Digital and analog altimeters

Okay… altimeters. How high are you? How do you know? Well, your altimeter, duh. That’s the name of the page, right? We’re going to talk about a few different kinds of altimeters. The main categories of altimeters are analog, digital, smart, and audible. I’ll give you the basics, some recommendations, and links where you can learn more at the bottom of the page.

I am a representative of Freefall Data Systems, and personally have flow several different FDS altimeters. You’ll see a preference for this USA based company on this page. It’s not to say that the other altimeters I mention are not excellent – there are a lot of great options on the market today. FDS just happens to be my personal favorite.

Analog Altimeters

It used to be almost every DZ started their students on an analog altimeter. It’s got a dial like a watch face with a needle that rotates to show how high you are. These are less expensive than digital altimeters, but they’re less accurate. It’s pretty hard to glance at your altimeter and see if you’re 300 feet up or 450 feet up. This doesn’t help students or newer jumpers dial in their landings. The best thing I can say about analog altimeters is that they don’t use batteries, so they will always work. I own one, but I think it may be time to sell it.

My personal recommendation is to skip the analog altimeters, but one of my mentors disagrees. His go-to setup is to wear both a digital and an analog, and he has frequently loaned his analog altimeter to another skydiver on the plane whose digital just ran out of batteries. I own both types myself, but at the end of the day, the analog altimeter is larger and less useful under canopy (the markings are too close to each other). I keep it for night jumps because it has a glow-in-the-dark face. If you ARE going to buy an analog, I can’t recommend that feature highly enough.

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Newer skydivers look around the dropzone and see angle flyers and free flyers going up without a jumpsuit… while their instructors insist they grab a jumpsuit from the school’s closet and wear it on every jump. Sometimes they’re clean. Sometimes they aren’t. At some dropzones, it’s been a very long time since the student jumpsuits have been cleaned. And look at all the cool kids jumping in jeans and a skydiving jersey. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Dress for Success

With all sports, the best participants could play the game in their pajamas and perform better than almost anyone else. But is that how they dress when they compete? No. They use tools tailor made to allow them to interact with their environment at the highest possible level. We’ll come back to the sport analogy in a moment, but let’s take a quick detour to talk about some of the different disciplines in skydiving.

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Photo: Tammy Stone

One of the most common questions I receive from newer skydivers is where to buy skydiving gear. This post, like the rest of this website, is geared towards jumpers in the United States. While the used market tends to be global, the section on new gear will only include US based retailers. If you’re shopping in other parts of the world, you will likely have other, better resources for purchasing gear.

For your first parachute system, I typically recommend buying used… especially for your main canopy (see that page for details). Expect this process to take a while. I spent about three months putting together my first rig, but depending on your body shape and canopy size requirements it can be easier… or more challenging. In general, you can buy any part of your kit used, though I prefer a new helmet.

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PD OptimumThis is the last of my write ups for your parachute system, and is focused on that parachute most of us will never pack for ourselves, our reserve canopy.

Expect to spend between $1,400 to $1,750 for a new reserve… more on used prices below. Your reserve is fundamentally different from your main canopy. Regardless of what you fly for your main, your reserve is a seven cell ram air canopy. It’s designed to open quickly and has more docile flight characteristics than your main canopy. This canopy can only be packed by an FAA Senior or Master rigger. After 180 days, if it has not been deployed, your reserve will need to be repacked by a rigger, giving him or her a chance to verify its airworthiness.

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Vigil CuatroAADs. Who needs ’em? Well, everyone who skydives, that’s who. If you fail to open your main parachute for any reason, your AAD will open your reserve at a predetermined altitude. The purpose of this article is not to explain how they work, I’ll cover that later. For now, a I’ll offer a few opinions on buying an AAD, and then share some other excellent resources on the Web from which you can learn so much more.

Your AAD may be difficult to purchase used. They’re typically around $1,200 new, and they basically depreciate over the life of the unit. A Vigil that has an expected lifespan of 20 years, and is 5 years old? That should cost about 75% of the cost of a new Vigil. You can hedge one way or the other based on whether the AAD needs service soon, but other than that, it’s pretty basic and straight forward. Why are they hard to find used? Because a used one will always be less than $1,200… and if you’re going to the expense of putting a new rig together, this is one place where, if you CAN find a used unit, you can save some money.

Continue reading “Buying an AAD”

This article is for someone who is ready to buy their first main canopy. Here’s a picture of me with my first wing, a Sabre2 210. Thanks to Dave Bryce at Jumptown for the picture.

Make sure you scroll all the way to the end of this article for additional resources. I’m including another excellent video from Tony Bourke on selecting your first canopy. He gets much deeper into canopy selection, including six recommendations and a few runners up. If you are in the market for your first canopy, please watch his video.

Continue reading “Main Canopy”