What's the difference between paramotoring and paragliding? I get asked this question all the time. And if you're new to paramotoring and paragliding, both sports can look very similar.
When you see a paramotor flying high overhead there are only two distinguishing differences. Do you know what they are? If not, this article will answer the question, and also list all of the differences between the two.
The reason the two sports get confused is because they both use a very similar wing. These wings resemble a parachute, and attach similarly to the harness that the pilot is strapped into. In both sports the pilot will launch the wing like a kite, and run effortlessly into the air.
The pilot is hanging free in the open air with no cockpit surrounding him, and nothing between him and the ground.
Both paramotoring and paragliding will give the pilot an overwhelming sense of freedom.
Is it similar to flying in a plane?
Most people have flown in a plane, so they always think it will be a similar experience. But comparing planes with paramotoring and paragliding, is kind of like comparing cars to superbikes. I've spoken to RAF fast jet pilots, and they all say that they've had much more fun paramotoring and paragliding than they ever did flying a jet!
Both sports require you to follow the regular laws of the air, and there are certain rules paramotoring and paragliding pilots must follow. These easy to follow rules are taught during training, along with many hours of ground handling.
Ground handling teaches pilots to handle the wing on the ground and how to successfully launch it. Pilots can go from complete beginners, to flying solo without an instructor within about 5 days.
Check out my full list of every rule and regulation placed on paragliders and paramotors > HERE.
So what's the difference between paramotoring and paragliding?
Paragliding requires a wing, a harness, and a hill. The wing will be clipped to the harness using carabiners and the pilot will launch from the side of a hill. If there are no suitable hills, paragliders can be launched using a winch that pulls the pilot into the air.
Steady laminar wind will be required to keep the paraglider aloft, and for it to gain altitude. If the wind drops off the only other way of staying in the air is by using thermals. Thermals are upward currents of warm air, you may have seen birds using them to gain height on warm days.
Paragliders can stay in the air for many hours and travel many miles while the conditions are correct. In 2015 a world record was set when paragliding pilots were able to travel a massive 318 miles in one flight taking 11 hours. This record took place in Brazil where conditions are perfect for many hours everyday.
But if the wind or thermal activity stops, the paraglider will slowly loose height until it's forced to land. Many pilots will only manage very short flights because the sport is so weather dependant, and that's where paramotoring comes in..
When paragliding pilots got annoyed with short flight times, a few brave pilots decided to try something different. These pilots attached their paragliding harnesses to metal frames and then added something to allow them longer flight times. They added light but powerful two stroke engines to the frames, and attached aircraft propellers to push them along.
This was all happening way back in the 1980's, but since then paramotoring has come a long way. Paramotors are now churned out in their thousands on production lines around the world. This gives pilots the opportunity to buy a dedicated flying machine, capable of flying when paragliders simply cant.
Paramotoring and paragliding differences
Where is the nearest hill?
As we mentioned earlier, paragliders need a hill or a winch to launch. And this is where we discover the main difference between paramotoring and paragliding. Paramotors can be launched from a completely flat field, as the thrust from the motor is enough to lift it into the air.
This opens up new opportunities for pilots that live in very flat areas, who would otherwise have to travel miles to find a hill to paraglide from. But the difference between paramotoring and paragliding doesn't stop there.
Paragliders can launch from a hill without wind, but they will not stay aloft. This would be called a top to bottom flight, as the pilot is simply launching and gliding straight down to the landing zone.
Paramotors can launch without any reliance on the wind, and they will be able to fly for many hours without any wind or thermals. In fact, these are the conditions that paramotor pilots crave, they create smooth and safe flights.
To climb, or not to climb?
Paragliding pilots will normally launch from a hillside and land down at the bottom of the hill. This means pilots have to climb back to the top to get to their vehicles. Or maybe they left the vehicle at the bottom and climbed up for the launch. Either way, there is usually a climb involved, unless the conditions are perfect enough to allow a top landing.
Paramotors will be able to fly around for as long as they have enough fuel, and the pilot can land back at the same launch site.
Can I get a lift?
If paragliding pilots decide to go on cross country flights, they will usually land many miles away from the launch site. This means they will have to find some way of getting home.
Most paramotors will allow pilots to fly for around 3.5 hours on a single tank of fuel. Pilots will usually land back at their launch site, but it is also possible to land near to a petrol station to refuel.
Most paramotors use two stroke engines, so the pilot will need to carry a small pot of oil to mix with the fuel after filling up. If this sounds like a pain in the butt, don't worry, as you can get a 4-stroke engine instead!
It's also possible to switch a paramotor engine off and use thermals just like a paraglider. The extra weight makes this more difficult, and inexperienced pilots are warned against flying around in midday thermals.
So with all of this in mind what are the two distinguishing differences that I mentioned at the start? Well firstly you'll hear the sound of the engine, and secondly you'll see the motor. Simple, but you can see why people would get confused between the two.
Should I take up Paramotoring or Paragliding?
So you like the sound of both paramotoring and paragliding, but which one should you learn to fly? Well, when you learn to fly paragliders, transitioning to paramotors is very easy.
The ground handling technique is the same and launching is very similar. Paragliding is very graceful and the silence in the air is very relaxing and stress relieving. But paragliding is certainly more dangerous than paramotoring.
Paragliding is more dangerous as you will be launching in fairly strong wind, and thermic conditions. I've seen paragliders suddenly drop out of the sky as the wind has suddenly stopped. If there is no forward motion the wing can easily collapse.
If the pilot is high enough when a collapse happens, the wing will usually re-inflate and recover. But if a wing collapses down low, the wing may not have time to recover. Pilots can learn to deal with collapses and how to avoid them, and taking extra training called a SIV course to learn these skills is recommended.
Find out the chance of taking a wing collapse while you're paramotoring here > HERE.
If you learn paramotoring you'll usually do some top to bottom paragliding flights to get you used to the wing, so this will be a good paragliding taster. And if you decide to take up paragliding after learning to paramotor it's a simple transition.
Paramotoring is much safer than paragliding as you don't need wind or thermals, you will be launching in calm conditions. There is also constant forward motion which will keep the wing inflated, preventing collapses.
Paramotoring can get dangerous when pilots decide to ignore safety procedures, and when they decide to fly in rough conditions. Most pilots that I know will only fly during calm evenings, or early mornings before the thermals kick off. Paramotors can safely be flown in strong wind but pilots discover that flying is simply more enjoyable during calm conditions.
Check out this article for more on paragliding and paramotoring, it covers the safety of both sports to help pilots make a sensible decision on which one to learn > HERE.
Difference between paramotoring and paragliding costs
As you've probably gathered by now, paramotoring will cost a lot more than paragliding. Training costs will be very similar, as the time it takes to learn both sports is about the same. But paramotoring equipment and running costs will be far more expensive.
Expect to pay a minimum of £1000 / $1300 for your initial training. This will teach you ground handling, and should get you at least 10 solo flights. Equipment costs for both sports are listed below.
Paramotor and paragliding wing prices vary between manufacturers, but both sports average around £2700 / $3500 for a good wing.
A standard paragliding harness will cost at least £500 / $660. So with your harness and wing, and a few other bits like a reserve parachute, helmet and a vario, you'll be looking at about £4000 / $5330 for your basic paragliding equipment.
Paramotor costs vary between manufacturers, but expect an average of about £5000 / $6650 for a good solid unit. This means you'll be looking at about £8500 / $11320 for your whole paramotor setup, including a reserve parachute, helmet and radio.
You can obviously cut these costs by buying second hand, and I've got a budget paramotoring post to help you with that HERE.
Although it isn't required by law, I do recommend insurance. Full cover is very cheap, and I'm currently paying about £120 for a whole year with AXA.
If you choose paragliding, when you have your equipment and insurance, there are no other costs. But if you choose paramotoring there will be running costs and maintenance to think about. There's also the risk of broken propellers, which can become very expensive if you make it a habit of breaking them.
You can also find out exactly what paramotoring is costing me per year in THIS POST.
Difference between paramotoring and paragliding in flight: Which sport is easier?
People often ask me if paramotoring is hard, and I tell them the hardest part happens on the ground. Because we launch paramotors in calm conditions, most of our launches happen with very little wind, this can be tricky.
When you have your launches perfected, flying the paramotor is fairly simple. Some pilots will also struggle with their landings, but practice will eventually make perfect.
Paragliding launches usually happen with plenty of wind, and you won't have the heavy paramotor to deal with, which makes the takeoff much easier.
Paragliding gets more tricky when you're in the air, and there is a lot of skill required to keep yourself up there. You'll need to get really good at judging the conditions, finding lift along ridges and thermals, and reading weather forecasts.
Paragliding certainly requires more skill, and it will need to be practised and developed over time. But that's not to say that you can simply perfect your launches and instantly become a good paramotor pilot, as there's still a heck of a lot to learn.
Which one will you choose?
So which one is it going to be? Paramotoring and paragliding are both super fun, but the choice is entirely up to you! I decided on paramotoring, but I really enjoyed the few paragliding flights that I was able to complete during training.
But with that being said, there's nothing stopping you doing both sports! If you have access to both hills and flat fields, you could get yourself a wing that is capable of both powered, and free-flight.
There aren't many paragliding wings that can be used for paramotoring. But while most paramotoring wings can also be used for free-flight, some will not perform very well, so be sure to do your research.
Or you could buy a wing specially designed for both sports. These hybrid wings are no more expensive than a standard paramotoring or paragliding wing, but they will be optimized to perform well in both sports.
Good luck with your decision, I hope you enjoyed finding out the difference between paramotoring and paragliding.
You'll also like these other articles:
Find out how to easily transport your paramotoring equipment to and from the field > HERE.
Find out whether paramotoring is as safe as all of your friends have been telling you > HERE.
And if you don't know how a paramotor or wing works then THIS POST will explain everything.