Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a hollow fabric wing whose shape is formed by its suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.
Despite not using an engine, paraglider flights can last many hours and cover many hundreds of kilometres, though flights of 1–2 hours and covering some tens of kilometres are more the norm. By skilful exploitation of sources of lift the pilot may gain height, often climbing to altitudes of a few thousand metres.
Paragliders are unique among soaring aircraft in being easily portable. The complete equipment packs into a rucksack and can be carried easily on the pilot's back, in a car, or on public transport. In comparison with other air sports this substantially simplifies travel to a suitable takeoff spot, the selection of a landing place and return travel.
Paragliding is related to the following activities:
- Hang gliding is a close cousin, and hang glider and paraglider launches are often found in proximity. Despite the considerable difference in equipment the two activities offer similar pleasures and some pilots are involved in both sports.
- Powered paragliding is the flying of paragliders with a small engine attached.
- Speed riding or speed flying is the separate sport of flying paragliders of reduced size. These wings have increased speed, though they are not normally capable of soaring flight. The sport involves taking off on skis or on foot and swooping rapidly down in close proximity to the slope, even periodically touching it if skis are used. These smaller wings are also sometimes used where wind speeds are too high for a full-sized paraglider, although this is invariably at coastal sites where the wind is laminar and not subject to as much mechanical turbulence as inland sites.
- Paragliding can be of local importance as a commercial activity. Paid accompanied tandem flights are available in many mountainous regions, both in the winter and in the summer. In addition there are many schools offering courses, and guides who lead groups of more experienced pilots exploring an area. Finally there are the manufacturers and the associated repair and after sales services.
- Paraglider-like wings also find other uses, for example in ship propulsion and wind energy exploitation, and are related to some forms of power kite.
- Kite skiing uses equipment similar to paragliding sails.