Paragliding & Paramotoring Flight Wear
Flight wear: The gear we wear when flying
Over the years that pilots have been flying paragliders and paramotors, literally every combination of outdoor clothing has been used in an effort to discover what actually are the best options for our sports. Some pilots prefer the simplicity of a flying suit whilst others prefer the usual advice of layered clothing for the outdoors. Do we need paragliding boots or will any walking boot do the job just as well? Below we will go into each flight wear option as well as a basic guide for preparing yourself for our outdoor adventures.
Even if you decide to use a simple flying suit for your airborne activities, it is still best that you follow the same advice that has been given out by mountain professionals for many years. The layering system works to keep you warm as well as being extremely flexible. The most basic level of this system will consist of the base layer, mid layer and outer layer. Let have a look at each of these in turn.
Base Layer: The base layer is what you wear next to your skin. This serves a few different functions;
- Keeps a warm layer of air next to the skin. This gives it a light insulation property.
- Helps wick away moisture and moves it into and through the other layers. This is very important for helping to keep your skin dry even if you are sweating hard. For this reason, cotton should be avoided, so that will rule out most tee shirts. For the base layer, you will require a technical material that can stay dry at the same time as letting sweat in the form of water vapour pass through. This will usually be in the form of some kind of synthetic with the other option being merino wool for very cold conditions. Synthetics can also be antibacterial, low in odour and dry quickly when they do get wet.
- Base layers can be worn on their own when things get hot.
Mid Layer: This is the insulation layer designed to keep you warm. It can be a simple fleece shirt or something offering a lot more warmth like a light down jacket or smock. Here are the main functions;
- The main insulation layer with the purpose to trap as much heat as possible.
- Helps to further transport water vapour away from your skin to the outer layer.
- Can be worn as a top layer if wind and rain protection are not needed. If an element of protection is needed, a softshell jacket can be used instead. Good for wearing when sitting about out of the wind. For colder condition, can be replaced with a down jacket.
Outer layer: This is what is going to protect you from the wind and rain. This could take the form of a jacket or also in our case, a flying suit. Here are some considerations;
- This is vital for paragliding and paramotoring pilots as we are always exposed to the wind when flying.
- Hard shell jackets although being extremely robust can be a little over the top for us. PacLite lightweight Gortex is now available which does the job just as well.
- If you have a windproof flying suit, you are probably not going to need an outer layer jacket as the suit will replace this item.
What do you wear on the bottom half of your body?:
The layering system should be used for both the top and bottom parts of your body to some degree. Even though your legs will sweat nothing like as bad as your upper body, for the same reason that cotton tee shirts should be avoided, so should cotton jeans. The other two problem with wearing jeans is that they are inflexible and hard to walk in, especially up steep hills and if you walk through wet grass, they absorb water like a sponge. There are some great synthetic trousers available designed specifically for outdoor use and these are highly recommended. As a base layer, it is a good idea to use either something like long johns or even compression tights as used by cyclists and runners, if you have a particularly hard climb up the hill to take off. These compression items of clothing help to reduce the build up of lactic acid so aids in recovery. Shorts can be worn in the summer but be careful as you can get horrendously sunburnt and you won’t even know that it is happening.
On the top half of your body, you will have a base layer and an insulation layer of either a fleece jacket or down jacket if cold. Sleeveless gilets don’t seem to be a lot of use for flying as your arms are still going to get cold. Over these items, you will have either a windproof Goretex PacLite jacket or flying suit. On your bottom half, it is best to use specific outdoor trousers with the option of a base layer if cold. This will create a complete flight wear system.
It is always a good idea to fly with gloves. Not only will they keep you warm, they will protect your hands from line burns and hard landings. Summer gloves can be simple full finger cycling gloves or a paragliding specific warm weather glove. These will protect your hands from the lines and make doing ‘big ears’ a much easier affair. They will also offer just enough windproofing. When things get cold though, we need to use a different approach. Whatever glove that you choose for winter flying, it is imperative that it is firstly windproof. You need to have a level of feel and dexterity through your fingers and palm of your hand and this is the reason that standard skiing gloves although warm, are rarely suitable for the job. There are mountain gloves available with thick insulation on the backs of the hands whilst having minimal insulation on the palms and fronts of the fingers. These gloves are mostly designed for winter climbing. These do the job very well but unfortunately are rare in the market place at the time of writing. You can also use the layering system when it comes to gloves. A thin but warm under glove made of technical material can be covered by a windproof outer as long as it is not too bulky. Paragliding specific gloves are hard to beat as all of these issues have already been addressed. For extremely cold conditions, battery powered heated gloves are now showing their worth but it is extremely important to be able to tell the good brands from the mostly rubbish offerings that can be found on the internet. Flying about with our hands held high up in the air is not conducive to keeping warm as the blood tends to drain back down into the arms. Some pilots suffer from this far more than others so maybe surprised to find that their hands are always cold no matter what they wear. Much like Raynaud’s sufferers, the best approach for these pilots seems to be high quality electrically heated gloves. We have had enough experience with Raynaud’s pilots to confirm this.
Above all else, boots used for paragliding and paramotoring must offer a good level of ankle support. Over 80% of all injuries in our sports come from broken and twisted ankles that can, for the most part, be alleviated by wearing the correct footwear with good ankle support. Even if the takeoff area is smooth, we can all find ourselves landing somewhere that we wish we weren’t and this reason for one, is why we should wear the right boots. The use of pod harnesses though is causing this rule to be broken as a lot of pilots, especially the ones with large feet, are finding it difficult to get inside the footplate area comfortably. In this case, it is recommended to still wear boots but of the lightweight variety. Although not a perfect solution, it is certainly better than nothing. Boots with lacing hooks instead of closed eyes are best avoided. Open hooks can catch lines when you are launching and trap you inside a pod harness if they get caught in the bracing lines. Paragliding specific boots have addressed all these problems as usual and often also offer shock absorbent soles to help protect against a hard landing. Cotton socks should be avoided and replaced with specific synthetic moisture wicking items or wool.
As always, it is encouraged that you ask a question if you need clarification on anything that is written above using the form at the bottom of the page. If something is puzzling you, it is guaranteed that you will not be on your own. By putting your questions on this page, other pilots will also be able to learn.