Reservations about Reserves

Reserve Parachute

One of the truly great things about paragliding is that it is a relatively cheap and accessible way of getting into the air and experiencing flight on very basic technology. The idea of being able to hike in the hills with a backpack weighing less than 10kg and then taking flight if the weather is suitable has always held a huge attraction for me.

Thinking back to my years in skydiving, where so much infrastructure and process had to be in place before launching out of the plane, it was very much a sport where rules kept you alive.

So it was something of a surprise to find that, during my EP training, I was not allowed to carry a reserve parachute.

Now the last I want to do is criticise such a wonderful and free sport as paragliding but, rather, discuss the idea behind carrying a reserve and how it relates to the philosophy of carrying one on a parachute jump.

Skydiving Reserves

On any skydive worldwide you are legally required to carry a reserve parachute which is not only in good order but has been repacked regularly according to that country’s regulations. Currently in the UK, the reserve repack cycle is every 6 months. This basically means that you need to pay a Rigger or Advanced Packer to unpack, inspect and repack your reserve and issue you with an inspection certificate.


The deployment of a skydiving reserve parachute relies on the release of a spring-loaded pilot chute which is launched at approximately 3 metres into the air under its own stored energy (ie the spring). The pilot chute is attached to a deployment bag containing the reserve by a bridle line of about 2 metres in length. Once the bag begins to pull away the lines are deployed first, followed quickly by the parachute itself.

Without getting too deeply into the anatomy of the rig, the entire procedure only requires the parachutist to move the reserve pin by an inch (by pulling the ripcord), thus releasing the closing loop and starting the staged deployment as described above.

The idea of a staged deployment is crucial in parachuting as things happen very quickly (free fall is fast!) and the process of releasing each component in its correct sequence is critical.

It’s a tried and tested system and has saved many lives. In 15 years of active skydiving I’d struggle to recall any incidents of a double malfunction (main and reserve).

Here’s a video showing what a spring-loaded pilot chute reserve deployment looks like. As you can see, even in low speed situations, it’s pretty efficient.

As a beginner in skydiving you are taught how to use your reserve from Day One and the exact procedure required for each type of malfunction.

Should it be the same in paragliding? Would paragliders benefit from a similar system as skydiving?

Cirrus SR22

To add some more content to this, there is a light aircraft called a Cirrus SR22 which carries a ballistic parachute similar to a skydiving reserve. Videos of a test deployment can be seen here. Obviously it would take a serious failure of the air frame to justify using this system, but when shit starts to get serious, I think you’d be glad of it.

I’m glad to say that I never had to use my reserve in nearly 1000 skydives even though I’ve trained hundreds of student parachutists, one of whom actually did.

I think the logical part of my brain is telling me, you either need it or you don’t, and whether you’re at 300 feet or 3000 feet, gravity is the same.

Or maybe I’m making too much of this?

Do any experienced paragliding pilots fly without a reserve at all???