What's the best Paragliding Reserve to choose?
Reserve design has changed over the last ten years, the early idea of keeping it small with a quick opening has been ditched for big and therefore slow descent rate. A big one that fits your all up weight in is ideal.
Lightweight: The last few years has seen reserves being made out of very lightweight materials, so they’ve dropped from 3 kilos to almost 1 kg, some alpine extreme types can be much less but come with a warning of to be thrown only once. Fine if you never want to try it out, not so good if you are a budding acro pilot.
Rogallo: These funny shaped reserves come from the idea that once opened and thrown like a round or square there is an optional directional control, It is limited directional control with poor glide but it could steer you away from power lines or cliffs.
Great I hear you say but the truth of the matter is that reserves are often thrown as a last resort, therefore any post canopy directional control in my mind is a luxury you are unlikely to ever have. Throwing a directional Rogallo means you must also have a harness to cut away from the main canopy or be able to pull in and stow the main canopy (all 22-28 metres of it) and then grab directional control of your reserve....That's simply unlikely unless your an acro or comp pilot, where carrying two reserves is pretty standard.
If you are an acro pilot testing your limits each week near rock faces then I can see it would make more sense but having flown all over the world for twnety years I have never come near to throwing my hanky. A common problem with rogallos is they can bring you downwind at speed if you're not in control and compus mentus for steering it.
Latest design: The Square reserve, is a new idea offering the same descent speed as before but more stable or rather less likely to pendular swing. It means traditional round canopies tend to roll around a little once opened or if the main canopy is still flapping about they can swing around a little.
Square reserves offer slightly quicker opening time and once opened they offer more stable descent rate with a less pendular wobble. These are fairly new designs and are a little more to buy and in time I’m sure they will be the standard option to have.
Sizing: Make sure that when buying a reserve the weight range covers your all up flying weight. So Add all your equipment plus you on the scales to work that out, it's approximately 15 - 20 kgs plus your naked weight, different manufacturers offer different sizes reserves for different jobs, solo, tandem etc.
Descent rate: Manufacturers will state a decent rate for reserves, do check they state the descent for maximum weight. For example, some offer a descent rate of 6 metres descent per second, Ok if you are light and springy. Personally, I’d go for anything around the 4-5 meters if possible. When thinking of descent rate ponder jumping off a 3-metre high ladder or land rover roof rack, that's approximately 6 meters per second of decent.
Age of reserves: Currently anything over ten years old is likely to be unfashionably small in size and offer very quick descent rates. Only buy second hand if they have been inspected and repacked by a professional or your on a real budget, better to have then have not.
Annual checks: The key thing about reserves is to keep making sure they are repacked at least once a year. They tend to be positioned under the seat so when the equipment is packed away they are compressed by all materials around. Imagine pulling out an old tent that has not seen the light of day, heavily creased. Get them repacked annually and they will stay fluffy and keen to unfurl in the unlikely event that you’ll use them. There are many schools and agents who offer a reserve repacking service.
The official recommendation is to replace them every ten years. Whether they have been used or not, although they are a porous fabric you can get line shrinkage and fabric can corrode, the best way to find out is to get a reserve repacked and inspection from a professional repack house like The Loft or Aerofix, they'll give you a health report. You can see that we not only offer just one type but a choice of great reserves in our shop