Following a recent emergency preparedness/ First Aid response course with the Jackson Hole Free Flight Club and a team from our local Teton County Search and Rescue/ Backcountry Zero, I put together a list of some of the essential safety equipment that I find useful to take along on paragliding adventures.
As I rounded up the details for this course to share with our club, I realized that it might be beneficial to share this info with a broader audience, so I'm posting it here as a resource on choosing safety and survival gear for your kit. Most of the info here can easily be applied to other outdoor activities/ extreme/not-so-extreme sports in addition to paragliding. Obviously the specifics will change depending on the environment and the particular activity you're engaging in, but I think this is a good general place to start/ adapt from for most environments and sports.
Satellite messaging devices
First on the list are personal locator beacons/satellite messaging devices. These units give you peace of mind while flying or recreating (especially in the backcountry/when out of cell service). They have an 'SOS' button, tracking, and some have the capability of two-way satellite messaging, so you can communicate with emergency services, rescuers, friends, and family. Note that these devices require a subscription to function on satellite networks. There are various service options available, with some on a month-to-month basis if you only use it at certain times of the year.
From what I've heard from other pilots and from general reviews among backcountry travelers, the new Garmin In-Reach Mini is probably the best overall product that is currently on the market for paragliding usage. It can act as a stand-alone unit, or easily pairs to your smartphone (to type texts, etc). It is small, lightweight, highly functional for emergency situations, and also has lots of other uses and benefits for navigation, tracking, etc. This review covers the Mini in-depth and does a little comparing to other similar devices and the Garmin satellite service plans.
There are also larger Garmin In-Reach devices that may function better as a stand-alone unit if you don't always want to carry your phone with you... The above review compares these devices and convinced me that the Mini makes more sense for my purposes.
Spots can be a little more affordable, and certainly better than not having anything if an In-Reach is currently out of the budget range for you. There are a few options. The Spot GenX has a blackberry style keyboard, making it good as a stand-alone unit if you don’t want to pair to a phone, but still would like to easily send and receive 2-way text messages.
There is also the older Spot Gen 3, which has SOS capability and limited one-way messaging. This is probably the most budget-friendly option, but offers less functionality.
If you have the budget and want the best thing on the market in the smallest package, I think the In-Reach Mini is the way to go. I'll be purchasing one of these in the coming months. I'll be updating here with new info if/when I have feedback.
Hamm Radios are a great way to communicate with your fellow pilots at the touch of a button when in the air/out of cell service. Obviously you all need to be on the same channel in order to talk to each other, but that's up to you before launching. Also be aware that you must possess an FCC license to operate Hamm radios in the US.
As far as radios, the easiest way to get a hold of one that can utilize the USHPA frequencies is to buy them ‘pre-bumped’ from a paragliding shop.
Superfly deals the Yaesu FT 65R (lightweight, relatively inexpensive, good dust/water resistance, etc). This would be my choice for best all-around unit, and what I will be purchasing in the near future to replace my old cheap one.
Eagle Paragliding deals the Yaesu ft 270 (also good dust and water resistance, but a little heavier than the 65R)
Cloud 9 also deals the Baofeng radio that rings in at about $50. Again, better than nothing and gets the job done, but pretty basic. Honestly we’ve broken a few of these in normal usage in the past few years, and will be investing in more robust ones like the Yaesu FT 65R this year. You get what you pay for.
Hook knives are another great thing to carry on every flight and can be used to cut through lines, risers, speedbars, clothing, and lines if you have a serious malfunction or land in water, trees, or are being dragged uncontrollably by your reserve parachute.
The Benchmade Hook 7 is the best one I know of for our application--it is relatively small but will easily cut through risers, stirrups, speed bar, harness webbing, even shoes, etc in an emergency. I have used this model for multiple seasons on various kits. I usually add a ‘leash’ with paragliding line between the knife and the sheath to keep it secure if you do need to pull it out in ‘combat’.
At the recent course we held, we also discussed carrying basic survival equipment whenever we fly, in addition to a solid lightweight first aid kit. This is a list of some of the items you might want to consider carrying on every flight with the possibility of ending up away from civilization (whether it's XC or just a long approach or glide in remote terrain):
Fire Starter/Tinder (Our S&R course instructors both use vaseline-covered cotton balls stuffed into an old pill bottle, but there are commercial versions available as well. Dry grass or small sticks and leaves also work well depending on your environment)
Lighter and/or waterproof matches (to ignite cotton balls/tinder/fire starter)
Leatherman Knife/Multitool (lots of potential uses including glider repair, cutting/improvising first aid supplies, cutting firewood/kindling/etc. There are a million options out there, but this is a good smallish all-arounder that is relatively lightweight. I carry it pretty much everywhere for any activity)
Water Treatment Tablets (if you end up in the backcountry for an extended period, this gives you peace of mind drinking questionable water sources)
Paracord/paraglider line (comes in handy for all sorts of things and prevents you from having to cut lines off of your glider if you need string. I use old paragliding lines from retired gliders for this and a million other daily tasks)
Emergency food--protein bars/ PB packets/ any high-energy and shelf-stable snacks/meals (Tram bars and Peanut Butter are my personal favorite. They actually taste like food yet keep for a long time)
Compass (electronics can run out of battery... this won't)
Emergency Blanket (gliders work well to keep you warm in a pinch, but this is an easy, compact add-on and then you won't get your new wing all bloody if things go seriously awry)
Signal Mirror (a great way to signal to overflying aircraft or distant rescuers where you are--these are easy to operate, but it’s good idea to practice this before you’re actually in an emergency so you know how they work)
Whistle (another good signaler to rescuers/others, and more bang for your buck than yelling if you're trying to alert someone of your whereabouts)
Headlamp (you'll want some light if you end up with a long walk out or an unexpected overnight stay. This one is rechargeable with USB, which I love so I don't have to worry about batteries)
Bear Spray (being based in Jackson Hole, it's not unusual for XC pilots to fly with pepper spray. Probably unnecessary most places, but not a bad idea if you're flying over tiger country.
We also ordered basic first aid kits including SAM splints from our local Search and Rescue team. I'll update this post with specifics on the first aid kits once we receive them.
Obviously the most important thing is to make good decisions and avoid emergency situations. However, if you do find yourself in a sticky spot, being prepared could save your life (or your friends'). Personally I have wished that I had some of these items on me when I needed them most over the past 20 years of flying. I also know myself well enough to know I'll forget to move things like first aid kits from flying kit/ bag to another if I am switching sports or harnesses, so I've made it a goal this year to outfit each of my glider bags with a first aid kit and consolidate my survival gear into one spot so I can easily transfer it when I grab my gear.
Please let me know if there's anything major I missed or if you have thoughts on any of the resources listed here. I'll be keeping this post up to date with new info if anything changes. Stay safe and have fun out there!
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