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.

Gotta Have It – Blue Skies Magazine

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The one skydiving related publication that is an absolute must in your mailbox every month. Blue Skies Mag is NOT safe for work. You should probably put it away when your grandmother comes over. You might want to put it away when your mother comes over. You should definitely not leave it out on your daughter’s slumber party night.

There are boobies and SkyGod and curse words and the Fuckinpilot. The publishers are skydivers who have such major cases of nylon poisoning that they put their life savings (not much, these are skydivers) into the most awesomely slick skydiving mag ever. It’s a magazine about you.  And me.  And that crazy idiot over there.  And all the stupid, fun, crazy shit we do.

Which is why you Gotta Have It. Go here and give them your money already!

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..

TT: EFS Jumpsuits

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For our first Throwback Thursday installment, we bring you a piece of promotional schwag given out at the 1993 PIA Symposium by jumpsuit manufacturer Elite Flight Systems of Perris, California.

EFS Bandana

EFS Bandana

Known for their Dragon Master suits, Elite Flite Systems (EFS for short) was a popular manufacturer on the west coast in the early 1990’s.

EFS could stand for many things besides Elite Flite Systems… and they came up with quite a few.

Elmer Fudd Sr
Elevators For Sale
Every Foolish Skydiver
Edible Free Samples
Expert Fly Slips
Eraser Fix Screwups
Earth: Freefall Stopper
Eddie’s Food Stamps
Embarrassing Funny Surprises
Egotistical Fat Slob
Exile Flying Saucers
Eat Frozen Snacks
Energetic Flirtatious Smurfettes
Experienced Fly Swatter
Every Father’s Son
Extinguish Flaming Shoelaces
Eliminate Frowns, Smile
Enjoy Fooling Someone
Egrets Fear Subways
Eager For Sox
Expert Female Spotter
Ewok’s Flying Service
Exit Flare Swoop
Evolutionary Fungus Soup
Erotic Flight Situation
Elliot’s Flood Shorts
Eccentric Florentine Surfer
Early For Supper
Execute Farting Spiders
Eighty Five Skybums
Enrico’s Food Store
Eventually Fred Sank
Electric Fish Scales
Entering Final Smokeout
Eva’s Feet Stink
Excited Freak Sisters
Entertain Fat Squids
Envision Fantastic Sunsets
Egor’s Flying Snake
Equestrian Food Sacks
Extraordinary Fanny Shaker
Earth Falls Skyward
Experience Flying Stable
Ecstasy Fondle Services
Earthworms Fumigate Swampland
Essential First Step
Evelyn’s Fuzzy Sideburns
Eat Fried Snails
Eighteen Floundering Salmon
Experience Freefall: Skydive
Erect Fantasy School
Envelope From Space
Expel Frothy Saliva
Even Freud Slipped
Eternal Freeloading Scum
Elephants Flying South
Elusive First Seduction
Enter From Somewhere
Everlasting Fix-it Shops
Enemies Fire Spitballs
Eleven Foxy Studs
Empires Fail Suddenly
European Flaky Strudel
Earthquake Forces Shakedown
Edward’s Family Steakhouse
Enter Formations Smoothly
Empty Flour Sacks
Employ Flattering Statements
Embrace Fidgety Sheep
Escort For Sale
Extremely Frigid Sex
Exempt From Standups
Enid’s Fat Sister
Educate Failing Students
Elvis Feels Skinny
Eight Frustrated Skydivers
Erect Falic Symbol
Emanate Fright Signals
Enduring Funeral Services
Eligible For Slavery
Energy Flows Silenty
Egotist Frames Self
Eject Fidgety Spectators
Erogenous Four Stack
Eat Flamingo Sundaes
Elfin Flying Squirrels
Elope Fast & Stealthily
Encrypted For Secrecy
Ef Frem Simbalist
Eagles Fly Swiftly
Eggs Feel Squishy
Egos Funnel Skydives
Extend Foreplay Shamelessly
Eliminate Foolish Sayings
Escape From Servitude

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.