Hey, new skydiver! Congratulations. That A-license stamp looks great in the middle of your forehead. Very flattering.
Now that you’re in the fold, do yourself a favor: don't dally at the rental counter. It’s an investment (and somewhat counterintuitive) but trust me: you will find it much more cost-effective to buy your first set of gear than to keep renting, but If this is your first set of skydiving gear, you should buy used -- and spend the money you save on jumping. Here’s how to do it right.
How to Buy a Used Reserve Parachute
- Get comfortable with the idea. Picking up a used reserve -- if it’s in spotless shape -- is a smart place to save a lot of cash. Riggers tend to agree that the cost of a brand-new reserve isn’t justified.
- Choose a damage-free reserve -- no patches, please -- with less than ten rides. Less than five is better.
- If your reserve is old enough to vote, it’s too old to jump.
How to Choose a Used Main Canopy
- Look for a main with as few jumps on it as you can afford. Newer canopies fly better -- and, importantly, flare better -- than older canopies, because the passing seasons make the fabric more porous. As a rule, you can expect a harder landing from an older canopy.
- It can be tricky, but your best move is to choose a used main with its original line set. Even honest resellers don’t often know for certain the canopy’s actual jump numbers, and the condition of the line set is an inspecting rigger’s best clue.
- Find out where your canopy used to live. If it was jumped seasonally at grassy drop zones, it’ll be in much better condition than a year-round desert dropzone. That silicate desert dust chews up the fabric’s protective coating. Beware of beach DZs, too: seawater landings can result in very serious, sneaky damage.
- Be picky. Do your best to find an undamaged main canopy -- even one that’s been meticulously repaired. These are hard enough to resell that it’s rarely worth the up-front savings.
How to Buy a Used Harness/Container System
- Do not look for a container first. There are so many reasons why this is the case. You must know the exact sizes of both of your canopies before you can choose a harness/container to fit them.
- Have a rigger measure your body. Don’t go it alone. Harnesses are sized and carefully proportioned to both height and weight, and you’ll save yourself time by eliminating the guesswork.
- Ask the seller for the serial number. Then contact the manufacturer with your sizes. Ask the rep whether it’s a good fit for your body and canopies.
- Impossible to fit? Don’t worry. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed by now, non-standard body types are not uncommon in skydiving. However, new A licenses with unique body types sometimes face an uphill battle. Resizing a harness is almost always an option, but it’s can be so expensive that buying simple, new gear may make more sense. If this is you, research the basic, no-bells-and-whistles container systems available: for instance, the Dolphin, the Genera and the Shadow Racer.
How to Buy a Used AAD
- Be sure that the used AAD meets your basic requirements. Determine that the AAD on offer is within its service life, has met the proper maintenance schedule and is approved for your container system. (Note that both the Cypres II and the Vigil II are waterproof, but the earlier (I) versions are not. Beach/lake dropzone? You know your answer.)
- Determine your timeline. When you buy an AAD – whether used or new – you’re paying a fixed cost per year. The quality of the AAD doesn’t change over time within its approved lifespan, so don’t worry about snagging a unit within a couple years of expiration. (Just save your pennies while the time runs out.)
- Buy new, if you can afford it. AADs are very easy to resell. Purchasing a new one is not a bad choice if you have the cash.
General Advice for Buying Used Parachuting
- Keep an open mind. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a container that matches all the other criteria and comes in your colors. Accept that fact early.
- Pay a trusted rigger to conduct a pre-purchase inspection on any used gear you buy. The inspection will run you about $25 (or a matching amount of beer). Ask him or her to write down a list of issues – including potential ones – and the cost to remedy them, as if you’re buying a used car.
- Trust your instincts. If you don't like any potential component of your new skydiving kit — even one that has been suggested to you by a skydiving friend or a rigger or a boogie rep – do not buy it. You'll never be happy with it, and starting out with gear you dislike will adversely affect your entire skydiving career. Love the gear you’re in, and you’ll be a better skydiver for it.