Choosing Your First BASE Gear: Marta Empinotti’s Best Advice newby Annette O'Neil
You already know that, when it comes to BASE, Marta Empinotti knows what she’s talking about. She has been teaching BASE jumping since the sport was in its infancy, back in 1988--and she just celebrated her thirtieth BASE-iversary. In fact, Marta and her husband (and Apex BASE Instruction co-owner) Jimmy Pouchert have instrumental in the development of the single-parachute system over the course of its evolution -- so there are few people in the world more qualified to give their gear recommendations for new BASE jumpers. Here are her answers to the equipment-buying questions you’re likely biting your fingernails over.
Q. Should I get a pin rig or a velcro rig?
Marta: Jimmy and I strongly recommend a two-pin rig. Velcro has a long history--it was how BASE got started, after all--but it only works on low to middle-range BASE jumps. They admit the more likely possibility of the container pulling open at high airspeed, especially if you are doing high-speed aerials, doing any backflying or jumping higher objects (such as the European big walls). There used to be a lot of controversy regarding the relative benefits of velcro and pin rigs, but the evidence we’ve seen over the past few years has really proven the pin system’s superiority.
Also important: Velcro wears out, whereas pins do not, so maintenance is a huge issue with Velcro rigs. Pins, on the other hand, hold the container securely closed and maintain the exact same pull force throughout the life of the rig.
Within their narrower design parameters, Velcro rigs can be safe. However, a pin rig has a much larger latitude of operation and infinitely better resale value.”
Q. Should I get three-ring cutaway risers or integrated risers?
Marta: This is a very personal decision. Cutaway risers let you detach yourself from the canopy if you experience a landing in, say, extremely high winds, a tree or water. Integrated risers do not. For the most part, we encourage new FJC graduations to go for the three-ring cutaway risers. That said, we encourage you to check out the Apex YouTube channel and check out the video on the pro's and con's of built-in risers and 3-ring risers below to help you make an informed decision.
Q. What canopy should I get?
Marta: Canopy choice is also very personal, and it’s very specific to each individual BASE jumper’s situation and goals. The best recommendation depends on the type (or types) of jump you will be doing most often. There are a lot of choices, these days. Since we helped develop all the Apex canopies, they’re understandably our favorites in the world and the ones we most wholeheartedly recommend, so I’ll go over the differences between just those.
The Apex Lobo, the FLiK and the FOX are BASE-specific parachutes, built from the ground up to meet the specific demands of BASE jumping: positive, on-heading openings, excellent response to both riser and toggle inputs and soft landings.
Think about the amount of glide you will potentially need for the kinds of jumps you are planning to predominantly perform. Here’s our general recommendation. If where you jump the landing areas are generally big, in a place where there are a lot of burly taluses so you need to fly over to get safely to the landing area, or if you will be predominantly jumping objects that have very open landing areas--and, therefore, where wind limits can be looser--then you will want to get a canopy that has a lower angle of attack and will therefore glide further.
Compare this with a canopy that has a steep glide slope, which will bring the canopy in more vertically. That canopy, by its very nature, it will be easier to sink, but it won’t get as far on the horizontal axis. Remember, though: if a canopy has a lot of glide it can be trickier to sink, but all BASE canopies MUST have good deep brake/sinking characteristics or they will not pass the test-jumping phase.
It’s important to keep in mind that just because a canopy is “glidier” does not mean that you should not build the piloting skill to safely sink it. You should.
Take the Lobo, for instance. It has great glide. It also has awesome toggle feedback. It’s easy to sink, but it doesn’t lose the ability to give you soft landings even after an incremental flare. It comes standard with a lot of snazzy features, too: ultra-light fabric, 3-of-7 Vtec vents, color-coded line attachment tabs to make packing a little quicker and easier, and the 2-line multi--a bridle with two attachment points to the canopy--which helps deliver on-heading performance. Also, because the ultralight fabric weighs less, it takes less air pressure to inflate the canopy. So: With ultralight fabric, you need fewer vents to pressurize the canopy.
Our other canopies are the FLiK and the Fox. The FLiK has a slightly flatter glide than the FOX and will cover more ground. In contrast, the FOX performs better in deep brakes, making sinking canopy approaches less challenging.
If you jump where the landing areas are on the small side (or live in place like Brazil, Australia, Canada or another country where most of the objects are low and tight, we recommend the Fox. This is so because the Fox is more docile, and it’s easy to sink, since it was built with this characteristic in mind. It’s also a smarter choice for jumpers who are not very aggressive canopy pilots.
Q. Should I get vents?
Marta: Jimmy and I recommend that you order your canopy with bottom surface vents. We call our vent technology “Vtec,” so that’s what you’ll see when you go to order. If you’re getting a Lobo, this option is standard.
Apex canopies can be vented in a number of configurations, from only one to five of the seven total cells. The most popular configurations are “3-of-7” and “4-of-7,” which refers to the number of vented cells.
For a first rig, we also recommend springing for these options: contrasting center cell color, a large mesh slider, and color-coded line tabs (for ease of packing). Finally, it’s worth considering the “multi-2” bridle attachment, because the two-point connection of bridle to canopy reduces the tendency of center cell stripping.
Q. Should I spring for the hybrid top skin option? What is it?
Marta: So the hybrid top skin option--which we call “HTS”--refers to a canopy where about a third of the leading-edge side of the canopy (or “chord”) is constructed of zero-porosity--”ZP”--fabric. This option exists because it gives some jumpers better flare, quicker openings and a better glide. I choose HTS for my own canopy--a FLiK 200--and I feel that it is the best possible option for my setup.
There is a tradeoff, however: if you get HTS, the canopy may open harder, so consider reducing the number of vented cells by one or two if you select this option.
Q. What wing loading should I get?
Marta: Choosing a wing loading is a matter of preference determined by experience, but we recommend a wing loading within the range of .6 – .725 pounds per square foot for both the FLiK and the Fox.
When you choose a wing loading within that range, remember: the higher the wing loading, the more responsive the canopy will be on toggles and risers, but it will move faster if you experience a 180-degree off-heading opening towards an object. Choosing a lower the wing loading will result in less-responsive toggles and risers, and penetration into the wind will be less. In other words: if it’s windy, a canopy with a higher wing loading will penetrate, while canopies with lower wing loadings might be backing up. That means that you may be grounded when others are jumping.
We also recommend that these jumpers (Brazilians, Australians, Canadians, etc.) upsize their canopies by one--or even two--increments over the industry standard of between 0.6 to 0.7 pounds per square foot, due to the extreme landing environments. Of course, your penetration into the wind will be lower due to the lighter wing loading--but if you are jumping such a small and or technical landing area, you shouldn’t be jumping in windy conditions anyway, so reduced penetration should not be an important factor.
If you’re a brand-new BASE jumper, unsure of where exactly you’ll be jumping as your career evolves, and you’re looking for a simple number, go for a .7 wing loading.
All that said: For the Lobo, a very precise wing loading is very important to make sure you get the most out of the canopy. We recommend a wing loading of .725 pounds per square foot for the Lobo, regardless of skill, experience or application.
Q. What container options should I get?
Marta: There are a few options that Jimmy and I pretty much consider must-haves. Saddlebags let you safely jump with a couple of necessities, like a roll-up water bladder, an ID, and some calories for the hike out. Hip articulation makes the rig more comfortable. A magnetic bridle guide will help you more safely set up a handheld jump. Bottomless corners are great, especially if you advance to aerials and end up pulling in a less-than-ideal body position, or you progress to wingsuit BASE jumping and start pulling in full flight.
EZ-grab toggles help you to be a little quicker on the draw for slider-off jumps, and “WLO”--”what line-over”--toggles provide a little bit of insurance against line-over malfunctions when you have your slider on. We posted a really helpful video on our YouTube channel to explain how the WLO toggles work.
Q. Who should I trust to help me choose?
Marta: We encourage you to talk with experienced jumpers in your area. After all, they have the most experience with the particular environment you’re about to be making your BASE jumping “home.” Don’t be surprised if they share their opinions and preferences--and if they differ from ours. Different jumpers have different preferences.
The important thing is to speak up and ask questions, and make sure you find a combination that makes sense to you.