policy is offered in case there’s a problem or you just hate it. This is where buying from a private party long distance can get scary. Asking your local gear dealer or rigger to act as a middleman for the transaction can remove some of the risk involved in buying gear from someone you’ve never met. There are also several “escrow” services available online. Asking for references (ie dropzone owner, rigger, anyone who knows the seller that might also know someone you know…) is a very good idea when buying long distance.

Is It Worth It? Articulated Harness

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Rings on her fingers, rings on her toes… rings on her hips and chest?  Yes, please!

One of the most expensive options on many harness/container systems, the articulated harness (also known as harness rings) is also one of the few that the Gear Guru wholeheartedly recommends.  Why?  `

1) While a properly fitted standard harness will do the job, the addition of rings at the hips and/or chest allow the harness to move with you while the container stays put.

2) Harness rings will not make you a better skydiver. They will make you a more comfortable skydiver.  In the loading area, on the airplane, in freefall, under canopy and walking back to the packing area.

3) Hip and chest rings make it faster and easier to shorten/lengthen/replace the main lift web or replace the chest strap.

An articulated harness can add as much as $300 to the cost of a new harness/container system.  Is it worth it?  The Gear Guru says yes.

Your First Helmet

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Your first jump course instructor probably told you that skydivers wear helmets to protect their head in the plane and in freefall, not to protect it from impact with the ground. The first thing you should do before purchasing a helmet for skydiving is understand the above. Although anecdotal evidence seems to support the idea that wearing a helmet can reduce or eliminate the possibility of head injuries in an impact, skydiving-specific helmets are not tested to any standards or certified by any bodies.

Since you can purchase certified helmets for other sports (cycling, skateboarding, snow sports, hockey, motorcycling), why not for skydiving? And for that matter, why are non-certified skydiving helmets more expensive than certified snowboarding helmets? It comes down to economics. There are millions of snowboarders out there. A company making snowboarding helmets can reasonably expect to sell enough helmets at a low price point to more than cover the costs of testing and certification. There are not millions of skydivers out there.

Which also explains why skydiving specific helmets are more expensive than helmets for most other sports. A smaller market means that a company must make more profit on each sale to cover their costs. Most companies manufacturing helmets for skydiving were started by skydivers, often in their garage. It’s not quite like Nike deciding to break into the skydiving market – not that they would, since participation in skydiving is a drop in the bucket compared to participation in more mainstream activities.

There are a variety of helmet types built specifically for skydiving. If you are still on student status and tired of using the smelly dz student helmets, it may be worthwhile to invest $40-60 in one of your own. There are several plastic open face helmets on the market. The ProTec full cut (~$50) has been a standard in skydiving for decades. Square One makes and sells the MSX (under $40) and SkySystems produces the Benny (~$60), both of which are based on the venerable ProTec design.

All of these helmets work great for any type of recreational skydiving. They offer good peripheral vision, a reasonable level of head protection (in some cases, better than that offered by more expensive composite helmets) and places to mount audible altimeters. Even if you intend to replace it in the future with a more expensive “camera ready” or full face helmet, keeping a basic helmet on hand is a good idea for those jumps when you don’t need or want to take a camera (or that expensive helmet – water jumps, for example).

Full face or open face? For your first helmet, open face has definite advantages beyond being able to use it on your student jumps. They can be used on any type of skydive – belly fly, wingsuit, camera, water, freefly, CRW, etc.. They allow you to hear better, both in the plane and under canopy. One disadvantage is a lack of face protection when compared to a full face. This may be important to you if you intend to pursue competition relative work (belly or vertical) – but it’s not likely to matter much during your first hundred jumps or so. Another potential disadvantage to an open face is the need to wear eye protection.

Full face helmets are the choice of most belly fliers and many freefliers.  Unlike open face helmets, there is no need to buy goggles.  Full face helmets tend to be quieter than open face.  And they do provide some protection for the face in an impact situation.

Which helmet brand is right for you can sometimes depend on the size and shape of your head.  The best way to find out which helmet(s) fit your head size and shape the best is to try on as many different helmets as you possibly can.  With your head measurement (soft measuring tape, mid forehead, above the ears, all the way around) and the various manufacturer’s sizing charts (yes, each one is different), you can determine which sizes to try on in which brands – or for those very, very smart folks amongst us, which helmets just aren’t gonna be big enough to ever fit..

The Five Commandments Of Measurement (and some secret stuff)

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Some of us have worked hard in the gym, on the court, on the rink, in the water, on the track… worked hard toward an awesome body that we are proud of. So proud that we know many of our measurements, down to the quarter inch (centimeter, whatever). The Gear Guru isn’t one of those people. Perhaps you are not either.

Even if you are, part of the suffering that is buying skydiving equipment is getting your body measured. Every time you order a new container or jumpsuit, it’s a whole new set of measurements. And getting some of those measurements requires a degree of intimacy with a stranger that approaches happy endings. Buying used gear isn’t a way out either, as you will need to know a few basic measurements to determine if a harness or jumpsuit might fit you.  To help lessen your suffering, here are the Five Commandments Of Measurement.

The 5 Commandments of measuring for skydiving equipment

The 5 Commandments of measuring for skydiving equipment

First commandment of measurement – Do Not Measure Oneself.

This is important. At a minimum, have a good friend or loved one or seamstress or tailor or random stranger off the street measure you, using the measuring guide provided by the manufacturer of the item you are ordering. Best case, have a dealer or manufacturer representative measure you. But do not measure yourself. You will screw it up.

Second commandment of measurement – Use a Soft Cloth Measuring Tape.

Not a ruler. Not a yardstick. Not the measuring tape from your toolbox in the garage. A Soft Cloth Measuring Tape. You can buy one at WalMart in the sewing section.

Third commandment of measurement – Measure According To Manufacturer’s Directions.

The directions from the manufacturer of the item you are ordering. They are all different.

Fourth commandment of measurement – Ask All Questions

Do not be afraid to contact the manufacturer if you have questions about measuring. They are nice people who will help you.

Fifth commandment of measurement – Measure Twice, Repent Not.

Take each measurement twice. If they do not agree, measure again.

When ordering a new harness/container system or jumpsuit, the order form will have a list of the measurements needed, and usually directions for taking them. When searching for a used harness/container system or jumpsuit, it is handy to have a few of your measurements on hand.You will need to know your height and inseam measurement to determine if a harness will fit you.

Secret stuff!! When taking the inseam measurement, have the person stand straight up. They should be holding the top of the measuring tape between index and middle fingers of one hand. Then place it in their crotch – top of the tape where the seams come together on a pair of pants.

More Secret Stuff!! To determine the length of main lift web that should fit your body, take your heigh in inches, subtract your inseam in inches, subtract 20. For example, Bob is 5’10” tall and has a 32 inch inseam. 70 – 32 – 20 = 18, so Bob will likely need an 18″ main lift web on his harness. Sue is 5’5 and has a 30 inch inseam. 65 – 30 – 20 = 15, so Sue will likely need a 15″ MLW.

You may also need to know your waist, hips and chest measurements for jumpsuits. A head measurement is helpful for helmets – measure mid-forehead, above the ears, all the way around.

I’m So Confused! Who Do I Listen To?

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So many choices, and twice as many opinions about those choices. One person says Canopy X is perfect for you, another one says you will die under that handkerchief. One person says Container Y is the best in the world, another one says it’s not worth half what they charge for it. Who can you trust to tell you the right gear choices for you?

Trust no one. For gear purchasing is suffering, and it is a path that you must walk alone.

Okay, maybe not. But there is no other person on the dropzone with a vested interest in keeping you alive and uninjured besides you. In the end, it is you who has to pay for it, wait for it, wear it, maintain it, fly it and land it… as well as suffer the consequences of a hastily made or ill informed decision.

Common wisdom around the dz is that you should ask a rigger or your instructors for advice on which container, main, reserve and AAD to purchase. Is this wisdom really wise? A rigger’s ticket in the USA indicates that the holder knows how to pack reserves and maintain containers and parachutes. It does not indicate that they have any knowledge at all about which container or main is suitable for a novice skydiver. Same goes for any and all instructor ratings – selection of suitable components for a novice jumper’s first rig is not part of the instructor certification process. Experience in skydiving competition does not make a person knowledgeable about purchasing gear. Even experience selling gear doesn’t guarantee solid advice.

Many jumpers are sponsored in various ways by various manufacturers – competitors, instructors, gear salespeople, riggers. Everyone has an ulterior motive, even if it’s just to have someone validate our choices by buying the same thing we did. Even those who don’t have a financial interest in their answer have an opinion. Ask six skydivers what the best gear combination is and get six different answers… and each one of those is answers is probably the right one. For each different person. But probably not for you.

So much of which main or container or whatever is best for you is personal; the container that I love could be the most uncomfortable thing you’ve ever jumped, the main that I adore could bore you to tears.

Which is why you shouldn’t listen 100% to anyone when deciding what skydiving equipment you want. Ask other jumpers what they have, why they chose it, what they do and don’t like about it. But your mantra needs to be “try.” While renting gear, don’t always jump the same rig. Try on and jump different containers. Take advantage of demo mains and jumpsuits and helmets. See what works for you. Take the opinions of others into account when deciding which items to try; rely on your opinion when deciding what to buy.

That said, some things are not suitable for novice skydivers. Follow manufacturer guidelines for novices when choosing your first main and reserve. Stay away from more aggressive canopy types and sizes. If someone says “yeah it’s a bit small but you’ll be fine”, move along. It’s better to err on the side of boring than to wish you’d gone one size bigger… from a hospital bed. Plenty of time for that later in your skydiving career.