Skydiving is something I recommend that everyone tries once in their lifetime. There’s truly no other feeling like it. But if you’re like me, you’ll be wondering what to wear skydiving for that first jump so that you stay warm and comfortable.
If you’ve never leaped into the blue with a backpack full of nylon, you either think it’s an insane idea, or you believe it would be among the mountaintop experiences of your life. You’d be right on both counts.
To truly enjoy it, though, you need the right gear. We’re not talking about the parachute because that’s kind of mandatory…!
We see skydiving videos with the jumpers wearing fancy jumpsuits. Those are great, but if you’ve never jumped before or have just a few jumps under your belt, you probably haven’t shelled out for a wingsuit.
So how do you choose what to wear when skydiving? It’s a puzzle because videos of skydivers usually show pros who have fancy jumpsuits, and unless you’re planning to get really serious about the sport, buying a special jumpsuit is overkill. Many skydiving centers offer rental jumpsuits for their customers, in which case you’ll need to think about what to wear under them as well.
So let’s consider what to think about when choosing your clothes for that first jump out of a plane.
Preparing For Your First Jump
The first time you skydive, you’ll participate in one of two kinds of jumps: a tandem jump or a static-line jump.
Rest assured that you will not be allowed to jump, by yourself, from a plane at 10,000 feet, experience freefall, and pull your own ripcord on your very first skydive. That’s asking for trouble…and possibly death.
Tandem jumps are the way to go if you want to experience freefall on your first jump. You’ll be tethered to an instructor, both of you exit the plane, enjoy the thrill of freefall, and then the instructor deploys the chute and lands you both safely. Piece of cake.
This is the best option for those who are checking things off their bucket list and have no intention of becoming regular skydivers. By extension, these people are the least likely to buy a fancy skydiving jumpsuit for this one outing, so they may need the most guidance in attire.
The United States Parachute Association (USPA) oversees training and instruction. Most drop zones (what we call the place where you go to jump) off Accelerated Freefall (AFF) classes, which is a multi-day program. Students learn how skydiving and the associated equipment work. At the end of the first day, they make a static-line jump, or sometimes an Instructor-Assisted Deployment (IAD) jump.
Static-line or IAD jumps happen at lower altitudes (usually below 5,000 feet), and the jumper’s chute deploys immediately upon exiting the plane. No freefall is involved. Since you’re a student, you must first learn the most important part of skydiving: the landing.
The Weather Can Be Deceiving
Skydiving, especially for first-timers, seems most popular in the summer. Many people are on vacations or enjoying other downtime. Many think, “It’s a hot July day, so I better wear shorts and a t-shirt.”
They are wrong. Air temperatures drop about 3.5˚F (2˚C), for every 1,000 feet above sea level. So if it’s 85˚F on the ground, once you open up the airplane door at 10,000 feet, temperatures could be lower than 50˚F.
Shorts and a t-shirt are often not enough – especially if you’re susceptible to the cold. If the ground temps are low enough, you could even experience sub-freezing temperatures at altitude. How will you explain to your friends how you got frostbite in June?
There’s also the wind to consider. We all know about wind chill, and while you may not think about the wind blowing up there, even if it’s still as Mount Rushmore, you’ll still experience wind chill.
During freefall, you reach terminal velocity— the fastest rate you can fall— roughly 120mph. Think about how hard the wind blows when you roll down your car window on the highway. You’ll be falling at about twice that speed, and 120mph winds can make the cold air feel much, much colder.
What To Wear Skydiving
A t-shirt makes a great first layer. You’ll most likely travel to the drop zone in it and take your instruction class wearing it. Even if the hangar at the drop zone is air-conditioned, you’ll still be comfortable. For the jump itself, add some layers.
For men, start with something like a henley. It’s not bulky, but the material will help trap air between the shirt and your t-shirt, which is how layering keeps us warm.
Over that, you might want to add a heavier layer like a lightweight thermal pullover or knit sweater. It’s another layer to trap air, which your body heat will warm and better insulate you from the cold.
If you feel you need a jacket, go for something that’s lightweight and hood-free. Like the other items, it needs to be slim fitting and comfortable, which will be enough to hold in your body heat.
For women, follow the same layering guidelines – a lightweight shirt, a heavier mid-layer, and a soft, non-bulky jacket if you think you’ll need it.
Shorts for the time leading up to the jump are great, but they’ll provide zero protection from the cold or the ground, which you may end up sliding over upon your landing. Remember that every skydive does not automatically end in a perfect touchdown. Sometimes you land on your butt and slide along the grass for many yards.
If you’re cold-natured, throw on some long underwear under joggers or windsuit pants. Instead of thermal underwear, yoga pants work well and are super comfortable. But maybe don’t wear your expensive Lulu Lemon pants though, as there’s always a chance of tearing or staining your skydiving clothing.
Outdoor sports pants are ideal for skydiving as they’re designed for active sports. They’re lightweight and dry quickly. Since getting wet is possible in skydiving landings, these quick-drying pants can be helpful.
Joggers or regular old sweatpants can go over those if you need another layer – and to be honest, you probably already have a pair of joggers in your dresser.
“It’s summer,” you say. “Flip-flops are my go-to.” But if you jump into 120mph freefall, your flip-flops will almost instantly blow off your feet. Plus, your toes will be cold.
Your shoes don’t need heels or a bunch of straps and buckles. They also shouldn’t be high-dollar, high-style kicks, either, because Murphy’s Law tells us that if you wear your brand new Yeezys, you’ll land in a mud puddle up to your shins.
Sneakers are perfect. Crowd favorite sneakers like Skechers and Vans are relatively inexpensive, and you can lace them up tightly. Bonus points if they’re black, as they won’t show mud or grass stains too much.
You can also wear hiking boots if you want. Whatever you wear, make sure you can lace them or strap them (people do love their Velcro shoe closures) tightly. More than one skydiver has lost a shoe two miles above the ground. That wind is serious.
Form-Fitting Is Key
We alluded to this earlier, but all your clothes should fit snugly on your body. We’re not talking about wearing a Britney Spears “Oops!…I Did It Again” bodysuit. But flapping clothing can be uncomfortable at best at high speeds and, at worst, dangerous.
If you wear a hoodie, that hood won’t stay pulled up over your head. Instead, it will furiously flap behind you. If your first jump is a tandem jump, the hood will be smacking your instructor— the person you’re strapped to and who is directly behind you— in the face. At 120mph. That’s just rude.
Also, any clothes you might describe as “flowing” will do the same. There’s a possibility that a long jacket could get tangled up in the parachute when it deploys, and that’s a disaster in the making.
Helmets and Goggles
Most drop zones will have these available to you for rent (or free, depending on the drop zone), and while they go beyond being clothing, they bear mentioning.
Don’t stress about things if you wear glasses or contact lenses, as most skydiving goggles will fit over these without a problem – so you can still see the amazing view from 30,000 feet!
You’ll most likely be required to wear a helmet for your first few jumps, not to mention a tandem jump. Don’t fight it. If you’re worried about your hair, remember that after being in high winds, your hair will be mussed no matter what.
Helmets protect you in the case of a messy landing. When you’re more advanced and jumping with other skydivers, they can also protect you in the case of a mid-air collision, which is both an incredibly dangerous occurrence and not all that uncommon.
You may want to invest in your own goggles, as these are quintessential skydiving gear. Have you ever ridden a motorcycle without eye protection? Wind makes it hard to see and can make your eyes water enough to effectively blind you.
Skydiving winds are higher than most people will ever experience on a motorcycle, so goggles are everything short of mandatory. Also, if you wear contacts, don’t think the wind won’t blow them out of your eyes because it will. It has.
Kroop’s DZ II Goggles feel a bit flimsy, but they’re good goggles and have served many skydivers well. The 2 Sky Dive Goggles are sturdier and offer UV400 protection. Whichever you decide on, be sure to wear them in any jump.
Conclusion – What To Wear For Skydiving
When you’re wondering what to wear skydiving – before you make that first leap, dress for success. Choose clothing that you can layer to protect yourself from the colder temperatures of higher altitudes. Also, ensure you don’t have hoods, drawstrings, or loose fabric that the wind can grab hold of and whip around.
For footwear, choose function over form, and make sure you can lace them up tightly so you don’t have to walk back to the hangar in your socks.
Skydiving is a fantastic experience. You can ensure everyone involved has a fun, safe, and comfortable time by dressing the part.