A number of equipment manufacturers exist to support the sport of skydiving. Equipment technology has come a long way in the past couple of decades, and the equipment is more reliable and durable than ever. There are manufacturers for jumpsuits, altimeters, parachutes, harness/container systems, and safety devices. For experienced skydivers, the only equipment required is a harness/container system, reserve parachute, and main parachute. For tandem and solo student skydivers, the equipment requirements are more stringent, and a minimum of two safety backup systems are required to be in place. In the sport of skydiving, participants commonly refer to the entire system as a "rig."
Current equipment starts with the harness/container system. These systems are commonly custom built for the wearer and the canopy size requirements. The harness portion is the part that connects the jumper to the parachute, and the container is the part that holds the parachute when packed. The standard configuration for the container portion of the system is with the reserve container located above the main container, both of which are on the wearer's back, like a backpack. Included with the harness/container system are deployment bags and pilotchutes for the reserve and main parachutes. When custom ordering a harness/container system, the purchaser can order nearly any color combination or design they wish, including tye-dye, camoflage, and abstract designs.
The next components for the rig are the parachutes. Two parachutes are required per FAA regulations. The reserve parachute is the backup parachute, and will be used in the event the skydiver cannot open the main parachute, or the main parachute opens with an unresolvable problem that will prevent a safe landing. Reserve parachutes are very similer in design to main parachutes, but lack much of the performance (sporty, fun) characteristics of the main parachutes. The reserve parachute is a utility parachute, designed to open quickly, fly very reliably, and get the skydiver to the ground safely. Reserve parachutes can be ordered in many sizes (according to the user's weight and experience), and colors, including completely custom designs. Reserve parachutes must be inspected and packed by a FAA certificated parachute rigger once every 180 days, whether it is used or not. The reserve parachute is the backup, and nothing is left to chance. The main parachute is the primary parachute, and will be used many times. Main parachute performance varies greatly, from very docile designs to ultra-high performance models. The main parachute is usually designed to open slower (and more comfortably) than reserve parachutes, and to provide a more fun and sporty flight. Main parachutes can be customized in color or pattern, including putting logos on them. Choosing the size and performance level of a main parachute is generally based upon the user's experience level and desired performance. In general, smaller parachutes have higher performance and require more experience.
Backup safety devices are the next item for skydiving rigs. These devices are optional for licensed skydivers, but required for tandem and solo student skydivers. The first backup device is called an RSL (Reserve Static Line). This device opens the reserve container when the main canopy is released (in the event of a malfunction). The second backup device is called an AAD (Automatic Activation Device). The AAD is an onboard computer which monitors the freefall and opens the reserve parachute if the freefall speed exceeds a preset number at a given altitude. The AAD is a great last chance if the jumper is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his/her duties.
Other equipment used in skydiving include goggles, helmets, altimeters, audible altimeters (provide supplemental warnings aurally), and jumpsuits.
For tandem skydiving, and additional student harness is used, and is fitted to each student, then attached to the rig the instructor is wearing prior to exiting the aircraft.
As a tandem student, your dropzone of choice should be using an appropriate tandem parachute system, equipped with reserve and main parachutes, an RSL, and an AAD. You should be provided goggles and a jumpsuit to wear as well. Progressive dropzones also provide tandem students with an altimeter to wear on the skydive. If the temperature is cold, dropzones also provide cold weather gear for you to wear on your skydive.
As a solo skydiving student, your dropzone of choice should be using appropriate studend parachute systems, equipped with reserve and main parachutes, an RSL, and an AAD. You should be provided helmet, goggles, altimeter and a jumpsuit. Cold weather gear should also be provided if temperatures are cold.