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.

Landing

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.

Conclusion

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.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

The best glider in the world is no use to you if it isn’t the right size for you. We explain how to navigate the different manufacturers’ weight divisions.

In our Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading article (part of our Choose The Right Paraglider series) we looked closely at how wing loading affected speed, safety, handling and performance. Now we delve into the numbers to help you choose the right size wing for your requirements.

A glider’s weight range is one of the most important considerations when choosing a wing. However, to be able to make a correct and well-informed choice there are many other factors to consider.

The object of the exercise is to get the best glider for you. Whilst brand loyalty is a laudable emotion, the way a manufacturer decides their sizes – and your own life changes – can put you in the wrong place in the weight ranges for your favourite brand.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

> If you fly mainly from smaller hills, most manufacturers advise you to be in the middle third of the weight range.

Primary considerations include the wing’s passive safety, pilot demands in active air and the desired use: simple fly-downs, soaring, thermaling, XC, hike-and-fly or high wind soaring. Also, will you fly mostly in the mountains, hills or flatlands? More on topography and flying conditions later.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

Other common aspects which may well affect a buyer’s decision include handling, feeling, performance, glider weight, durability and pack volume, to name but a few. Mostly it’s not just down to one factor or even a few; pilots often weigh up the main strengths and weaknesses of each wing to come up with its ‘sum value’ to them. The relative importance of each factor will vary significantly between individuals – everybody has their personal requirements and preferences!

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

The most popular gliders (mostly EN A and EN B) tend to have the largest number of sizes and the biggest overlaps in their weight ranges, allowing for a better size choice. As you go up the certification categories – with increasing pilot demands and decreasing sales – there tend to be fewer sizes, with less overlap between them.

Being in the right place of the weight range tends to be more critical the hotter the wing gets; this is why pilots flying hot ships tend to carry ballast and/or favour heavy competition harnesses. But even with less-demanding wings, it’s always important to be in a good place in the weight range of any paraglider.

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Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

> If you mainly fly in Alpine conditions you may find that nearer the top end of the weight range is best; the ability to turn hard into strong climbs outweigh the very small penalties from a slight loss of sink rate.

Given that you want to be in a certain area of the weight range, you should look at models from several different brands. This is one of the main reasons we offer several carefully selected top brands of wings, and one of the key aspects we cover during our Flybubble MATCH service, ensuring you end up with the best wing for you as an individual. This article is intended to give some insight into making a short list of ‘candidate’ wings which may work for you.

Looking at example paraglider weight ranges

What do we mean by this? Let’s look at the weight ranges (in kilograms) for each of the sizes of a theoretical paraglider model, based on typical actual weight ranges from the main brands.

XS 55-75kg, S 65-85kg, MS 75-95kg, ML 90-110kg, L 105-130kg.

You know that when you carry the minimum required, for shorter flights in weaker and milder conditions, or with more walking involved, you’re probably around 110kg all-up. For longer, more demanding flights and conditions, with more water, supplementary clothing and other paraphernalia, your all-up weight rises to around 112kg.If your all-up flying weight varies from 110 to 112 kg, you might feel that you’re not well-catered for by this particular model.

This means that for this particular model you have the choice of being either right at the very top of the certified weight range of the 90-110kg size, or even over this (112kg), or near the bottom of the weight range of the 105-130kg size.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

As well as how this will affect the wing’s stability, handling, airspeed, sink rate etc (see our article Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading also referenced above) if you fly a wing loaded outside the official certified weight range then the wing is no longer certified, and would likely fail it’s certification. In a competition weigh-in, you’d be disqualified.

For this reason, having first considered the various other primary factors e.g. safety, pilot demands, desired use, etc, you can further reduce your list of next wings to consider by looking at the weight ranges of the various candidate models.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

To illustrate, let’s consider a few examples. In our example above, if your all-up weight varied from 110-112 kg then, depending on various factors, you might look for a model with a weight range of 95-115kg, or 100-120kg. If your all-up weight range varied around 95-96 kg, you might look for a model with an 80-100kg or 85-105kg size. If your all-up weight varied around 89-92kg, you might well look at the 75-95kg size of the example model tabled above.

Now, let’s look at the philosophy of where you want to be in the weight range. There is a lot of conflicting advice on the Internet. The best place to get advice on weight ranges and where to be in them is from the manufacturer since they have the ultimate interest in you being happy with your glider and becoming a repeat customer. However, there is an added dimension in that any advice needs to be tailored to you as an individual, taking into account how often you fly, your ability, experience and future aspirations.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

Some generalisations

As we go up the weight range, the trim (and other key speeds) increase, and the sink rate at those speeds gets worse. The glide angle in still air remains the same. The change in sink rate and speed is likely not as much as you might expect¹. To give an idea, the graph below shows three polar curves for the same wing (in this case a glider / sailplane) at different wing loadings: 28, 35 and 38 kg per m2 (much higher than a paraglider, usually).

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

As the wing loading increases, the glider will become more responsive and agile, but will also react more quickly to any incidents, and the reaction will be more serious. Quoting Advance Paragliders: “Higher wing loadings mean more demanding flight characteristics and handling.” These effects are usually not huge, but are noticeable and significant.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

The table below provides an illustration of wing size loading against pilot demands (and recommended pilot level) for the Advance PI 3, as an example.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

Another example, the table below illustrates wing size loading against wing dynamics and pilot demands for the Phi ALLEGRO:

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

So long as you stay within the given certified weight range, your glider remains within the EN category it has been allocated. This, and avoiding disqualification in fun competitions, where the only weight criterion is all up weight, is why you should remain within your glider’s certified weight range.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

The differences between the top end of a smaller glider and bottom end of the next one up the size range are easily noticeable when you have a few hours under your belt, but the odd two or three kilograms will be difficult to detect for most pilots on most wings.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

Topography & flying conditions

If you mainly fly in alpine conditions, or anywhere there are strong climbs, you may find that nearer or even at the top end of the weight range is best for you. Here, the ability to turn hard into strong climbs, and any other advantages from higher wing loading outweigh the very small penalties from a slight loss of sink rate. Some feel that the wing is more pressurised and resists deflation better.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

Similarly if you mainly fly at breezy coastal sites, you will likely prefer to be top-loaded on your wing. Some pilots, often flying in windy conditions, even prefer to fly over the top of the wing’s given weight range. However this means they are flying the wing outside its design envelope. They should consider wings specifically designed with higher-wind soaring in mind like some mini wings, provided they have the skills for them.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

If however you fly mainly from smaller hills, or in the flatlands, and wish to stay up in less strong conditions with decent height gains, most manufacturers advise to be in the middle third of the weight range. Here, thermals are not so powerful, and the ability to hang or climb in weak lift becomes more important. It’s the ability of the canopy to float along in very light lift that becomes more of an asset.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

Whilst it’s important to consider the numbers, it’s also important not to dwell on them too much. Getting a glider that is well suited to your ability, experience, personal preferences and aspirations is the main point of the exercise. Wherever you fly in the weight range involves slight compromises, but it’s important to get these to work in your favour. It can’t be overemphasised that this is a very individual thing. Take care not to let others confuse you by projecting their personal preferences onto you.

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Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers

Final short list?

All these points should help you narrow down the final list of the wings you’re interested in. Then you can approach your preferred dealer to make your final choice and, if appropriate, arrange test flights on their demos. For the inexperienced pilot, detailed advice may be more important than demos, but that needs to be decided as part of a detailed discussion with each individual pilot.

Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers - Flybubble Paragliding

If you’d like expert advice on choosing your new wing, then it’s worth looking at our MATCH Service, which will give you a one-stop-shop for drawing up the list, based on all of your requirements and our wealth of knowledge and many years of experience, arranging demos as required, and ordering the wing you want to buy. We also offer generous part-exchange and package deals, if you’re looking to purchase more than one main item of kit.

Footnotes

¹ The trim speed will increase as the square root of the ratio of the weights. So, if the trim speed for a 100-120kg wing is 36km/h at 100kg, at 120kg it will have increased by the square root of 1.2, as 120 = 100 x 1.2 The square root of 1.2 is 1.1, so the difference between the bottom of the weight range and the top is 10%, so the actual figure is 39.4km/h

The sink rate will behave in much the same way, so if the best sink rate is 1.1m/s at 100kg, then at 120kg it will be 1.2m/s.

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Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading

Paragliders: Weight Ranges & Wing Loading

The best glider in the world is no use to you if it isn’t the correct size for your flying weight! In this third article of our Choose The Right Paraglider series, we look at paraglider weight ranges and the effect that wing loading has on performance, stability and handling, and how to decide what’s best for you.

First, join us in an investigation. Stuff everything into your glider backpack, exactly as you would walk up the hill, with your extra jacket and flying boots. Then stand on the scale! More than you thought, huh?

Total flying weight includes all the stuff you carry up the hill

> Your all-up / total flying weight includes *everything* you carry up the hill—everything that goes up into the air—including the wing, and you!

Your flying equipment and all the extras usually adds 14-20kg to your clothed weight (depending on the weight of your kit and how much other stuff you carry).

What does it matter? Well, they say that by loading a given wing with more weight you will increase all flying speeds, increase stability and get more responsive handling. But is it really true?

The effect of weight on speed

Top speed is a safety factor. But, as we shall see, you cannot change this much with either ballast or downsizing, and within a given class the speeds are very similar.

We tested the effect of adding 20kg to a pilot’s flying weight on an EN D wing with a weight range of 85-105kg, flying directly upwind and downwind and averaging the GPS speeds achieved.

Big Bad Ballast

> Big Bad Ballast. Don’t try this at home, kids!

Flying at 85kg: trim speed = 33.3km/h, full bar = 47.2km/h

Flying at 105kg: trim speed = 36.3km/h, full bar = 52.8km/h

Speeds also vary greatly depending on temperature, pressure and altitude. We have recorded 39km/h at trim and 59km/h on full bar many times, but the day of our tests was a ‘slow’ one – 15 degrees, 250m ASL, 1013hPa. As we are investigating relative changes it doesn’t matter.

Adding 20kg of ballast increased trim speed by 3km/h and top speed by 5.6km/h, or +10% speed for +20% weight. But 4kg is the practical limit of ballast – any more is cumbersome in your harness and upsets your balance. In these conditions, adding a big ballast bag of 4kg would increase trim speed by no more than 0.8km/h and top speed by no more than 1.3km/h or 3%.

Simple speed test

> Simple speed test using GPS speeds.

(We’ve been generous here as it’s not entirely linear: as you add more weight you get less of a benefit in speed as the drag increases at the square of the change in velocity. On earlier tests on a tandem, adding 70kg (a passenger) increased trim speed by only 7km/h, not 10.5km/h).

If you think a 1km/h advantage is going to win you a competition, remember that there is a sink rate penalty when carrying ballast, which will slow you down as more thermaling will be needed. Being slightly behind but faster on glides might be a strategic advantage, but either way it’s an incredibly marginal benefit.

For most pilots, adding ballast is a waste of energy. It will not make a strong-wind day flyable and it makes your carry-up a nightmare.

Downsizing

What about moving down a size onto a smaller wing? This can increase your speed slightly more than 4kg of ballast, theoretically by +1.5km/h at trim and +2.5km/h flat out.

Downsizing

> What about moving down a size of wing?

Taking a 95kg pilot off (eg) a 27m wing (90-115kg) and putting him on a 25m (75-100kg) has the equivalent effect on wing loading of adding 7kg ballast.

It might seem that you are much higher up in the weight range, but wings are often designed with reduced wing loading as they get smaller. Small wings are usually less efficient than larger ones and the speed change is likely to be lower than expected, and the glide performance might be degraded too. We don’t recommend chasing top speed by downsizing. There are more important factors to consider.

Weight and safety

We’d recommend being well-loaded on your wing to reduce the frequency of collapses, increase control authority and increase flying speeds. A loaded wing becomes slightly more collapse-resistant, but it will have more energy if it does collapse and your height loss might be more severe. But as long as you’re within the quoted weight range, all collapses are roughly within the norms and you’ll be able to handle them regardless of your weight – if you’ve already chosen the right paraglider class. At full speed on bar the wing deformation is worse on a loaded wing due to the force of air striking the wing making it pucker. There is a limit to how fast these things can go!

Weight and safety

> The safety of the wing is determined primarily by the wing design.

The safety of the wing is determined primarily by the wing design. What you can influence by changing the wing loading (within the certified weight range) will have little effect in comparison to the passive safety of the type of wing you choose.

Weight and performance

Optimum performance is found in a broad range. In the morning you need to be light; at peak thermal time you need to be heavy; then in the late afternoon light again for extended flying in weak conditions. So nobody is ever truly optimised.

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There is a broad sweet spot for all wings, which is usually somewhere around 50-75% of the quoted weight range, although this varies depending on the manufacturer.

Weight and performance

> Optimum performance is found in a broad range.

If you fly in strong conditions (wind, thermals, tricky launches) you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’ll be heavily loaded. If you fly in light conditions (soaring the coast, floating downwind on flatland XCs, easy launches) you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’re lightly loaded.

Weight and handling

An overloaded wing feels ‘hard’ and doesn’t turn well (banks too much, loses height, feels like it is ‘grinding’ around the turn). An underloaded wing feels wobbly, collapses more often in a soft, floppy kind of way and doesn’t turn that well either (sluggish handling, difficult to turn back in when thermals push you out).

Weight and handling

> It’s best to choose a wing where you are well-placed in the weight range in the first place.

There is an optimum range or sweet spot for ‘best handling’, often around 50-80% of the certified weight range (this too varies from model to model, even size to size, and also depends on personal preference and other factors). If you’re outside of the weight range, the amount of ballast you’d need to carry before your wing handling changes significantly is impractical – and what you’ll feel most is the counterbalancing effect of a weight below your body, stabilising the harness and making turning less agile.

All in all, you must make an effort to choose a wing where you are well-placed in the weight range in the first place. If you’re outside the weight range altogether the wing will still fly. The manufacturer didn’t try to certify it at this weight because it is not an optimal loading to fly the wing at, and would probably result in a higher certification class (eg an EN B becoming an EN C). At this extreme point of low or high wing loading you will likely begin to notice a handling change.

Wing design

Every designer has their own idea of the perfect wing loading, which changes depending on their objective for the wing. If they want their target group of pilots to be impressed with the climb rate they make it larger; if they want it to get a reputation as nimble and fast they make it smaller. As the aspect ratio of the wing increases, so does the ideal wing loading because the wing is more efficient. This makes it hard to know what your ideal wing loading should be.

Wing design

> It can be hard to know what your ideal wing loading should be.

Manufacturers usually offer 20kg weight ranges, but the design/ manufacture/ testing/ refining/ certification process makes larger weight ranges and smaller overlaps more economical. And you might like a wing design but be in an uncomfortable place in the overlap between sizes.

As explained above, we don’t recommend ballast. We recommend getting the right wing. Be prepared to look at other brands to achieve this. This article is intended to guide pilots to choose the right wing at any time from any manufacturer’s range, which is why we’ve avoided using any model names.

When choosing your next paraglider, narrow it down to those that put you in the right place in the weight range to start with, and identify the ones that give you a wing loading that suits your flying environment. If you’re lucky you can get a trial flight on your size so you can feel the handling at its best.

Weight ranges explained

Some pilots may be confused by manufacturer’s quoted weight ranges, and these can sometimes be misleading. In short, almost all paragliders have an officially certified weight range (CWR) that accords with their certification. The glider has been tested at the extremes of this range and found to have acceptable characteristics for the EN/LTF certification level.

Weight ranges explained

> In light conditions you’ll get a slight advantage by choosing a wing where you’re lightly loaded. But in strong conditions the advantage is with a pilot flying in the upper end of the weight range.

Some paraglider manufacturers also state a recommended weight range (RWR) within the boundaries of the CWR. This means the manufacturer knows the wing flies at its best within the recommended range, even if the certificated range is wider.

Some manufacturers also state an extended weight range (EWR), often certificated at a higher rating. For example a wing may be certificated at EN/LTF A wing within its CWR (and thus its RWR too), but be an EN/LTF B or C at the limits of the EWR.

Weight ranges tend to be narrower the smaller the wing. A 22m wing may have a CWR of 50-70kg (a 20kg range), while the 31m size of the same wing may have a CWR of 100-130kg (a 30kg range). In this case the recommended weight range (RWR) will also increase with glider size.

Weight ranges tend to be narrower as the performance (and certification class) of the wing rises. An EN/LTF A wing could have a tolerant CWR of 75-100kg, while an EN/LTF D wing may have a much narrower CWR of 85-97kg.

Some paragliders with EN/LTF certification are also certified at higher weights for paramotoring (DGAC certification). These are self-certified by the manufacturer; such testing as is involved does not include recoveries from extreme flight conditions, or tests repeated at various trimmer settings. The BHPA doesn’t regard a DGAC declaration as an acceptable independent verification of a wing’s safety.

Finally, some manufacturers have a tendency to get their wings certified for the largest possible range of weights to maximise the potential market. In reality their wings only fly well within a much smaller optimum weight range. A pilot can end up with a wing that is very much the wrong size for them despite being within the official certified weight range.

How to decide

When choosing your next paraglider, narrow it down to those that put you in the right place in the weight range to start with and identify the ones that give you a wing loading that suits your flying environment. If you’re lucky, you can get a trial flight on your size so you can feel the handling at its best.

How to decide

> Nancy at Flybubble on the perfect size wing, giving ideal wing loading!

We hope this article and accompanying video (see below) help shed light on paraglider weight ranges and wing loading.

Flybubble offers a comprehensive range of wings. We’d be happy to help you make the right choice.

How to Choose the Right Paraglider Part Three: Weight Ranges video

Related reading

We take a closer look at weight ranges in our related article Paraglider weight ranges: the numbers.

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Flybubble - Your paragliding freeflight experts. Equipment specialists.

Like what we do? The best way to support us is to buy gear from us. Also recommend us and be a patron. Thank you!

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