There is just some many different bits of scuba gear and just as much choice of style and brands that it can make choosing your first set of scuba diving equipment a very confusing and daunting task. Every diver has their own opinion on equipment based on their own diving and there is endless conflicting advice on the internet.
This is how we tend to approach it in our store with divers that are looking to purchase their beginner scuba gear. We find it easier to break it all down into stages:
- Stage 1 - The essentials that you'll need in a pool for training
- Stage 2 - Basic life support equipment
- Stage 3 - Everything else (depending on the diving you choose to do)
Essential Scuba Diving Equipment
For the vast majority of new divers you'll start off with learning skills in a pool with your instructor. Most dive centres will have kit you can borrow as part of the course but it is a good idea to get some basic bits of kit now like a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins to ensure they are comfortable to use, fit well and you'll also know that they are well cared for and in good working order.
The basic job of a Scuba Diving Mask is to give your eyes an air space in which to focus, ie we didn't evolve to see underwater!. Masks come in all shapes, sizes and colours these days and are very much a personal choice based on your tastes, face shape and requirements (like prescription lenses). You'll definitely want to spend some time trying different ones on to make sure you get a good fit.
You can find more advice about picking the best diving mask for beginners in our Mask Guide.
When it comes to diving a snorkel is a snorkel. Unless you have any reason to do a lot of surface swimming through choppy water in order to conserve air then a simple snorkel will typically suffice. Having said that, if you think you might fancy the odd snorkelling bimble around the reefs on a day off from diving or just between dives then you should consider a snorkel with a purge chamber in the bottom and a minimum of a wave deflector at the top. These small upgrades make a big difference to snorkelling enjoyment.
Scuba Diving Fins are essential. Water is massively denser that air so it requires a lot more force to propel us and all the equipment we'll be wearing through it. Again, fins come in a multitude of shapes, colours and sizes but there are two basic versions; Open Heel and Full Foot.
Full foot fins are typically lighter and more flexible which means they can't generate as much thrust. They are normally reserved for pool work, tropical trips where the water is really warm and for snorkelling. They are fitted with a rubber pocket that fully encapsulates your foot and are usually worn with bare feet but you can also wear neoprene socks or similar to make them more comfortable to wear and a little warmer.
Open Heel fins are bulkier, heavier and intended for 99% of diving situations. They have the strength to propel a diver efficiently but do require a pair of neoprene boots to be worn as the fins have an open foot pocket with either an adjustable rubber strap or a bungee / spring strap that has be pulled over the heel.
Unless you are diving exclusively in the warmth of the tropics and plan on doing a lot of snorkelling as well you'll almost certainly need a pair of open heel fins. You find more information about the different types of fins in our Fins Guide.
Exposure Protection - Wetsuits
Whether you need to buy your own thermal protection layer (Wetsuit / Drysuit) will depend largely on what your dive centre can lend you as part of the course, where your dive course is and where you intend diving after you finish your training.
There are strong arguments for buying a Scuba Diving Wetsuit but there are also good reasons for holding off if you can.
- A good fitting wetsuit that seals well is far superior to one that is just ok. Loose seals allow cold water to flush into the suit, instantly making it feel like someone has just chucked some ice cubes in there with you.
- It gives you the option to buy the right thickness and configuration for both you and the diving conditions. Everyone feels the cold differently, you may find you need a thinner or thicker suit compared to others and the rental options may be limited.
- No one else has pee'd in it....only you!
- Different water temperatures will need different thicknesses. You may buy a suit and never dive in that situation or water temperature again.
- You may decide to skip the wetsuit step entirely and head straight for a drysuit after your training if you are doing mostly cold water diving.
If you do want to get a wetsuit now rather than later you can use this simple temperature guide to get you started on finding the Best Scuba Diving Wetsuit for your needs.
- 23 - 29C - 1mm neoprene, skin suit, rash vest
- 21 - 26C - 3mm neoprene
- 18 - 23C - 5mm neoprene
- 10 - 20C - 6.5mm+ neoprene
- 1 - 18C - 10mm+ layered neoprene or drysuit
Basic Life Support Equipment
Now that you have the basics sorted you can start to expand your dive kit collection with the likes of a BCD, Regulators and a Dive Computer. These three pieces of equipment do the vast majority of work to keep you alive underwater so having your own kit is a good thing.
You can often rent a lot of this equipment if you need to, especially at diving resorts, but you can never be 100% sure of its history. Did the last diver to rent it abuse it, damage it or not report a potential problem. You just don't know so it is always a good idea to get your own as soon as you are able. Rental kit tends to be on the lower end of the feature scale as well so you'll have the option of picking and choosing what features you want and need in your own diving kit.
BCDs - Buoyancy Control Devices
The BCD takes care of your buoyancy requirements. It is primarily an inflatable bladder that allows the diver to adjust their buoyancy at any point during the dive but also handles the attachment of your cylinder and provides anchor points for your accessories. More expensive BCDs give you more options like integrated weight systems, more advanced harness systems, more comfortable fit, etc.
The BCD is what connects you to your kit so it has to fit right. Use a poorly fitted BCD and you'll be spinning inside the harness or you'll find the cylinder rotating to one side. Comfort is also a major factor in the decision making process as well. You'll be wearing it a lot and you'll likely be loading it with weights and accessories so it is advisable to get the best you can afford rather than skrimp and get something you won't be happy with and end up replacing at a later date anyway.
Where you intend diving will have an impact on what BCD you may opt for. If you only plan of diving on holidays in warm water you might want a Lightweight Travel BCD that packs away tightly. Different BCDs offer varying lift capacities with a travel BCD typically providing between 55 and 105 Newtons of lift but a heavier, more versatile BCD for diving in a wider range of conditions might provide 90 to 180 newtons of lift.
Women may want to seriously consider a ladies specific BCD instead of a generic unisex BCD which are tailored more for men. They fit better and provide more support in terms of weight distribution and loading. You'll find more information in this Guide to the differences.
Choosing the best Scuba Diving Regulator For Beginners is a tough job. The good news is that there are no bad pennies in the regulator ranges of any of the big brands and all those regulators will do the job of delivering air to you during the dive. That being said, you get what you pay for.
Regulators are like cars. If you want higher performance then you need better components, better materials, more precise tuning and that all costs more to design, develop and manufacture. Our honest recommendation is to get the best you can afford as it is much more likely to be able to support your developing diving needs and you explore for possibilities that scuba diving as to offer.
You can find out more about the different types of regulators in our Guide to Choosing a Scuba Diving Regulator but the summarised version is that balanced regulators offer better air delivery at depth and environmentally sealed first stages are advantageous for diving in cold water (below 10 degrees C).
Don't forget you are going to need an Octopus (a redundant second stage) and at least a cylinder pressure gauge to complete your regulator set. Adding a depth gauge and compass to the pressure gauge Console is definitely advised even if you have an all singing and all dancing dive computer with wireless transmitter and digital tilt compensating compass. Redundancy is not a bad thing!
If you thought choosing a BCD or regulator was hard enough then wait until you see the choice of Dive Computers but getting your own computer frees you from the strict profiles and limitations of dive tables.
Rather than assume you are going to descend straight to your maximum depth and stay there for the duration of your dive before ascending like a basic table does, Scuba Diving Computers constantly monitor your depth and dive time to calculate an on the fly dive profile to keep your safety with the limits of recreational diving recommendations.
A dive computer can extend your dive time should you decide to spend some time at a shallower depth before ascending to finish your dive, something even a multi-level dive planner can't fully predict.
As manufacturing process have improved, electronic components have become smaller and technology has improved dive computers have become more and more indispensable. They log your dive profiles, display ascent rates, alert you to nitrogen loading, display cylinder pressure via wireless transmitters on full colour screens and even communicate with your smart phone to transfer dive information and update the computer firmware.
Like all other diving equipment you can spend as much as you like but we have reached a point where even entry level dive computers are very well spec'd and will happily support a diver for many years as they progress through their diving career.
By now you will have started to amass quite a collection of diving equipment and you are going to need a bag to store and transport it all in. Dive Bags come is a wide range of sizes to suit various needs including standard duffel bags, wheeled bags, lightweight travel bags. Eventually you may find yourself in a number of bags. You can find the different types in out Guide to Choosing the Right Dive Bag
You have completed your open water or advanced open water level courses and have started to get a feel for what floats your boat in the scuba diving world. You may have jumped in nearest UK inland dive site as part of your diving course and hated the cold, vowing to only dive in warm waters from now on or you may have done your first wreck dive and decided to focus on training for the exploration of the countless wrecks around the world.
Regardless of what you have decided you'll have some idea of what exposure protection you are likely to need, whether that is a shorty wetsuit or a drysuit with multiple thermal layers underneath. Wetsuits were covered earlier so lets take a look at drysuits.
Drysuits come in either Neoprene or Trilaminate (or membrane) varieties. Neoprene Drysuits are, unsurprisingly, made from neoprene of various thickness but crucially they have their own thermal properties so require less additional thermal layers to keep warm. Trilaminate Drysuits are made up of layers of different materials, one of which will be a waterproof layer to keep it dry. The best type is hotly discussed on many forums but we have a Guide to Choosing a Diving Drysuit that details differences, pros and cons and the options you'll be faced with when buying one. You'll also need to get a thermal layer of some description and you can check out our Guide to Choosing a Diving Undersuit for help.
You'll also going to need a number of other accessories to make the most of your diving but these are far less indepth from a decision perspective.
- Boots - You'll need them if your are using open heel boots and a wetsuit
- Gloves - Even if you are diving in warm water a pair of gloves from sting and abrasion protection
- Hood - We lose a third of our body heat through our head
- Torches - A small torch is handy for looking in crevices or keeping in your pocket as a backup but a larger torch is ideal for brighter illumination over a longer duration.
- Dive Knives - A knife is essential for getting yourself out a sticky situation. BCD knife, Line Cutters or a larger primary knife, it doesn't matter, just make sure you carry at least one.
- SMBs and Reels - Mandatory pieces of diving equipment for many dive sites and liveaboards.
- Weight Belts - Whether you want a simple webbing belt or a soft pocket belt you're going to need something to secure your weight.
- Dive Cylinders - If you regularly dive locally then you might want to invest in a dive cylinder rather than keep renting one.
Now that you have all your new kit you need to know how to take care of it. We have put together some essential care tips for how to look after your dive equipment after a dive, keeping it in good condition and ready for your next dive and avoid any unexpected complications.