The weight watchers guide to Speedflying
Title photo: packed bag, rain, cafe
"Its cold, its raining, my borrowed bikes brakes don’t work and I’m pretty sure I’m going to get pancaked by an Amsterdam taxi any minute now..."
The decision to board the 8:30pm overnight train heading north was made at 7:36pm in Munich - in a country that’s banned speedflying all together... Regardless, here I am - on a bike, in the rain, with a speedwing on my back. Without the advent of ultralight materials and equipment I’d be stuck on foot fumbling around like a pack mule with a 90L packing bag, or be browsing the supermarket for 69c noodles to levy the secure hotel room needed to lock away my flying gear. Shedding the pounds has more advantages than you can poke a selfie stick at. You can now travel just like a backpacker and do boring, ground based, normal things without being inhibited by a 20+kg, 90L monstrosity of a packing bag.
Photo: different wings laid out - yak, fluid, bobcat, or packed wings
Do you really need to take the dive into an ultralight set up? If your only flying local sights or always travel with a car/van, then probably not. However if you are, or intend on traveling to remote areas, hiking for extended periods of time or just being far more flexible then read on...
Firstly, the most important part of your kit is not surprisingly going to be your wing. Chances are you already own one so changing to a lighter, more travel friendly model may be out of the question. However, for those who are in the market for some new canvas, here’s the rundown...
There are only two ways to minimise the weight of a wing. Go small, or opt for a model made from ultralight materials. If you’re new to the sport, the first option is out of the question (see Choosing Your First Wing). The advantages gained by shrinking a wing are so minimal that the disadvantages usually vastly outweigh them regardless of your skill level. Each square meter you shave off a modern speedwing will on average save you a grand total of 100g. Pretty minimal when you consider how how drastically the performance of the wing changes for each square meter lost. So, unless you want to make the colossal leap from a 15m to an 8 (for gods sake don’t do it) then its just really not worth it.
This leaves the question of whether you should opt for an ultralight speedwing or not. Currently the only true ultralight speedwing on the market is the Gin Yak, available in 15, 16.5 and 18m sizes weighing 2.1, 2.3 and 2.5kg respectively. For comparison, this makes them over 40% lighter than the Bobcat which has an identical blueprint. Because of it’s light weight, the Yak is potentially the easiest [speed]wing on the planet to launch. It’ll happily inflate in virtually nil wind at walking pace. But be warned, the material is seriously featherweight (27gsm and 36gsm) so you're not going to want to drag it around rocky launches and the manufacturer doesn't recommend performing high G-force manoeuvres.
Our Pick: Gin Yak 15
Photo: harness packed away
"the Achilles heel of the reversible harness is its practicality"
When selecting a harness, there are a few crucial rules to keep in mind in regards to safety and compatibility. Reversible may appear to be a tempting choice however the personally I believe the negatives outweigh any perceived gains. The main selling point with a reversible harness is that you’re fulfilling the role of two pieces of equipment with just one, saving both weight and money. However, in reality a lightweight standalone harness and a lightweight pack will still trump a reversible setup in terms of weight and will usually end up cheaper. Ironically, the Achilles heel of the reversible harness is its practicality. With a reversible harness, transitioning from hiking to flying involves turning your pack inside out and consequently losing all your spare change and keys in the process. A separate harness allows you to remove the bag easily to access lift tickets, snacks, cameras and so on. Paragliding and speedflying harnesses are not created equally. Less than 10 seconds into a speedflying run off Treblecone NZ, while exiting a low altitude roll, one of the adjustable buckles on the harness I was borrowing blew open, sufficiently scaring the living shit out of me. When back on the ground I found it was just a lumbar adjustment buckle, nevertheless it made for a white knuckle flight back to the LZ. All paragliding harnesses must pass the _____ test ensuring a weighted safety factor which exceeds typical flight conditions. This however does not take into account the repeated abuse a speedflying/speedriding harness encounters, especially while traveling. Opt for a simple harness, the fewer adjustments and buckles the better. I’ve been flying with a Sup’air Everest 2 for years and it’s served its purpose well. Test before you buy! paying particular attention to the ease of transition from seated to a standing posture as some harnesses make this an unnecessarily awkward and dangerous process.
Photo: money, saving. comical sale of pg equipment/migoreng?
Value for lack of weight. When replacing a piece of equipment with a lighter alternative calculate the weight saved versus the dollar cost. For example; that new ultralight harness might save you 150 grams but its going to cost you 600 big ones, while replacing your parka with a down jacket is only going to cost you $300 and save you 250 grams. Its a meticulous process that’ll leave you craving a caffeine hit but its the only way to ensure you’re getting the best weight saving for the money. Of course - the best way to save your precious pennies and reduce pack weight is to remove unnecessary travel items altogether. Sure that suit jacket makes you feel like Daniel Craig while you’re wearing it, but to everyone else it makes you look like a sweaty mess dragging around an oversized hiking pack. Oddly enough, the less equipment you already own the better, as you won’t be buying newer, lighter and inevitably more expensive versions of things you already own.
The ‘everything else’
Every year the choice of equipment to take into the air with you grows. Newer, higher tech varios and trackers, fast packing bags, flying boots, camera mounts, stuff sacks, 360 cameras, drones. They all serve a purpose, but there are only 3 pieces of equipment which actually affect your flying. A wing, a harness, and something to connect the two (carabiners/softlinks). Everything else is optional. As a result a flying setup under 3kg is easily achievable with modern wings.
DSLR’s are fantastic - but about the weight and size of your wing once you’ve packed chargers lenses batteries etc. GoPro’s are king here. Hot tip: just take one, mounting cameras to any part of your body/wing drastically increases the probability and severity of an accident. If you need shots from more than one angle, take them on multiple flights, this looks far more professional than spotting auxiliary cameras throughout the scene too.
Our Pick: GoPro HERO Session
It's taken me 5 flying packs to finally come to a solution I’m completely happy with. What you end up with comes down predominantly to personal preference, however a few common features found in many packs makes them unsuitable for flying. Go frameless or simply remove the frame. This saves weight and ensures the pack conforms to a seated posture while flying. A neatly folded wing placed against your back will function better than any aluminium frame anyway. Lighter packs always have fewer pockets and features, find a level of minimalism that you’re happy with. If you’re an ultralight junkie then a cubenfiber potato sack will weigh in sub 500g, however a comfortable, well featured pack is easy enough to find around the 1.5kg mark. The size of your pack will also be of fundamental importance, flying with a 65L hiking pack on your back is extremely cumbersome, verging on just plain dangerous. Aim for 45L or less with a full length, front or rear opening zipper (top loaders are nearly impossible to cram a wing into).
Gin Yeti Alpine Bag
There's a saying from the old hiking guru's that a pound on the feet is worth five in the pack. In non mountain-folk-speak it means that heavy shoes suck. Slowing you down, making you fatigue faster and making for less agile launches. The level of sturdiness you're happy with here will come down entirely to personal preference. Its a weigh up between cushioning, ankle protection and flexibility. A sturdy high ankle boot will protect your ankles however a lightweight trail runner will make you more nimble on launch (I use the latter)
Salomon Citycross runner
Conclusion: Sum up advantages of going light, easiest way to do it and save money