As a current AFF student, I highly recommend the tandem before ground school (especially if you do the tandem at the same drop zone you're doing AFF). You're learning one of the most extreme sports in the most intense unnatural environments for human. The tandem (with the plane ride, exit out of the door and freefall) will help you get familiar with that environment so you might not feel so much sensory overload during your Cat A.
I had a guy in my ground school that never tried a tandem before he did his cat A jump. Unfortunately, the plane ride up and the plane threshold was a bit much for him and upon exit, he didn't jump but fell. His instructors were attached to him and able to stabilize him but he couldn't complete his dive flow (no check in with the instructors, altitude or heading check or practice touches) and his jumpmaster had to pull for him. I'm not saying this will happen to you or happens to everyone that doesn't do a tandem. I just think the tandem helps you get familiar with very unfamiliar surroundings.
As for gear rental, just use the stuff the drop zone provides you with. If they are teaching AFF, they will have student gear for you to use. At my drop zone, students are welcome to bring their own goggles and altimeter but we definitely can't bring our own rigs and must use the ones provided. Not only is buying your own rig $$$, but the student rig is way bigger and has an AAD. Save the money towards purchasing more jump tickets :-)
(This post was edited by cheese1178 on Apr 29, 2012, 7:40 AM)
Post edited by cheese1178
() on Apr 29, 2012, 7:40 AM