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.

What comes with your main canopy? Not much… basically the canopy and its slider. It’s common for links to be included (to attach the canopy to your risers), but it’s a good best practice to replace your links when you replace your canopy. Unless you have brand new links, it’s a good idea to buy a fresh set. Right now a set of four typically costs less than $40.

We’ve already talked in another blog post about how to figure out what size canopy you need (reminder – ask your instructors). Let’s say you know what you want size wise… but now what about which canopy? There are a lot to choose from, and they have different characteristics. This article is written with the recently licensed jumper in mind. At this point in your career, you’ve likely been flying a Navigator, which is a docile, easy to land student canopy. Sport canopies have the advantage of penetrating into a headwind better, and the stage and flare of a sport canopy will be stronger than that of a student canopy.

Your main canopy can be either nine or seven cells. All reserves are seven cell canopies; they open a little more reliably and tend to be very stable. Wingsuit and CReW canopies have seven cells for similar reasons. For most people, your first canopy should be a nine cell canopy. Seven cell canopies are specialty wings and may be harder to sell when you’re ready to downsize.

What To Buy

Models I’ve heard recommended frequently for first time canopy buyers are the Sabre2 or Sabre3 from Performance Designs, or the Pilot by Aerodyne. Check out the video below for some other fine options. Steer clear of cross braced or elliptical canopies; these are for more advanced canopy pilots; you can play in that space later.

All three of these canopies have there pros and cons. The Sabre2 is ubiquitous – it is the most common nine cell canopy there is. It has a tendency to open with its end cells not fully inflated, and most Sabre2 pilots have learned to give their rear risers a swift tug upon full inflation to open them up. The Sabre3 seems to open better than its older sibling, and has a more powerful flare. Fans of the Pilot say its openings are reliable and on heading every time.

Another popular option with some new skydivers is the Performance Designs Pulse – it has a low-pack volume option, which could allow you to get an extra downsize from the same container, but I’m not a big fan. They have a flatter glide path than the other canopies I’m describing here, and learning how to stage and flare a Pulse can be challenging.

New or Used

Before I close this conversation, let’s talk new or used canopies. If you buy new, the manufacturer is guaranteeing its performance, and you won’t have to worry about any wear and tear that you don’t put there yourself… but as a newly licensed jumper, you’re going to hate packing that canopy. When they’re first made, canopies tend to be VERY slippery, and it can take a while to learn how to keep all that nylon behaving well while you wrestle it into the deployment bag. When I bought my first brand new canopy, I had gotten used to packing a well used but still very safe Sabre2; one with around 500 jumps if I remember correctly. I had gotten to the point where I could pack that parachute in ten minutes every time. When I got the brand new replacement, it took me 40 minutes to pack it the first time. It took me quite a while to get to where I could pack in ten minutes again; maybe 100 jumps worth of pack jobs.

Okay, but how do you know it’s a good parachute when you’re buying used? Just like with other major gear purchases, your rigger will help in the assessment. It’s common practice to have gear shipped to your rigger, who will inspect the canopy and give you an assessment of its air-worthiness. Undisclosed wear or damage is grounds to back out of the deal or renegotiate the price. I once purchased a canopy that needed patches, had sweat stains on the nylon (could be an indication of weakened fabric), and needed new lines. It was a little worse for wear than the posting indicated.


Based on my rigger’s inspection and the canopy’s condition, the seller agreed to lower his price. I sent the wing to PD for repairs and a fresh set of lines; all things that went into consideration when we came to our final agreement on the price of the canopy. When you buy a used main canopy, you need to figure out how much it has depreciated since its initial purchase price.

Let’s use my previous main canopy as a use case. It was 2 years old and had 175 jumps. Performance Designs lists a new Sabre2 at $2,720. How much is this canopy worth today?

One method I’ve heard discussed is $100 per year plus $1 per jump That would put us at $100 x 2 + $175, or $375. That gives us a price of $2,345.

Another method is to just use the gear calculator found on Plug in the age, number of jumps, and the cost of the canopy new, and you get $2,120.00 for a two year old canopy. 

As of 2022, the used marketplace is hot right now. Supply chain problems mean that manufacturers are having a hard time producing canopies as quickly as they would like, and lead times of six months or more for your main canopy are not uncommon. This has people who might normally buy a new canopy looking at the used marketplace instead, so pricing may be higher than what these estimates indicate. The calculation methods above are good starting points only. They do not take into account how soon the canopy may need to be relined, or whether it needs other repairs. Use them to see if you’re in the right ballpark when you’re in discussion with potential sellers.

Another type of wrinkle that can come into your pricing consideration is the situation currently represented by the Sabre from Performance Designs. You can still order a brand new Sabre2, but I imagine not many people are. PD released the Sabre3 a few weeks before my Sabre2 was delivered to my house. My friend Trevor describes the Sabre3 as “like a Sabre2, but more so.” It tends to open a little more on heading, inflates a little quicker, and has a more powerful flare. There are some other characteristics I won’t get into, but the point of this post is that if you were buying new, you’d spend the extra $115 to get the updated version. When the Sabre2 came out, the value of Sabre1s dropped… but we’re not really seeing that this time. Part of the reason is the supply chain issues we’re seeing, and part of the reason is the Sabre3 is not as revolutionary a leap forward as the Sabre2 was. I don’t expect the Sabre3 to impact used Sabre2 prices for at least another year or two.

That’s all I can think of for now. If you have an opinion, please drop a note in the comments. I may update this page as my opinions change or I become aware of new information.

Stay safe out there!

Additional Resources



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