If you are considering hang gliding or paragliding as your next outdoor activity or perhaps are thinking about booking a session on your next vacation, then safety is a key factor.
But, before I get into which is safer, hang gliding or paragliding, let me give you a quick caveat: more people are known to paraglide than hang glide – so of course, you will hear more about accidents happening during paragliding.
However, that doesn’t necessarily tell the story on which is safer, but if you scroll lower down this page you will see some accident statistics which compare the two (read that, as it’s a real eye-opener).
Is hang gliding safer than paragliding?
The quickest answer I can give you is based on experience, plus talking with fans of both sports. Here’s what my opinion on this question is:
Hang gliding is safer than paragliding. Whilst it’s more likely you will suffer an injury with hang gliding, available statistics show that fatalities are far more common in paragliding. Hang gliders don’t lose their wing shape, but paragliders can collapse.
Hang gliding versus paragliding
Now let’s get into a little bit more detail about the pros and cons to both, and why paragliding is generally considered by most experts to be more dangerous than hang gliding.
- Spinning out of control: paragliders can spin in the wind much easier than a hang glider. Hang gliders are virtually impossible to spin unless you manufacture a rotation.
- Wind and turbulence: in paragliding you will get into trouble if winds hit 40 miles per hour with pilots getting blown around. Hang gliders can safely launch and fly in winds of up to 30 miles per hour safely.
- Cloud suck: hang gliders let you go faster, meaning you can get out of trouble if bad weather kicks in or a cloud suck, far easier than you can in a paraglider.
- Landing injuries: due to the way in the speed at which a hang glider can land, you are more at risk to a sprained knee or ankle, then you are when paragliding.
- Collapsing: a hang glider is not collapsible so it will retain an aerodynamic shape, unlike a paraglider which can lose its wing shape.
- Learning curve: learning how to fly a paraglider is a lot easier than hang gliding, due to the slower speeds. However, this can lead to more novice pilots in paragliding, who might not be as safe or experienced as hang glider pilots.
What about powered paragliding safety versus hang gliding?
Most powered paragliding takes place during calm evening conditions in low wind speed conditions.
That means there is less risk to the air foil becoming compromised.
Based on that, powered paragliding is probably safer than standard paragliding when compared to hang gliding.
Comparing accident statistics in hang gliding to paragliding
As well as this anecdotal evidence on which is safer, hang gliding or paragliding, I also investigated some real statistical data.
Thankfully, there are some great reports compiled annually in the UK, so we can use those as a basis to making our decision.
Please note: as far as I am aware, the United States does not currently compile accident data on hang gliding and paragliding accidents like the UK does.
Total number of accidents reported
In the following graph, you can see data collated by the British Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (BHPA) which shows accident statistics compiled between 2011 and 2018 in the United Kingdom.
It shows the total number of accident reports from the UK which involved injuries in paragliding (PG), hang gliding (HG), and parascending (PA).
It is worth noting that in the UK, there are approximately 5 paragliders for every hang glider (according to research in 2015) so you would expect the data to be skewed towards more paragliding accidents.
However, even if you take those comparisons into account, there is still a disproportionate amount of accidents relating to paragliding versus hang gliding.
Type of injuries sustained
The BHPA also reported on how serious each injury was depending on the sport.
In the graph below you can see how more serious paragliding accidents were compared to hang gliding and parascending.
The blue bars are the ones to take special notice of here. As you can see the data breakdowns shows that between 2016 and 2018 there were 9 fatalities relating to paragliding versus no deaths in hang gliding.
What is the main cause of accidents?
And finally, let’s take a closer look at the cause of the accidents in these activities. The BHPA published a great table of data detailing why the injuries occurred which you can see below.
To conclude, both paragliding and hang gliding are extremely dangerous sporting activities if not approached in a safe manner.
Each sport has a very different safety rating, and whilst paragliding is a far calmer (see what people say it feels like) and less speedy outdoor sport, you can be at risk the higher you go.
The technology in modern hang gliders make them far safer than paragliders, which can become unstable and volatile in high winds and updrafts.
But the bottom line is this: both are statically safer than driving a car. You’re more likely to be injured or killed in a vehicle than you are paragliding or hang gliding.
Provided you have well maintained equipment, proper training, and respect the skies, and only fly in optimum safe conditions, both are sports you can safely enjoy no matter what your age.
For example, did you know some of the top paragliders in the world continued to fly up until a few weeks before they gave birth? You can read more about their experiences in this paragliding and pregnancy guide. I’ve also recently published a list of the age restrictions for tandem paragliding country by country.