What is BASE jumping? BASE jumping is when people parachute from solid places like tall buildings or cliffs instead of planes. It is a high-skill, high-stakes activity. BASE jumping is an extreme sport where participants leap more often using a single-parachute from a fixed point of structure rather than an airplane—such as buildings, antenna, bridges, and cliffs—using a parachute prepared for a quick deployment. 

“BASE” is an acronym representing the launch points for these jumps: Buildings, Antennae, Spans (bridges), and Earth (natural formations). 

While BASE jumping shares similarities with skydiving, take note that the former is far more dangerous. Remember, there’s no easy landing with base jumping. 

Unlike skydiving, which typically involves leaping from an airplane, BASE jumping occurs at lower altitudes, providing less time for the parachute to open. 

This is why many beginners who wanted to try this sport choose to learn to BASE jump via a skydiving course first from expert mentors (Usually, you do 200 skydives before you try BASE jumping!) This is designed to teach them the necessary deployment skills, muscle memory and quick decision time for this daring activity.

What is a BASE jumper?

Unlike skydiving, BASE jumpers don’t carry a backup parachute and it’s often not legal in the US. If you want to learn to base jump, you need to learn first how to jump from an airplane, BASE jumping occurs at lower altitudes, providing less time for the parachute to open. 

Statistically, the incident rate for injuries or fatalities in BASE jumping is 43 times higher, and studies have shown that there is a mortality rate of one death per every 60 participants —underscoring the importance of thorough training and, where applicable, obtaining a BASE jumping license to ensure adherence to safety standards. 

When you’re BASE jumping from buildings, it’s not just about the leap – it’s about the adventure of sneaking past security (because most of the time, it’s illegal) and finding that perfect place to jump in an unguarded moment. Antennas are a favorite among jumpers because they are so tall and often easier to access. 

Spans, the bridges, present a different thrill, especially at events like Bridge Day, where jumpers gather in a festival atmosphere to leap into the air. Then there’s the Earth – the cliffs and mountains that call to jumpers with their natural beauty and challenging terrain.

Each jump is a heart-pounding experience, from the rush of air past your face to the moment your parachute opens. But the sport is more than just the physical act of jumping; it’s about the experiences, the places you’ll see, and the people you’ll meet. It’s an invitation to a life less ordinary.

Yet, this lifestyle comes with stark realities. Like any extreme activity, BASE jumping carries the weight of potential loss and tragedy. The community is tight-knit, and the bonds formed are strong, but the sport can exact a heavy toll. 

Just remember – that with the incredible highs come profound lows. You will likely lose friends along the way, and you must face these risks with open eyes.

Despite these dangers, the allure of BASE jumping continues to draw adventurers seeking the ultimate thrill, some of whom might even consider the added rush of a BASE jumping tandem experience. 

However, given the number of serious BASE jump accidents reported, it is crucial that anyone interested in pursuing this extreme sport approach it with caution and respect for the inherent risks involved.

Skydiving vs BASE jumping

Don’t shortcut the skydiving process just to rush into a BASE jump; it’s not just about the adrenaline. There is a big difference between skydiving and BASE jumping. BASE jumping has a tight-knit community, and gaining their respect is about proving your commitment. 

Show passion and seriousness in skydiving, and the BASE jumpers will notice. They’ll mentor you when the time is right, helping you achieve your aspirations safely.

To start, get into skydiving first. After hundreds of jumps and making connections, you’ll know more about safety from experience. Even with a few hundred jumps, you’re still learning – from stable exits to managing emergencies, flying parachutes, planning jumps, landing, understanding weather, packing chutes, picking gear, and scouting landing zones. 

There’s so much to grasp, and you’ll discover new things along the way. Begin with tandem jumps, try a wind tunnel, take an Accelerated Free Fall Course, earn a base jumping license, try a tracking suit, skydive from a balloon, and then seek a BASE mentor. This journey to survive BASE jumping is a long one but worth it.

Searching for base jumping tandem? Much better. A tandem jump costs around $200-250 and is the recommended starting point. Here, you’re securely attached to a pro, and as someone who’s been in front during these jumps, I assure you, having a passenger doesn’t take away from the thrill. Another beginner’s choice is the static line or instructor-assisted deployment, where your chute opens automatically as you exit the plane. Priced similar to a tandem, this option skips freefall, offering a different kind of first jump.

The skydiving community is super welcoming to newcomers, and skydiving can be very safe with the right mindset. It’s life-changing and gives you time to deeply understand the risks involved. 

Moving on to BASE jumping, immerse yourself in “The Great Book of BASE” to guide your journey. Then have a budget then compute the costs for you to learn it. It varies since there’s no formal organization you have to go through. You could, in theory, just grab a rig and jump, but that’s a clear no—too risky. Some people took a $1,000 course from a BASE equipment maker, learning all the essentials they needed.

Critical thinking is crucial in BASE jumping. Every jump is distinct—you have to evaluate the spot, the weather, and your own skills. Beginners often start with ‘safer’ objects, like a legal bridge. Some people did 30 jumps there before anything else. Progress at your own pace, but remember, the stakes are high.

BASE equipment costs about $3,000 new, and you might consider body armor for another $1,000, plus a good helmet. However, by the time you’re this deep in, the financial cost is just one part of a much larger investment.

One parachute vs two parachutes

In BASE jumping, you have just one parachute nestled in a simple pack, which isn’t overseen by any official body. Skydiving, however, demands a more sophisticated setup mandated by the FAA, featuring two chutes—a main and a reserve—and often includes a genius device that auto-deploys the reserve under certain conditions. 

It’s about your comfort with risk and what you’re willing to invest in terms of money and safety gear. Incidences where a reserve is needed are extremely rare in non-acrobatic flying.

Think of it like this—everyday drivers don’t typically wear helmets, but racing drivers do for added protection. Likewise, having two parachutes is like an extra safety measure, usually necessary in complex, tricky maneuvers or turbulent situations.

Different parachutes have varying capacities and shock levels upon opening. Military chutes, for example, are built to carry heavier loads gently.

Moreover, removing a reserve parachute doesn’t make you faster; it’s against regulations. And while there’s no legal canopy size minimum, it’s vital to choose one appropriately for your skill and weight.

Finally, you can maneuver your parachute using just your body, a technique called harness turns. This is easier with smaller canopies but doable with any size if you know how.

Yet, there’s a new trend, wearing a wingsuit while BASE jumping. With a wingsuit, jumpers feel like they’re flying, zooming at 140 miles per hour, sometimes really close to things like rocks. It’s thrilling – you just jump and glide, controlling everything on your own. Like they say, the more you learn about the risks, the happier you will become by just sticking with skydiving.

what is base jumping

Exit altitude

The altitude from which you leap differs significantly between skydiving and BASE jumping. Skydivers typically take off between 8,000 to 14,000 feet, with special high-altitude jumps at around 18,000 feet. Low-altitude jumps happen from 3,500 to 5,000 feet. BASE jumps, however, are executed from approximately 300-1000 feet, sometimes 486 feet or lower.

BASE jumping requires a ton of analysis and the stereotype of the reckless thrill-seeker doesn’t really hold. It’s common to feel fear just before the jump, but as soon as you leave the edge, there’s tranquility and an almost surreal view of the world.

To prepare, skydivers may practice by progressively lowering their chute deployment height, starting with 1,000 feet and going down, to get used to the quick approach of the ground. Advanced canopy skills are a must; they’re life-savers when things go wrong. BASE jumpers often wear helmets and body armor, prioritizing safety over the thrill.

Experience teaches good judgment, often born from past mistakes. In BASE jumping, it’s crucial to leave room for error with every jump, because nobody’s perfect every time. When free-falling, you learn to judge the right distance by eye, and the ground actually approaches more gradually than you might expect.

‘Terminal objects’ are structures or locations high enough to reach terminal velocity, which is about 120 mph—the point where air resistance equals your weight and you no longer accelerate. This typically happens around 1500 feet.

Different phases of freefall affect your ability to control your movement and stability, with terminal velocity kicking in around 1500 feet, where the air resistance balances with your body weight, and you stop accelerating.

However, freefall is a process with clear stages. In the first 3 seconds, there’s little air resistance, and any rotation tends to continue, which can be quite risky for newcomers. From 3 to 6 seconds, the wind’s presence grows, allowing for some aerial control by adjusting your limbs. After 6 seconds, the wind’s support is tangible, and body movements more effectively alter your trajectory.

Judging the right moment to deploy your parachute during a free-fall is a skill honed by eye. At first, it’s daunting. Will you be able to gauge the distance correctly? Contrary to what you might think, the ground below doesn’t rush up unexpectedly—it approaches at an accelerating pace, yet most jumpers initiate their chute deployment earlier than necessary.

Remember, precision and timing are not just about technique, but survival.

Less margin for error

Too Risky? Base jump accidents are inevitable. Seasoned instructors often set a baseline of 200 skydives before even considering BASE training, emphasizing the gravity of risk management. Many tragic outcomes in BASE jumping stem from a series of poor decisions, and an alarming number of incidents on the Base Fatality List—a grim tally of BASE-related fatalities—are the result of a cavalier attitude towards danger. At least 144 people thought they did everything perfectly, and it cost them their lives.

A good BASE jumper is perpetually curious, always reflecting on what could go wrong and how to improve. 

It’s surprising, though, how forgiving BASE can seem at times. Despite the sport’s unforgiving reputation, there’s often a small buffer of safety—though, from the outside looking in, it may not appear so. Yet, it’s vital to proceed as if that buffer doesn’t exist; complacency is a treacherous foe in BASE jumping.

Your first terminal wall jump is a lesson in fear management—you wait until you’re scared, and then a bit more before deploying your chute, likely winding up with ample altitude by BASE standards.

With each subsequent jump, you might push the envelope, seeking more intense visuals and a stronger rush, but it’s crucial to know when to stop. The lure of the freefall is intoxicating, but it’s a race you ultimately can’t win against the unyielding ground.

The concept of confirmation bias is particularly hazardous in BASE jumping. You might have a string of successful low deployments, but that doesn’t guarantee safety on your next jump. One hiccup in the familiar sequence—a delayed pilot chute, for example—can be catastrophic.

The thrill comes from flirting with the limits of safety, but each successive jump necessitates a greater leap from comfort to maintain that adrenaline high. Yet, as you push boundaries closer to the edge, the repercussions of even a minor miscalculation amplify.

In the end, BASE jumping is a constant balance between the pursuit of exhilaration and the unrelenting reality that a slight misstep can mean the difference between life and death.

How to start BASE jumping?

BASE jumping isn’t just a thrill-seeking adventure; it involves meticulous preparation and the right gear. As we repeat, a minimum of 200 skydives, followed by a BASE course. 

Mentorship is key. You might think it’s as straightforward as attaching any parachute and taking a leap of faith, but BASE jumping demands specialized equipment due to its narrow margin of error. 

Starting your BASE jumping journey can be quite an investment, with a new parachute setup ranging from $1,500 to $2,000, and the smaller, BASE-specific harnesses (rigs) costing around $700. While second-hand options exist, the safest bet is to buy from a reliable source.

Beyond the parachute and harness, a wingsuit might be on your list if you’re aiming to glide horizontally. Gadgets like laser range finders become crucial when checking out uncharted jump spots for safety.

Perfecting your techniques—proper form, canopy maneuvering, and effective parachute deployment—is fundamental. You’ll want to master everything from belly flying to static line jumps, ensuring you’re always ready for the next leap.

BASE jumpers have their own language, with terms like “ram-air parachute,” “bounce,” “bridles,” and “dropzone” peppering their conversations, reflecting the sport’s unique aspects and community.

The ‘Great Book of BASE’ puts it bluntly: the sport is so dangerous, it’s probably best not to do it. You must constantly evaluate your own journey, knowing that each jump could be your last.

It’s a sport that can bring unparalleled peace, even when jumping into the dark, void of fear. Yet, this lack of fear can be a double-edged sword, potentially enticing you further into a sport where fear could one day be the very thing that keeps you alive.

Remember, there are plenty of veteran skydivers, but fewer old BASE jumpers. The inherent risks, the need for precision, and the lessons from every fatality must be deeply understood. Before diving headfirst into BASE jumping, ensure you’re adept at skydiving, target landings, and can react swiftly to any complications. And if you’re considering big wall tracking, invest in coaching and practice with a tracking suit to ready yourself for the sky’s less forgiving cousin, BASE jumping.

Can you base jump without skydiving?

No. BASE jumping without skydiving experience is not advisable due to the high risks involved. While skydiving provides a structured foundation for understanding parachuting dynamics, BASE jumping is without an official governing body. 

This lack of regulation means that jumpers are influenced by personal motivations, and while it’s possible to acquire gear and jump with no background in skydiving, it’s not a wise decision. The autonomy in BASE jumping is part of its allure, compelling jumpers to make smart choices out of necessity, not obligation.

Wingsuit skydiving, by contrast, is relatively safer and comes with a well-defined progression pathway, making it accessible to different experience levels. 

But when it comes to proximity flying in a wingsuit, the stakes are significantly higher – it’s arguably the most hazardous sport there is. One appealing aspect of BASE jumping is its cost—or lack thereof. Much like hiking, the activity in its simplest form is free: find a spot, climb, and leap. Travel expenses for various jumping experiences do add up, but the jumps themselves don’t come with a price tag.

Is base jumping illegal?

More often, yes but sometimes, no. The only legal BASE jumping spot is the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. There, excellent courses will equip you with the necessary BASE skills, but they require you to have at least 250 skydives under your belt. This isn’t negotiable; anyone willing to train you without this experience is dangerously cutting corners. 

BASE jumping often treads a fine line with legality. Broadly speaking, while BASE jumping isn’t inherently illegal, it’s entangled with laws against trespassing, which is the most common legal snag for jumpers. 

Depending on where you’re aiming to leap from and the local regulations, the consequences can vary. If you’re unlucky or don’t handle an encounter with law enforcement well, you might find yourself facing more serious accusations such as reckless endangerment or disturbing the peace. These situations often result in the confiscation of your gear, typically returned post-legal proceedings.

In the US, the National Park Service has a unique category of offense known as “illegal aerial delivery,” a charge with significant fines. This rule, originally aimed at stopping supply drops to squatters, has been adapted to deter BASE jumpers following some early misdemeanors.

Getting hit with a trespassing charge can be resolved, often with the help of a lawyer and a fee though the experience is far from desirable. On the logistical side, the potential for costly medical interventions in remote areas is another reason why authorities discourage BASE jumping through stringent laws.

The legal ramifications encourage a culture of discretion within the BASE jumping community. While organizing and media attention might seem appealing, staying under the radar is often the pragmatic choice.

To sum it up:

BASE jumping is a breathtaking journey fraught with danger. Take the leap if you feel it’s right for you, savor the freedom, and cherish the connections you make. Remember to approach every jump not just as a thrilling moment, but as part of a larger adventure – one that is intensely personal and shared with a community of fellow jumpers who, like you, are drawn to the edge of the extraordinary.