Do you know the difference between hang gliding and paragliding? If you want to take to the skies, the subtle differences between the two will dictate which sport is right for you.
Hang gliding and paragliding may be close cousins, but the two sports have all kinds of differences. To cut through the complexity and find the right sport for you, check out our hang gliding vs paragliding comparison that distinguishes one aerial sport from the other.
The key difference between hang gliders and paragliders is their structure and weight. Hang gliders use metal with heavy sailcloth material stretched over the frame to produce a fairly rigid airfoil. In contrast, paragliders have no rigid framework – the parachute canopy acts as a wing and is made of fabric cells with openings at the front. These openings allow the fabric to be inflated by movement through the air, known as the “ram-air” effect. Because hang gliders have more bulk, they weigh much more. Typical hang gliders weigh in anywhere from 65 to 100 lbs as opposed to the 30 to 40 lbs in the case of paragliders. Because of their lightweight materials, paragliders are easier to carry and transport. Hang gliders, however, require a rack for car trips and are near impossible to bring on a plane.
In terms of takeoff styles, hang gliding vs paragliding means myriad possibilities vs select choices. Hang gliding offers all kinds of launch techniques and styles. Take-off options include foot-launching from a hill, tow-launching from a ground-based tow system and aerotowing behind a powered aircraft or boat. Other exotic launch techniques have been successfully deployed, such as hot air balloon drops from immense heights. In contrast, when paragliding, you only have two choices. You may perform the standard, forward launch, which means leaning forward as much as possible and, while running, keeping your arms as far back and up as you can. Additionally, you can do a reverse launch, which is surprisingly popular and often better than the straight method because it’s easier to spot any tangles or snags before you hit the air currents. Whether you are launching a hang glider or paraglider, one vital ground rule applies: you must remain completely in the moment and launch perfectly. In strong winds, a mistake during take-off is unacceptable.
When you go hang gliding, you can reach staggering speeds, clocking in at up to 170 mph. Because of this, you can cover phenomenal ground in a small amount of time. With that ability comes the capability to fly in windy, turbulent conditions, allowing you to outrun bad weather. In contrast, a paraglider has less heft – typically you can only reach 40 mph maximum. A paraglider, however, is easier to launch and fly in light winds. A paraglider also offers more maneuverability, making it easier to turn in a tighter arc and climb higher than a hang glider. Finally, because a paraglider does not have a fixed wing, its canopy can adjust much more smoothly in the face of air turbulence. Paragliding gives you more of the sense of agility while hang gliding serves your need for speed.
In terms of pilot position posture, there are radical differences in the hang gliding vs paragliding battle. In hang gliding, the pilot lies in a prone position and maneuvers with the help of a bar that he clings onto in-flight. The hang glider pilot is effectively in a completely horizontal position. In paragliding, the pilot assumes a more comfortable, less dramatic pose. He perches below the “wing,” in a harness linked to it by suspension lines. The cocooned paragliding pilot then steers by tugging one of two lines called brake lines. The brake lines are handy for changing speed and direction. Even if the brakes fail, the risers connecting to the rear of the wing can be deployed to steer and slow flight. From your pilot position, with some cunning string pulling, you can propel yourself exactly where you want rather than just going with the flow.
Landing a hang glider is much easier than launching one. Additionally, a hang glider can reach a variety of landing areas thanks to its superior glide range. A hang glider may demand a longer approach and landing area, but this disadvantage can be curbed through using a drogue chute: a parachute designed to be deployed from a rapidly moving object to slow it or boost stability and control. Some hang gliders also feature a flap system that further reduces the drawback, but it all seems a bit of a hassle. Essentially, a paraglider has it easier on the landing front because it needs less space and comes in at a slower speed. The fact that a paraglider is more portable also means that you need not worry about landing right near your car. You can’t be too picky about landing zones when paragliding because you have less reach thanks to lower glide ratio and weak wind penetration.
Now that you’ve read our analysis, let us know which sport you prefer. Tell us about your hang-gliding vs paragliding champion in the comments below, or @DegreeMen on Twitter.