The most important aspect to buying a paraglider canopy is where it starts. By that, I mean that you should take the great advice to first go to your flying instructor, or at least to someone connected to your paragliding school. They know the scene, and are usually aware of some genuinely good choices for used paragliding wings. They have probably seen or even flown the paraglider.
If your experience after buying a paraglider canopy is good, you are more likely to come back later for, say, a thermaling course, or even a trip to Nepal or something exciting like that. That's right, by looking after you, the school can get more business from you.
But if you are determined to pick up a bargain elsewhere, here are some useful pointers.
Beware of 'good deals'. Used paragliders are everywhere, on eBay, in magazines, classified ads or you might even hear something through someone you know. You might get the impression you are going to get your butt in the air for a song, but you could be in for major disappointment!
A typical problem in this scenario is trying to launch an old paraglider wing with poor launch characteristics.
I read in a forum somewhere of this guy who turned up to an instruction session with an old DHV-2 wing. DHV-2?? Ding Ding Ding Warning Warning! It was a high aspect ratio canopy (long and skinny), and in its day was probably quite a good performer.
It's previous owner had apparently assured the guy that "it's an awesome glider and it will be great for you...".
Well, great to look at maybe. This poor guy just couldn't keep the thing inflated, while trying to launch. Maybe he eventually got the hang of it, but what a hassle, not to mention the safety issues. If he did manage to get airborne, he might still have had a few more surprises...
So when buying a canopy, beware of 'high performance' used paragliders from yesteryear. Interestingly, I can remember a comment posted on a South African website's used paragliders page. Something along the lines of
"we don't advertise DHV-3 wings, they just don't seem to sell".
See, even experienced pilots would probably prefer a well-behaved modern wing of lower DHV rating, which performs just as well.
Another problem when buying a wing is dishonest sellers who understate the airtime the canopy has had. Or maybe they paint a rosy picture of their wing's launch and flying characteristics. A lot of people with used paragliders for sale are just keen to get their hands on the money.
And of course, buying a pre-loved paraglider canopy from say, a classified ad somewhere, means you might not have the opportunity to fly it, or even inspect it carefully before you part with your money.
Because of the above problems, many people who are buying a wing end up with a paraglider canopy they soon have to replace. Hence they have tossed a whole lot of cash down the drain.
If possible, it is an excellent idea to get a second-hand paraglider inspected and flown by a pro before you hand over the money. This protects you against the grief just described.
One of the most important factors to consider when composing a shortlist of used paragliders is the manufacturer.
Are they one of the best, with proven great designs? Or are they a smaller, shadier outfit that simply knocks off the latest designs and offers them cheaper?
Google the manufacturer's name of the used paraglider canopy you are interested in, and see what comes up. If they are a leading company, they are likely to have an excellent website advertising their wares, and offering good advice to prospective buyers. Less reputable outfits aren't so visible on the Web. Also, ask around and see what other people, particularly paragliding instructors, say about the brand.
Actually, I've noticed that some of the leading paraglider manufacturers do advertise second-hand paragliders on their websites. Probably the least risky place to find a used paraglider, you would think.
Some prominent paragliding schools advise against buying a canopy if it is more than 6 years old. The main concern here is simply overall safety.