Scuba Diving Equipment and Gear

scuba diving equipment
New divers, if you’ve thought about buying your own scuba diving gear, this could be the year. All the major manufacturers are creating specials in an attempt to keep their revenues up, and some local shops are offering even further savings. Same story as every other industry in the USA today, right?

Let’s consider one online retailer, Joe Diver America, and see what’s on offer. In addition to package deals, where you buy the BC, regulators, and gauges as a unit, Joe Diver also offers “custom package” deals, allowing you to select from a wide range of BCs, regs, and gauges to create the package you want with a discount for buying it all together. And some of the higher-end packages throw in extras like dive luggage. We’ll assume you already own the appropriate mask, snorkel, and fins for the diving you’ll do. We’ll concentrate on recreational wetsuits, BCs, regulators, and gauges, and make a few suggestions to get you thinking and asking your own questions.

But before we look at specific items, let’s talk strategy. One thing you don’t want to do is to buy scuba diving equipment too soon and too cheap, and decide a year later that it’s not adequate for the diving you want to do. I can’t count the number of divers who’ve complained to me about having had to buy gear twice.

So first be clear about your diving preferences. Will you only ever dive warm clear water at recreational depths, on one or two vacations a year? Or will you dive more often and in more varied locations, including locally in the US where you need a wetsuit? Or will you be getting in year-round, including cold water (below 65 degrees)? These will be our three selection points for your scuba diving equipment.

Semi-Annual Diver, Warm Water

If you’re a big person and don’t chill easily, diving in 75- to 85-degree water might involve nothing more than a swimsuit, although a Lycra diveskin can save you the effort of applying sunscreen each day. Some of us get chilled over the course of several days of diving, though. Consider a one-mil full suit, a two- or three-mil shortie, or even a three-mil full suit. For example, the O’Neill Reactor two-mil shortie.

For warm water, the Mares Rebel (MR12) regulator (with the MV octo) is dependable, durable, and inexpensive. But note that these are not designed for use with Nitrox, as are most of today’s higher-end regulators. Add a simple two-gauge console, like the one from Genesis, on a high-pressure hose. This combo’s depth gauge goes to 150 feet. The SPG is calibrated up to 5000 psi, and incorporates a small thermometer.

Finally, we need a BC. Most makes come in a range of sizes and include shoulder and waist cinches, so fitting is not as critical as with a wetsuit. For those comfortable with a back-inflate BC, the Genesis Tropic is a good value. For a jacket-style (wrap-around air cell), check out Cressi-Sub’s Aqualight, a BC made to be light and easy to pack.

Frequent Diver, Warm and Cool Water

For water down to about 65 degrees, you’ll want a full suit unless you’re hardy and making short dives on hot days. Suits get harder to don as they get thicker, so some suits are made with thinner panels where the suit needs to flex the most. For example, Mares makes a Trilastic 5-4-3 full suit, with 5-mil protection on the core, 4-mil arms and legs, and 3.5-mil wrists and ankles. This is much easier to don (when it’s a good snug fit) than is a straight 5-mil suit. You might also need gloves and a hood. The Body Glove Inso .5-mil beanie is less restrictive than a full hood if the water’s not cold enough to require serious headgear.

Diving in cooler waters adds the possibility of currents and other stressors. You want a regulator that breathes easy and can deliver lots of air. The Tusa II X-Pert would be a good choice, with Tusa’s Platina octopus. Note that it’s not necessary for the octo to be from the same manufacturer as the primary, but it can make servicing easier, as not all shops work on all makes of regulator. At your level of diving, you’ll be doing your own buddy dives without divemasters, so a compass will come in handy. And a dive computer will give you lots more time underwater on those intense liveaboard trips. Joe Diver offers a range of three-gauge computer consoles, with SPG, computer, and compass. The Aeris XR-1 comes in a compact package with the compass on the back of the other two elements, and it can handle Nitrox as well as air.

Let’s consider a weight-integrated BC to get the lead off your waist. Depending on your waters and your wetsuit choices, you might need to carry 20 pounds or more. Always check the BC specs to see how much weight it’s designed to hold and how much lift the air cell can generate. For example, the Tusa Liberator Sigma BC in large holds up to 34 pounds and can supply 39 pounds of lift. Lift is important at depth when your wetsuit compresses and loses buoyancy, adding five or more pounds to your negative buoyancy.

Year-Round Diver, Including Cold Water

Leaving aside the question of drysuits, water from 65 to 55 requires 7-mil suits, plus hood and gloves. I’m assuming you already have the appropriate boots and open-heel fins for cold water. The suit needs to fit snugly, to minimize the water your body has to heat. If you can’t actually try on a suit, consult the manufacturer’s sizing chart to see which of their sizes will fit you best. If the torso is a bit loose, you can take up the slack with a rash guard (one with an attached hood further reduces the amount of cold water you’ll be exposed to). Check out Akona’s 7-mil full suit, or for even more warmth consider a farmer john and jacket combo, like the 6.5-mil combo from IST.

In really cold water regs freeze-up can be an issue. You want a reg made for cold-water diving, like the Sherwood Blizzard. This is designed to work reliably in temperatures you would probably never encounter. Instead of gauges, consider a dive computer to maximize the time you get underwater. Top of the line would be air-integrated with separate pressure sender, which saves you having a high-pressure hose and SPG. One example is the Aeris Atmos Elite. it’s expensive compared to analog gauges, no doubt, but divers who have experienced the freedom of having time, depth, air, and remaining no-deco time displayed on their wrist are unlikely to go back to gauges mounted on a hose.

You’ll note I didn’t talk about an octo for the reg. That’s because as long as we’re thinking high-end, we’ll consider a BC with air-integrated octo on the inflator assembly and weight integration as well. Remember to check two things: will the BC work for both warm water (thin or no wetsuit) and cold water (thick wetsuit), and will it carry enough weight? For example, in a back-inflate, the Aeris Atmos XT in size large holds 34 pounds and will supply 48 pounds of lift. It’s available with an integrated octo, which Aeris calls the “Airlink.”

Wrapping Up

Again, these were only suggestions for three idealized divers, using examples from the Joe Diver America web site. When comparison shopping for scuba diving equipment, remember to look for combination deals, add-ons like luggage, free shipping, and return and servicing policies. And don’t hesitate to ask your local shops whether they can service the scuba diving gear, or whether they’d like to match prices. Sometimes, once you’ve figured in the annual service costs, a local dive shop can actually get you into the right gear for less money.