#NeverWithoutMyGear. It took me only a year after my open water certification to understand how much I hated renting scuba diving gear in dive centres: never the right size, questionable maintenance, bad habits of other scuba divers (you know what I’m talking about), you name it. Before I went on my first big scuba diving adventure of 5 weeks around Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, I made the decision to invest in my own gear and my first proper scuba diving bag with always having in mind to make it lighter, more compact and efficient. From that trip, I learnt what was critical for a good scuba diving bag when you are an independent traveller.
The ideal specifications of a diving bag
I popped up the question with a poll in the World Adventure Divers’ Facebook group “what would you like to ask bag manufacturers?” Here is the ranking of the most critical specifications with some comments I gathered from everyone and some from my experience.
- Lightweight: Below 3,5 kg seems to be the ideal weight. The idea is that the bag itself shouldn’t “eat” the luggage allowance on flights. By the way, travelling with a luggage scale is the best way to control this on the go.
- Robust wheels: The wheels are usually one of the biggest weaknesses among scuba diving bags, but not having them considering the weight of the gear is not optional. They need to be robust and be able to handle a weight of 30kg. Being able to change them as they often break before the bag even starts to show some fatigue signs would be awesome.
- Case for clothes: Having a dry space where we can put our clothes is definitely a must. Personally, I use packing cubes at the moment, which I love, but it is always better to have a separate pocket for clothes.
- Backpack: I found myself in countless situations such as having to cross a country border on foot, walking to the dive centre on the beach which means sand, train stations with only stairs available, etc. where you absolutely need to put the bag on your back. The only exception would be road trips.
- Saltwater resistant zip: Having a zip crust up and stuck is very unpleasant when you either can’t get stuff out of the bag or when you find that you can no longer zip the bag closed before flying back home (in case it happens to you, white vinegar can help).
- Storage for small items: With all the electronics we are carrying, a dedicated (mesh) pocket for chargers and cables would be much appreciated. An excellent extra feature would be a cushioned compartment for more fragile equipment such as torches or regulators.
- Not too small, not too big: Except when travelling with a drysuit, 90 to 120L is not necessary when you have light and compact travel diving gear. The right ratio would be between 60 to 80L because a 40/50L bag is a bit short for longer travels except maybe if you go to a warm country where you only need a few t-shirts, shorts and a pair of flip-flops.
- Toughness: The materials used must be as tough as possible without impacting too much the weight of the bag. Ideally, the bag needs to handle 25,000 km of travel without any scratch (have a look below at the distances I travelled with each bag).
- The right fit & dimensions: Not too high when worn as a backpack and not too wide so you can roll it between seats in a train, but the most important of all is to fit airlines’ restrictions for checked-in luggage in the hold (but also in the cabin now). For example, British Airways ask for a maximum of 90 x 75 x 43cm (35.5″x29.5″x16″) while Air France asks the sum of the dimensions (height+width+depth) not to exceed 158 cm. So always double-check the restrictions of the next airline’s company you’ll fly with.
- Waterproof: The entire bag doesn’t need to be waterproof but having to pack a wet wetsuit is not rare at all, so a separate waterproof case is a fantastic benefit.
- Other: Robust and comfortable handles, solid zipper pulls that won’t break too fast, no “steal me” label (famous brands printed in big, bright colours or scuba diving flags)
Full reviews of my 5 first diving bags
An important thing I realise is not every scuba diver needs the same bag and even sometimes, depending on the type of diving trips we do, we don’t always need the same either. Do you travel to warm or cold countries? Will you bring a drysuit? Is it a road trip or will you take public transportation?
Through my experience of backpacking or road tripping with scuba diving gear with 5 different bags, I hope you can get a better idea of what YOU need, and the necessary specifications to look at when you buy your next scuba diving bag.
Decathlon Tribord 120L
Travelled 28,585 km without flights from 2010 to 2014 to Mexico / Guatemala / Belize / France / Spain / Indonesia / Turkey / Thailand / Argentina / India / Italy
Strengths: I could put everything in its separate pockets: my full diving equipment, my clothes and all I need for more than a month of travelling. My greatest achievement with this bag has been on my trip to Argentina. In a bag of 20kg, I could take suitable clothing for Iguazu (tropical climate) and Ushuaia (polar climate), my hiking gear, my BCD, my mask and my fins. Inside the main volume, it had many small mesh pockets to put all the small equipment.
Weaknesses: The wheels broke when I moved to Scotland, but given the number of km I travelled with this bag it’s kind of okay but it’s really frustrating because almost everything else is in good condition. The zipper pulls broke quickly (so annoying). The bag was too tall for me when I was carrying it as a backpack. Because of its height, the designers maybe thought it was ok not to have a telescopic handle, but I must say it was tiring to roll it especially since the foam of the handle crushed quickly. The separate waterproof bag was a great idea except it wasn’t really waterproof.
|weight||4,2 kg (9.3lbs)||storage for small items||yes|
|wheels||yes||internal volume||120 L|
|case for my clothes||yes||toughness||high|
|backpack||yes||dimensions||89 x 43 x 30 cm (35″x17″x12″)|
Airtex Atlas 46L
Travelled 2,856 km without flights from 2014 to 2017 to Switzerland / The Phillippines / Honduras
Strengths: To be honest, I first bought this bag to travel incognito with scuba diving gear when I was on a business trip(!). I realised later that it was a significant advantage not to have a bag screaming “I have expensive gear inside!” On its first trip to go ice diving in Switzerland, I managed to cram all my snow equipment, my boots, my BCD, my mask and my fins. When travelling to tropical destinations, it is a bit easier to reduce weight and volume thanks to light clothing and a thinner wetsuit. As result, I could take it to the Philippines for 1 month and to Honduras for 2 weeks. The fact I could put my diving equipment separately from my clothes was perfect.
Weaknesses: I have to admit it wasn’t that easy to put everything inside. Even if I found the perfect order to combine all my gear inside and used my packing cubes for my clothes, every time I had to sit on the suitcase to close the zips! The material inside the bag is clearly not made for such stress, and it has already started to tear off. I only made a few trips so I will have to be careful if I want to keep it.
|weight||3,1 kg (6.83lbs)||storage for small items||yes|
|wheels||yes||internal volume||46 L|
|case for my clothes||yes||toughness||medium|
|backpack||yes||dimensions||65 x 39 x 18 cm (26″x15″x7″)|
Aqualung T8 roller duffle backpack 92L
Travelled 21,295 km without flights from 2015 to 2017 to Iceland / Indonesia / Florida / France / Malta / Canary Islands / Belgium / The Netherlands / Italy / Japan / Croatia / Switzerland / Greece / Hawaii
Strengths: This 92L diving bag is very light and has a lot of space inside. It was perfect to travel with a drysuit and its undersuit. I travelled to Iceland and Japan with everything I needed for cold water diving. I loved its telescopic handle, so comfortable. I was much less tired when I roll the bag. The backpack system is quick to pull out when you need to climb some stairs.
Weaknesses: There are no separate pockets for clothes or anything else at all. So I used my mesh packing cubes, but when my gear was still wet, I couldn’t keep my clothes dry. The comfort of the backpack system could be improved but as I’m carrying my bag on my back only for short periods, it was fine. Unfortunately, one of the corners is starting to tear off, more protections around them would be needed, especially the corners that touch the ground when the bag is standing vertically. Nevertheless, considering the distance I travelled with this bag, it is not too bad.
|weight||3,95 kg (8.71lbs)||storage for small items||no|
|wheels||yes||internal volume||92 L|
|case for my clothes||no||toughness||medium|
|backpack||yes||dimensions||79 x 33 x 33 cm (31″x14″x13″)|
Aqualung Defense dry duffle 85L
Travelled 4,251 km from 2014 to 2016 all around Scotland, from St Abbs to Scapa Flow via the Sound of Mull.
Strengths: The Aqualung Defence dry duffel is perfectly waterproof either from the inside or outside, this is the most robust material I’ve ever seen, and I have really not been kind to it during my two years in Scotland. It has a large internal volume where you can put anything you like. I really like the sketch behind the flap with the scuba diver equipment checklist!
Weaknesses: If it’s the perfect bag for road trips, I don’t recommend it at all to go backpacking as it’s not easy at all to carry it on the shoulder. I also found the plastic purge not practical when you need to remove water from the bag, so I disassembled it every time I was washing the bag.
|weight||1,25 kg (2.75lbs)||storage for small items||no|
|wheels||no||internal volume||85 L|
|case for my clothes||no||toughness||high|
|backpack||no||dimensions||66 x Ø41cm (26’xØ16′)|
Aqualung Explorer carry-on 45L
The Aqualung Explorer carry-on was my latest acquisition, so I only used it once on a Paris-Toulon scuba diving weekend. As I have now left my old drysuit in residence in Toulon, I just need to carry less gear! It was a good first trial where I could prove I could easily put all my gear including fins (the sides have been specially designed for the hot-shot fins), mask, regulator, undersuit, and clothes for the weekend.
I hope I can use it soon on a weekend getaway in South Europe, without having to pay for checked-in luggage on low-cost airlines. The only problem is I need to wait for the right season, usually from July, so the water is warm enough to dive in a wetsuit.
|weight||3,0 kg (6.75lbs)||storage for small items||yes|
|wheels||yes||internal volume||45 L|
|case for my clothes||no||toughness||high|
|backpack||no||dimensions||56 x 35 x 23 cm (22″x14″x9″)|
Finding my next diving bag
As I’m currently preparing a new big adventure for the second half of 2018, I started to look for my next best companion. At Paris Dive Show in January, I was disappointed to see there was no good in-between for me. It’s either you have to choose between large roller bags without any backpack system (I guess if you’re only doing liveaboard that’s fine) or some small waterproof backpacks without any wheels. I was first really attracted to these waterproof backpacks, and there was quite an interesting choice of them with many brands offering them.
The Apeks dry bags seems perfect regarding size and toughness, you can even attach the smaller Apeks Dry 12 bag to it. The only problem for me is, as a blogger who travels with a laptop and underwater photography gear, I now need my Riut 25 anti-theft backpack to securely pack these as my cabin carry-on. So when I’m wearing it, it’s just easier to roll the scuba diving gear bag behind me. Occasionally, when I have obstacles to cross, I put my scuba diving bag on my back and the small backpack in front of me. OK, so I need to look further…
2 weeks later, I gave a try to one of the most famous outdoors stores in Paris, to look for travel bags that could do the trick. For sure, I would lose the saltwater resistant materials but regular outdoors brands may have some good ideas too. I quickly found two rolling backpacks that seem interesting with the perfect volume I’m looking for: the Osprey Sojourn 60 R (60L) and the Eagle Creek Expanse Conv 29 (78L).
The Osprey was quite light (3,87kg) and has high-quality materials and pockets for small items. Unfortunately, I found the backpack system too long to set up for the occasional use I have of it. Although it is very comfy, I think it is too luxurious for what I need. Regarding the Eagle Creek, it has a sleeker design and a bigger internal volume but for almost the same height than the Osprey. The two things I didn’t like were the hip belt that was way to low on my hips and hence very uncomfortable, and the bottom corners are not well protected, so I know that they will get damaged quickly. I liked the Osprey more, but unfortunately, it is 3 times the cost of my usual scuba diving bags so I will think about it.
Update 2020: With the latest changes of the Aqualung diving bag collection, I am currently using the Explorer II roller bag for my scuba diving gear and the Pro Pack One backpack for my underwater photography gear.
For more tips about travelling with scuba diving gear, don’t forget to read these blog posts which are some of my most-read articles:
- Flying & Scuba diving: 5 things you need to know
- Travelling with scuba diving gear? Yes, you can!
- My sabbatical from A to Z
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