Low Physical Effort

Flying is a mental, not a physical game.

Matt Wilkes in flight over Laragne

Dr Matt Wilkes wearing the Metamax mask in flight over Laragne, measuring the oxygen and energy consumption of XC flight.

Our moderate altitude flights represented the ‘minimum’ effort required to fly paragliders about 50 km cross-country. Except for take-off and spiralling down, we found that for a 70 kg individual, paragliding consumed approximately 30 watts of energy, or 120 kcal, per hour. That’s equivalent to walking at a speed of 3 km per hour or about one third of a Snickers bar. Flying in stressful, very cold or high-altitude conditions would likely increase this energy requirement, but as a baseline, paragliding does not require a lot of physical effort.

It may require a lot of mental effort but because the brain is in a constant state of flux, thinking hard doesn’t noticeably increase your oxygen and energy requirements as calculated by the Metamax mask. Your brain does still need food and liquid to function properly though.

Key messages

Any exhaustion felt following a long paragliding flight is likely not physical, but more like the tiredness felt following a long drive. The brain might be in overdrive, but the body isn’t working very hard. It is experience, not physical fitness that holds the key to flying safely for long periods.

  1. Be alert to the effects of cognitive fatigue.
  2. Pay attention to your comfort.
  3. Eat little and often during flight. Regular snacks that mix sugars, protein and salt (for example, trail mix) along with water will help you stay hydrated and at your best.
  4. Build up gradually to longer flights.

This is a summary of one of our key findings from Phase I of the Free Flight Physiology Project. For a full write up of our methods and results, please see our our Cross Country Magazine article or our scientific paper in High Altitude Medicine and Biology.