Purchasing your first scuba gear set up can be a bit confusing. First of all, you don’t necessarily know what you need to buy and what you don’t. The temptation can be to go out and buy everything in one go, only to realize you can’t bring a lot of it with you. Navigating all the different brands and options can also be quite tricky. That’s what we’re going to help you with. We’re going to break down what you want to buy as a beginner and look at a few options for each piece of equipment.
Who should get a scuba equipment and what scuba gear should they get?
Before we even get started with looking at the equipment, there are some things you need to first consider. Number one on this list of considerations is going to be how often you plan on scuba diving.
Scuba diving isn’t cheap. You may have read or heard about budget backpackers traveling the world and diving on the cheap. But that isn’t going to be a reality for 99.99% of people. In truth, it can be expensive hobby. You have to get to your destination, pay for the boat, pay for tanks and refills, pay for equipment rentals, and everything else associated with a trip.
All of those costs add up quickly over time. One thing you can do to reduce the cost associated with scuba diving is buying your equipment upfront. This is going to frontload the costs but it also means you don’t have to pay rental fees. Over time, this can pay for itself. But, this isn’t a great option for everyone.
If you usually only go scuba diving two or three times a year, the money you save on equipment rental is going to be far less than you spent on your equipment. In fact, it may take you a whole lifetime to recoup the cost of your equipment. This isn’t to say there aren’t a few things you will want to get. But, it may not be the best decision to go out and buy a complete setup.
On the other hand, if you go diving more regularly and are looking to buy your first equipment set up, you may save a bit of money in the long run. Especially, if you are buying equipment for advanced level training such as a master diver or rescue diver course.
Before we even get into which equipment is the best for a first-timer, let’s look at what you actually need for the amount of driving you do.
Irregular Diver (1 to 10 times per year)
If you go on less than 10 dives per year, there is a lot of equipment that will be better for you to just rent. The hassle of dragging it on all of your trips and then having to keep everything maintained just isn’t worth it. As we said, this doesn’t mean you want to rent everything though. There are a few pieces of equipment that any diver, regardless of how often they dive, should own. This includes:
- Wetsuit (no one wants to sit in the pee of hundreds of previous divers who’ve used a rental suit)
- Dive computer (you can customize your computer to your individual needs)
- Mask and snorkel (good for both diving and snorkeling on vacation)
- Dive watch (we encourage everyone to keep a dive watch as backup and learn their formulas)
- Fins and dive booties (this goes along with having a mask and snorkel. You can use it to enjoy the beach when not scuba diving)
All of this is easy equipment to bring with you on a trip. Each of these pieces of equipment can easily pack away into a suitcase. Also, with the exception of the dive computer, each can be used for more than just your scuba diving trips.
You can use a mask and snorkel and fins for snorkeling at the beach when not diving. You can also use a wetsuit for this if you are in colder areas. The dive watch serves as a great timepiece for everyday wear.
With this equipment, you aren’t spending lots of extra money on stuff you won’t need outside of your dive trips. Everything else, including regulators and BCDs, is easy to rent. As we said, it isn’t worth having all of this extra equipment for the few times of year you will be diving. The money you save on rental fees will never match what you pay for the equipment.
Regular Diver (15 or more dives each year)
If you go diving fifteen or more times each year, you are starting to get to the point where having your own equipment is worth it. Diving this many times, you are going to rack up quite a bit in rental fees. Over time, you can have paid for your own regulator set and BCD with those fees.
It’s always better to have your own equipment when you are doing a lot of diving. You know that it’s been maintained well since you are the one doing the maintenance. Also, you have a chance to get familiar with your exact equipment which makes it more comfortable for diving.
If you are diving this much and looking to buy your first set of equipment, there are a few extra things you want. This includes:
- Wetsuit (potentially more than one depending on the temperatures you normally dive)
- Mask and snorkel (it is always good to have a mask that fits your face and is comfortable for you, especially as a regular diver)
- Dive computer (it is important to have your dives logged so you can learn from past dives)
- Dive watch (as we mentioned above we believe all divers should have a watch and know their tables and formulas)
- BCD (you can rig your BCD to your exact specifications)
- Complete regulator set (it’s good to have a complete regulator set that you are comfortable diving with)
- Fins and dive booties
- Extras (anti-fog, surface markers, etc.)
- Travel case
- Dive knife
There are also a few other pieces of equipment you might think about buying such as a dive light. But, that is going to depend on your personal preferences. The above equipment represents what we feel is the most important for the average diver.
What are some tips for buying your first scuba equipment?
There are two main points you want to consider before buying your first set of equipment. These will apply to all divers regardless of if you are regularly or irregularly diving throughout the year. These considerations are:
One of the first things you want to think about is price. If you have loads of money and don’t care how much something cost, go ahead and buy whatever equipment you want. But, for your first equipment set, we recommend buying cheaper items.
The reason for this is twofold. First, as a new diver, chances are your equipment is going to get put through the wringer. New divers aren’t always the best about equipment maintenance. This leads to the turnover on equipment being a bit faster than an experienced diver.
The second reason you want to buy cheaper equipment is you don’t necessarily know your path as a diver. Maybe you get into diving and enjoy tropical reef diving for the rest of your life. You stick to the equipment you’ve bought and are fine using it for the long term. Or, maybe you decide you want to get into wreck diving or cave diving later on. Now, you need to buy a new setup just for those activities.
You also don’t know how long you are going to stick to diving. There are plenty of people who got their certifications while on vacation and never went diving again. You don’t want to go out and buy expensive BCDs and regulator sets only to have it sit in the closet after your training class.
If you are getting equipment for regular diving, you want to go for maximum comfort. On the other hand, if you are about to take a long term course such as a master diver course, you want to look at price to performance.
When taking a course, your equipment is going to take a beating. You don’t want to go buy a bunch of new and expensive gear you are going to be replacing at the end of the course. There are a few things you want to go for quality on. The rest, go for durability and low cost.
But, if you have your advanced diver certification, and are looking for equipment that will last you a while, it is better to go for quality. If you have no plans of continuing your diving education, and just want to enjoy diving while on vacation, comfort is more important. You will probably be using your equipment less and taking better care of it. So, you can spend a little bit more if it is something more comfortable for you. This includes equipment such as fins and your BCD.
The Best Scuba Gear You Should Choose
We went over already which pieces of equipment are right for different diveres. So, we’ll now go top to bottom over each piece of equipment. Measure this list against the above information we provided based on how frequently you dive each year. For each piece of equipment, we’ll provide a few recommendations good for beginners.
Mask and Snorkel
A good mask and snorkel are something you should get regardless of how often you go diving. You can use your mask and snorkel at the beach for snorkeling so it serves more than one purpose. Also, if you rely on rental masks, you may find them to be a bit uncomfortable for your face. Especially, if you have a larger or smaller head.
If you have a larger head, you may experience tight pressure under the water. This can actually begin to hurt after 20 or 30 minutes. The problem is, once you are under, there is nothing that can be done about it. You have to wait till you are back on the boat to loosen it up or try and find an alternative mask.
On the other hand, if you have a smaller head, you may have the opposite problem of the mask not sealing perfectly around you. The issue here is that water can seep into your mask and get into your eyes. This is especially an issue when saltwater diving. If you get salt in your eyes while underwater, the only thing you can do is blink and let tears wash it out. You have to live with the sting for a few minutes.
It is always a good idea to have your own mask. Even if you only go diving once or twice per year. To find a mask that fits you, it is best to try it on first. Put the mask on your face without attaching it via the straps. Then, inhale through your nose. If the mask stays on your head then you know it fits well.
Also, take into consideration how it presses against you. If the bridge which goes over your nose is too tight or part of the skirt feels uncomfortable against your face, try a different mask. Remember, when you get underwater the pressure is going to be pushing the mask harder against your face. If the mask doesn’t fit well above the water it will be even worse below.
As far as a snorkel goes, whichever one comes with the mask will be fine. Snorkels are mostly built the same so the quality varies very little.
Masks that we recommend for beginners:
- TUSA Freedom HD (pair with TUSA neoprene strap cover for maximum comfort)
- Scubapro Spectra Low Volume (pair with Scubapro neoprene strap cover for maximum comfort)
- Cressi Panoramic Wide View w/ Dry Snorkel (pair with Cressi neoprene strap cover for maximum comfort)
Regulator Set (First and Second Stage)
This is one you will only need to purchase if you are regularly diving. The regulators you rent from the dive center will be fine. Regulators also need to be regularly serviced so owning one adds extra cost to your diving.
If you are diving regularly or preparing for an extensive course, then getting a regulator will be worthwhile. But, if you only go diving a few times a year, save yourself the hassle. Instead, stick to the rentals from the shop. You will save both money and time in the long run.
If you are planning on getting a regulator, you will need to get a first stage and second stage. The best way to figure out which regulator is right for you is to try them out. We recommend doing this during the actual dives. So, we don’t recommend purchasing a regulator until you’ve dove with a few different brands. The best way to do that is through rentals. Once you’ve experienced a few different brands of regulators, you will have a better idea of which one you prefer. The main thing to look out for is how easy it is for you to breathe.
Make sure when you are shopping for regulators that you talk to the people at your local dive shop. This is where you are usually going to be taking it for maintenance. Even if you do buy a regulator set online, it will be maintained locally. It is always best to stick to regulators that you can easily have serviced. If you purchased a brand or type of regulator and have to regularly send it off for service for a month, it won’t be worth the hassle.
Also, stick to cheaper regulators for your first set. As you progress in your diving experience you may choose to do other types of diving such as cave diving or cold water diving. You will need different, much more experience regulators for those. For warm water recreational diving, you don’t need to break the bank.
Regulators that we recommend for beginners:
BCD (Buoyancy Device)
This is going to be one of the largest of your expenses. It’s also the piece of equipment that is going to take the biggest beating and be the biggest hassle to transport. You can easily bring a wetsuit, dive computer, mask and snorkel, etc, in your checked baggage. But, a BCD is both heavy and bulky and will most likely cause you to have to buy extra weight if you fly somewhere.
We do not recommend you buy a BCD unless you do a lot of diving or you are about to do an extensive class. BCDs are one of those pieces of equipment that are much better rented.
If you are going to get a BCD, make sure it fits. It is best that you try one out at a dive shop so you can get the sizing down first. You can order them online, and find them for much cheaper usually. But, make sure you try a BCD on before you buy it. You want to ensure that it fits comfortably. Make sure none of the straps grind into you and that it doesn’t feel too bulky or cumbersome. You don’t want to buy a BCD that restricts your freedom of movement.
Aside from the fit, look for a BCD that has an integrated weight system. This will ensure you don’t have to wear a weight belt when diving. Also, look for a BCD that has plenty of D-rings for attaching extras such as a surface marker or anti-fog.
Last, just as the other equipment on this list, don’t go for the most expensive BCD you can find. If you later decide to get into cave diving or wreck diving, you are going to need a different type of BCD. In the beginning, you will be using a jacket style BCD most likely. If you get into technical diving, you need a wing style BCD. Keep it cheap and opt for comfort and durability in relation to price.
BCDs we recommend for beginners:
Wetsuits are like masks and snorkels, get one regardless of how often you dive. Those rental wetsuits that you can get from the dive shop have been worn by hundreds and maybe even thousands of people before you. You can safely assume that most of those people have peed in those suits. Some of them have even thrown up on them which gets in the regulator as well. Though, that happens much less often.
The dive shop cleans each suit before it is used again. But, do you really want to sit in a wetsuit hundreds of other people have peed in? Get your own wetsuit. If you know that you get colder when diving or that you will be going to an area where you need one, go ahead and make the purchase.
When it comes to buying a wetsuit, comfort is going to be the most important factor. After that, you want to look for a suit that has padding in areas such as the knees and the shoulders. These are the two areas that receive the most damage. The knees from sitting on the sand at the bottom and the shoulders from the BCD. For your first wetsuit, a 1mm to 3mm should be fine.
Wetsuits we recommend for beginners:
- Cressi Full Diving and Snorkeling Men’s and Women’s Wetsuits
- Hyperflex Men’s and Women’s 3mm Full Wetsuit
Dive Computer and Dive Watch
This is where things can start getting expensive. Dive computers are not cheap. If you do not go diving often, we do not recommend you get one. This is easily the most expensive piece of dive equipment that you can get.
If you are a regular diver, it makes more sense to get a dive computer. You want to keep track of your dives so that you can see how you are progressing. Also, the more experience you get, the more complex the dives you do.
But, if you only go diving once or twice a year and only at open water certification depths, don’t worry about a computer. The console you are provided with at the dive shop will be fine. It’s much better that you spend your diving time focused on safe diving and enjoying the scenery.
If you do decide you need a computer, we highly recommend that you purchase one with an air integration system. This will allow you to attach a wireless transmitter to monitor the exact amount of air in your tank.
We will warn you ahead of time, this is going to raise the cost of a computer dramatically. So, we recommend purchasing a dive computer that gives you the option to use a transmitter, but which has the transmitter sold separately. Later on, when you are ready, you can buy the transmitter. Regardless of what you choose, dive computers are expensive.
We also recommend that you buy a dive watch. This will serve as a backup in the event that your dive computer ever fails on you. Dive watches vary greatly in terms of pricing. So, you have the option of going for something cheaper or doing it James Bond style with a nice Rolex. Since a dive watch is something that you can wear out of the water, buy the watch that you like the best and that fits your budget.
Dive computers we recommend for beginners:
Dive watches we recommend for beginners:
- Casio Men’s Sport Analog Dive Watch
- Citizen Men’s Eco-Drive Promaster Diver Watch
- Seiko SRPB55 Men’s Black Ion Prospex Dive Watch
We encourage you to get dive booties regardless of how much you go diving each year. These can be used not just for diving, but also when you are snorkeling to protect your feet from debris. They make great shoes for wearing around islands as well.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, dive booties are also known as reef shoes or reef boots. These are the hard and soft bottomed shoes that protect your feet when walking along the ocean floor. They are made to fit into your diving fins and are usually slip-proof for wearing around the diving boat.
They are usually inexpensive when compared to other pieces of dive equipment. As we mentioned above, you can use these for snorkeling as well as scuba diving. We recommend getting the hard-bottomed dive booties for wearing around out of the water as well.
You have the option of boots or booties. We prefer hard-bottomed booties for tropical environments and soft bottomed boots for cold water. Since you are buying your first pair, it is recommended that you go with a pair of hard-bottomed booties. Make sure you know your shoe size as dive booties and boots are measured the same as sneakers.
Dive booties and boots we recommend for beginners:
Booties (short boots)
- Cressi Tall Neoprene Boots 5mm and 7mm
- Aqua Lung 3mm Superzip Ergo Boots
- O’Neill Men’s Tropical 3mm Dive Boots
Fins are also good to purchase whether you dive frequently or not so frequently. Having a good mask and snorkel and fin set will allow you to snorkel while on vacation in between dives. Also, fins are relatively cheap when compared to equipment such as the regulator set and dive computer.
We recommend you don’t buy the most expensive fins you can find. Just like the BCD, if you decide to get into other types of diving, later on, you will need a different fin type. If you want to get into cave or wreck diving, you will need shorter fins made for these activities. The longer fins many beginners use will not work and can actually be a hazard.
Instead of price, the main things to look out for when it comes to fins are comfort and fit. You want to buy fins that will fit over your dive boots or dive booties. Do not go for the fins that you wear over your feet. Otherwise, you will constantly be switching between your dive boots and the fins while getting in and out of the water. Also, try to stay away from split fins. These are popular with beginners but the can get caught more easily in fishing lines and other obstructions.
Fins we recommend for beginners:
- Scubapro Jet Sport Open Heel Diving Fins
- Mares Avanti Quattro Open Heel Bungee Strap Fins
- Cressi Adult Open Heel Diving Fins
Dive knives are important pieces of safety equipment. Regardless of your skill level, it is a good idea to pack one. You never know when you might need one. There is always the possibility that you can get tangled in fishing lines or other debris.
You can also choose to go with a pair of trauma shears as an alternative to a dive knife. These are the scissors that are used in emergency rooms around the world to strip away clothing, jewelry, or anything else needed to get to wounds. They work great on straps and fishing line.
We encourage you to get a dive knife or trauma shears regardless of how often you dive. This is safety equipment and as such is important on every dive. As we mentioned above, you never know when you need it. That’s why it’s called emergency equipment. No one plans on needing these tools. But, when the time comes that you do need it, you will be thankful you packed one.
You want to go with a dive knife or dive shears that are made from titanium or stainless steel. Anything else is going to corrode and rust. If you go with a dive knife, make sure it has a line cutter and can both slice and saw with a serrated edge.
Dive knives we recommend:
Trauma shears we recommend:
If you manage to accumulate enough equipment, you are going to need a travel bag built for scuba gear. The main difference between a normal travel bag and suitcase and a scuba bag or suitcase is the extra features.
Most travel cases come with extra pouches for your equipment. Usually, there will also be one waterproof compartment and another non-waterproof compartment. This helps you to separate your regular clothes from your diving gear so that it doesn’t get soaked when you travel. Dive bags usually have vented compartments to help wet gear dry faster and avoid becoming funky smelling.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good dive bag. The main thing you want to worry about is whether or not it will fit all of your equipment. As we mentioned above, this is for people who travel and dive a lot. If you only dive a few times a year and are only taking a wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and some fins, skip the travel bag. Your regular suitcase will work just fine.
Travel bags we recommend for beginners are:
There are a few extra pieces of equipment which we recommend. Some of these things are for safety and others are for comfort. The list of extras are:
- Anti-Fog Mask Cleaner
- Surface Marker
Anti-Fog we recommend:
- Gear Aid Seas Drops Anti-Fog and Mask Cleaner
- 500 PSI Mask Defogger with Caribiner (for attaching to your BCD)
Surface marker we recommend:
Also read : UV Night diving
By now, you should have a good idea of what kind of equipment you need. Remember that you don’t need to just go out and buy a full scuba setup. What you buy is going to depend on how often you go scuba diving. As a beginner, it is best that you rent until you feel confident you will be sticking to diving long term.
Do you have any other recommendations? Want to share a story about your first diving equipment? Let us know in the comments section below. Your information could help your fellow divers so don’t hesitate to share.