How to Pack a Parachute

Friday, February 23, 2024

Learning how to pack a parachute is widely regarded as one of the hardest parts of being a skydiving student. It’s a well-known fact that parachute packing ain’t easy. So how do you make sure it works right whenever you’re packing a parachute? That, dear reader, is both an art and a science!

Knowing who packs your parachute is a great place to start. Whether it’s you or someone else, you want to know that the person packing knows exactly how to fold a parachute. We teach parachute packing with great care at WNY Skydiving because it’s such an important part of the skydiving process. We make sure each student knows exactly what they’re doing and has earned enormous confidence in their packing skills before jumping on their own “pack job.” 

There are many details involved in the answer to “How do I pack a parachute?” But, once you learn them, you’ll find that packing the old parachute backpack isn’t as intimidating as it initially seems. 

How Do You Fold a Parachute? 

It’s like folding laundry — if your clothes were made entirely of slippery nylon and little doohickeys that keep you alive. The actual process of packing a parachute is essentially the act of folding the parachute material and its attachment lines back into the container from which it was deployed. But it’s more than just a few quick folds and off you go. There’s a very specific technique for each step of the packing process. 

The parachutes that skydivers use today are rectangular and actually inflate to become a rigid wing. For the parachute to properly inflate, the front edge of the wing is made up of a series of open cells. That feature is both a technological wonder and makes the packing process quite a bit more involved. 

The parachute must be folded and packed in such a way that the open end of those cells can catch air, inflate, and be ready to fly in the right direction. And parachute packers have to do a few crucial things to give the parachute the best possible chance of opening without any bell-ringing or twist-turny issues.

The PRO Pack Job

The method used for packing these rectangular (or ram-air) parachutes is called PRO packing. And not because it takes a professional to get it right. Though sometimes it sure feels that way when you’re learning. “PRO” stands for “proper ram-air orientation.” 

Those three words tell you quite a bit about the goal of proper parachute packing, right? When we ‘PRO’ pack, we fold the parachute into the container in the best orientation for it to fill with air as soon as it’s deployed. That’s because those cells we mentioned earlier need to be facing in the right direction to properly inflate. 

The other crucial part of PRO packing has to do with the lines that connect the parachute to the harness worn by the skydiver. The lines are kept completely taut during the entire folding process and are then stacked in a repeating S shape as we bring the parachute toward the container. We use special elastic bands to hold the lines in place, which reduces the chance of them being tangled on deployment.

Everything about a PRO pack job is centered around organization. The nylon, the cells, and the lines all need to be placed into the container in the order and configuration that will allow them to open in the most clean and organized way. 

Sound like a lot to think about? It certainly is, but it gets easier over time.

How Long Does it Take?

It can take new packers ages to get their pack job just right: somewhere around half an hour, usually. But it’s easy to obsess over the details and draw it out even longer. 

That duration does tend to shorten as one becomes more experienced, though. Professional packers can throw together a sport rig in three to five minutes. Talk about efficiency! And most casual sport jumpers can get it down to around 10, depending on how much social balderdash they’re shooting with the other jumpers in the hangar, of course.

But don’t be fooled by the shorter turnaround time. The drop in timing doesn’t come at the sacrifice of precision. A three-minute pack job by a pro is often better than a 30-minute pack job by a student. They’ve just done it enough to know exactly what details to hit as they move through the routine. The muscle memory is real! 

Are You Allowed to Pack Your Own Parachute?

If you’re just starting out learning to skydive (or if you’re joining us for a tandem jump), don’t worry – you won’t be packing your parachute. A member of our highly experienced (and fully certified) parachute-packing team will take care of that. 

However, if you decide to get your skydiving license, take note: you won’t be able to earn a license until you learn to pack. And don’t blame us. It’s one of the requirements set out by the United States Parachute Association (USPA). 

But don’t worry if you despise packing. Once you have that license, you can opt-in or opt-out. Sport skydivers can choose to pack their parachutes or pay a packer to do the honors. Even those of us who normally pack our own parachutes like a day off every once in a while. 

How Can I Learn to Pack a Parachute?

Funny you should ask. WNY Skydiving regularly holds parachute packing classes in conjunction with our First Jump Courses. We take a patient, hands-on approach to teaching the skills necessary to successfully pack parachutes. And the learning doesn’t stop after the first session. No one expects you to be a pro at PRO packing after going through a single course. We’ll keep helping you improve until your pack jobs are ready to fly. 

Additionally, you DO NOT need any prior skydiving experience to participate in the packing course! You can still learn to pack if you want to get a job packing parachute but aren’t keen on getting into the sky yourself. Or you can make some money packing and put that toward the cost of your skydiving license

Come get your journey started and make a tandem skydive with us! You never know where that first leap will take you! 

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