What Shape is a Parachute?

What Shape is a Parachute?

Published: April 19, 2017

What Shape Is A Parachute?

Skydiving parachutes come in two shapes; round and 'square'. The round parachute is circular in shape and is a more outdated design. 'Square' - also known as 'ram-air' - parachutes are rectangular in shape and are far more maneuverable than round parachutes thanks to their wing-like design. The vast majority of today's skydivers use square parachutes.

Square vs round parachutes

The round parachute design was the design first used by skydivers. The idea of a round parachute is that it is connected around its circumference to the skydiver's pack and that it collects air as it is driven up into it by the descent. This keeps it rigid and inflated, allowing the skydiver to fly safely down to earth.

The round parachute design was very reliable. It was rare for anything to go wrong with a round parachute and consequently, it was used for many years (and is still used in some military applications).

The downside to the round design was a lack of maneuverability. The round parachute could only pivot on its center point - meaning its pilot could change the direction in which they were facing and, to a very small extent, the direction in which they were moving. However, this control was very limited and meant that the exit point had to be very accurate to ensure skydivers landed where intended.

Today, square parachutes (which are actually rectangular to look at) are far more prevalent. Their design means that they respond and behave much more like a wing, and give their pilots a great deal more control over where they fly and where they land.

The vast majority of today's skydivers use square parachutes. Round parachutes are almost defunct, and the range of 'square' parachutes available to modern skydivers is broad and growing.

RAM air parachute design

Square parachutes are also known as 'ram air' parachutes. This refers to the design of the parachute which means air is rammed into it as it moves forward and down across the sky.

Each square parachute is split into usually 7 or 9 'cells'. Each cell is like a sleeping bag, with all cells attached to one another and each having a hole in its walls to allow air to move between cells.

This design makes for a very rigid wing. Square parachutes are so rigid, in fact, that there is a discipline within the sport of skydiving that's all about walking on each others' parachutes and connecting them together to form beautiful formations above the earth.

This rigidity makes for a much more controllable parachute. Using steering lines situated toward the rear of the parachute, skydivers are able to turn and point themselves in any direction - with the square parachute creating far more forward movement than its round counterpart and meaning skydivers can be very accurate in where they fly and land.

Skydivers can also change the rate of descent of their square parachutes, using inputs on the lines of 'string' that connect the parachute to their pack, and the webbing, known as 'risers', that is situated at the bottom of those lines.

Parachute flying as a sport

Skydiving itself is a huge sport, comprised of a broad range of disciplines to suit all flying styles and preferences.

As mentioned, there is a whole discipline built around the flight of parachutes and the building of formations with them. This is known as CRW - which stands for 'canopy relative work'.

Another discipline within skydiving is that of 'swooping'. This is the practice of increasing the rate of descent of the parachute through turning, to achieve faster speeds across the ground and longer travel along the ground too.

Then there are accuracy competitions, style competitions and lots more, all built around the flight of the square parachute.

Parachute sizes and designs

Square parachutes aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on the skydiver's weight, experience level, and own preferences, they will choose from many different sizes, designs, and manufacturers.

A tandem skydiving parachute is usually over 300 square feet in size, while 'sports' parachute typically range from 80 to 240 square feet. 'Wing loading', which is the measure of how much weight is being supported by each square foot, is the main metric used to calculate the desired parachute size.

There are also lots of different parachute designs which achieve different things. More experienced parachute pilots may opt for higher performance parachutes which turn more quickly and require a higher level of skill to operate, while less experienced jumpers will prefer a more docile wing.


A typical skydive includes around 2 to 5 minutes of parachute flight. If you'd like to come and check it out for yourself, book your skydive today!