As scuba divers, we have the superpower of breathing underwater. To do it, we need scuba diving gear. To do it safely and comfortably, we need even more scuba diving equipment. Nevertheless, I feel like a superhero every time I don my wetsuit and BCD. This is also why scuba diving is perceived as an expensive sport. Our scuba gear doesn’t come cheap in most cases.
If you fell in love with scuba diving too and plan on diving more than twice a year, investing your own kit should quickly come to your mind. Over the years, I had my share of scary wake-up calls with rental gear. Each time, it reminded me that 2 seconds can make the difference between your safety and a diving accident. I’m convinced that comfort equals safety. Habit and knowledge of using your own equipment play a big part here. This is why I drag my scuba diving gear everywhere I go.
There is a way to invest wisely step by step. This article is meant to give you pointers on doing it without breaking the bank. If you become addicted to scuba diving, you could actually save a lot of money. And more money means more diving!
What do I need to scuba dive?
If you are a beginner diver, even if you only did a DSD (Discovery Scuba Dive), you’ve been introduced to the ABC of scuba diving gear: mask, regulator, BCD and fins. In tropical islands where the water temperature is well above 28°C, it can be enough. But there is a whole world of diving equipment beyond these: exposure suits (wetsuits/drysuits), accessories for your safety or comfort, and more or less waterproof bags. When buying scuba diving gear, know the essentials you need first and the accessories you can purchase later.
The 6 scuba gear essentials
I have listed the essential pieces of scuba gear in the order I would recommend beginner divers start purchasing their own kit. You don’t have to buy everything at once. Starting this way will improve your comfort and confidence underwater without fearing for your bank account. As you keep diving, you’ll have a better idea of your preferences and needs when you reach the most expensive pieces of diving equipment (aka the regulator, the dive computer and the BCD).
1 – Diving mask
Masks allow scuba divers, freedivers and snorkellers to see underwater. Unfortunately, our eyes don’t work well in water. We hence need a layer of air to see what’s below the waves. To do so comfortably, the lesser water coming inside, the better. Getting water in their masks is already a challenge to overcome for some people. This is why finding a model that is the right fit for you will make your life easier in your first scuba diving years. Beyond comfort and fit, you need to easily do the Valsalva technique through it to equalise your ears.
Another great feature to look for is a special anti-fogging film covering the inner side of the lens, such as in the Anti-Fog Tidal mask (which features easily replaceable anti-fog films). Because, let’s be honest, nobody likes clearing their mask too many times underwater (especially if you wear contact lenses like me). Sometimes, despite your best efforts (lighter’s flame, toothpaste or baby shampoo), some masks keep getting foggy.
2 – Diving suit
A large part of us discovered scuba diving while on tropical holidays. A thin wetsuit or even a rash guard on top of a swimsuit can be enough. As we lose our body temperature 25 times faster in the water than in the air, below 28°C, you’ll usually need a full wetsuit if you want to scuba dive longer than 20 minutes. Not only shivering underwater isn’t fun, but on the one hand, it will keep your mind busier with being cold than with your safety controls, and on the other hand, you’ll consume way more air.
When I bought my first 5mm wetsuit, which was a perfect fit for me, it changed my life as a beginner diver. Not having to rely on scuba diving centres rentals, which were always a bit too big for me and made me cold because of the circulation of water inside, allowed me to improve my underwater skills.
Depending on where you plan to scuba dive, you may need different types and thicknesses of exposure suits, from 3mm wetsuits to drysuits. Here is a quick indication on which suit to use depending on the water temperature based on what I do. Remember, thermal comfort is personal; if you need something warmer, just take it. Also, remember that the more frequently you scuba dive, the colder you get.
|3 mm wetsuit||> 28°C|
|5 mm wetsuit||24-28°C|
Last but not least, don’t listen to people telling you they’re just fine with a 5mm wetsuit in a 7°C water. Good for them, do what’s comfortable for you. Somebody might end the dive 15 minutes before, and it won’t be you.
3 – Fins
Fins are what allow us to move efficiently underwater. They come in different shapes and rigidity but mostly fall into 2 categories: the full-foot fins and the adjustable fins. The first one can be used barefoot, whereas you’ll need booties with the latter.
The full-foot fins are usually cheaper and lighter, making them perfect for travelling. However, I have a long history of blisters with them. I could have solved this with neoprene socks, but I preferred directly moving to adjustable fins with booties. The booties are warmers in colder water and protect your feet on uneven terrains when shore diving. It’s the most polyvalent solution, but it’s bulkier and heavier to transport.
The good news is that you can now find models that can be used both ways, with or without booties. This is why I love my Storm fins.
4 – Dive computer
Times are now long gone when we had to do math with dive tables to know when to scuba dive again, for how long and how deep. The dive computer does everything for you. It used to be expensive, but today, prices have started to drop with all the smart watches around. Entry range models can have nitrox options and a colour screen like the Aqualung i330R. It can even be linked by Bluetooth to a smartphone to keep a digital dive log.
In recent years, I’ve seen more and more dive centres making a requirement that each diver must wear a dive computer. The reason is simple, as you can’t always keep an eye on everyone, at least the dive computer will tell you if you’re too deep or if you are ascending too fast. Its primary role is to give the time you have left at a certain depth before getting into decompression mode with a more or less long safety stop (recreational diving is about staying off the decompression limits).
5 – BCD (Buoyancy Control Device)
If you are ready to invest in a BCD, it usually means you’re now hooked to scuba diving. Unfortunately, we can’t say the prices have decreased significantly on this equipment. However, their comfort and features have continuously been improved. We can now find lighter, compact, and versatile models for travelling.
Basically, a BCD is a built-in buoy jacket that keeps you floating at a certain depth while scuba diving. Knowing how much air you need to put inside, depending on how deep you are underwater, is one of the core skills you learn as an Open Water diver. The truth is, I’ve seen many divers struggling with their buoyancy well after certification. Indeed, the BCD doesn’t do everything on its own. You still need to learn how to use your lungs to go up or down. You can get better at buoyancy control by getting your own BCD. With a model of your size, dive after dive, you’ll know perfectly how it reacts and how you should too.
There are mainly 2 styles of BCDs in recreational diving: jacket BCDs and back-inflation BCDs. The first type is the model most people learn scuba diving with. Having air pockets all around you can give an increased sense of safety, especially at the surface. However, it can decrease comfort if you have a large chest or bust. Back-inflation BCDs are my go-to choice. They help divers achieve a better trim underwater (ideal hydrodynamic horizontal position in the water). It can be trickier initially, but you don’t need to be a scuba diving expert in using one.
6 – Regulator
This is the key equipment that allows us to breathe underwater. Once you’ve reached purchasing your first regulator set (including an octopus -spare regulator- and an air gauge), you now have a complete scuba diving gear set. It might be an expensive piece of diving equipment, but the day I bought my first regulator, I felt proud to be an accomplished scuba diver.
Being the most technical equipment, the choice of a regulator can feel daunting. However, there is no need to go directly for the most high-end model. As a rule of thumb, rely on well known historical brands (the ones that basically created modern scuba diving), but pick a model adapted to your needs: water temperature range, DIN or Yoke connection, breathing effort.
The good news is, travel regulators that are lighter tend to be on the cheaper end. However, be aware these models usually can’t be used below 14°C. At the same time, not everyone needs a regulator made for ice diving.
The two different styles of connection, DIN and Yoke, are more a regional matter. DIN comes from the German code for standards and is vastly used in Europe. With a DIN regulator, you need to screw your first stage in the tank valve (with a Yoke regulator, you fix the first stage around the tank valve). There is a debate about whether DIN is safer than Yoke, but seeing most tech divers with DIN regulators says everything. If you opt like me for a DIN regulator, be aware you’ll need a DIN adapter when diving in America, Mexico and Japan.
The breathing effort rating (expressed in joules per litre of inhaled air) can make the price of a regulator skyrocket. Buy the best regulator your money allows you to, but the truth is, most regulators are reliable nowadays. They all tend to be based more and more on the same proven technology of a balanced first stage. If you only do shallow diving in warm waters, you won’t face the same conditions as a deep diver exploring a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The high-end models of regulators are more expensive because they do a better job at delivering and adjusting the air you need in challenging diving conditions (depth, currents, low temperatures). Still, if it sounds like what you want to do, you should check the Aqualung Legend regulators.
Scuba gear accessories
Here is a quick overview of the scuba diving accessories you may decide to purchase to complete your scuba diving kit.
- Hood & gloves: They make a difference in thermal comfort for diving in cold water.
- Booties: To be used with adjustable fins, they are a must for colder waters and shore diving.
- SMB : You need a Surface Marker Buoy to ascend at the surface safely when you’re too far from the boat, like after a drift dive.
- Compass: Useful when the visibility is low. It is a mandatory piece of equipment for Divemasters in training.
- Clips & holders: These are the tiny accessories that will make all your scuba gear streamlined on your BCD. Besides, they make you a more responsible diver who doesn’t let their octopus and gauge drag on the sea bed or coral reef. Here is the model I use for my air gauge.
- Dive light: A diving torchlight is essential for night diving, but they are also helpful during daytime in darker waters or when you go diving deeper on a shipwreck.
- Dive knife: Useful to avoid getting entangled in a line if you scuba dive in an area where people go fishing. A dive knife may look cool, but a line cutter is often more effective.
- Snorkel: While we all learn during our Open Water course that this is a mandatory piece of scuba gear to deal with an emergency at the surface if you are running out of air and conditions are the surface are rough. The truth is we don’t see a lot of scuba divers with one these days. I’ve seen some people keeping one attached to their leg with a strap.
I’ve always been amused by people who keep asking me if I carry a tank and weights in my bag. I would be ruined by excess luggage fees if so! Fortunately, these are always included in the price of a dive when you book with a dive centre. As more and more BCDs have integrated weight pockets, you won’t need a weight belt.
Scuba gear bags
You mostly choose between 3 styles of dive bags. In the end, you can use any kind of backpack or suitcase, but let’s see how these specialised bags can help you:
- Waterproof bag: The small ones are perfect for protecting your sensitive belongings (phone, wallet, etc.) on a boat. The large ones are convenient for packing up your scuba gear and driving home directly after diving.
- Mesh bag: These are perfect when staying several days at a dive centre or on a liveaboard cruise. It will help you keep your scuba diving gear organised. You can rinse it together quickly and let it dip dry.
- Travel bag: A light but solid roller duffle bag is the way to go for long-distance travel. The quality of the wheels and salt-resistant zippers are features to look for. The ergonomics of the telescopic handle comes next. I used to think a foldable backpack system was a must until I realised the duffle bag handles just work as fine for a few stairs or walking on the beach. Have a look at my diving bags review.
What kind of scuba gear for which location?
Another important criterion for buying scuba gear is where you mainly scuba dive. If you live in Europe or Northern America and you’re into local diving, it usually means diving in mild to cold waters. There is no denying that the colder the water, the more gear you’ll need, the more you’ll spend.
Scuba gear for warm waters
If scuba diving only equals tropical island holidays to you, a dive kit with the essentials will do. Above 28°C, a 3 mm wetsuit (or just a long sleeve rashguard), a mask, a pair of fins, light travel regulators, and BCD will be just fine. My recommendation? Get at least a dive computer and an SMB on top of that.
Scuba gear for cooler waters
When I think about mild temperatures, I think about the Mediterranean Sea or mainland Japan. But even tropical destinations can have a colder season. Cooler water temperature, to me, goes from 18°C to 26°C. In this case, I scuba dive with a 5mm wetsuit for the warmest side of the range. I usually switch to a 7mm wetsuit when it gets colder than 24°C.
It also means adding more accessories to keep warm: a hood, gloves and booties. To go with your booties, you’ll need adjustable fins. Considering a dive light on top of your dive computer and SMB is a great addition as you’re likely to have less light underwater.
Scuba gear for cold waters
There is quite a debate about which water temperature you may consider drysuit diving from. It is below 18°C for me. When making a significant investment into a drysuit, why bother? Some argue it is nicer to scuba dive in a wetsuit from a liberty of movement and hydrodynamics point of view. To some extent, I can relate to this. But if I’m shivering, what’s the point?
Below 10°C, getting warmer gloves matters. You’ll find 5 mm gloves, 7mm mittens and some drysuits that can be connected to dry gloves. Don’t forget that you’ll need an undersuit to stay warm below a dry suit. If you use a 7mm neoprene drysuit, fleece sweater and leggings can do. With 4mm compressed neoprene or shell trilaminate drysuits (less buoyant), you’ll need a special drysuit undergarment to keep warm and toasty.
Beyond a non-optional hood, cold water diving involves getting a high-end regulator. You need to pick a model able to operate without freezing and getting into free-flow. Some regulators are even certified for ice diving. These regulators usually have extra ports to connect the hose to the drysuit inflator. This hose is generally sold as a standard accessory with drysuits.
Considering the low visibility you usually have in colder waters (but not everywhere), a powerful dive light is more about to be seen by your dive buddy and acts as a safety device, in my opinion.
How to choose the right gear for me?
I think this question genuinely terrified me in my first 2 years of diving. I had so many people telling me to buy what they were using without thinking if it was adapted to my situation. Besides, the choice is indeed overwhelming.
There is no perfect way to pick the ideal scuba gear for you the first time. When I accepted the trial-and-error process involved, my stress decreased. Obviously, considering the cost of the equipment, you don’t want to make too many mistakes. Even if you can always resell on the second-hand market, doing it too often would be expensive as you lose about 50% of the value each time. However, you can also buy second hand and resell at the same price.
Is there a difference in scuba gear between beginners and experienced divers?
There isn’t any difference per se. The boundary between beginners’ and advanced divers’ scuba gear is blunter and blunter. However, there is still a difference in equipment between recreational divers and tech divers. Tech divers have specific needs for deep diving and cave diving.
Most people would say beginners should only get entry-level equipment because you don’t know yet what’s good for you or if you’ll continue scuba diving at all. But if a high-end product is what you need and you have the budget, go for it!
My main recommendation for beginners would be more about the fins’ flexibility. Rigid fins are more efficient in currents, but you may not yet have a good fin kicking technique, or you may need to build up some leg muscle to avoid painful cramps. Don’t take the most flexible (hopefully, split fins have started disappearing from the market) either, but maybe don’t buy Jetfins directly (the most solid and unkillable fins ever made).
It might be unlikely that in your first years of scuba diving, you’ll scuba dive in deep cold waters with currents. A middle entry range regulator should be OK. I like my travel Mikron regulator when I travel to some tropical paradise. But whenever I’m diving locally in France, I use my Core regulator because of the colder water. So, when buying your first regulator, think about this as you may not be able to purchase 2 different sets of regulators from the very beginning.
How to try gear without wasting money?
Here are a few ideas to try diving equipment without spending much:
- Check if one of your favourite dive buddies has the equipment you’d like to purchase. Ask if they would agree to let you try it, and don’t forget to pay for the drinks afterwards.
- Go to a scuba diving show. There are usually try pools to test an extensive array of scuba gear.
- Go to your nearest dive shop if you just need fitting for a diving suit or a BCD. (Be nice, if you do that and had seen a lower price online, tell them).
- Check for events organised by scuba diving gear manufacturers; this is how I found my first drysuit at the Drysuit tour organised by Aqualung.
- Check the list of partner dive centres on the manufacturers’ websites. They are likely to have the equipment you want on rent. Just call them and book a dive.
- Buy second-hand and resell it at the same price if it doesn’t fit.
How much does scuba gear cost?
The price of scuba diving gear depends on several factors:
- The water temperature in which you dive;
- Entry-model vs high-end models;
- Cheap unknown brands vs reputable brands;
- And more surprisingly, in which country you buy it.
The price for a complete scuba diving set
For occasional warm water diving, the price of a complete set starts at 775 €.
- Mask: 15 – 155 €
- Full foot fins: 30 – 115 €
- 3 mm wetsuit: 50 – 240 €
- Regulator set: 300 – 1100 €
- BCD: 200 – 600 €
- Dive computer: 150 – 750 €
- SMB: 30 – 90 €
To give you an outlook on how much the budget can be, the price of a complete set for cold water diving starts at 1655 €.
- Neoprene drysuit: 600 – 1200 €
- Drysuit undergarment: 80 – 500 €
- Hood: 15 – 80 €
- Gloves: 15 – 60 €
- Booties: 20 – 160 €
- Adjustable fins: 30 – 200 €
- Regulator set: 500 – 1100 €
- BCD: 200 – 600 €
- Mask: 15 – 155 €
- Dive computer: 150 – 750 €
- SMB: 30 – 90 €
Which scuba gear brand should you choose?
As you start searching for your next purchase to complete your diving kit, you’ll notice how much the price tag can change. As a rule of thumb, it is wiser to put your life underwater between the hands of a reputable brand. Some unknown brands found online promise the best features for a fraction of the cost of the others. If well-established brands are more expensive, it is not only a matter of marketing costs. They invest a lot in research and development, and above all, in testing and quality control.
Another point you may want to take into account is if the brand you buy can be serviced where you live. This is especially true for regulators which need to be serviced every year (some, every 2 years). Check with your local dive shops which brands they service. They train their technicians at manufacturers’ facilities and have exclusive access to the replacement parts. Obviously, they don’t do this for every single brand on Earth. The world tends to be divided into the Americas, Europe-Africa-Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. So, if you live in Europe and fancy the regulator from an American brand, think twice. Only a handful of brands can be serviced worldwide, and without any surprise, these are the most famous ones.
Is the price of scuba gear different in different countries?
In some countries, scuba diving is still perceived as an elitist activity, so retail prices tend to be higher. Whereas most scuba diving gear is now manufactured in Asia, you’ll find the best prices in Europe. If you’re a non-EU citizen, checking Europe best dive sites while shopping tax-free can be worth it then.
For example, here are the prices of my beloved aquamarine Plazma mask across the world:
- France: 69 €
- UK: 59 GBP (about 70 €)
- Canada: 125 CAD (about 88 €)
- USA: 129 USD (about 113 €)
- Japan: 17 600 JPY (about 135 €)
(Retailed price without discount observed on each country #1 online dive shop)
How to save money by buying second hand
If your budget is limited, going on the second-hand market is the way to go. Whether on Gumtree in the UK or Australia, Craigslist in the US and Canada, or the endless list of dedicated Facebook groups, you’ll find tons of ads from people selling their scuba gear, usually 50% less than the regular price tag. The discount can go as far as 80% on older models or equipment with more than a few dives under their belt.
If there isn’t much to worry about masks, fins or wetsuits, you need to be extremely careful regarding regulators. Ask how and if they were serviced regularly. With dive computer and drysuits, ask how many dives they have. In doubt, better to wait for the next promotion at your local dive shop. Patience is key when buying second-hand.
The best deals to be made are with people who bought gear which didn’t fit and hence sell them on the second-hand market whereas the equipment is brand new! In this case, try to get between 30 to 50% discount.
Buying or Renting scuba gear: which one is better?
You just need to do a simple calculation to know if it’s worthy for you, money-wise, to invest in your own scuba gear (don’t forget personal scuba gear = more comfort = more safety too). When travelling to a dive centre, the rental cost of a complete gear set is on average 15 € per dive. Note it doesn’t generally include a dive computer or any other accessories. On average, dive computers are rented for 5€ per dive. So let’s say it costs 20 € to rent gear for a dive.
If you spend 1000 € on scuba diving equipment, you will get the cost back in 50 dives.
Some people like me quickly do this in a year (it’s 4 dives per month). If you think you won’t reach 50 dives in less than 10 years, then, indeed, it is more affordable to rent. Considering the servicing cost for the regulator (70 to 95 € per year), you won’t have a good return on investment before the equipment gets too old.
Do the math for your own situation and buy accordingly. I hope I have given you plenty of information in this article to make the best choice for you. If you still have questions, please let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to help!
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