School me on SCUBA gear, please!

I’m looking into basic SCUBA certification classes and assessing the various required gear and such. There’s a pretty wide price range and a lot of accessories. I’m hoping to get some suggestions from experienced divers on what to buy, and how to spend my budget. On which pieces do I really want to put my money and buy top-end, and where can I opt for a middle- or low-priced piece of kit? What types/styles of mask, snorkel, etcetera do you prefer? Are there important differences in materials to be aware of when selecting gear?

Students are required to own for this class: mask, underwater compass, snorkel, whistle, fins (open heel), alternate air source retainer, and neoprene booties.

Provided/Rental gear for training dives: regulator with computer, BCD, tanks, wetsuit, hood, gloves and weight belt.

Besides the minimum gear you’re required to own for the training, I’m thinking about also getting my own wetsuit, hood, and gloves. I’m not only doing this for recreation, but as a possible resume perk in the future. What other sorts of gear make diving easier/more comfortable that won’t break the bank for an enthusiastic student? I’m pretty sure that regulator, BCD, and tank are not in the plan, but I’ll consider most anything else.

Thanks for the advice!

If you’re not going to dive locally, don’t buy a tank. You won’t be able to take it on vacations, and it’ll just be a yearly expense to keep certified.

Where are you located? I’d recommend not to buy too much stuff until you figure out if you really like it.

When mask shopping, check out your peripheral vision. IMHO that’s very very important.

When diving, you will always have a buddy. It’s much easier to keep track of your surroundings and your buddy when you can see to the ‘sides’.

Also, diving tends to be claustrophobic for some. Better side vision helps.

I use a tri-view mask. Note – there is more volume to control in this type of mask.

Wow… that is a lot of things to buy when you’re just taking lessons! I did my open water certificate earlier this year and we didn’t have to buy any equipment of our own at all. I only bought a snorkel and mask because the rental ones were quite yucky. I’m definitely not an expert, but one of the main things I learned is making sure that you can hold your nose through your scuba mask. Some of the masks I tried on were a little too stiff and it was a great effort to squeeze my nostrils shut through them. It’s important if you’re diving in cold water too, because your hands aren’t as nimble, especially through gloves. And it’s a big deal because you have to equalize pressure all the time.

I would also suggest getting spring straps for your fins. I had a hard time putting on my fins and tightening them in water but once I got the ones with the spring straps, it made scuba life so much easier!

I would suggest not buying any more than is required until you’re sure you like the sport enough to justify the expense of buying your own stuff.

More than that, get some exposure to existing equiment during the training, so that you have some idea of what’s available.

I got certified in '01. Bought mask/snorkel as required, but also bought some nice quality fins. After getting certified I bought some more stuff:

-a high-end regulator that had some nice air flow control features;

-a custom-moldable mouthpiece (I experienced some jaw pain during cert due to trying to hang on to a generic mouthpiece). Drop it in boiling water for a few minutes, bite it firmly, and forever after that it fits your mouth perfectly.

-a swivel joint that allowed the air hose to angle away from the reg nicely, further reducing strain on my jaw.

-a warm-water wetsuit.

-a dive computer.

I used all this stuff on a dive vacation to Cayman later that year, then used it again on a single day trip to a quarry in Ohio in 2004 (rented a suit, cuz that water was f’n COLD).

And that was the last time I used it. I sold all the gear a couple of years ago after I finally admitted to myself that I just didn’t enjoy SCUBA enough to justify the expense/time.

A wetsuit to your specific mensurations is a frickin’ boon, especially if you’ve got unusual proportions. I’m tall and very skinny - so rentals either float around me (and thus immediately fill up with cooooold Atlantic water, defeating the purpose), or fail to cover my forearms/calves and crush my nuts.
(Note : if you ever have to make that choice yourself, trust me : choose the nut crusher. Cold water is COLD)

That said, wetsuits can be quite expensive - tailor made ones even more so. Something like 2, 300 bucks. Might want to wait until you’re sure it’s your thing.

Note, you can buy a wetsuit and have it tailored BEFORE it is used. Once used, you’re SOL.

I’ll join those who’ve suggested you buy the minimum (which for most courses is substantially less than the list you gave for yours). The number of folks who avidly dive in their local area is small. A larger number become “tourist” divers who do so only when on vacation in interesting dive areas - for which you can rent most or all gear (and hauling it with you is a pain). Many dive just a few times and then give it up.

I’ll agree that if you really are going to do frequent cold-water dives (not a common thing for casual divers) a wetsuit, though expensive, is a good idea.

I’m in Sacramento, CA. Most of the water available for diving around here is of the cold-ish type, and like Kobal, I’m a beanpole, so picking a wetsuit that has something like the proper dimensions seems like a good idea.

How important/useful is having a valve in the mask? The first time I tried this in a pool I used a regular mask and clearing it wasn’t much of a problem. Does the valve make a noticeable difference?

I think it’s personal preference. Clearing without one always seemed easy to me, so why bother with a valve.


For most things, the cheap versions are just as good as the more expensive stuff. The way SCUBA gear works is fairly straight forward, so most of the things you pay extra for are just gimmicks, or more charitably, bonus features, but far from essential. Valves in masks are a good example of that. As long as it is a scuba mask, and not a swimming mask, it will be fine. The best mask is the one that fits your face.

You can get very fancy snorkels, which are not really that much better than a plain one, especially since you don’t use them much. A purge at the bottom does make it slightly easier to clear, but it’s not a big deal. Some people like rollup ones they keep in their pocket and only get them out if they actually need them.

Some places make people get their own booties, since sharing boots could be icky. But having to buy fins up front is a bit rich, I think, because there are a few different styles, and you won’t know what suits you till you try them.

A lot of rental places bundle a compass in with a dive computer and pressure gauge and have it attached to the regulator set. Of course you can get them separately as well, but it seems like an odd requirement.

If you are getting a wetsuit, get it as warm as you can afford. Coldish water becomes bone-numbingly chilly after you have been fully submerged in it for an hour or so.

There’s a lot of ways to tweak your gear, but it’s mostly personal preference. Some people have things they really love or hate, but then someone else will feel exactly the opposite about the same thing, and a third person won’t care either way.

Be a bit careful about buying stuff till you know you what you want, and what a reasonable price is. Some dive shops have perfected a technique for getting new divers to buy a whole lot of gear, that they often later decide isn’t really what they want. And diving may not be your thing after all.

Good luck with your course. There is lots of fantastic diving off California. Not the same as tropical diving but magnificent in its own way.

Agree with everything above. Buy the minimal needed and don’t buy anything until it’s no longer cost effective to rent (like if diving more than 1 time a month).

The quarry where I dive at has every week the big diver vendors come out and you can try gear before you buy it. See if there’s something like that in your area.

My only regret when buying some of my gear was I started with buying dull colored fins (thinking hot pink or yellow looked gay). Now I regret it because it doesn’t allow you to stand out.

They are also making you purchase a lot of your own gear. Are there other dive shops around? I had to purchase fins/boots/snorkle/mask – and even then I thought that was a lot just to get certs.

For the class, get just the minimal required. And typically, the simpler the better (and cheaper).

For your mask, fit/seal is of more importance than any other feature. If it leaks, it will be annoying and not worth any of the other bells and whistles. There’s a pretty easy test to check for leaking: put the mask on your face, but don’t put the strap around your head. Then see if you can keep the mask in place (easily) by just inhaling through your nose. If it doesn’t seal right, you’ll know it.

To start out, I’d get really basic fins. Many divers will tout the advantages to split fins and other variations. But basic fins will do you just fine. Pretty much the same reasoning applies to snorkels.

As to the other key pieces of gear: regulator, computer, BCD, rent for now. And decide on buying after you’ve completed the class. If you can get by with a rented wetsuit, go that route. However if you’re going to be in cold water, and the rental suits don’t fit well, it might be worth investing in the wetsuit. Or maybe look into ways to increase the warmth of the rental: wearing a hooded vest (underneath), or maybe adding a shorty on top of the wetsuit. Being cold while diving can be miserable (and dangerous, as you’ll learn).

Gear is always a difficult question, and my general advice is to borrow/rent before you buy. Also, it very much depends on where you’re diving…here are my €0.02, though:

I prefer alow volume mask, i.e. frameless (where the only solid parts of the mask are is the glass). I’ve seen frameless masks with peripheral glass, but I don’t see why bother. Frameless masks are also good to store in a pockets (if you want a spare).A large volume mask means that you have more water to press out if it gets filled, as well as more volume to fill to avoid mask squeeze (and more air to let out on the way up). Additionally you’ll get tunnel vision.

Masks are generally good to keep cheap, because they’ll at some point get stepped on/dropped/lost/fly off while the RIB is doing 40 knots.

The above advice about checking the seal is correct, and should really be the only important factor when choosing a mask, as well as making sure that it’s made out of tempered glass.

Alternate air source retainer
Ah, here we have a question of religion. I dive with a Hogarthian configuration

A nation of people with a penchant for tango and cheap vodka. Also what you wear on your feet.

There are generally two types of fins, soft jetfin-type fins and hard fins.Which one is best is subjective, but generally hard fins give more power while soft fins give more control.

Personally I prefer soft fins, because I normally don’t want much power while diving (though I’ve swum against a strong current in mine with no issue) while control is vital. Unless you’re only going to be diving on sandy bottoms and far from any wrecks, you’ll at some point want to learn how to do frog kick and back kick.

Spring straps are not essential, but they lessen the risk of a strap breaking and make putting on your fins a lot easier.

Buy the cheapest you can find. Mine’s never been in the water. You don’t need it under the surface, so why bring it?

The classic image is of a diver carrying a foot long bowie knife on the inside of his shin…and what’s he going to do with that, stab a shark? :smiley:

A cutting instrument is very important to have, as you may get snagged in lines or nets. A small knife (without a point) or a pair of stainless steel scissors on your belt is best for the purpose and have a low stabbyness factor. A buddy of mine dives with a pair of garden shears, which just might be the best of both worlds.

The simpler the better. Get a sturdy diving compass that you can mount on your wrist.

Not mentioned, but I’d keep my eye out for a good LED light. Good to have if you do a night dive in the future, for peeping into wrecks and for signaling. Get a light that you can use as a spare in case you in the future opt for a canister light.

BCD, Regs, Suit:
A suit is important that it fits and is relatively light weight, so I say buy one. It depends on what kinds of waters you dive in (at home, I dive in a dry suit year round). A common recommendation is to buy a 5mm suit for warmer waters, and a 7-5mm shortie which you can wear outside of your ordinary suit on chilly days.

With BCDs you can chose between the classic vest and wings. I like having my gear as simple and as maintainable as possible, so I always dive with wings (there is some religion involved here too).

Regulators are mostly equal, though not all regs are suited for cold waters, depth or nitrox. If you buy a regulator, at least make sure that it supports nitrox.

Diving as profession:
Note that professional diving is very different from recreational and technical diving. I’m not a professional diver myself, but I don’t think that a recreational certificate would count as much of a perk. But hey, just dive for the fun of it :slight_smile:

Thanks again for all the advice. I’ve started revising my gear choices already, and I think I’ll be a little more prepared to ward off the expected up-sale. If I ever run into you guys anywhere, I’ll buy you a beer for saving me some coin. :smiley:

I’m really interested in underwater archaeology, so that’s the potential job line. There’s plenty of history that’s been sunk - I’d like to save some of it. I expect that will require plenty of advanced training though. In the meantime, I am looking to have a good time. I’ve been snorkeling off Oahu and Cozumel, and both times wished I had an air supply. What are your favorite dive spots? What do you look for when you dive?

When it comes time for your certification dives, bring along 4 strips of bright cloth (same color). Attach these to your, and your partner’s ankle and wrist. (one of each for each of you).

It makes picking out your dive buddy much easier, in a sea of rental equipment that all looks the same.

Ah, didn’t think of that one =) A lot of divers I know are underwater archeologists (both amateur and professional) and history buffs, it’s kind of hard to avoid. You’re welcome to join me in the Baltic once you’re certified to dive dry and cold, only place in the world you can dive perfectly preserved wooden wrecks from the 17th century. We’ve even brought one up.

My favorite spots? Besides my home waters, there’s fantastic wreck diving in Norway (I’ve visited Ålesund and Narvik), and I have to admit that the Thistlegorm outside of Sharm is great on a good day (i.e. when you’re alone).
I’m dying to go diving in the Philippines and Micronesia, the Truk atoll in particular. I’d like to dive the Zenobia outside of Cyprus as well.

I saw a documentary on the Vasa not too long ago; that and one I saw on the Mary Rose really got me thinking about how much there is to find and learn from underwater. Last year, I think it was, I heard a BBC report about some Roman galleys found mostly intact in the Med - with holds full of trade goods.

How comfortable is a dry suit to dive in? Any better or worse than a wetsuit?


[li]You keep dry (big advantage of the temp is below freezing on the surface), and you keep warm by using whatever air you have in your suit. [/li]
[li]It gives you an additional lift source in case your BCD rips. [/li]
[li]Are in my experience faster to put on than a wet suit, especially if you have a front zipped model.[/li]
[li]Leg pockets![/li][/ul]


[li]Added cost (they are way more expensive to buy and maintain).[/li]
[li]Less freedom of movement. A dry suit is thick and bulky, though membrane suits are somewhat less so than crushed neoprene. You can consider yourself to have good freedom of movement in a dry suit if you can reach your regulator. You’re additionally wearing thick, thick gloves, which make a lot of very simple tasks taxing.[/li]
[li]More control is required. The air in your suit can easily bunch up in either your torso or legs of you don’t swim level, and can force you to pop up like a cork due to the change in buoyancy. Additionally, the amount of air in the suit needs to be maintained according to depth. A sudden ascent can also cause a corking, as well as material from your clothes getting stuck in the air vent on your arm (some divers tape their arms with gaffer’s tape to keep any cloth from clogging the vent). I know of several novice divers in my local community who have died due to this.[/li]
[li]An additional possible source of error. The intake valve can seize up due to mechanical failure and cold, and a dry suit diver needs to be able to rip the hose out and vent air in a hurry if that happens. [/li]
[li]You can’t piss unless you’re wearing a diaper or a uridom.[/li]
[li]More weight. The dry suit itself weighs quite a bit, and you’ll need additional lead if you’re used to diving with steel bottles. (If you’re diving alu bottles you’ll need about the same amount of lead, but you’ll need to change to a steel bottle). As an example, If I dive with a 15L (232 bar) steel bottle which weighs 17.8kg, I’m additionally weighed down with a 4.5kg back plate with a 2.5kg lead weight strapped to it, a canister light which weighs about 6kg on my webbing and a 1kg lead weight on the opposite side of the webbing for balance. All this makes my slightly heavier than buoyant in the water (with an empty bottle) =)[/li][/ul]

So all in all: a wet suit or semi-dry is simpler by all accounts to dive in. In cold waters you don’t have a choice though.