In the grand scheme of things, skydiving has become a thing we can do only in the very recent past. The invention of both airplanes and parachutes has given us access to one of the most thrilling experiences it is possible to have. Leaping out of an airplane into a full minute of freefall, and then flying a parachute to land gracefully back where you started from is an amazing thing. To go skydiving you need a few specific pieces of personal equipment, so let’s have a quick look at what you need to skydive…
Wearing a helmet for action sports is always a very good idea, and skydiving is no exception. Skydiving aircraft are comparatively quite small – and bonking your head on the roof or the door as you move about it pretty normal. Also, landing a parachute gracefully is up to you, and while stand-up landings are the norm – it is always possible to get it a little bit wrong and end up in a big heap. Open Face helmets are what you start with, as they allow for good communication and perfectly good ones are available for not much money. Full Face helmets are popular for the experienced skydiver, as they keep your face out of the wind (nice for cold places) and allow you to wear trendy sunglasses underneath the visor. Specific skydiving helmets are available and can be pretty fancy.
Plastic goggles with a stretchy strap to keep them tight around your head are by far the most common. Some skydivers have coloured or tinted ones, or even swish, sporty sunglasses – but eye contact is important in skydiving and clear goggles are encouraged at the beginning.
A jumpsuit is basically clothing that doesn’t come flying off or get in the way while you are skydiving. As you progress, you will discover that there are all manner of elaborate jumpsuit designs that are constructed to aid with different kinds of skydiving – such as formation skydiving, speed skydiving or wingsuit flying. These can be very posh, but you can get started with something very basic. It is possible to skydive without a jumpsuit, but wearing on will keep you warm and protect you from bumps and boops.
Knowing how high you are is very important, so all skydivers must have an altimeter with them on every jump. Visual Altimeters are worn on the wrist and can be either analog or digital. Most skydivers learn with an analog clock-face style ‘alti’ first and then get a digital one later. Audible Altimeters live in a little pocket inside your helmet and beep at specific altitudes. These are not a replacement for your visual device, but are designed to supplement it with increased awareness.
A parachute setup, or ‘skydiving rig’ is made of four elements. They can be customised is various ways, but basically will all be made of the following:
Harness/Container – This holds you and all the other parts together, and is like a backpack with leg harnesses and a chest strap. They are adjustable so can fit a range of sizes, which allows for using rental gear – but having your very own that was built to size is best for comfort (and coolness).
Main Parachute – Your main parachute is sports equipment, packed and maintained by you – and largely your responsibility. As a student you start with a big sedate one, and gradually over time process on to smaller and more sporty models.
Reserve Parachute – Every rig has two parachutes, and your reserve is safety gear which is re-packed and inspected every 180 days by a qualified technician or ‘rigger’. Using your reserve in the event of a malfunction is not a regular occurrence, but is common enough in the sport to be a normal thing that will happen to you at some point.
Automatic Activation Device – An AAD is a little gizmo that lives inside your rig that will open your parachute should you happen to still be in freefall lower than deployment height. Being either unconscious or unaware of your height low enough for your AAD to activate is not normal, but does sometimes happen. AADs are not mandatory everywhere, but in modern skydiving it is unlikely that you will encounter anybody that does not have one in their rig.
This is the basic skydiving equipment that you need. Skydiving gear lasts really well if properly looked after, so while there is a shiny new fancy version of everything available – it is perfectly acceptable to jump with equipment that has been owned and used by a succession of people before you. Most dropzones have a gear store, equipment dealer or both who will be able to help you get started with the right stuff. Jumping as soon as you can is the important thing!