Paragliders and Paragliding Gear

Well it starts with a wing. well duh. Its the largest piece of paragliding equipment and often the most misunderstood.

Paragliding wings vary remarkably in size, more subtly in shape and a lot in performance. Most notably, the safety of the wings decreases A LOT as performance increases.

Many people rush out and buy older performance gliders (because they are cheap) and hope to learn on them. Thats a good recipe for a trip to the hospital or worse. The reason that they are cheap is that those who know, wont buy them. Paragliding gear has a limited life, remember that your life depends on the gear. Sunlight and the stresses of flying degrades the materials over time. In particular, the fabric which was almost impervious to air when it was new, becomes porous. The porosity affects the flight characteristics, and eventually the wing becomes unflyable.

Performance gliders are just that FOR HIGHLY EXPERIENCED paraglider pilots only.

paragliders beginner wing

paraglider competition wing

The newer beginner gliders perform very well, and have excellent safety. Notice the difference in aspect ration between a beginner paraglider and an advanced high performance paraglider above.

There have been various safety and testing systems over the years.


The most common ratings are the DHV for secondhand gliders, and the newer LTF, EN and DULV.

Beginners should aim for a DHV1 or LTF1 paraglider. Any deviation from this recommendation should only be made by a fully qualified and experienced instructor.

A paraglider wing will cost anywhere from $400(older second hand roughy) to between $2900 to $5000 for a brand new wing.

Paragliding wings come in many sizes. The size needs to be matched to your weight. Not just your bodyweight, but your all up weight with harness, reserve, backpack,flying clothes, boots, water, radios etc. After all, all that stuff is dangling off the lines. Some instructors also include the weight of the wing itself(because the wing also supports itself in flight).

To give you an example, I weigh about 80kg(176lbs) My all up weight with all the gear is 103kg (225lbs). Get(maybe borrow) gear and get on some scales before rushing out and buying a wing.

It is also best for your all up weight to be in between the middle and the top of the weight range of a paragliding wing.

Most paragliding wings are certified to an international standard, to view the tests and certification procedures done by the DHV in Germany visit: but be sure to come back here!!

Paragliding Harness

The next important bit of gear is the harness. These should be comfortable, and have suitable back protection in the form of an encased foam pad, and many have a polycarbonate plate to help prevent penetration from sticks and branches(in the unlikely event that you fly that close to a tree)

paragliding harness

The very cheap second hand harnesses again are usually the old ones with no back protection, or lightweight harnesses, again for very experienced pilots who do serious trekking with their gear.

It is a common misconception that a groundhandling harness does not need back protection. THIS IS DANGEROUS! Once you have done your paragliding course, you will become aware that you can (and frequently do) get lifted off the ground during paraglider ground handling practice. A hard return to earth without protection can result in a serious back injury.

Get a good harness with back protection, some have side protection as well(recommended)

Harnesses should also be fitted with some pockets that are accessible in flight for drinks, snacks, radios, safety gear etc, a storage section for your backpack, and a reserve parachute container.

There are several connecting systems for connecting the paragliding wing to the harness. The conventional and most popular carabiner system, and the Charly branded SIL(safe lock in system) both have advantages and disadvantages.

My opinion(and what I use) is keep it simple (carabiners)

Variations on the harness include a boot which covers your legs and the speed system. This improves aerodynamics and keeps you warm when flying in cold conditions.

Remember, it might be warm on the ground, but at 10,000 feet it can be very cold.

competition paraglider harness

Reserve parachute

The next most important bit of gear for paragliding is the reserve parachute. It performs the function of a second chance should something go wrong with your main wing.

Once you start gaining proficiency, you will start flying high. It is a very good policy (I consider it mandatory) to carry one of these for the unlikely event of a system failure/unrecoverable collapse/entangled lines, colision etc.

For high performance gliders(which collapse much more easily) some pilots carry 2 reserve parachutes.

paragliding reserve parachute

The style of these is personal preference. They are usually round, some with a pulled centre, and most cannot be steered in flight. These chutes have a limited useable lifespan, as exposure to sunlight(even in the bag) and degradation of the bag means that they require replacement every 10 to 20 years depending on regulations and recommendations of the governing body of the sport in your country.


open face paragliding helmet

full face paragliding helmet

Essential piece of gear to protect the noggin. Full face or open face helmets are available depending on pilot preference. Many pilots use a good quality hard shell bike helmet, but it is recommended to purchase a dedicated fibreglass or carbon fibre helmet specifically for the purpose. These are a one knock item. Bump it hard and replace it! remeber youve only got one brain. Look after it.

Paragliding Variometer

The next piece of essential gear is a variometer/altimeter.

A Vario is used to determine your altitude, but more importantly your rate of sacent or descent. Are you rising or sinking. Most varios beep in two different tones depending if you are gaining altitude or sinking. This helps determine if you are flying in a thermal, and when you pop out of the thermal.

paragliding vario or variometer

This piece of equipment is also used by hang glider and glider(the airplane type) pilots.

Other gear.

There is a host of additional and optional gear for paragliding which is required depending on where you are flying and the local weather and climate.

Gloves– protect hands from the cold and potential line burns during ground handling.

Flying suit – weather protection again. Air temperature decreses with altitude at the rate of about 3 degree per 1000ft

Hook knife or V-knife – for flying over or near water, to cut yourself free in case of water landing. Can be helpfull in other situation too.

Boots – these should really be in the essential gear category. Good high boots to protect the paraglider pilots ankles. It also helps if they dont have protrusions that will catch on lines and possibly damage your gear etc.

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Radio – required if you go on longer flights, or during training so that your paragliding instructor can talk to you. Many pilots have a UHF radio to communicate with each other and VHF for flight services contact.

Allways remember we are flying a real (albeit slow) aircraft.

The information in this guide is of a general nature only. Paragliding is a potentially dangerous sport. Get professionally qualified instruction before buying any gear and flying. Your professional advice superceeds anything on this site.

Paragliding (PG) equipment – typical setup

Southwest Airsports sells everything a pilot needs to fly a paraglider safely. Investing in the best equipment is wise not just because it works better and lasts longer but because it increases our margin of safety. We are dealers for Ozone paragliders and harnesses as well as Sol and Sup’Air harnesses but can supply other brands, if necessary. We stick with Ozone, primarily, because we know their gliders well and it helps us equip students with the right gear.

Total cost for a typical PG setup is about $8,000.

The wing

Gliders are rated for their ability to passively recover from collapses while flying. Gliders that have an EN “A” rating have a greater ability to recover spontaneously from collapses. Gliders with higher EN ratings require more pilot input to recover but have a higher top speed and a better glide ratio because of reduced drag. It is a potentially hazardous trade-off and why more instructors, especially those in the EU, recommend that newer pilots stick with “A” class wings.

Collapses can happen when flying in air that has turbulence caused by powerful thermals which are usually present during summer midday conditions. “A” class gliders have more passive ability to recover than the higher class gliders. Which glider is best depends on what kind of air the pilot flies in. Optimally, pilots can have gliders for easy, calm, late-in-the-day air and gliders for active air. When in doubt go with an “A” class glider. Some of the time a pilot might wish he had a higher class, better performing glider but when an unexpected collapse occurs near the terrain, for example, an “A” class glider requires the least input to correct the problem.

In the photo below, each cloud is the top of a thermal – this was an outstanding day for paragliding. The pilot here, Lee Baker, was the first ever to tow up at the turf farm and thermal away to cloud base. Flying early or late in the day minimizes turbulence but flights will be shorter. With modern gliders the significant difference between has become speed rather than glide. We can expect to spend $3,400 – $4,300 for a well designed glider.

paragliding in southern New Mexico

paraglider landing near Santa Teresa, NM

What class of wing should a pilot fly? It depends on what kind of air we wish to fly in and whether flying cross-country is important. Pilots who only fly on the coasts or ridge soar early or late in the day will rarely experience turbulent air. In such conditions, glider class is not that important. On the other hand, pilots who fly midday during the hot times of the year may experience very turbulent air and must have the skills to react to unexpected events, especially if they are flying a more advanced glider.

The harness

It is much like sitting in an easy chair. The small red handle in the lower right in the photo below is used to deploy the reserve parachute stored under the seat of the harness. The paraglider is attached to the two karabiners in the upper center. The back of the harness contains stiff foam used to protect the back of the pilot in case of a fall. Modern harnesses also usually have an airbag for increased protection.

There is also a large zippered storage area along the back of the harness for stowing gear, like the glider packing bag and personal gear.

The pilot is securely strapped into the harness – he cannot fall out. When on the ground, the pilot is able to stand up easily though it is somewhat difficult to run with a harness attached. Once in the air, many harnesses have a foot strap attached so that the pilot can easily place himself firmly in the harness without letting go of the controls – the brakes. Some harnesses have the pilot almost in a reclining position while some are very upright. Some are shaped like a pod. These harness are the most comfortable and allow the pilot to be less exposed to the colder air of high altitudes. They are also the most expensive and used mostly by serious cross country pilots. Cost: $450 – $1,500. The least expensive harnesses are little more than a series of straps and have no protection which makes them dangerous to use. Most pilots spend about $850 on a harness.

paragliding harness

The helmet

Most pilots prefer helmets with a faceguard as we tend to hit the ground at many different angles, especially when launching. Who likes to eat dirt and grass or have one’s nose rearranged? The Charly Insider (photo here) is made of Kevlar and is specifically designed and certified to meet the strict standards of the European Union for air sports. How much is your head worth if you go bonk? This should not be a difficult question but it is for too many pilots. Helmets without faceguards should only be used by experienced pilots. Accidents at launch by new pilots tend to involve face plants which is why the faceguard is highly recommended. Cost: $225 – $350

paragliding helmet

The helmet in this photo (a Charly Insider) saved a pilot from certain death when he hit the ground after experiencing an unrecoverable collapse while flying XC in very strong conditions. He threw his reserve but it was *not attached* to his harness.

helmet that saved a pilot

The reserve

Most pilots fly with a reserve in case they experience an unrecoverable collapse of their glider. Reserves are only to be used as a last resort because once under the reserve the pilot has no control whatsoever where he will land. Therefore, deploying a reserve when things go awry with your main glider is always dicey. (Here is a video of the unexpected results that can happen during a deployment.) It is best to never be in a situation where reserve deployment might be necessary. This is why proper training is essential.

Steerable reserves are now available for additional cost. Tandem pilots often fly with special (and expensive) carabiners that can release the glider while it is loaded and stop the possibility of the glider causing problems after a reserve deployment. Therefore, it is always wiser to fly with plenty of altitude and do everything possible to fix the problem with your glider before reaching for the reserve. Once under a typical reserve, you have no control over where you will land and no guarantee how the reserve will deploy. This is why it is a last resort.

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If you fly with a reserve, purchase the biggest one you can carry. High Energy Sports makes a reserve that has unique aerodynamic properties which slow down the pilot’s descent through the air.

Sup’Air makes reserves that are very light. Below is the May Day reserve by APCO Aviation. Here is some more info on reserve systems. Cost of reserves: $650 – $1,500 (based on size and type)

paragliding reserve parachute


The most common injury in paragliding is to the ankles. It is important to protect them which is why high top boots are recommended. Boots should not have lacing clips attached as they can snag the lines in and around the harness. You will probably never have a problem if you fly with boots that have open lacing clips. But why complicate a series of cascading events with lines snagged to your boots? A student who knew better got his feet tangled together while trying to land – he was fortunate he didn’t get hurt.

The boots pictured below are made by Crispi of Italy – among the finest on the market. Yours truly has owned a pair for 15 years and have proven extremely durable, even when used to hike. They are the most comfortable boots I have ever owned. They have sturdy vertical inserts which help prevent ankle injuries and are light and comfortable. The boots also do not have any exposed metal parts that might snag a glider line. Ordering the CRISPI boots can be challenging in the U.S.

There are other boots similar to the CRISPI’s on the world-wide market, such as the German HanWag.

Unfortunately, American tort law has made many ultralight products, including wings, engines, and boots too risky to sell in sue-happy America. Southwest Airsports can supply the HanWag or Crispi boots because we have an office in the EU and they do not give a damn what American lawyers and courts do and can send us the boots, as needed. Ordinary hiking boots will also do but if you have weak ankles or want maximum protection for your feet, these types of boots are worth the investment. I have tough ankles so I rarely fly with my CRISPI boots unless I am going cross country where LZ’s can be unpredictable including having high grass which can conceal hazards. They are also good for cold weather. Crispi or HanWag: about $330 + shipping. Go to our shop site to order them.

Crispi paragliding boots

The radio

The radio is far more than a convenience when flying. It is your connection with other pilots and the ground for weather information, pilots in distress, and emergencies. It must be simple and easy to operate. All USHPA pilots have the privilege of their own set of radio frequencies issued by the FCC in the 150 MHz range. Inexpensive 2 meter Amateur Radio service transceivers can be modified to work on these frequencies. It is technically against the rules (FCC) to use these modified radios but the authorities have been looking the other way for many years. If the FCC wanted to, they could immediately require that these radios (which are all imported) have a non-modifiable chipset. The “legal” radios are very expensive and do not easily work with accessories necessary for flying, such as push to talk systems and most communication systems found on the market.

There is a newer and much cheaper radio made in China called the Bao Feng which costs less than $40 on the Internet. It does not need modification and is ready to go. However, the receiver has poor selectivity and sensitivity. Translated: nearby and powerful radio transmitters can interfere with its operation and it does not work well beyond a few hundred yards unless high power is used. This quickly drains the battery. It is also not particularly reliable and can be buggy to operate. On the good side: it is really inexpensive to buy.

As a matter of safety, it is better in the long run to go with the more expensive radios, such as the YAESU, ICOM, or KENWOOD.

YAESU FT-250R 2 meter radio


In case we fly into a cloud by accident, a compass can greatly help because it instantly tells us our heading unlike a GPS. That is, we can head to the edge of the cloud and out rather than fly deeper into it. Those who have sailed a yacht in fog know what this means. A GPS is next to useless unless a course is held steady for 5 or 10 seconds. Do NOT use a cheap bubble compass as they go everywhere if you are in turbulence. Do NOT mount the compass next to a GPS as the magnetic field in the GPS will affect the compass and vice versa. The photo here is an inexpensive Brunton compass. Cost $15 – $30

Brunton compass

The GPS/Variometer

If you want to thermal well, you must have one of these, preferably one that also has a recorder. The variometer (or vario) measures your vertical speed through the air instantaneously. It gives an easy visual indication as well as a varying tone, if the pilots wants. It can even give an audio tone indicating when the pilot is in sink. The vario also can tell you your relative altitude, your actual altitude, air temperature, and (optional) airspeed. A recording variometer records everything from your flight. You can then download the data to your computer and analyze your flight. How well did I thermal today? Only a recording variometer can give you the details.

Am I drifting backwards over the top of the mountain and into danger?” It is very difficult to tell our speed and direction over the ground if we are a mile or two over it. With a GPS we can tell whether we are starting to slow down and in what direction we are going. In addition, if we ever get in trouble with the authorities per “you were flying over X” but we were not, the GPS log can prove our innocence.

Below is a photo of the Flytec Element Speed variometer ONLY. Many pilots fly with a combination variometer and GPS. Having a GPS integrated with the variometer is a very handy feature, especially for those who fly in competitions. Both Flytec and Flymaster offer these combination units. Cost: $99 – $1,400 (Cost is based on the functions desired, size, display, flight maps, and a built-in GPS. A typical recording variometer like the Element Speed that is easy to read costs about $ 450.)

Flytec element speed vario

The most common, rugged, and easy to use GPS ONLY is the Garmin 64st series. Older models in this series are also excellent and can be had for a good price on the used market. Cost: $150 – $400.

Garmin 60CSX GPS

Flight Deck

It can be difficult to mount a GPS, a Vario, a compass, and a camera somewhere on your legs with straps. Instead, use a flight deck. It has various compartments for things like a camera, snacks, weapons, matches, first aid, etc. It mounts with straps to the webbing next to the karabiners on the harness. It is easy to take it on and off. Below is a photo of the Sol flight deck for $99. It is difficult to mount a GPS, a Vario, a compass, and a camera somewhere on your legs with straps. Instead, use a flight deck. It has various compartments for things like a camera, snacks, weapons, matches, first aid, etc. It mounts with straps to the webbing next to the karabiners on the harness. It is easy to take it on and off. Below is a photo of the Sol flight deck. Cost: $99

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SOL paragliding flight deck

Radio harness

A radio harness is optional but has the advantage of securely attaching your radio to your person and protecting it. It also has a convenient pouch that can be used for storing extra batteries. You can use a flight deck to store batteries but you have to fuss with a zipper in flight which can take two hands. The radio pouch has a Velcro flap which is easy to open. Another advantage of the radio harness is that you will often find yourself on the ground without your harness and flight deck on and in need of radio communications. The radio harness makes it easy to safely and securely carry your radio at all times. Cost: about $55

paraglidiing radio harness

Other equipment

Things like a two-step speed bar, flight suit, gloves, catheters, etc. can be useful, depending on conditions and where/when you are flying.

Used gear

Used wings can offer a significant savings but will not have the life of new one because fabric and lines decay with age and exposure to the sun. If you plan to fly more than 30 hours a year, new gear is a better value as you will not have to replace it before its useful life is up.

It is important to remember that your life depends on the safety and condition of the gear you fly with. Used gear (other than from reputable dealers and schools) has unknown origin and usage. Do not buy used wings or reserves without having them inspected by factory authorized inspection centers. Sellers of such equipment should be happy to share the cost of an official inspection.

Gear size & weight

PG gear is so lightweight and compact that it can go as regular baggage on commercial jets. With some special lightweight models, your entire aircraft with instruments and safety equipment can fit in a small back pack that will fit in the overhead bin on a small plane. The average weight of a complete paragliding setup is about 45 lb.

What is the Paragliding Weight Limit?

Weight limits exist for many forms of transport, however when it comes to flight such as paragliding, weight limits are even more critical. This can have a severe effect on your level of control, safety and enjoyment of paragliding.

If you’re a passenger, the tandem paragliding weight limit usually ranges between 242 – 264 pounds (110-120 kilograms). This allows for a maximum limit of 485 – 529 pounds (220-240 kilograms) for the pilot, passenger and any equipment being carried.

The ideal weight limit for paragliding can vary for a number of reasons, and tandem operators will usually be cautious to protect their own liability. The pilot wants to show you the enjoyment of paragliding and not be worried if the flight is going to be safe.

paragliding weight limit affected by wind

One variable which can affect the paragliding weight limit is wind. If there is little wind, a pilot may not feel comfortable flying close to the weight limit, particularly during launch. On days with higher winds and stronger thermals they are likely to be more comfortable about flying close to the weight limit.

Launching an overloaded paraglider requires greater wind force to gain lift. The pilot (or in tandem flights, the pilot and passenger) are likely to require greater running to achieve lift, and would likely start bunny-hopping off and back on to the ground.

Consistency in wind is also important. Inconsistent wind conditions could cause you to leave the ground and commence what feels like a safe launch. However an overloaded paraglider could come crashing back down to the ground seconds later if wind conditions are not consistent.

Emergency Situations

Inconsistencies in wind at higher altitudes can cause an overloaded paraglider to be unsaveable. A paraglider which is under a safe weight limit can often be saved when control is lost. This is often conducted by quickly stalling the paraglider and reinflating the wing full of air. A paraglider above a safe maximum weight limit is more difficult to quickly manoeuvre and when it starts to drop, the weight causes it to fall faster.


paragliding weight limit affecting a safe landing

Landing is also a high-risk proposition with an overloaded paraglider; you’ll be far more likely to crash land. While pilots do like to come into landing with a bit of speed, in this situation it’s not likely to end well. You could have too much speed and have difficulty flaring out at the end. Instead of approaching the ground in an almost parallel position, sitting almost upright and protecting your ankles, you’ll be in a much more perpendicular position and more likely to land in a rough way, or even crash and cause injury.

Don’t Exceed, But Don’t Be Too Far Under the Weight Limit!

In saying this, it’s also worth knowing that a paraglider which is too light can also be dangerous. Under-weighted paragliders can become more prone to wing collapses. Having a moderate level of weight that’s not pushing the weight limit for paragliding and is distributed correctly, produces greater stability.

Being too light can also make your paraglider difficult to steer and control. Steering is partially done through shifting your body weight, without this weight it can be difficult. You’ll also gather less speed, which can affect your steering, landing and general enjoyment.


This isn’t like throwing too many suitcases in the back of your car! Paragliding weight limits are to be taken seriously and you can risk your life if these are exceeded or if you fly seriously underweight.

If you’re considering trying tandem paragliding on your holiday or for a special occasion, your pilot should take your weight into consideration and will ensure that the paragliding setup, along with your’s and the pilot’s weight are below limit. Just to be safe, it’s always a good idea to research the operator before booking and check their reviews.

If you’re paragliding solo, it’s important to use a paragliding harness and wing that’s appropriate for your weight. It’s a common mistake for beginners or those making their first upgrade to purchase a second hand paraglider because it was a cheap deal that was “too good to say no to”. Start off with a setup that’s suitable for your weight and ability – this way you’ll be safer, have greater control and will gain greater enjoyment from your paragliding.




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