Skydiving vs Paragliding: 7 Main Differences To Know

Sailing through the sky is amazing – but is it better to do it downwards, or horizontally?

Such is the question we face today! Two of the most popular ‘sky’ sports are skydiving and paragliding. While similar, they also have plenty of differences.

Skydiving and paragliding mainly differ in their goal. Skydiving seeks for the biggest jump and fastest rush, while paragliding is built for long, relaxing, independent canopy flights. Skydiving equipment is focused on speed and safety, while paragliding is all about comfort and control.

That’s just the short version, though.

For those curious about the differences, you’ll learn every difference between them in the quick guide below.

If that sounds good, then let’s dive in!

What Does Skydiving Feel Like?

This question incites a lot of emotion in me, because skydiving is SUCH an experience.

In short, there’s no butterflies. Instead, skydiving is almost like flying – except with 120mph worth of wind blasting up at you. It’s the best views, the most adrenaline, the most exciting and most serene all at the same time.

The canopy ride is a totally separate experience, too. After all the wind and chaos, being under canopy is entirely quiet and peaceful. You’re just gently gliding back down to earth, and enjoying all the views along the way.

What Does Paragliding Feel Like?

Contrary to Skydiving, paragliding is more of a peaceful art than an adrenaline-filled rollercoaster.

Paragliders at Sunset

Paragliding is much more about taking in the view, than taking on adrenaline.

While take off can be scary, once you’re sailing in the sky it’s much more relaxing. The harness let’s you settle in to a more comfortable position, as you pilot the canopy throughout the hills or cliffs you’re flying around.

Unlike skydiving, paragliding isn’t a quick one-and-done experience. You can be ‘sailing’ through the sky for ages, quickly racking up the flight miles! It’s more of a chill game of piloting through obstacles and updrafts, rather than one mental rush downwards.

Differences Between Skydiving & Paragliding

Okay – so that’s the ‘experience’ side very lightly covered. Let’s get stuck in to the real differences.

Obviously, skydiving and paragliding have a lot in common. They’re 2 of the only sports enjoyed under a canopy in the sky, and ways for us ground-bound humans to experience flight without the aid of a large and noisy engine.

Paragliders are also often skydivers too! Many paragliders start off skydiving, and end up trying out paragliding because it can be done on a windier day – and without needing a running airfield. If there’s too much wind or the airfield’s too busy, paragliding is a great way to still get into the sky.

Anyway – here’s the differences between the two sports lined up one by one.

Difference #1: The Goal!

While both of these sports are based around flight, their goals are what truly separates them.

Skydiving is about enjoying the biggest freefall you can. It’s pure adrenaline rush, pure freedom, pure escape. You hurtle through the sky, flying, diving, flipping, and connecting with other jumpers – before pulling your chute and gliding down to the ground.

Skydivers chase bigger altitudes, different planes, different jump styles (freestyle, group formations, wingsuits, CREW jumps), and different locations (Dubai’s palm dropzone often being the #1 location).

CREW jumps are advanced formations of skydivers that connect their canopies.

Paragliding is about enjoying the biggest flight you can. It’s simpler, more independent, and more calm than skydiving. It’s about enjoying the sky and flying with nature, rather than dropping like a rock. You need no plane or engine to get your flight started.

Paragliders chase new routes, bigger starting points, stronger updrafts, and unique views.

In the end, both of these sports are totally unique – but it’s their main goal that separates the experience you get with each.

Difference #2: The Canopy

Post skydive, the main goal is to land quickly in order to skydive again!

Skydivers jump using what’s called a ‘square’ canopy (it’s really more of a rectangle). These will always glide downwards, at a faster rate depending on it’s size and your weight. Typically, jumpers ‘downsize’ their parachutes to get down faster, even spinning their canopy in the air to pick up downward speed.

On the other hand, paragliders use a much more curved canopy – shaped like an upside-down parabola. It’s much bigger than a skydivers canopy, and built to stay in the air as much as possible. Not only that, but to be much more maneuverable and able to ride gusts of wind back upwards.

Difference #3: Flight Lengths

After such a huge experience, the post-skydive canopy ride can go by in a flash. Especially for jumpers who have downsized, it can take less than 5 minutes to go from opening their chute to landing. (Student parachutes are more like 20 minutes).

The point of a skydiving canopy flight isn’t to travel anywhere, but to essentially circle the airfield and line up your landing spot.

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Alternatively, paragliding flights can last hundreds of kilometers! A skilled pilot can truly ride the wind to enjoy hours under their canopy, all without an engine. That being said, they should still have an landing location goal with intended flight paths to ensure a smooth landing.

Difference #4: Harness Comfort

Skydivers hurtle directly downwards at 120mph. That’s freaking fast.

Their parachutes then slow them down to about 5mph in under 5 seconds.

Imagine speeding at 120mph in your car, then braking hard to 5mph in just a few seconds. Even the fastest cars in the world don’t have the brakes for that!

That should give you an idea of what your skydiving harness has to be built for. These things aren’t build for comfort, they’re built to take the force your canopy applies when it opens at full speed. It’s safe to say that skydiving harnesses are NOT the most comfortable thing in the world! At best their slightly uncomfortable, and at worst you’re begging to get back to the ground faster.

On the other hand, paragliding harnesses are made for comfort. You never accelerate more than a gliding speed under a paraglider, so the forces are much smaller. That means the harness can provide more support to the rest of your body, and allow you to relax into it much more.

Difference #5: Reserve Type

While both these sports are super safe, we obviously need to have reserve parachutes available.

In skydiving, a reserve is essentially the same parachute as your main one. Except it’s been packed diligently by a certified expert, and not hurriedly by you as you rush to get into the next plane! Otherwise your reserve parachute is just the same as your main one (but often in white).

Paragliding reserves are round canopies, almost straight out of the World War 2 movies where you see thousands of soldiers flying in using them. They offer little in the way of control, and are there to get you back to the ground alive.

Thankfully it’s incredibly rare to need either of these, but they’re always there if we need them.

Difference #6: Advanced Jumps

A good analogy with this point is that paragliding is like running, while skydiving is like driving.

Just like in running, paragliders can only really do one thing – paragliding. While you can always become a ‘better’ paraglider or runner, there’s no advanced variations of the sport. Sure you can do some great maneuvers (or get faster), but in the end paragliding is simply paragliding. (That’s not to say it’s not amazing and so serene).

On the other hand, skydiving is like driving. Yes, you can become a better driver just like you can become a better runner. But you can also unlock different types of driving. There’s driving different cars, rally driving, driving motorbikes, driving jeeps through cross country – there’s hundreds of different experiences you can have behind the wheel!

Skydiving is just the same. Once you’ve mastered skydiving basics, there’s a whole world of opportunities you can explore. Including:

  • Speed skydiving
  • CREW jumping
  • Formation jumping
  • Landing competitions
  • Wingsuits
  • Skydiving with surfboards
  • Using props / inflatables
  • Freestyle skydiving
  • HALO jumps
  • Hot air balloon jumps
  • Helicopter jumps
  • BASE jumps

Just to name a few!

So while paragliding itself is incredible, it’s not a gateway to more advanced forms of flight like skydiving is.

Difference #7: The Planning Involved

Planning a skydive is very different to planning a paraglide.

Skydiving relies on “drop zones” which are already set-up for you. As long as there’s space on the day and the weather’s good, you can turn up and enjoy a jump.

On the other hand, paragliding is much more of an individual sport. It’s you, plus maybe a friend or two, and your paragliding equipment. It’s up to you where you’ll go, what you’ll do, how you’ll work around the weather, where you’ll land, and what your emergency procedures are.

All of that responsibility can be frightening to some, but it heavily attracts others. Paragliding can be done entirely solo – you don’t even need a car, phone, or anything electrical (outside of safety equipment).

The Similarities Between Skydiving & Paragliding

After going through so many differences between these two sports, I also wanted to highlight where they’re similar.

No, I don’t mean “they’re in the sky, duh!” – though that is true.

These two sports are like siblings, and they share quite a few traits.

Similarity #1: Community Feel

Many skydivers are also paragliders and vice versa. Both of these sports are so unique and attract incredible people, who tend to be positive, optimistic, and happy to be getting into the sky.

The communities you’ll find around a drop zone or a paragliding club are very similar. Between the comradery, the desire to share knowledge and help one another learn, to the shared goals and dreams of conquering X achievement in the sport.

Both groups are incredible welcoming, and are one of the underrated highlights of the sports.

Similarity #2: Solo Flight

While flying a plane is incredible, there’s nothing like sitting in the sky alone. Just you and your parachute, with the whole world beneath you.

That same serene experience can be enjoyed through both skydiving and paragliding. I can’t describe how beautiful and peaceful the world seems when you’re up there in the sky, on your own.

Similarity #3: Weather Reliance!

If you’ve ever been through turbulence on a plane, then you can imagine what turbulence under a canopy is like.

Both of these sports are incredible safe, but only in good weather. These are not sports for an ice-cold and windy winter day (though some do still try). Skydivers and paragliders most used app on their phones isn’t Facebook or Instagram, it’s usually an advanced wind and weather app for planning their next flight!

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Is Paragliding More Dangerous Than Skydiving?

I’ve included this question because I see this being asked on forums, and I want to address it.

While both sports have their risk (anything involving flight does), both of these sports are incredibly safe. By far, the most danger you’ll be in when taking part in either of these sports, is on your drive to the drop zone or launch point.

In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to argue whether paragliding is more dangerous than skydiving. Doing so implies that one or the other isn’t entirely safe. Instead, we should focus on how safe they both are – especially when done responsibly and following all recommended advice (accidents typically happen by veterans who push the limits on the sports).

Conclusion

When it comes down to it – skydiving and paragliding are the same thing: incredible!

It’s an absolute privilege to take part in either of these sports, and enjoy the world from a quiet, serene canopy (or when hurtling towards it at terminal velocity).

I hope this article has helped clear up the differences between the two sports, and given you a few insights into what both skydiving and paragliding are like.

If you’re looking to plan your first experience in either, be sure to check out the related articles below.

What is Skydiving Versus Parachuting?

What is Skydiving Versus Parachuting?

Whether you call it skydiving or parachuting, it’s all jumping out of an airplane, right? So how different can it be?

Well, pretty different, depending on how you look at it!

The main difference between skydiving and parachuting is that in skydiving, we freefall before deploying our parachutes, and in parachuting, we deploy the parachute straight away. But it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Let us explain.

A bit of parachuting history

Our story begins in the early 20th century, in a time where parachutes were (with the exception of some brave Chinese daredevils!) pretty much only used by the military. Soldiers used parachutes to get into difficult to reach places, carrying some heavy gear. It’s about as far from today’s sport parachuting as you can get!

Back in those days, parachuting had a clear purpose, but it wasn’t there for fun. It was used to get stuff done.

Early parachutists jumped old school ’round’ parachutes. These were very difficult to control and the parachutist would basically be a passenger, landing wherever the parachute ended up. They often used what’s called ‘static line’, which is where the parachute is automatically opened as the jumper leaves the airplane.

Modern parachuting

As time went on, people started to see how fun parachuting could be!

The modern parachute design is ‘square’, which means they are much more controllable than round parachutes and also a lot more fun! Today, parachutists can accelerate their parachutes to high speeds in a maneuver called ‘swooping’, or they can perform really accurate landings onto a target.

They can even hook up with other parachutists to create parachute formations in the sky. This is known as ‘CRW’ (canopy relative work) and is a competitive sport in itself.

Jumping into freefall

Freefall is exactly what it says – it’s falling free through the air, without any constraints or barriers. It is – we think – the most exciting thing a person can do!

There are no words to describe the moment when you jump from an airplane for the first time and you fall through the air at 120mph. It’s breathtaking, exhilarating, exciting. it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

It’s what makes skydiving different to parachuting. Skydiving begins with that leap out of the airplane and into the freedom of the sky. Depending on what we’re doing, skydivers fall for between 30 and 90 seconds, flying their bodies to perform tricks or create formations on the way down.

Competitive skydiving vs competitive parachuting

Both skydiving and parachuting can be done as hobbies and as competitive sports.

In skydiving, there are all sorts of disciplines to compete in, from in air gymnastics known as freestyle, to building shapes like synchronized swimmers in formation skydiving, to acrobatic moves and alternative axis in freefly. Skydivers across the world compete against one another to be the best.

In parachuting, disciplines include CRW (building formations using parachutes), swooping (accelerating to gain distance on the ground) and accuracy (landing in a defined target). Parachutists also compete in global competitions, striving to be the very best they can be.

Parachuting vs. Skydiving: What’s the Difference?

Throughout the years, parachuting and skydiving have been used interchangeably to describe the same idea — jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

But while these two words describe similar activities, they’re two distinct hobbies.

In this blog, we’ll define parachuting and skydiving before looking at four major differences between the two sports.

parachuting-vs-skydiving-whats-the-difference

What Is Parachuting?

Parachuting is the process of controlling a descent to the ground by means of using a parachute itself. The parachute can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and parachuting can have a wide variety of purposes.

You may have seen parachuters at sporting events or special occasions, and you may have also heard of paratroopers in the military who use parachuting for combat purposes.

What Is Skydiving?

Skydiving is the process of jumping into a controlled freefall for a long vertical distance (typically several thousand feet) before using a parachute to safely arrive at the ground. Skydiving is practiced as a hobby and an extreme sport, and it’s known for producing an adrenaline rush that few other activities can match.

Many people have skydiving on their “bucket lists” for the unique thrill of falling through the air and arriving safely on the ground, and others — like our skydiving instructors — have turned it into a career.

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With both of these terms defined, let’s take a look at the fundamental differences between parachuting and skydiving.

4 Differences between Parachuting & Skydiving

Definitions are nice, but sometimes it helps to have a side-by-side comparison.

1. Freefall

Freefall is the phenomenon of plummeting through the air without a parachute active.

Depending on their jumping altitude, skydivers typically enjoy 30 to 90 seconds of freefall while they’re unencumbered by any safety net. It’s not until they get closer to the ground that they deploy their parachute for a few minutes of breezy floating before touchdown.

In contrast, most parachuters release their chute soon after they’re out of the aircraft. This means they’re in freefall for a much shorter amount of time, and they have a much more controlled descent than skydivers may. It also takes longer for a parachuter to reach the ground than a skydiver simply because the parachute is deployed so much earlier.

2. Altitude

Because paracuters have their chute deployed for almost all of their fall, they’re moving at a significantly slower rate than skydivers. Their parachute immediately softens their acceleration, “lifting” them with the upward force of air collecting inside of the parachute.

A parachuting jump may start around 5,000 feet in altitude. This is about all the higher you want to go so that you could get favorable winds, oxygen levels, and temperature as you reach the ground.

Skydivers, on the other hand, rush toward the ground at a faster speed (up to 120 mph) and accelerate to that speed quickly when they are freefalling without a parachute deployed.

This is why skydivers need a higher altitude — to enjoy freefall to its fullest. At Chicagoland Skydiving Center, we offer jumps between 9,000 and 18,000 feet in the air, which take a little less than 10 minutes to complete from the moment a skydiver leaves the aircraft.

3. Purpose

The first parachute jump was engineered by balloonist André-Jacque Garnerin, who jumped from the basket of his hot air balloon in 1797. It wasn’t long after this revolutionary discovery that others began to see the utility behind the concept of a safe, controlled descent through the air. Parachutes soon became an integral part of military operations over the coming centuries.

Modern parachuting is often pursued by paratroopers and military personnel these days, as opposed to a recreational activity. Parachuters are often paratroopers who are using their chutes as a quick means to get from air to ground.

Skydiving, on the other hand, is much more of a hobby. In fact, it’s classified as a sport (and an “extreme sport”) by those who pursue it professionally. Sponsorships and teams exist throughout the world, most notably the Red Bull Skydiving, based around complicated acrobatic routines that take place during freefall.

There’s also some area of overlap between parachuting and skydiving in terms of practice. High altitude, low oxygen (HALO) jumps are practiced as stealthy means of deploying troops by the military and also as an adrenaline-pumping opportunity by skydiving athletes.

4. Solo Requirements

Perhaps one of the most notable differences between parachuting and skydiving is the requirements to jump by yourself.

Parachuting has fairly lax requirements to commit to a solo jump since the parachute is constantly deployed, there are multiple pulls to deploy the parachute, and a litany of other safety measures. In fact, there are now self-deploying parachutes that kick into action once the parachuter hits a certain altitude.

However, skydiving is significantly more strict because of the element of freefall. Freefall, for all its fun and adrenaline rushes, is inherently dangerous since you can reach speeds near terminal velocity.

(That’s the speed at which you can no longer accelerate in freefall — it doesn’t mean you’re going to die once you reach that speed.)

Skydivers also have automatic parachute deployment, but again, freefall makes things different. The jumper needs to be able to read an altimeter and other instruments as they’re in freefall, which is phenomenally challenging without the proper training.

First-time freefallers don’t know how to read altitude devices nor do they have the experience to judge when it’s necessary to release the chute with enough time to slow down before reaching the ground.

While all skydiving parachute backpacks are required to have an automatic activation device (AAD) that senses altitude and deploys the parachute, this backup “reserve” chute is intended for emergencies only.

Altogether, these are the reasons why you must be licensed to jump by yourself as a skydiver. It’s also why non-licensed individuals must jump with a certified, licensed instructor in a tandem skydive.

In order to freefall on your own, you’ll need to go to “skydiving school” and get a skydiving license.

Skydiving for the First Time?

If you’re considering trying skydiving for the first time, we have the perfect resource for you.

In our Tandem Skydiving Guide , we’ll explain everything you need to know about the experience. From what to wear on the big day to the mechanics of how your parachute works, you’re sure to take a few tips away from this comprehensive look at tandem skydiving for beginners.

Download Your Free Guide

Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith is CEO/President, and Guest Relations Associate at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. He has owned and operated the business since 2000. He has been skydiving since 1994, and in addition to leading the CSC Team, is currently an instructor, videographer and pilot for CSC.

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