PREFACE - Many years ago I wrote the following post on a BASE forum called BLinc Magazine and today my opinions on this topic remain the same:
"Because it takes time and training to gain the proper skill to be using toggles as Plan A, I am not recommending toggles over risers or visa versa. Even though I am a toggle guy, I still think using risers is a suitable method of dealing with an off-heading opening. I don't really go for the whole Toggles VS Risers debate. Thats why I called my article Risers or Toggles. It is what it is. I am pro-toggles and pro-risers.....get the job done!!! Having said that, I do have a personal preference, which I have expressed clearly with reasons and cautions."



Risers or Toggles

Risers or Toggles

 

by Johnny Utah

 

 

The subject of how best to correct an off-heading opening comes down to a personal choice.  Regardless of whether you use the risers or toggles, you can have an object strike resulting in serious injury or death.  That is the reality of BASE jumping.  I make no recommendation with this article.  Its intention is only to inform you about my thoughts on this subject.  Most of my thoughts contained in this article were derived from a personal desire to develop and use the most effective techniques to help me survive BASE jumping.  Any and all techniques, methods, styles, knowledge, etc. you use during a BASE jump, you do so at your own risk.  This applies whether you made up that technique yourself or learned it from someone else.

 

I am a toggle guy.  Being so has probably been the critical factor in me being able to prevent my death or serious injury at least 5 times that I can think of while writing this.  Even so, I am in no way trying to persuade anyone to start making toggles their plan A instead of risers.  I have always taught that it is completely a personal choice and if a jumper chooses to only use the risers in these situations for their entire BASE career, that is fine; I would never criticize that.  I tell people the full picture.  That way they at least know the real pros and cons of the options they have in front of them.

 

Everyone will agree that the most important thing to avoid an object strike is that corrective action must happen immediately upon opening (to me that means within 1 second).

 

In order to be using the toggles safely as your plan A, two conditions MUST be met.

  1. Your toggles MUST be set up and prepared properly
  2. You MUST have the skill of a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab

 

Once a jumper has met the two conditions I mentioned above, then they can consider making toggles their plan A.  It is a completely personal choice.  You must be dialed-in and skillful.  My plan A on every jump is my toggles, my plan B is my risers, and my plan C is any line(s) (preferably a rear outside line; the steering line would be ideal).

 

 

Here are some main points that I believe in on the subject of using risers or toggles as your Plan A for a heading correction.

 

  1. If you are successful in performing the For-Sure-Toggle-Grab, then as soon as you have the toggles in your hands, you have a way better chance of escaping any given situation upon opening.  In other words, once you have both toggles in your hands, you are WAY better off than with risers.  You can stop the canopy every bit as quick as with risers, you can turn much faster and easier on a dime (with little to no horizontal distance used), and the obvious huge benefit is that you do not sink into possible danger.

 

  1. The fastest possible way to turn a canopy upon opening is done using a specific technique with the toggles.  By fastest I mean the least amount of time elapsed, and the least amount of horizontal distance and vertical distance traveled.  Here is that technique:  As you are pulling both toggles down, be conscious of when you know for sure that you have gone past the brake setting release point.  Keep pulling the toggle of the direction you want to turn to all the way down.  Simultaneously push your other toggle all the way up.  This will result in a snap turn with very little altitude loss.  If this is done while your canopy is still pressurizing, it can spin around 180 degrees in less than a second.

 

  1. With the toggles already in your hands during the last stages of opening, you can start trying to clear a malfunction sooner, such as a line over or tension knot.  Sometimes you can clear it during pressurization.  Being on it that much sooner can make the difference in being able to clear it or not.  Sometimes malfunctions tend to lock themselves in after full pressurization.

 

  1. The ONLY benefit using the risers can offer a jumper is that they can be groped, requiring less precise dexterity.  Also, risers do not require specific set-up and preparation like toggles do, but I do not see that as a benefit.

 

  1. A toggle can be missed or let go.  So can a riser.  I have missed a riser more than once.

 

  1. The sink which results from using the risers can be the very thing that injures or kills you.

 

  1. Bottom line.  If you have not developed solid skill in using the toggles or prepared the toggles while packing, then stick with the risers.  But know this, in some circumstances using the risers can be directly related to you getting hurt or killed, whereas in that same situation using your toggles might have saved your life.

 

 

I teach students to start out making their plan A using the risers. This is for two reasons:

 

I also teach my students that at some point in their BASE jumping career, they may want to consider developing a skill that I call a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab.  I realize this is a term most BASE jumpers are not familiar with.  It is just something I made up many years ago while teaching BASE to act as a descriptive label for one of the requirements necessary to use toggles upon opening.

 

A For-Sure-Toggle-Grab requires skill and proper technique, which takes practice to develop.  The term means that through practice and time, a jumper has developed the skill to instantly have their hands in the toggles for sure every time using muscle memory (without having to look).  If a jumper has developed this skill well, they can have the toggles released just as fast or faster than it would take to grab the risers.

 

Once a jumper has developed this skill they may want to consider making their plan A going for the toggles, whereby their plan B will then become going for the risers.  It is completely and totally a personal choice. 

 

The reason I tell people about developing a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab is because the advantages of using the toggles are HUGE.  Anything you can do with the risers, you can do WAY better with the toggles.  But you must have the skill to be in your toggles every time without fail.  Many BASE jumpers will always make their plan A going for the risers and I do not criticize that at all.  I totally understand.  What is most important is that something has to happen immediately.  You cannot be fumbling around trying to get your toggles.

 

On jumps using the LRM (line release mod), a basic canopy flight skill that is important and needed, is knowing how to turn and flare the canopy effectively with the toggles while using the LRM.  This basic skill will also apply while using the toggles for a deployment heading correction on a (slider down) jump while using the LRM.

 

Once in awhile the risers might be moving all over the place like with a violent off-heading and you might miss a toggle (keep in mind you can easily miss a riser like this too).  Then immediately resort to plan B; look and grab the risers, they are easier to grope.

 

I think it is smart to stick with the same plan A on every jump.  It keeps you on your game.  If you are practicing new techniques then choose an object without the danger of an object strike.  Because new BASE jumpers have not yet developed a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab, using the toggles on a jump where an object strike is possible is not an appropriate option, but of course it is always the jumpers call.

 

I have studied the video of Slims wall strike and I talked to him personally about it.  First, his arm motion and technique were different than what I find to be most effective.  I like to do fluid continuous motion where my arms go out just a little bit while reaching up and then I insert my hands into the toggles going from the outside moving inward with my 4 fingers together, thumbs up, and palms facing me.  As my hands enter the toggles they will catch on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger and I simultaneously take a grip.  I then continue the motion inward and down.  Second, the main problem that occurred for Slim is that he did not have his toggles properly prepared.  You can see it clearly in the video; his toggles were laying flat against the risers.

 

The toggles must be open to perform a For-Sure-Toggle-Grab again and again without fail.  There are two ways to set up the toggles.  (I prefer #1-the reverse fold method.)

  1. Put a reverse fold into the toggles before closing the container to create a crease memory in the toggle.  This will open your toggle into a rectangle shape when it comes out of the pack-tray.  This trick does not really work that great with big grab toggles though.
  2. Use big grab toggles.  The reason I do not like this option as much as the reverse fold is because while packing, the big grab toggles seem to want to lay to the side of the riser.  Over time this creates a memory in the big grab toggle so that when it comes out of the pack tray, it is still kind of off to the side.  To me, this positioning is not as precise as the positioning that results from the reverse fold method.

 

One more important element of proper toggle set-up is to have the toggle settings dialed-in. This includes at least these 2 things:

  1. The toggle position on the brake line needs to be ideal and the deep brake settings need to be dialed-in to reduce forward movement upon opening.
  2. The toggle system needs to be reliable.  A toggle system prone to hanging up is unacceptable.  Toggle systems that are prone to hanging up include those that use snaps (don't use the snap).  Toggles like zoo toggles or toggles that use the stiffened tab through the loop BUT have a soft spot between the stiff tab and the grommet are prone to hanging up and should not be used.

 

One of the most common misconceptions about the subject of deployment heading correction is the belief that using the toggles will cause the canopy to surge forward.  That is not true.  The only way the canopy will have any additional surge upon and after the brake settings being released, is if the pilot allows the toggles back up or keeps the toggles up after releasing the brake settings.  The canopy pilot is in control of that.  If you wish to stop the canopy, keep pulling the toggles down quickly during and after the brake settings are released.  The canopy will hover, then stall, and then fly backwards.  If the pilot does allow the canopy to surge forward unintentionally, then that jumper is going for a ride instead of flying the canopy; and that is the problem, not because he/she used the toggles.  

 

I have an immense amount of flying backwards time under my belt and in my opinion a 7-cell canopy flies backwards very nicely with the toggles.  I used that technique on my very first BASE jump...saved my life.  That was on a 1,000 foot antenna and now days I do not use that technique ever really because I have learned how to turn the canopy on a dime with the toggles; so that is what I always do in a tight spot.

 

Keep in mind, when you are flying backwards, you are in a complete and accelerated stall.  That is why I think flying backwards to get out of a tight spot on a low object is a risky endeavor.  If it came down to having to ride the ball to the ground, I would MUCH rather do that with toggles than with risers.

 

Here are four relevant experiences:

 

  1. There was this one day where I was doing some flicking with Mad Dog and as luck would have it, I had an off-heading and found myself facing a concrete pillar.  For whatever reason I went for my risers.  As I started to turn the canopy with my risers I instantly felt that it was not going to be a good outcome.  The pillar flares out as it goes down, as they often do.  The necessary input I needed to do with the risers to keep from hitting the pillar very possibly would have caused me to sink into the pillar where it flares out.  I realized this in a fraction of a second and in my head I thought screw this and dropped the risers, grabbed my toggles and turned the canopy very quickly away from the pillar.  Because I did not lose much altitude in the turn I was still able to land on my feet within a bunch of ugliness.

 

  1. Then there was this one night where Nanette and I were jumping a 290-foot free-stander.  I had a 180 with one line twist and object strike was imminent.  I knew I could kick out of the line twist in a fraction of a second so I proceeded to do so and as I did I reached up and grabbed the toggles simultaneously as I came out of the twist and then I did the snap turn maneuver which turned me away without sinking into the tower (free-standers flare out too).  Not sure if I could repeat that magic trick.  I was very close to hitting that tower as soon as I opened and I have no doubt in my mind that if I had used the risers in any fashion I would have had an object strike for sure.  I know of a few cases where people have had object strikes on this same kind of tower as a result of sinking into the tower because they used rear risers.

 

  1. It was a cloudy Norway 1999 summer afternoon, and Tom Begic, Dwain Weston, and me had been really going hard that week.  Having just done the first-ever two-way from Eagles Nest with Ed (240 foot sheer with a long canopy ride), I figured we could make it a three way if we just had someone do a gainer right in front of me.  Well as luck would have it, Dwain just happened to be sitting right in front of me and was pretty much the obvious choice.  It was a special moment; I asked him to be our gainer-boy and he accepted with a smile.  The deal with Eagles Nest is if you have a 90 left, you have a serious situation on your hands.  So the jump goes off perfectly, except gainer-boy had a 90 left.  After letting out a cheer of elation that I was flying away from the cliff.  I looked down for Dwain and all my emotions did a complete 180 when I saw him hung up, hanging over the jagged under-hung cliffs which reside below the jumpable cliff.  So Tom Begic, myself, and a group of rock climbers went to rescue Dwain.  Sean Moffet just happened to land just above Dwain and the gnarly cliffs during his 90 left immediately following our jump (love that guy).  So he went over to Dwain and tied Dwains bridle to the tree he was snagged on.  Basically Dwain had come out of his heading correction too low and went clipping through a tree, which in turn saved him and had him suspended over these gnarly under-hung cliffs.  Point is; he would have been seriously injured or worse if that tree had not snagged his canopy.  I was hiking out with Dwain and we were alone for a while.  I asked him, So did you use risers or toggles?  Risers, he replied.  So I asked, Do you think you should have gone for your toggles?  He said, Yes. Click here to see Dwain's POV video of this jump

 

  1. It is Bridge Day 1999 and I am doing some freeflying smoking it low with a slider.  As soon as my canopy hit line stretch I knew it did not feel right.  By that point I already had my hands in the toggles.  Only half of my canopy started to inflate as I was having a major malfunction (the result of a trash-pack). It threw me into a violent spiral and I proceeded to pump the toggles as I looked up at the mess, then down at the river and rocks below, then back up.  The malfunction was a line-over combined initially with a tension knot/slider hang-up whereas half my canopy was folded under because the stabilizer was caught at the slider.  It took 2 seconds for the canopy to do one 360 degree spiral.  During that one spiral I was able to pump the toggles 4 times.  The malfunction cleared and my canopy went into straight and level flight at the same heading I started at.  Do I think being on the toggles saved me?  Well, what I do know is I did the best thing that could be done in that situation and it worked.  I thank God for that.

 

 

A few final thoughts:

 

 

 


Video References
Toggle Heading Correction During Opening
Toggle Training
Air-to-Air Video - Toggle Heading Correction
Dwain Weston's POV video of the jump talked about in relevant experiences #3 above

*** Zakynthos Backflip ***
Cliff Backflip (slider-down). Upon opening facing the wall, only toggles were used to back away and turn away from the wall with little altittude loss.

 

 

 

 

 

Because there are so many aspects to this subject, any duplication is only permitted in whole.

 

Version 1.5

 

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