EQUIPMENT

If you have a wing, a harness, a helmet, a backpack and a couple of carabiners then you have everything you need for a hike and fly. You can spend a small fortune on an ultralight, hike and fly wing however your EN-A certified school wing has far more in common with them than you’d think. Take the most recent Red Bull X-Alps for example, a handful of the worlds best pilots, the very same who develop and race the worlds meanest high performance gliders - yet not a single Boomerang or Enzo was flown throughout the competition (admittedly the wings of choice were certianly no walk in the park either).

 

The perfect wings for hike and fly use have predictable launch behaviour - for taking off in tight spots, high passive safety - for less than ideal conditions, and low stall speeds -for tight landings and generally forgiving behaviour - the very same characteristics your first wing was designed around. 

 

For your first hike and fly trips, the kit you have at your disposal now is more than adequate. Before diving headfirst down the route of ultralight and ultra expensive equipment I strongly recommend you work with the gear you have and decide whether hike and fly is exactly what you had in mind. As we venture into more remote and challenging environments however, the need for the corresponding equipment arrises. The following is a guide for selecting the basic essentials for such terrain.

 

Garmin inReach Explorer+, Ocean Signal PLB1 and XCTracerII

DISTRESS BEACON​

If you’re hiking or flying around a populated area, there’s a good chance you’ll have adequate mobile phone reception to call for assistance should the need arise. For more remote regions, or simply for covering greater distances an emergency beacon becomes a necessity. There are a handful of products on the market which all serve the purpose of notifying rescue services at the press of a button, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. The two most common types are Spot Trackers and Personal Locator Beacons, we'll also look at the Garmin/Delorme Inreach as an alternative. The one which works best for you will depend on where you intend to use it, and what you need it to do.

 

SPOT TRACKER

By far the most popular option on the market, spot trackers transmit either a distress signal or a personalised message to satellites in low Earth orbit at the press of a button. They also have the added functionality of uploading a ‘breadcrumb’ trail via satellite to an internet server where they can be viewed in real time by anyone you allow to access the track. The newest, Gen3 model has a battery life that varies from around a week to months depending on whether tracking is activated and how clear the sky is. 

 

POSITIVES

  • Long battery life

  • Customisable signals

  • Live Tracking - friends/relatives/rescuers can view your last known location if you’re knocked unconscious

  • Required by many competitions

 

NEGATIVES

  • Lower transmission power compared with PLB’s

  • Requires an expensive subscription

  • Larger and heavier than the smallest of PLB’s

 

PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON

For those familiar with EPIRB’s, Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’s) work in exactly the same way, transmitting a unique signal on the 406MHz distress frequency. This signal is received by the COSPAS-SARSAT Programme who can identify the registered user of the PLB and notify the nearest rescue organisation of their location. PLB’s do not require a subscription, and typically have non user-replaceable batteries which last for years without charging.

 

 

POSITIVES

  • Batteries last years

  • Durable

  • Simple to use

  • Most reliable of the 3 devices

  • High transmission power (10W vs 0.4 on Spot Trackers)

  • Doesn’t require a subscription

 

NEGATIVES

  • Transmit a distress signal only

  • No live tracking

GARMIN/DELORME INREACH

 

If your smartphone and a spot tracker had a love child it'd be the Inreach. Garmin recently acquired the Delorme brand adding free worldwide topographic mapping and a considerably improved user interface to the previous generation of products. The result is a distress beacon with tracking, satellite text messaging, navigation and a unique yet surprisingly useful feature for paraglider pilots - detailed weather forecasts available anywhere in the world regardless of phone coverage (including wind direction and strength). I was never a fan of spot trackers as they always seemed half finished to me. Garmin seem to have capitalised on this creating the iphone of satellite connected devices. 

POSITIVES

  • Feature packed

  • Durable

  • Adds navigation and improved messaging/locating abilities

  • Smartphone connectivity

  • Free subscription to international Topographic map database via Garmin Earthmate app

 

NEGATIVES

  • Long trips will require a method of charging

  • Subscription required

  • Messages can take 20 minutes to send depending on satellite reception

Topographic mapping on the Garmin Inreach Explorer+

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS 

 

LOCAL CROSS COUNTRY FLYING

Ocean Signal PLB1

Why?

Single button reliability and a decade long battery life mean it can live on your harness and be forgotten about until you need it.

COMPETITION FLYING AND OCCASIONAL HIKE AND FLY USE

Spot Tracker Gen3

Why?

Many competitions require the use of a Spot Tracker or atleast a backup GPS tracker and the added basic messaging functionality provides contact in case of injury or "I'll be late for dinner" messages.

VOL BIV OR REGULAR HIKE AND FLY

Garmin Inreach Explorer+

Why?

All the functionality of the above devices with improved messaging, topographic mapping, compass, altimeter, and international weather forecasts and 2 way communication with rescue organisations.

CRAMPONS

 

If you're flying alpine areas, a pair of crampons + the right knowledge opens up a whole new world of

hike and fly possibilities. 

My personal rule on when I need to attach a pair and/or cary an ice axe is simple. "If I slip here what will the outcome be?" If it's either very bad (think painfully long fall) or I can't clearly see where I'd stop sliding (crevasses are good at hide and seek) then on they go. Be mindful that a pair of crampons obviously doesn't reduce the risk of snow bridges or cornices collapsing. Mountaineering skills are as complex as our sport of paragliding and require just as much professional instruction to be carried out safely. However If you're simply walking on hard-packed snow or ice on a known, safe route in good conditions then a pair of lightweight crampons is far less intimidating to use that it may first appear. REI have put together an excellent guide on crampon selection found here. For lightweight, non technical approach applications - the Petzl Leopard FL or similar provide a light and compact enough package to go unnoticed in your glider bag until they're needed.

Launching with crampons:

  • Be extremely mindful of stepping on, and snagging lines when unpacking

  • Your maximum running speed will be reduced by approximately half when launching - speedflyers take note

  • Crampons are NOT a self arrest device, they won't stop your descent if you slip

Landing with crampons:

  • Running on landing will be nearly impossible, select your landing field carefully - grassy fields will save both your aluminium crampons and knees, rocks will hurt both

  • Removal in flight may be possible, however the safest place for them is on your feet where they don't present an impaling hazard if you crash/fall on landing.

Mountaineering footwear has come a long way...

expect a much longer takeoff run with crampons attached...

HIKING POLES

Not a necessity - but once you have a pair you may just never start a hike without them again. The jury is out on their exact benefits and drawbacks, however in races like the Red-Bull X-Alps or Eiger Ultra Trail you'll be hard pressed to find an athlete competing without them. The most commonly agreed results found by legitimate studies suggest that walking pace is increased along with stability, however at a slight increase in energy expenditure per kilometre. Those suffering joint pain, particularly on downhill stretches will find them especially beneficial. 

Considerations for flying

  • a collapsible pair that breaks into at least 3 sections will be a necessity to fit the poles into the back of a harness, even if your harness has external hiking pole attachments like the Sup'Air Strike a non collapsible pair will present an unacceptable line snagging hazard.

  • Telescoping poles produce the most compact package when stowed and have the added benefit of being adjustable. Bayonet fittings like the Black Diamond Carbon Distance Z save weight however collapse to a much larger and less streamlined package.

  • In sub-zero conditions, telescopic poles have a tendency to freeze and lock up occasionally making them impossible to collapse/extend.

 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS 

 

Black Diamond Carbon Distance Z

Why?

Ultralight carbon construction with a seriously fast extending system that doesn't freeze and tips designed to reduce damage to hiking trails compared with tungsten carbide equivalents. 

Helinox Passport FL120

Why?

Telescopic design means they're infinitely adjustable, perfect if hiking poles hold up your tent. They also compress to one of the smallest sizes on the market.

Rain spoils any flight. In years past it was possible to punch on through light, unexpected drizzle with little stress, the comparatively imprecise profiles of our gliders meant that the minor disturbances to the airflow over the top surface had little effect. Unrecoverable stalls from heavy, waterlogged wings were the danger. The precise, streamlined profiles of modern wings are far more susceptible to flow separation caused by rain drops on the upper surface. What does this mean for us? - If it's raining, we're walking. Fortunately for us however, modern developments in waterproof, breathable fabrics have come as far as our paragliders and sub 100 gram rain shells are a reality. Ultralight shells aren't designed with hours of torrential rain in mind, however for unexpected downpours they're more than adequate. I've been using a Berghaus 100 gram jacket for years and it's held up remarkably well. It's light enough to live inside my flying pack regardless of expected conditions... the best waterproof is the one you have on you. 

RAIN SHELLS

EMERGENCY KIT

Breaking equipment sucks. Breaking equipment on mountain summits really sucks.

A basic repair/emergency kit improves your chance of flying and making it back home in time for dinner. 

My kit includes:

  • Dental floss - not for a high altitude fresh feeling but for stitching lines at a pinch (paired with a needle). For tree landings it also allows you to haul a rope up to you from crews on the ground

  • Repair tape - duct tape on steroids. There's almost nothing you can't repair with the stuff. I've used it on cameras, phones, harnesses, backpacks and of course gliders.

  • Softlinks x 2 - Not a necessity, I carry these for flying with groups where the chance of someone borrowing/swapping a wing and ending up on launch without carabiners is an embarrassingly real possibility. For 6 grams per piece its not a bad precaution to take.

  • Paraglider line - 2 meters. For repairing broken lines, fixing x to my flight deck, or as an indestructible shoelace replacement.

  • Petzl e+lite (headtorch) - a permanent fixture to my kit, at 26 grams I'd happily carry 2. If you're going to hike and fly - you're going to be walking home from launch in the dark one day...

  • First aid kit - water purification tablets, pain killers. 

  • Small pocketknife

Petzl e+lite and emergency kit 

Paragliding tape x 2, softlinks, victorinox classic mini, 100m dental floss with 2x needles stickytaped into cap

BACKPACK

The bag that shipped with your glider was designed for the hike from the carpark to launch in mind, not for multiple hours over undulating terrain. At a pinch it'll work for shorter hikes, however your back will thank you for the improvement a dedicated hike and fly pack offers. All manufacturers offer lightweight bags so take the time to visit your local dealer and test a few with your own equipment before purchasing.

Things to look out for:

  • Compressibility - the lightest of ultralight bags are designed around a specific carrying volume, if your kit is smaller than this it'll move around inside and the bag will sway with each step. Take your entire kit with you to the shop to size up bags. Listed volumes on manufacturers websites are often inaccurate.

  • Hip belt - well padded and supportive. These should be carrying the majority of the packs weight

  • Zipper - well constructed and reinforced. It's the most common point of failure on any paraglider bag.

  • Packing volume - where can you stash the bag while flying? If not over your shoulders...

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS 

 

SUPAIR TREKLIGHT350

Why?

The lightest bag on the market with plenty of space for overnight gear or a large flying setup

What we like 

  • Kilogram weight saving over most bags

  • U-shaped zipper

  • Hipbelt and shoulder stap storage

  • Easily folds away into your harness

What we dont 

  • Extremely light weight material tears easily

  • Hip belt could be more supportive

  • Large volume can't be compressed very far

GIN LITE RUCKSACK

Why?

All the features and durability you need for half the weight (750g)

What we like 

  • Rolltop expandable storage

  • Great compression straps

  • Removable helmet carrier 

What we dont 

  • Tall skinny design can feel top-heavy

Next... Overnight gear - part 3

© Guy Bolton Photography

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