Want to Try BASE Jumping? Here's What You Need to Know Before You Go

Base Jumping
BASE jumpers take flight in their wingsuits.

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In recent years, thanks in no small part to thrilling YouTube videos and increasing mainstream media coverage, BASE jumping has gone from a fringe sport to a full-blown phenomenon. But what exactly does this activity entail and what do you need to know before you give it a go? Read on to find out. 

What Is BASE Jumping?

In its purest form, BASE jumping involves highly trained extreme athletes who climb to great heights on manmade structures or tall cliff faces to make their leaps. Unlike skydiving, BASE jumpers don't use an aircraft of any kind, but instead choose to jump from the top of a fixed structure. But the two sports are similar in that both use a parachute to arrest their fall and gently deliver jumpers back to the ground.

The "BASE" in BASE jumping is actually an acronym for the four types of fixed objects that athletes can potentially leap from while taking part in the sport: Building, antenna, spans (often referring to bridges, and the Earth (meaning cliffs or other rock formations).

Unlike skydiving, which typically takes place at higher altitudes, BASE jumping usually occurs closer to the ground and often in proximity to structures. This gives athletes less time to react to shifting conditions or equipment failure, with far less chance of recovery from a bad jump. This can sometimes result in serious injury or even death.

What Is BASE Jumping Like?

During the first few seconds of freefall, the jumper's wingsuit (if they're wearing one) fills with air, allowing the wearer to soar at up to 140 miles per hour, sometimes flying close to rock walls and towers (or even through caves) during their descent. The suits allow the "pilots" to pull off precision maneuvers, although those are best left to BASE jumpers and wingsuiters who have years of experience and know exactly what they are doing.

Once the flight is near its end, and the ground is rapidly approaching, BASE jumpers deploy their parachutes and slowly drift back to the ground. The visceral appeal to the sport comes from the fact that no aircraft is needed, participants can leap off of anything that is fairly tall, and they are in complete control of their own destiny throughout.

Safety Risks of BASE Jumping

BASE jumping is an incredibly dangerous sport that should only be attempted by those who have been properly trained. It is estimated that an accident is 43 times more likely to occur while taking part in this activity as opposed to simply skydiving from an aircraft. According to BLiNC Magazine, a website dedicated to the sport, more than 425 people have died while BASE jumping since 1981. Anyone thinking about trying this activity for the first time should consult with certified and experienced jumpers and get proper training ahead of time.

Before attempting Readers are encouraged to train with a certified skydiving instructor and spend many hours honing their skills before attempting a jump on their own. While trained professionals can make these descents look fun, easy, and routine, there are many subtle nuances and techniques that are only gained through training, experience, and following many successful jumps.

Wingsuit flyers jump from cliff edge, mountains

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What Kind of Gear Is Used for BASE Jumping?

BASE jumpers wear a parachute, and sometimes a wingsuit, which is a specially-designed outfit that allows them to slow their rate of descent while making precision aerial maneuvers on the way down. After leaping off a cliff, the jumper's wingsuit rapidly fills with air, so they can glide along like a flying squirrel. Eventually, jumpers reach an altitude where it becomes critical to open their parachute for a controlled rate of descent that prevents injury.

In the early years of BASE jumping, participants mostly employed the same gear that skydivers used when jumping out of airplanes. But over time, the equipment was refined and redesigned to meet the specific needs of the jumpers. Since BASE jumpers often have to carry their equipment with them to the leap point, the parachutes, jumpsuits, helmets, and other gear involved became more compact and lighter. The parachutes also need to deploy and fill with air quickly, as the distance from the jump point to the ground wasn't always very high.

Invented in the mid-1990s by a French skydiver and BASE jumper the wingsuit made the leap from skydiving over to BASE jumping in 2003. This transition gave rise to proximity flying where jumpers glide back down to Earth while flying close to the ground, just above trees, buildings, cliffs, or other obstacles. In most instances, a parachute is still required to make a safe landing, however, as a wingsuit doesn't provide enough deceleration to allow for a controlled touch down.

Man BASE jumping off Angel Falls, Venezuela
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The Most Famous BASE Jumping Destinations

In theory, you can BASE jump anywhere there are tall stationary objects to leap from, but in practice it isn't quite that easy. Some places have banned the sport altogether and in most metropolitan areas the authorities don't take too kindly to daredevils jumping off of tall structures. Still, there are some impressive places around the world where the sport is embraced and encouraged. Here are a few of the most famous:

The Troll Wall (Norway)

Norway's Troll Wall stands 3,600-feet in height, making it the tallest vertical rock face in all of Europe. That also happens to make it one of the most enticing places to BASE jump as well. This location has been a popular one for decades, even though Norway has banned the sport. With excellent access to the summit of the mountain and a relatively clear take-off and landing zones available below, the Troll Wall still lures plenty of BASE jumpers who are willing to take the risk. The drop-dead gorgeous scenery that is visible on the way down is a major bonus too and most jumpers aren't prosecuted for taking the leap.

Perrine Bridge (Idaho)

Spanning approximately 1,500-feet across the Snake River in Idaho, Perrine Bridge is one of the top BASE jumping destinations in the entire U.S. It offers about 486 feet of elevation to drop from with some stunning scenery setting a dramatic backdrop. The bridge is the only place within the United States where BASE jumpers can take a leap without first requiring a permit, making it a popular destination for those who want to make a more spontaneous jump without having to cut through a lot of red tape along the way.

Angel Falls (Venezuela) 

As the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls is naturally a popular destination for BASE jumpers. Just getting to the top can be quite an adventure in and of itself, requiring several days of hiking through the jungle and scaling the rock face to reach the launching point. But once there it is possible to take flight right alongside the falls themselves, plummeting some 3,212 feet in the process. Remote and beautiful, Angel Falls is a great place to practice the sport, which is completely legal throughout all of Venezuela. 

Burj Khalifa (Dubai)

As you can probably imagine, the tallest buildings in the world are also common targets for BASE jumpers looking for a thrill. That makes the Burj Khalifa in Dubai one of the most coveted locations to jump in the entire world. Permission is required to make the leap from the top of the building, but those who do are treated to a 2,700+ foot drop to the brightly lit wonderland of a city below. Just be sure to pick your landing zone appropriately, as other buildings, traffic, and pedestrians can make for challenging obstacles.

New River Gorge Bridge (West Virginia) 

On the third Saturday in October of each year, the Bridge Day Festival takes place in Fayette County, West Virginia. During that celebration, BASE jumpers are encouraged to leap from the 876-foot tall New River Gorge Bridge, which is one of the tallest vehicle bridges in the entire world. At other times of the year, jumps can be made too, but a permit is required ahead of time, requiring a bit of extra planning and paperwork. Still, BASE jumpers will make special trips just to add this impressive span to their resumes. As long as they have the requisite 50 parachuted jumps.

Navagio Beach (Greece)

Beautiful and secluded, Navagio Beach on Zakynthos Island in Greece is definitely one of the most scenic destinations for making a BASE jump, even if it isn't one of the tallest. Daredevils begin their flight by first scaling the 656-foot rock walls that surround the beach itself. Once at the top, they can take to the air for a fast and wild ride back to the soft sands below, where they'll find the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean lapping at the shores. 

Meru Peak (India)

Located in the Garhwal Himalaya in India, Meru Peak is the site of the highest BASE jump ever recorded. It is not an easy-to-access point for the average jumper, as it requires serious mountaineering skills—and several weeks of acclimatization—to reach, but the mountain's 21,850-foot summit is amongst the most extreme BASE jumping points on the entire planet. Meru is definitely not for the faint of heart but is instead a top destination for the most experienced and adventurous BASE jumpers on the planet.

The Dolomites (Italy)

Located in northern Italy, the Dolomites are a chain of mountains that are starkly beautiful and picturesque. They also happen to be a great place to go BASE jumping, as there are countless cliff faces and tall ledges to leap from. The region is so wild and challenging to explore, that the possibilities of where to jump are still being uncovered. But it has become one of Europe's hotspots for extreme athletes looking to test their skills at altitude.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What does BASE jumping stand for?

    The BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth. Span refers to bridges while Earth refers to cliffs and other naturally occurring formations.

  • Why is BASE jumping dangerous?

    BASE jumping is dangerous due to the relatively low jump heights for a parachuted jump, making it more difficult for people to adjust for errors and/or obstacles.

  • What is a wingsuit?

    A wingsuit is a specially-designed outfit that uses fabric "wings" (on each arm and between the legs) to allow BASE jumpers to slow their descent while making precision maneuvers on the way down. 

Article Sources
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  1. BLiNC Magazine. "BASE Fatality List." March 22, 2022.

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