Skydiving Terminology 101: The Gear

Skydiving gear can seem like a confusing magical backpack of joy and wonder, that, if you breathe on it in the wrong way, could kill you. Fortunately, the gear is far more robust and reliable than that. Take a few minutes to see this skydiving equipment list and learn about the system that will take you from the exhilaration of freefall back safely to the ground!

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. If you’re looking to learn more skydiving lingo, read our other installments for terminology about the people and the jump.


Container Holds the main parachute, reserve parachute, and AAD (see below). It looks a lot like a backpack with leg straps.

Rig – Another name for the container, or it’s also used to refer to the entire skydiving gear system (container, main parachute, reserve parachute).

AAD – Automatic Activation Device. This is a small gadget that sits in your rig. It detects the altitude and speed of descent. If you’re still falling really fast at a certain altitude, indicating that you aren’t under your main parachute for some reason, the AAD is designed to fire and open your reserve parachute automatically. Skydivers are taught never to rely on their AAD, but it’s there as a last resort.

Three-ring – All modern skydiving containers are three-ring systems. Look on the front shoulder of a rig and you’ll see, you guessed it, three rings. An important aspect of your skydiving equipment list, this system was invented by Bill Booth and made skydiving much, much safer than it was previously, because it allows the system to easily release the main parachute and switch to the reserve if needed.


Closing Loop and Closing Pin – The system that holds the container closed. The closing pin slides through the closing loop, keeping the main parachute inside.


Pilot Chute – A tiny parachute attached to the main parachute. A skydiver “pitches” their pilot chute when they are ready to deploy their main parachute. The pilot chute catches the air, and the drag pulls the closing pin out of the closing loop, releasing the main parachute from the rig/container.

Drogue – Another tiny parachute! This one is used by tandems to help stabilize them and slow them down in freefall (two people fall faster than one!).

Main / Canopy – The Canopy is the largest parachute in your rig. In skydiving lingo, it’s the main, for “main parachute”. Just like cars, mains come in different varieties for different purposes. The tiny fast ones are like sports cars, and should only be flown by experienced pilots. Tandem mains are gigantic and docile, designed to get you back to the ground safely and securely.

Reserve – Short for “reserve parachute”. An important part of your skydiving equipment list, every reserve is inspected and packed by an FAA certified rigger every 180 days. If something goes wrong with your main parachute, your reserve parachute is there to save your life. You (or your instructor) will “chop” or “cut away” the malfunctioning main and release the reserve parachute. Reserves are designed to open quickly and be extra stable.


Handles – The handles on the front of a skydiving rig. The right handle cuts away the main parachute if it’s having a problem. The left handle activates the reserve parachute.

Cutaway Haandle

Reserve Handle


Cutaway or Chop – Releasing the main parachute by pulling on the right handle, then pulling the left handle to extract the reserve parachute. Conventional wisdom says cutaways happen on average every 500 skydives or so. Some skydivers have more cutaways because of the canopy they are flying or the activity they are doing; other skydivers may jump thousands of times without having a cutaway.


Exit Weight – Your total weight when exiting the aircraft. For a solo skydiver, exit weight includes the jumper, everything they’re wearing, and their rig. For a tandem, it’s the weight of the student plus the instructor plus all the gear. Exit weight matters because of wingloading (see below).


Wingloading – Exit weight divided by the square footage of the parachute. If your exit weight is 150 and you are jumping a 150 square foot canopy, your wingloading is 1. The higher the wingloading, the faster you will be descending. Tandems and AFF students jump under very large canopies so that their wingloading is low.


What’s AFF? Glad you asked! Check out part three about the jump itself. Now that you’ve seen our skydiving equipment list, catch up on all the skydiving lingo with part one about the people.

Skydiving Terminology 101: The People

Skydiving Terminology 101: The Jump

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