So you have fallen in love with scuba diving. You experienced your first breaths underwater, and you worked up the courage to take your mask off in the water and that still didn’t turn you away. You have officially caught the scuba bug and you’re hooked! For a new diver, buying gear is the final step and the act that says “I’m committed to diving my brains out”. However if you are a new diver, it is hard to know what to buy, where to buy it, and what’s good in terms of product and brand.
Most new divers buy in stages. First come the basic necessities (mask, fins, snorkel) , and then when you know you want to be a keen diver, it’s time to put on the big pants and move into the exciting major pieces of life support. This includes a regulator, BCD and dive computer, and if you’re really keen, you can even get yourself a tank. Let’s start with the basics first and move our way down accordingly.
Stage One – The Basics
The Good Old Scuba Mask.
Picking the right scuba mask can sometimes be a hit and miss, so it is important that when you are buying a new mask, make sure you pick the right one for you. Nothing is more annoying than having a leaky mask, and it is probably the number one complaint in terms of scuba pet peeves.
What to look for? The most important factor when picking a mask is to find a watertight seal that fits your individual face. To distinguish if it will be watertight, I recommend doing the sniff and seal test. Grab a mask you like, and without the strap around your head, using only the mask part itself, place it on your face and suck in gently through your nose. Ask yourself, is this mask comfortable? Telltale signs of an ill-fitting mask include a lack of comfort, and the sound of a small amount of air leaking into the mask on your face.
Masks that pass the sniff and seal test are usually a potential keeper. Pay attention to how the mask fits on your forehead and your top lip. In today’s diving world, masks range in volume, shape, colour, polarization, the softness of the silicone, all the way to side windows that add peripheral vision. Take the time to pick the perfect mask for you!
Cost – From $60 to $160
You know “the breathing thing”, “the tube thingo”. These are some funny names that I have heard customers call the snorkel. Snorkels are a growing debate in the diving world, and we get questions all the time, like “Do I really need to wear a silly snorkel if I am scuba diving?” Well, the answer is yes. We use snorkels when diving to conserve air in our tank at the surface. However, I will give you some advice -- when scuba diving, you probably don’t need the fancy dry snorkel.
What to look for? – look for an easy-to-operate attachment between your mask and snorkel, a comfortable mouth piece, a purge value, and something that is light weight. Having a heavier snorkel attached to your mask can be an annoyance, as it can add more drag when moving through the water.
Advice – if you don’t plan on doing a lot of snorkeling, then this is the piece of gear you don’t need to go overboard on. Get something light, simple, and basic that does the job.
Cost - $15 - $75
Unfortunately we were not born with the right anatomy to move through the water like an elegant shark does (bummer). So if we want to play with the fishes, we need a good set of fins to help us keep up.
Just like finding a good mask, fins can be a hit and miss. You really have to pay attention to the comfort, fit and style. A bad or ill-fitting fin can literally make or break your dive experience. Nothing is worse than having a fin fall off at the surface or while diving, or having a fin strap break without a spare.
What to look for? – When trying on fins, look for a snug fit that doesn’t pinch your toes. A simple rule is that if you can’t wiggles your toes, the fins are probably too small. Efficiency of fins is largely determines by their size, stiffness and design. In terms of sizing, a rule of thumb is that the heel should come out of the back of the fin about an inch (open heel fins), or your toes should come out of the front just slightly (full foot fins).
Full Foot or Open Heel? - Full foot fins do not require booties and are recommend for warm water diving. They are essentially a slip on design with the shoe part build it. However, the open heel fin is commonly used in colder weather diving, and booties are necessary to wear them comfortably. The dive bootie also has the added benefit of foot protection and warmth, and provides comfort while walking on uneven ground.
Advice –A good pair of fins can last a long time. Take the time to do your research and try on different types to figure out which one suits you best.
Cost - $65 - $300
Exposure Suit – Wetsuit
Just like the fin situation, we were also not built to withstand long periods of time in the water. Exposure suits insulate against the cooling effect of water, which can rob you of heat 25 times faster than air.
What to look for? – Fit and comfort are the main factors. Wetsuits should fit snugly and you should feel comfortable while wearing them. Pay attention to uncomfortable fitting neck lines or gaps in the armpit, leg and crotch area. If the wetsuit is too big and gaps form, as a result the water will pool in these areas and defeat the suits ability to prevent heat loss. You may have to try on a lot of different sizes or types in order to find the perfect wetsuit that fits your body.
85 Degrees and Above – Swimsuit, 2mm – 1mm Shorty.
80-85 Degrees – 2mm-1mm Shorty or Full.
73-79 Degrees – 3mm -5mm Full.
66- 72 Degrees – 5mm – 7mm Full
50 – 65 Degrees – 7mm Full, Semidry, Dry Suit.
Of course, this is dependent on your personal tolerance level of the cold.
Cost - $70 - $650
The BCD, also called the “BC”, stands for Buoyancy Control Device. It is a vital, complex, and multipurpose piece of equipment, and it is glue that holds everything together.
What does it do? – Everything. It keeps gear in place, lets you carry a tank with minimal effort, helps you float at the surface, and allows you to achieve neutral buoyancy at depth. Imagine diving without one, where would everything go?
What to Look for? – Correct size and fit are important. Look for a BCD that fits you snugly, but doesn’t squeeze you too much when it’s inflated, as it should not restrict your breathing. It also helps when trying on new BCDs to also try them on while wearing your wetsuit. Pay attention to the inflator hose and ask yourself, “Can I operate this easily with one hand?” Also, it is important to test out all the valves, adjustments and straps for accessibility and ease of use. If you take care of you BCD, it will take care of you!
Cost - $300- $800
Now we’re talking, right? These bad boys are the number one most important piece of equipment that you will own. Your regulator is your life line, it’s as simple as that. It allows you to breathe in a foreign environment, and is a complex, high performance piece of equipment.
What does it do? – The regulator converts the high pressure air in your tank to ambient pressure so you can breathe it. A regulator must also deliver air to other places, such as your BCD inflator and alternate second stage.
What to look for? – When buying a regulator, one should look for high performance and comfort. The best regulators can deliver a high volume of air at depth, under heavy exertion, and even at low tank pressures. Some regulators breathe easy, and some don’t. There are regulators more suited for cold water, while some are limited to warm water. Make sure you find out this information before purchasing a regulator, as many people make this mistake. Most of the time when you buy a regulator, you buy the first stage (the part that hooks up to the tank) and second stage (the regulator part/mouthpiece) together. The gauges and octopus (alternate air source) are usually bought separately, but if you’re lucky, all parts of your regulator can come together as a package.
Advice – Do your homework. Researching will help you find the most suitable regulator for your diving needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to read reviews, ask questions and see the equipment in person before you buy it.
Cost - $225 - $1600.
Who likes figuring out the dive tables? Not me! Dive computers are a godsend to us divers who are still confused by all the pressure groups, residual nitrogen times and all those other calculations.
What do they do? – Dive computers constantly monitor your depth and bottom time, and automatically recalculate your no-decompression status to keep you within safe recreational limits. Computers can also monitor your ascent rate and tank pressure, tell you when it’s safe to fly, log your dives, and much more.
What to look for? – You want something that is user friendly. Some computers are easy to use and some are extremely complex. The fancy computer that you spend your rainy day fund on may look nice, but it won’t do any good if you can’t quickly and easily access the basic information you need during a dive at depth. The big question: when it comes to computers, do you want one on your wrist or do you want one on your gauge console?
Advice – Before you buy a fancy new computer, begin with an honest evaluation of your diving needs – do you plan on using mixed gases or decompression diving? Study the features online and compare other computers, then choose the one that fits your diving needs and your budget.
Price - $300 - $1300
Yup, owning your own scuba gear requires a considerable investment, and can be expensive to say the least. However, when properly cared for and maintained, your gear should last as long as you want it.
So there you have it newbies! You are now on your way to buying your first scuba diving equipment from head to toe! It’s important to do your research, ask questions and take the time to figure out which type of gear is right for you. Buying your first set of equipment is very exciting and should be looked at as a great milestone in your diving life! Always remember to support your local dive shops, as we are here to help and answer any questions about any type of gear!