Buying your first set of Kit
Mk 1 PC with sleeve in lightweight
2 Pin Pack, Complete with matching
reserve container. Lightweight I24
- unused. A bargain at only £250!
My immediate reaction is to want to tear down the ad, because the chances are it isn't. Take a closer look at the kit and it will be something that was 'hot' fifteen years ago, has not been in production for at least ten years, yet comes with the statement 'only 250 jumps'. The seller has to try to sell it to an unsuspecting novice, because no-one else would touch it. So, buyer beware! That is not to say that it is necessarily unsafe, merely it is not ideal first kit, unless your only consideration has to be cost.
Advice should easily be on hand at any drop zone in the form of instructors and riggers (other than one who is trying to sell the kit!). Never buy your first set of gear without plenty of advice from someone whom you would trust. Always ensure it has been thoroughly checked beforehand. Apart from the serviceability of the gear there are many things you will need to take into account:
- experience level
- skydiving interests
- where and how much you will be jumping
- re-sale value
- your wallet!
Let us look at some of these in greater detail and answer a few common questions:
Experience level, age and weightIf you have just achieved category 8, whether on the category system or through AFF, you will probably have between 20 and 40 jumps, possibly all on squares or mainly on rounds. If, like most people you have limited opportunity to hire equipment you will now need to buy something fairly soon. New may well be out of the question, because of the waiting time involved, the cost and the fact that your needs will change rapidly in the next few hundred jumps. There is a lot of second hand equipment about so don't be rushed into buying the first thing you see.
All canopies will state an all-up weight limit for the equipment. This is to include yourself (with clothes), your rig and lead, if used. Many experienced (and some lesser so) jumpers use equipment for which they are overweight but swear by it because of the added performance they gain from it. This is not something to be recommended - the extra performance is in fact an increase in speed, both horizontal and vertical, which an inexperienced jumper is advised to avoid. You need to decide not just whether you can cope in 15mph winds on your big, familiar DZ, but also in nil winds, landing off the airfield in a small area.
When buying your first equipment, it is not a bad idea to go one size up rather than being on or too close to the limit. Don't pay too much regard to the cool and groovies who will tell you how boring you will soon find it. Compared with an Aeroconical or a Manta it will be all the fun you need for a while and it will keep you safe for the first season or two.
Your skydiving interestsWhat do you want your equipment to do, other than the obvious decent opening and landing that we all desire?
If you are interested in accuracy or CF you will need a canopy which is suitable for those disciplines. For either you are likely to need a larger, steady 7-cell. More performance can be gained from a higher aspect ratio (more rectangular than square) 9-cell. If you are not too bothered just yet, then either a 7-cell or 9-cell would be fine. There are more and more elliptical, ultra high performance canopies around . These are not intended for the novice and if you were to buy one there are not many CCI's who would let you jump it! 9-cells do usually give more performance (both in the air and for landing), they will tend to be faster but with a greater range of control. These days you can buy a safe canopy which will still give you plenty of forward speed, a good flare and lots of fun. Many canopies are zero porosity (ZP). They take a little getting used to when packing, but they will retain their performance for longer. As long as it is a sensible size for you and not an elliptical, a ZP canopy can be perfectly acceptable as a first canopy.
Do I need a round or a square reserve?The answer is, if you can afford it get a square. These days it is possible to get decent equipment with a square reserve from £500 to £600 upwards. Consider when the wind is 20 knots on the ground, maybe 30 knots at 2,000ft, whether you would be happy underneath a round. It is not much fun to have to stand yourself down through lack of confidence in your equipment. Also, what is the standard of spotting like - not just on your home DZ, but when you go abroad to boogies? How many hazards are there around? How much overshoot? The onlyreason for buying a round reserve nowadays has to be because it is very cheap. If you do decide to go for the cheaper option but have never jumped a round, make sure you get briefed on it by an instructor.
Whatever shape your reserve is, ensure you are within its weight limit!
What type of container?This is really down to personal preference or availability if buying second hand. There are many types on the market these days. The most important thing is to make sure the harness is a good fit and comfortable, with all handles located in a sensible position. The main choice will be whether to have one or two reserve pins. Generally speaking, one pin rather than two will allow for an easier reserve pull. The maximum allowable is 22lbs, check on the repack paperwork how much it was. With a 'Pop Top' reserve (as on a Teardrop for example) the reserve pin(s) are against your back, so are very well protected in the aeroplane. But all modern equipment has covers that do the job. On some older rigs neither the main nor reserve pins are as well protected. This is something to be aware of when sitting down in and exiting the aircraft.
What sort of deployment system is best?Until you are D-licence (category 10 and 200 jumps) you are not allowed to jump a pullout in the UK. This means ripcord or throwaway. Realistically, no-one jumps a ripcord after clearing student status, so you will need a throwaway deployment. But you still have a choice of where to put the pilot chute; on the leg strap or on the bottom of the container (BOC). Either is fine. If you are buying a second hand rig with one of these, you might as well leave it as it is. If your rig needs converting from pullout, you need to decide which to go for.
These days increasingly the choice is to have a BOC. There are many good reasons. It will always be in the same place, whereas a leg strap can loosen or shift about. There is no (or very little) velcro to maintain. There is virtually no exposed bridle - relevant if you are doing high speed jumping such as free-flying. If you are having it converted there is no velcro to be sewn on the container, so it should be a little cheaper.
The advantage of a leg strap throwaway is that it can be seen. Admittedly most people don't look for it but, one day when you are having difficulties, it may just save a second (200ft) if you can see a handle.
Do I need an AAD or RSL?Once you are category 8, it is no longer a BPA requirement to have either. (If you jump at a military centre, the cut-off is category 10, so you have no choice until then.) It is only since the introduction of the Cypres that it has been common for anyone but a student to jump with an AAD. This was one of the reasons for designing the Cypres. It is an excellent piece of equipment and if you can afford it, get one. Quite simply there can be virtually no argument against it. If you are still in freefall at Cypres activation height (750ft), you deserve and need it to fire. There is more debate about the pros and cons of an RSL. Its function is to operate the reserve as you cut away. The disadvantage is that you may well be unstable immediately after a cutaway and hence for the reserve deployment. This is more likely for an extremely high performance canopy, which you are hopefully not jumping. It is more of a problem if you wear a camera on your head, this is not possible until you are D-licence. On balance, for a relatively inexperienced jumper with a relatively docile canopy, an RSL is a good idea.
With both of the above, when you are no longer a student, you need to take more responsibility for yourself, so deciding how many safety features to have on your equipment is your decision.
So why shouldn't I buy that 'Chaser / Pegasus / Preserve IV for £550 ono'? Although 'old' does not always mean 'knackered', the older a piece of equipment is, the more likely it is to be getting worn out. It would need a very thorough inspection of the harness and container - the stitching may be becoming unsafe. The webbing and risers may have spent ten years rubbing against velcro. The main canopy probably has hundreds if not thousands of jumps. It will have possibly lost most of its porosity, giving harder openings and landings. It is coming to the end of its life. Unless it is very cheap and you really cannot afford anything else, I would not recommend it.
In summaryMost equipment that is in good condition, with a square reserve and a main in the general range of 170 to 220 square feet will still be worth relatively the same in a year or two. You can buy it now, use it for a couple of hundred jumps and then resell it to the next generation of category 8 students. In the mean time you can improve your ability under canopy, try some other models and save up for new gear.
Have a good look at the equipment that is around, compare prices and get advice!
BPA Advanced Instructor
Illustrations Danny Crossman
Skydive - The Mag
Republished with permission
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