Last updated 6/12/2024

You’re ready to buy a parachute system. There’s a certain order in which this should be considered, and the first thing to think about is what size canopy you want in your container. Beyond that, there’s still plenty to think about. Freefly friendly, safety, maintenance, age of the components, how well it’s been maintained, where the system was jumped, where the manufacturer is located (this can make it easier to get parts, for example), and more.

Beyond what we cover here, there are additional links at the bottom of the page to learn more. Check ’em out.

For this page, I’m going to start with the assumption that you know what size wing you’re going to fly, and we’ll go from there. This is mission critical… the smaller your canopy, the faster it flies, and the smaller your lines are. These are both critical, and can make things more challenging for lighter jumpers looking to buy their first system. Someone who weighs 150 pounds with all their gear on might be trying to get a wing loading of 1.0, which will put them on a 150 square foot canopy. On the one hand, 1.0 is on the lighter side for wing load, but any canopy sized 150 square feet or smaller is considered a high performance canopy. What’s the difference between a Sabre2 170 and a Sabre2 150? Beyond 20 square feet, the length of the lines. Shorter lines need more precise toggle inputs, which requires more experience to fly accurately.

If you don’t know what size canopy to buy, you won’t learn that from some random guy on the Internet. You need to discuss it with your instructors, the ones who have watched you fly and land your canopy, and who can tell you what you need to work on as you go from student gear to your first sport canopy. Personally, I flew Navigators from 300 square feet down to 220 square feet, and then moved to a Sabre2 210 for my first system, and that put me at a wing loading of 1.0. That’s what was right for me, and I talked to my instructors and my S&TA before making that purchase. Maybe you need to be loaded lighter? I haven’t seen you land, and even if I have, I’m not as qualified to give you advice as someone with a decade in the sport.

I’m also going to suggest that you take your gear journey with a relationship with a rigger firmly established. Go to your drop zone and talk to people. Riggers can give you solid advice, especially when you’re buying used gear. He or she can give you an opinion on the wear and tear the equipment has had, and whether or not its safe to fly. If you’re lucky, they may also offer an opinion on the value of the gear you’re considering. Treat your rigger with respect, they studied hard to get to the point where they can charge you a small fee to put your system together or repack your reserve.

When you’re buying the container, what should it include? Besides the container, you should expect to receive risers, the deployment bag, bridle and pilot chute. You should also get the free bag and spring loaded pilot chute for your reserve.

The list below is written from a US citizen’s perspective, and as such I’m going to recommend containers made in North America. On the off chance that your rig ever needs to be returned to the manufacturer for repairs, it’s going to be a lot easier to do that if they’re based in the USA. The fact of the matter is ANY of these rigs will serve you well. The questions I want to ask when I’m shopping for a rig are:

What size canopies will it hold?

Real talk, NEVER trust an advertisement when it comes to which canopies the container will hold. ALWAYS go to the manufacturers sizing charts to see for yourself. “Holds from a 170 down to a 135” is something I saw and thought “wow, so the fabric is stretch?” NO. The fabric is not stretchy. You’ll need a low pack volume (LPV) 170 for that to work, a regular 150, and perhaps a cross-braced canopy for 135 to be tight enough to hold the container closed.

You read that last sentence correctly. A canopy that has smaller volume will not be safe because the container won’t be full. A less than full container doesn’t hold tension properly, and will not be safe to fly.

So how do you know? Silly answer to a serious question: Google it. If, for example, I’m looking at buying an Icon I4 container, my search term is “Icon I4 container size chart.” Make sure you’re clicking on the manufacturer’s link (sometimes not the first result), and then I can see that a regular ZP (zero porosity) main canopy is up to a 150… 168 will fit, but it will be tight. If I’m willing to go “UltraLV” I could fit as large as a 210 in there. I’m suspicious of that claim, 210 is a lot bigger than a 150, so it’s going to be VERY tight, even with a 7 cell LPV canopy.

In any case, the advice stands, never take the seller’s word for it. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before you buy.

How old is it?

When it comes to the container, I tend to use the “old enough to vote” school of thought. Anything older than that has seen a lot of action, it’s been in the sun a long time, and its padding has been put to the test, and perhaps, given up most of its life. I’m not saying a twenty year old container can’t be airworthy, but I am saying I’m not interested in buying one.

The older the rig, the more it has already depreciated, so if you’re on a budget, this is a reasonable consideration. I’ve seen people pay under $3k for a full system (container, main, reserve, and AAD) and walk away with a perfectly good system. This is just how I look at it: if it’s my first rig, I’m going to want to sell it in a year or three. How much value will it have when I go to sell it? Food for thought, but not a hard and fast rule. Note: I wrote about the $3k system in 2001… several years later, you don’t see that any more. Expect to pay $4k to $5k for a good used system now (June 2024).

Does it have a MARD?

Your “Main-Assisted Reserve Deployment” option is an upgrade to a standard Reserve Static Line (RSL).

No matter which container you choose, I strongly encourage everyone to use a MARD. The dumbed down version is this: A reserve static line (RSL) will open your reserve when you cut your main canopy away by pulling the reserve pin, but a MARD will use your main parachute to yank your reserve out of the bag as it comes off your container. I’m going to write a whole post about this at some point, but for now here’s a video that goes into greater detail about the Skyhook (Vector’s version of this technology).

Does it fit me?

This is literally the most important thing on the list. Wearing a rig that doesn’t fit you can be painful or deadly. I borrowed this picture from the USPA – that’s a scary looking rig. If you don’t believe that’s a real problem, check out the video in the next section.

When buying used gear, it’s helpful to know who it was built for in the first place. The harness of the system will have been sized for that individual’s torso. There will be key measurements that define the distance from shoulder to leg strap, how wide your torso is at the chest strap, where the leg straps start, how big they are, etc. Trying on a container and seeing how it fits with an experienced skydiver (preferably a rigger) to give their opinion is valuable. Unless your seller is local, this can be a challenge to set up. You can always ask for a picture of the current owner wearing the rig… if she’s two inches taller and it looks big on her, it probably won’t fit you. If it barely fits her, it could be better for you.

Until you become an expert in how your rig manufacturer handles their measurements, it’s good to ask lots of questions. Different manufacturers will measure things differently, so looking at the main lift web (MLW) measurement for one rig won’t translate one-for-one to another manufacturer.

A better way is to look at the key metrics for the system in question and see if that matches what you need. How do you get that information? One way would be to request a copy of the original order form. Another is to contact the manufacturer with the serial number of the container; they will be able to help figure out what size human the container was made for.

It’s worth noting that if you find a system that is otherwise perfect, harness sizes can be adjusted. Typically that involves sending the rig to the manufacturer for that work to be completed. That’s going to add to the cost of your system and it will take longer before you can fly it, but it might be a viable option depending on your situation. If you’re considering this option, be sure to have a conversation with the manufacturer before you make the purchase.

I weigh more than most skydivers my height, so it was a little bit of a struggle to find my first container, but in time it paid off. The person wearing the container was an inch taller than me, but weighed a little less. When I tried it on, my rigger said it looked a little big but nothing that wasn’t safe. That Mirage was safe, comfortable, and a lot of fun. It turns out that it was originally made for someone three inches taller than me, but based on the geometry of the harness, all I had to do was cinch the leg straps tight and it fit me very well.

Is it Freefly friendly?

I wouldn’t ever buy a rig that isn’t freefly friendly. Even if all you do is jump formation skydiving, belly to the earth, a freefly friendly rig will allow you to join that crazy exit your friends are doing, and the rig will depreciate less over time. If you need further motivation, watch this.

Zach Lewis is a legend. Heed his wisdom.

How to fall out of a skydiving harness/rig from Zach Lewis on Vimeo.

Beyond fitting you well, a freefly friendly rig should have these common elements: good bridle and pin coverage, a tuck tab on your pilot chute handle, no D shaped reserve handle (pillow handles), an AAD, and a bungee between the leg straps.

How much should it cost?

Now there’s a good question. One person might use a straight line depreciation, and another might suggest a certain depreciation for age and another for number of jumps. It would be useful to consider the condition of the rig, also. Something that had been rolled into the ground in sandy conditions repeatedly will have more wear and tear than a system worn by an experienced jumper who stands up all of their landings.

Let’s consider a Vector with most of the bells and whistles. Spacer foam, all the freefly upgrades, a semi-stowless bag, Skyhook, the works. As of this writing, that’s about $4,000. Let’s say it’s 5 years old and has 500 jumps on it. Here are a couple ways to depreciate that container.

Straight line depreciation. Take a few hundred off the top, and assume it will lose 5% of its value every year. We start with $4,000, remove $300 to account for it being someone else’s rig and colors, so $3,700… and then 5% for every year means we’ll subtract another $925, bringing the total down to $2,775.

Jumps and Age method. Subtract $160 for every year old the rig is, and another 73.6 cents for every jump… weird totals, I know, but that’s what the used gear calculator at uses… Five years old is $800 off, and 500 jumps is another $368, bringing the price down to $2,832.

These are basic structures to start from. Neither system is perfect. Both methods assume normal wear and tear and no repairs needed. Other things that could  impact price would include a challenging color scheme (I do NOT want an all white rig) or weird custom embroidery (If you had a penis embroidered on your reserve flap, that’s going to raise or lower the value depending on who buys it).

Which system should I buy?

There are pros and cons for each of the container systems I’ll list here, but they have all passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements for you to safely fly them. Riggers have their preferences for what they like to work on… and I’m no rigger, so I won’t try to give you that information. I will tell you that some people hate on certain brands, but they’re all safe and reliable. Look around the drop zone… what are the experienced jumpers wearing? If your DZ has a ton of Javelin and Vectors, chances are the riggers in the area are all used to working with those systems.

This list is loosely presented by price, from high to low. Click the name of the company / header to visit any of these company’s web site. I put Icon on the list based on the pricing of their Icon A. If you buy an Icon V, that has the highest base price on the list.

United Parachute Technologies (UPT)

Bill Booth is one of the OGs of skydiving, and he is given credit for some of the innovations that make skydiving as safe as it is today; notably the Skyhook and the three ring release system (oooo, slow motion here). UPT makes the Vector container, which is what I personally fly. What do I love about my Vector? It helps me skydive safely. It fits me perfectly. It’s comfortable. I trust it to operate in the manner in which it was designed when maintained properly. (You can say all these things about the other containers on this list, too).

Firebird EVO

Born in Arizona. I don’t know much about this system, and will update this if I learn more. We don’t see many of these in New England.

Curv by Rigging Innovations

This rig has a reputation for comfort, and the few people I know who own one say it’s amazing. As far as I can tell, this seems to be more popular on the west coast.

Javelin by Sun Path

Sun Path and Rigging Innovations are merging. Both companies have devoted fans, and a lot of champions wear a Javelin. Without knowing why you should care (you shouldn’t), I steered clear of Javelin because I didn’t like the reserve cover. Not that it’s bad, I just didn’t like the look of it. This is another amazing rig, and my preference doesn’t mean squat.

Glide by Peregrine

The first container on this list that drops more than a dollar under three grand. I don’t know much about the brand, but I do see them around my DZ. My friend Erica says her favorite thing about her Glide is how it feels on her back, and that the customer service she gets from Peregrine is exceptional. I will update this section as I learn more.

Icon by Aerodyne

The Icon V comes in about $500 more than the Icon A as of this writing… From what I can tell that $500 gets you their AeroFit backpad, fancy embroidery, contrast stitching, a soft reserve handle (pillow option), the hackey pilot chute handle (if you’re into that kind of thing), three magnets on the riser covers instead of just two, and a belly band. Me, I’d just buy the back pad… maybe the belly band… and the soft reserve handle. I think those options are less than the difference between the A and the V.

Infinity by Velocity

My rigger, who is someone I trust more than almost anyone else in the sport, flies an Infinity. Velocity just recently added a MARD to their Infinity rig. That’s the good news. The bad news is it can’t be added to their older rigs. Personally, that’s a deal breaker for me if I’m buying a used rig. I would definitely fly one with a MARD. I just want the extra second of safety.


My first rig was a Mirage, and I loved it. Some of the fabrics on their newer stuff look a little less sturdy to me, but I understand that’s appearance only, so it comes down to personal preference. They often have several stock containers available from which you can choose at least some of the final measurements for the harness, so if you’re looking for a new rig that fits you without a long lead time, this can be a good way to go. I also like that many of the sizes they offer will support two sizes of main canopy, allowing you to downsize without the new container.


Your budget entry for a brand new container. Wings will catch some bad reviews from people whose rig cost a cool grand more… but I also know people who have been flying Wings for years and are perfectly happy to turn that extra cash into jump tickets.

Learn More

USPA: MARDs – how they work and what to expect

Parachutist: Safety Check | Harness and Container Fit



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