Being a new jumper can be overwhelming. You graduate from AFF and are constantly learning new information about disciplines, the flow of the drop zone, landing rules and more. On top of that, you have a big choice to make: What canopy should you buy? To be fair, this will continue to be a significant question all the way throughout your skydiving career.
Most jumpers make their canopy choices after talking to their instructors, new friends at the drop zone or gear dealers, oftentimes at the bar over a few beers. And while this will get you answers to a lot of questions about what type of gear is right for you, it’s also important to put yourself in the driver’s seat for this decision.
Breaking down the characteristics of each canopy from each manufacturer and fully comparing them is daunting, especially when experienced jumpers and manufacturers use a lot of jargon that you don’t fully understand. Phrases such as “trim,” “recovery arc,” “control range,” etc., can be baffling if you’re not familiar with them. You’ll need to do your homework. No matter what you’ve heard around the bonfire, there is not any one parachute design that is suitable for all skydivers regardless of their skill levels or flying styles. You’ll need to make a choice between canopies by asking yourself:
- What are their differences?
- How are those differences going to affect my progression?
To help with this, the staff at Performance Designs has broken down the canopy characteristics that you’ll want to think about. Read through these characteristics and think about your personal flying preferences. By learning this information, you’ll be able to take a more educated look through the options, have more meaningful conversations with manufacturers’ reps and experienced jumpers at the drop zone and make an informed decision on the right canopy for you.
This category rates, from full flight to full arm extension, how much of your reach may be required for a full flare.
Dynamic Landing Range
This term refers to how pronounced of a two-stage flare a canopy has. Canopies that come in on a very flat glide tend to be a little less dynamic, meaning that the speed differences are less pronounced between the beginning and end of the landing, and the flare feels more like a single fluid motion. Other canopies come in with a bit more speed and have the capability of slowing down a lot. These canopies have the most pronounced two-stage flare, which will require actively piloting them through the process.
Some canopies tend to use a bit more altitude during deployment and some use a bit less. For the purposes of evaluating an opening, think of the deployment as having three parts:
- Snatch is the force you feel when the canopy comes out of the bag.
- The snivel is the part of the deployment when the canopy is not fully inflated and the slider is still up, but you’ve begun to decelerate.
- Then the inflation is when the canopy pressurizes and the slider comes down.
Lots of factors can affect these stages and, therefore, your opening. Your canopy’s size and wing loading, your freefall speed at deployment, the field elevation, your packing method and other factors will affect how much time it takes your canopy to deploy and how much altitude you lose during deployment.
The recovery arc is how quickly your canopy recovers from the dive of a speed-building maneuver to bring you back under the parachute. Some canopies recover quickly, while others take a bit more time and altitude to recover from that dive.
Speed range refers to the range between how fast the canopy flies in full flight and how slowly the canopy flies in deep brakes. Some canopies have a very wide range of speeds; others have less range between the two flight modes.
Toggle input refers to how a canopy responds to toggle input from full flight. Some canopies will have the feeling of immediate response, where other canopies will have a delayed or more gradual response.
Trim refers to whether canopies fly flatter or steeper. You can manipulate this characteristic on any canopy by using your brakes, as well as front-riser or rear-riser inputs. However, trim refers to how the canopy performs in full flight.
If you’re looking to fly a wingsuit, you’ll need to think carefully about the right canopy. Some manufacturers make wingsuit-specific canopies. However, if you’re looking to only occasionally fly a wingsuit, there are options that are suitable for multiple disciplines. Check out the manufacturers’ options and make sure that you take into consideration the suit size that you’re looking to fly.
Hopefully this information has helped you understand some of the industry terminology so you will be able to make a more informed decision when purchasing a canopy. Most manufacturers’ websites will include the data you’re looking for. Performance Designs has developed a tool—available at performancedesigns.com/compare4/—that uses graphs and videos to help jumpers compare canopies and choose the right one for them. However, don’t rely just on data; demo the canopies you're excited about. Most manufacturers have a demo program that will allow you to try out the canopies you're interested in.
About the Author
Hollie-Blue Allum, A-83547, is an ex-drop-zone kid turned social butterfly at Performance Designs, where she stalks social media, writes articles and gets her bosses to debrief her landings.