Which Paragliding Harness...

Unlike the seat belt in your car, a paragliding harness is much more than a few straps and buckles.

And while your seat belt probably looks and operates much the same as every other car's seat belts, a paragliding harness often has a design emphasis.

Simple Harnesses

Some modern harnesses are aimed directly at the paragliding schools, being suitable only for the earliest stages of flying training. Cheap and very simple. They are safe and comfortable if used for a typical 'sled ride' down a learners' slope. But after 2 hours soaring in the sea breeze you might look forward to getting back on the ground again!

A simple paragliding harness is also fine for hooking up and practicing 'kiting' the wing, ready for an imaginary take-off.

Another type of minimal paragliding harness has its roots in the early mountaineering usage of paragliders. As paragliding developed, equipment improved but not everyone switched to flying cross-country.

Some people stuck to mountaineering, using a paraglider as a means to getting off the mountain once the challenge of the climb was over.

Hence, an emphasis on very light weight, and the emergence of so-called 'mountain paragliders'. No point in lugging any more weight than necessary, on top of food, ice picks, crampons, oxygen etc!

A good modern example is the Radical Lightweight Harness. It is advertised as being a 'descent harness' and 'good for short flights'. Ha ha, they mean 'bad for long flights' ;-)

Can you believe it, it weighs just 1/2 a kilo (1.1 lbs)! But definitely strong enough to trust your life to. This trend to lighter and lighter wings and harnesses might continue for some time.

Comfortable Harnesses

Next, we could look at the rather large group of harnesses commonly used for learning, local slope soaring and weekend cross-country flying. The features and extras often found in these more comfortable harnesses include:

  • seat board or seat plate (something rigid to sit on, after takeoff)
  • Lexan sheets as inserts (rigidity)
  • foam seat protector (prevents wear and tear, adds comfort)
  • padding on straps (more comfort at the pressure points)
  • storage pockets (that eagle's actually looking at me, now where's my camera..)
  • reserve parachute pocket, either under-seat (dorsal), side or back mounted (essential if you fly far off the ground)
  • foam back protector (greatly reduces risk of spinal injury in case of an accident)
  • side protectors (extra protection in awkward landing situations)
Karma Seite paragliding harness.

If you've seen photos of paragliding, these are the kind of harnesses the pilots are likely to be flying.

The prices vary from about $400 to $600, new. They weigh anywhere from about 2.7kg (6lbs) up to about 6.5kg (14lbs).

Top of the Range Harnesses

Finally, at the top end, the harnesses look much like their slightly cheaper cousins. With a pod harness which keeps your legs enclosed during flight, they can cost up to $900. You might find some or all of the following features in these:

  • streamlined shape for greater aerodynamic efficiency (less drag means flatter glide)
  • larger rear compartments for hydration system + extras (eliminates fiddling around with water bottles)
  • removable ballast compartments (for greater cross-country performance, just like sailplanes with water-ballast)
  • air-bag system for back protection (has safety advantages over the usual foam back protector)
  • in-flight adjustments of various aspects (just how far do you want to lie back in your arial armchair?)

So, paragliding harnesses these days are quite a bit more than a bunch of straps and buckles aren't they! Like the canopies they hang from, most harnesses are available in a small range of sizes, and sometimes colors.

Next year I expect some models to have a kitchen sink in one corner of the rear compartment... right next to the hi-fi and DVD player... ;-)


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