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Expert Advice

Best Fit/Value for 1st Rig

(Published in the September 2009 edition of Blue Skies Magazine.)

You’ve talked to your local instructors, scoured dropzone.com, clicked through the gear shop web sites and even ventured into the risky E-Bay waters. Yet that first rig continues to elude you. Although you’d love to go all new, the cash isn’t there. So finding something used or continuing to rent seems to be your only remaining options.

But your thoughts keep coming back to a container that fits like a glove with all the latest, greatest options. So how do you combine the two?

Why not a brand new harness/container built to your body measurements and filled with used canopies and a used AAD? Not only do you get a rig with the latest technology, but also one that fits you properly. And you still can keep your costs low as you find a used main, reserve and AAD.

This is one of the best deals in skydiving gear. The harness/container will last you several years, and possibly your entire skydiving career. The used main is easier to pack and it can be replaced later if you determine you don’t like it or you are ready for a different size. And the prices for used mains, reserves and AADs are much easier to swallow for that new skydiver who just spent a couple of grand for the student training, jumps and first license.

Finding that complete bargain used rig can happen, but more often than not the harness is too big or small, the reserve is smaller than you really wanted and the price isn’t that low compared to some of the deals you can get on some new components.

With a used harness/container, there are so many variables, that it can be downright daunting to interpret all the harness size numbers, canopy volume limits, wear/tear, and value for the price. Yet, used canopies and AADs are much more straightforward as to size, type, condition and value.

But I can hear you now…a new container? I’ve heard new rig is a waste of money? Aren’t new rigs stiff and uncomfortable? Won’t I have to buy a whole new rig if I downsize? Aren’t they more than $2000 USD? And don’t they take several months to manufacture? Well, not so much…

New Containers

The base price of three popular containers is below $1500, and three more are under $1800. In addition, many containers manufacturers are offering monthly specials for further discounts off the base price and options. Turnaround times to manufacture a custom rig to your measurements, options and colors is less than 10 weeks for all but two major manufacturers. And four are quoting 6 weeks or less.

With a small bit of discussion between you, your local instructors, the gear dealer and manufacturer, your new rig can be made to fit up to 3 sizes of main canopies, allowing you a wide range for years to come. And new rigs come standard with, or have an option for, so much extra padding that a new rig feels like your lounging on your couch at home.

As to which container, lets just say you can’t go wrong with any of the manufacturers in business today. They each make a well-built, safe rig. They want you to rave about it to your fellow skydivers…so they will take care of you. It really comes down to specific options that some rigs may have that you want, the customer service of a particular company or a certain look that catches your eye. But when it comes down to it, any custom rig you choose will fit you well, be made to high quality standards, be “freefly friendly” and last you for as long as you take care of it for.

Used Gear Search

Take the time during the several weeks it takes to manufacture your rig to find that used main, reserve and AAD. Use your local instructors, DZO, rigger and gear dealer to help with a list of appropriate canopy types, sizes and price ranges. Find out what the new price is for each canopy and AAD you are looking for used so you have a reference point. Make sure the purchase of the used gear is conditional upon a pre-buy inspection by your rigger.

For used gear, start local. It’s so much easier if you can find the used gear locally as you don’t have to deal with scams, shipping and an unknown seller. If you strike out there, the next best sources are the dropzone.com classifieds section and large gear shops.

Used Main Canopies

Ask for the number of jumps on a used main canopy, damage/patches, type of lines, if/when it was relined, if the slider is collapsible and what type of links are included with the canopy. A canopy should include the parachute, lines, slider and links. In general, canopies need relines every 600 jumps. The cost of a reline is around $300, depending on type of line and manufacturer.

Using the “new price” for a canopy, follow a used price rule of taking $1-$2 off per jump from the new price, but adding back the price of a reline if completed recently. Damage, patches, prematurely worn lines, water landings and type of links will also affect the price of the canopy.

Used Reserve Canopies

Number of repacks, deployments and age are the three main contributors to the price of used reserve canopies. Some reserve canopies have to be sent back to the manufacturer for testing after a certain number of repacks or deployments. Also find out if the canopy has been wet from a water landing or has any damage/patches. You can also ask if the reserve canopy fabric has recently been strength tested. Take all of those factors into consideration when determining if the price quoted is appropriate.

Used Automatic Activations Devices

Used AADs are pretty straightforward as long as the person selling the unit is being honest with the dates. You will need to know if your reserve container has one or two closing pins and look for the appropriate AAD with the correct number of cutters (most containers are 1-pin).

With a Cypres I or II, you are looking for an Expert unit. Start with the base price of a new unit (check with your local dealer) and take off a $100 per year since the date of manufacture (as long as the unit is up-to-date with service and batteries). SSK Industries has a “Cypres Estimated Value Calculator” on its web site at www.cypres-usa.com, which is a great resource for determining price. Just keep in mind the 12-year lifespan of Cypres units and the required 4/8-year servicing. Furthermore, Cypres I units need the batteries replaced every two years.

Vigil AADs have a lifespan of at least 20 years and require new batteries every 10 years. All Vigil units can be setup as “Pro” which is what setting you will be using with your rig. Take the base price of a new unit and subtract $60 per year.

Argus AADs have an unlimited lifespan (as long as it passes each 4-year service). Still a good used price estimate would be approximately $60 off per year. Argus units do require new batteries once a year and service every 4 years.

Final Words

Finally, I can’t stress enough to have clear communication with your local instructors, DZO, rigger and/or gear dealer. Make sure the new container you are getting made up will be appropriately sized for canopies for your weight and skill level. And hire that local rigger to make sure everything is in order through a pre-buy inspection for any used gear you purchase.

Keep in mind buying you are buying thousands of dollars of gear for a sport you may have just learned about over the last few months. Find an instructor, rigger or drop zone owner who knows your skydiving history, future skydiving goals and budget. These people will be your lifeline during this purchasing process. Once the purchase is complete, you can get back to having fun in the sky!

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