There are two types of gliding – paragliding and hang gliding. If you are familiar with the two, you’ll like that they are similar. Yet, differences exist between the two. There seems to be a never-ending argument about which is better than the other. On social media, on forums, amongst friends and family, the debate continues.
If you are looking to get into paragliding or hang gliding and don’t know which to choose or are just curious about the sports in general, you’ve come to the right place. This article focuses on paragliding vs hang gliding. Which one is better? Which one do you prefer? I’ll leave that for you to answer after you know the most important details about the two sports.
What is Paragliding?
Paragliding is one of the rawest and purest forms of flight. In paragliding, the participant (pilot) uses a paraglider and sits in a harness that is suspended by a large, curved fabric wing. There is no engine involved in paragliding and pilots launch their paragliders by running and obtaining lift.
The curved shape of the wing is skillfully exploited by pilots to gain height, often reaching altitudes of a few thousand meters. The pilot is also able to glide over long distances and the glider is steered by pulling handles put beside each shoulder.
One of the main attractions of paragliding is the skill and thrill of flight, the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, the amazing aerial view, and the ease of getting into the sport.
What is Hang Gliding?
Hang gliding involves flying in a lightweight unpowered aircraft called a hang glider which is essentially a huge wing made of light, tough fabric over a simple and strong frame. The frames are usually made of aluminum or composite. And the pilot hangs below the hang glider in a harness or body bag.
Takeoff is achieved by the pilot running downhill (usually from a cliff or hill) and launching into the air and the glider soars on air currents. Steering is done by the pilot shifting his or her position. Hang gliding promises loads of fun and it’s common to see pilots covering long distances over many hours.
Paragliding vs Hang Gliding – The key Differences
Paragliding and hang gliding have some similarities. Both use unpowered/motor-free equipment and require wind and air to fly. But there are a number of key differences between the two which will be discussed below.
Equipment Used – Paraglider vs. Hang Glider
The most obvious difference between paragliding and hang gliding is the equipment used. Paragliders have a rounder shape resembling a parachute, though it’s stronger than a parachute. There are no rigid structures and the ellipse-shaped wing is made of two layers of fabric – the upper and lower layer.
On the other hand, a hang glider is a stiff structure made of heavy fabric over a metal airframe. Hang gliders have a distinctive triangular shape which offers improved aerodynamics and greater speed.
There’s also a significant difference in the size and weight of a paraglider and hang glider. A paraglider is lighter and easily transportable as it can fit into backpacks. A hang glider isn’t as portable or easily transportable due to the rigid metallic structure. You’ll need a roof rack on a vehicle to transport a hang glider.
Paragliding and hang gliding both require air currents to achieve heights to increase the duration of the flight. And the differences in the equipment used for both sports mean the approaches of the pilots are also different. The main difference in the operation of a paraglider and hang glider is the posture of the pilot.
In hang gliding, the pilot is in a fully horizontal position, similar to how the man of steel (Superman) would soar through the air. Hang gliding pilots have to shift their body weights to change direction.
In paragliding, the pilot sits in a chair-like harness which is more convenient for most people. The wing and the harness are also joined by suspension lines with brakes attached at the pilot’s shoulders to make steering the paraglider easier.
Complexity of Flight
Paragliding is easier to learn and less physically demanding. A few lessons over 10 to 15 days and you are ready to fly a paraglider. Hang gliding, on the other hand, is more complex and required more lessons and time to learn. Using a hang glider is also more physically demanding as the pilot will utilize his/her body weight to steer the glider.
Hang gliders and paragliders have similar minimum speeds which are about 25km/h or 15mph. However, the triangular shape of a hang glider offers improved aerodynamics and greater speed.
Hang gliders can reach a maximum speed of 150km/h compared to the maximum speed of a paraglider which is 75km/h. People after a more relaxing and enjoyable flight prefer paragliding while the action, adventure, and adrenaline junkies love hang gliding.
Paragliding and hang gliding are both safe and accidents rarely occur. But if We had to choose which one of them is the safer sport, it’ll have to be hang gliding. Yes, paragliding may seem to be the safer sport due to lower speed and the larger wing. However, paragliders are more susceptible to wind and weather conditions.
And this means the pilots are more likely to spin out of control although this rarely happens. Paraglider pilots are also more susceptible to knee and ankle injuries when landing as pilots often land on their feet. Proper training will teach you how to land safely after a flight.
The rigid structure and additional weight of a hang glider makes the kite less susceptible to wind and weather conditions. And this makes the sport safer than paragliding although a hang glider pilot needs to receive proper training.
Differences in Takeoff Styles
There are two takeoff styles in paragliding and this involves the pilot moving forward as much as possible or moving backwards. The backward takeoff style is considered easier. For hang gliding, there are several takeoff styles and techniques which can involve foot-launching from a cliff, hill, dune, or mountain. Hang gliders can also be pulled up by aircraft, trucks, and so on.
Cost of Equipment
The cost of paragliders and hang gliders are similar although hang gliders cost a bit more than paragliders. New paragliding kits can cost anywhere between 4000-8000 USD while the maximum price of a hang glider can be closer to the 9000 USD mark. Hang gliders also last longer than paragliders which you have to replace after a few years.
If you aren’t going to go gliding regularly, you can opt to rent the equipment. Hang gliding kite activity may cost from $60 to $300 while paragliding may cost between $45 and $330.
As you can see, paragliding isn’t necessarily better than hang gliding and vice versa. It’s simply a matter of personal preference. If you want a type of gliding with an easier learning curve and an opportunity for a relaxing and enjoyable flight, then you should go for paragliding. On the other hand, if you are a thrill seeker and want something more adventurous, then hang gliding should be your jam.
Also read: Paragliding vs. Parasailing.