Some people love the leisure of snorkeling; the ability to chill and soak sun on a beach and then when you get hot or bored…throw grab your mask, fins, snorkel and a camera and just go. Awesome, right?
For others there is something more that they’re missing.
That “something” is usually diving or SCUBA.
Snorkeling and beginner divers often flirt with diving in lessons and novice, guided dives and usually they don’t buy dive gear right at the start. They need to get certified, first, anyways. They need to get to know the activity a little bit more.
Dive Gear vs Snorkel Gear
When it comes to snorkeling vs dive gear price comparison…dive gear always costs much, much more. It’s better to get a feel for whether you feel that this is “a nice thing to do when on vacation” or “I need to do this whenever and wherever I am…can I buy an island”?
Then comes that awesome next step: Buying your very first set of dive gear. It’s the one symbol that lets those around you that you’re “all in” with this dive hobby of yours.
But you’re new. What do you buy? How should you know? At this point, you should take 3 factors into consideration when first buying dive gear:
- Instructors and Experienced Divers Advice
- What Your comfortable with
- Online Buying Guides (Hopefully, this one that you’re reading ?)
Here are first two pieces of advice:
Buy Your Dive Gear in 2 Stages:
Stage I: Basic Needs
You buy and use these basic needs early on and take a lesson or guided dive with using them and rental/borrowed gear. This ensures that you’ve taken a step towards your own gear but haven’t invested so much at the beginning that you’re broke if you decide you don’t want to dive anymore after a bad dive (it happens).
Stage II: Life Supporting Gear
We recommend buying this gear towards the end of your “feeling out” phase but PRIOR to completion of certification. This ensures that you’re certified and comfortable with the gear that you’re going to be using when you’re not under the watchful eye of instructors and guides. (Disclaimer: Never dive or snorkel alone!)
Let’s Get This Going!
Stage I: The Basics
The days of oval masks with one awkward window are over…no matter how many times you may still see them in 1960’s and 1970’s Flipper re-runs and Jacques Cousteau documentaries (RIP). These days there are a plethora of masks to choose from, for a huge variety of faces and comforts. Take your pick!
Note: Although there are lots and lots of great and reputable dive mask makers…NEVER buy or use a dive mask that you are not COMPLETELY sure was made for diving.
We’ve come up with this safety and sizing guide for a new dive mask:
- Tempered glass. For the love of the holy breath in your lungs, never use a mask that doesn’t have tempered glass. You may be experienced enough to know that, but it’s our responsibility to ensure that you know that.
- A comfortable, water tight fit on the face. Fitting a dive mask is almost exactly the same as fitting a snorkel mask which we’ve talked about before, but we’ll go over everything again.
- Look up at the ceiling and rest the mask on your face. The mask should sit firm and fill all gaps.
- Place a regulator or snorkel in your mouth and ensure that it does not move or impede the mask in any way. There should still be an even lay to the mask against the contours of your face.
- Start over, this time looking forward. Place the mask on your face with a press from your hand and inhale slightly. You should feel the mask “pull” to your face. Now, with your breath still held, you should be able to move your head back and forth, up and down and the mask should keep the seal to your face.
- Do the same as “c” above, with a snorkel or a regulator in your mouth. It should keep the seal
- Ensure that when strapped to your face, the mask isn’t uncomfortable. Pay particular attention to the nose pocket and make sure that it isn’t touching or squishing your nose.
- With regulator in your mouth walk around a bit and move freely. Make sure that you can easily get your hand and fingers to your nose in order to equalize.
Unless there’s a dive shop in your area, this may come down to ordering a few online and trying them all with this test. Most online dive stores and Amazon, have a good policy on returns so don’t stress it. Just take care not to ruin the packaging or mask when opening or testing.
Any mask that feels good and passes the above test should be considered a keeper. There are a variety of masks and varieties to chose from. Different colors, masks with single panes or 4 panes (to include panoramic side views, purge valves, etc.
The most important thing is that the mask fits right. Once you’ve got that…you’re good to go!
- Soft silicone
- Light colors in the silicon and more windows lets more light in and increase range of sight.
Here are a few to consider:
Lots of people assume that buying a snorkel that’s comfortable and suits your needs is simple…don’t make that mistake. Snorkels need to comfortable and dependable.
Opposed to snorkeling, a diver primarily needs a snorkel to preserve air when on the surface of the water.
It is our opinion that a dry snorkel is more important to snorkelers than divers. Our reasoning is that snorkelers spend their time on the surface or the water and depend PRIMARILY on the snorkel while divers don’t. Although an important piece of equipment to preserve air in tanks and a safety feature, so keep in mind that “dry snorkel” features make the snorkel bulkier and are more of a convenience and comfort feature for snorkelers.
Bottom line: As a new diver, go with the simplest snorkel possible that makes you feel safe and comfortable in the water. If it’s dry, fine. If it’s basic, fine. As long as you like it.
- Soft silicone that is comfortable in the mouth.
- An easy “attach to mask” system.
- Less important than mask and fins in Stage 1
Here are a few to consider:
As an avid snorkeler, my biggest pet-peeve has always been fins. I love masks. I like snorkels. But choosing the perfect kind of fins for diving can be a pain in the butt. There are so many types of fins out there that it can get confusing. It is a good thing that there are guides like this one, heh? ?
Fins are paramount…I shouldn’t need to explain what they do but, just in case: Water is 800 times denser than air. Using our legs in the same manner as we do when out of water while in the water is not efficient at all. In this way, we can use the motion and muscles that our legs are capable of making and put those systems to the best use by wearing fins and kicking or fluttering through the water.
Ever seen a fish with legs? While I’m sure they exist and are probably features in some NatGeo Planet Earth documentary somewhere, they’re rare. Why? Because legs aren’t the most efficient use of movement in the water. Fins, are though…
You see where I’m going now. We take our fin selection very seriously. LOL
The longer and stiffer the fin, the more powerful, fit and a strong swimmer the diver needs to be. Those who are new, underdeveloped or just less fitness or leg muscle will be better off with a smaller, flimsier fin at the beginning.
Full foot pockets are usually for warmer climates/waters and won’t require diving booties. Make sure that the fins don’t impede upon the toes or scrunch/pinch them or hurt/bind the arches of your feet. If they’re snug and fit right, they may be pit of a pain to get on and off quickly. If they don’t fit correctly then they can be dang hard to impossible to get on and off. Which brings us to….
Open Heel Fins
Much easier to get on and off but they come with their own draw backs. These are easier to control size (which is why we recommend open heel fins for teens that are still growing but diving) but they’re a bit more uncomfortable and require a booty. Also, make sure that buckles and clips are easy to get adjust and get on and off while in and out of the water.
- We prefer open heel. We like the addition of a quality dive booty for walking around prior and after the dive as well as the ability to adjust the straps, etc. Plus, if you ever dive in cooler waters then you’ll want those heat retaining dive booties.
- Don’t skimp on fins. Get as good of a fin that you’re comfortable with as you can afford.
- Stay away from “travel size” or “trek fins”. They’re not dive fins. Those are for snorkeling.
Here are a few to consider:
Wet Suits/Dry Suits (Exposure Protection Suits)
Aah, the “whole body Marine spanks” of the clothing world. Go on a dive or snorkel tour, put on a wet suit, and instantly look fitter.
Other than making you look better, though, these suits actually provide another reason to get them as part of your first dive gear purchase.
Wet suits are usually made of form fitting, rubber neoprene and the “skins” are made up mostly of a spandex material.
Exposure Protection Suits serve as an insulating barrier to the colder water temperature. While water gets in to the wetsuit, the idea is that it is harder to get out and is socked up a bit. The body temperature warms the water and reduces the rate at which the body loses heat. Keep in mind that water will rob the body of its heat at a rate of 20 to 25 times faster than air. Even people in tropical waters can get hypothermia after enough time in the water.
Simple and thin lycra suits do little to provide any meaningful insulation but they do hep protect again rock and coral scrapes and bumps.
The reason why neoprene suits work so well is that it traps gas bubbles within it. While liquids and gasses are great at conducting heat (robbing you of your warmth), air is not a great conductor. So, when air is trapped in neoprene it does a worse job of conducting heat which means that it is BETTER at keeping you warm in the water.
Generally, wet suits are more affordable and dry suits are more expensive. A dry suit being that it keeps the body dry, get it? Keep in mind, though, that the type and thickness of exposure protection suit that you need is dependent on the climate and waters that you’re diving in.
Use our table below to figure out how much and which type of protection you need in a wet or dry suit for diving:
Exposure Suit Comfort Zones
75-85F – 1/16″ (1.6mm) neoprene, Lycra, Polartec
70-85F – 1/8″ (3mm) neoprene
65-75F – 3/16″ (5mm) neoprene
50-70F – 1/4″ (6.5mm) neoprene
35-65F – 3/8″ (9.5mm) neoprene, dry suit
- Find a suit that fits snuggly and is also comfortable.
- The more spaces and “sags” in areas like under the arms, crotch, etc. the more room for cold water to gather.
- Fit, Fit, fit. We can’t stress that enough.
Here are a few to consider:
So, that brings us to the end of the 1st Stage of Buying Your Own Dive Gear. Like we pointed out in the beginning, diving is more gear intensive than snorkeling. However, up to this point what you would have is a very nice snorkel set and wet suit if you followed. Below is where we start to greatly differ with gear that becomes paramount to diving.
The best thing about dive is gear is that, while costly, it is also meant to last. With proper care, dive gear will last you years and year.
Stage 2: Diving Gear Big Stuff or THINGS THAT SUPPORT YOUR LIFE!!
Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
The BCD is the MOST complex and probably most important piece of dive gear that you’ll have. While called a buoyancy control device, it servers many other purposes. BCD’s:
- Allow you to achieve neutral buoyancy at any depth
- Allows you to carry a tank comfortable and with minimal effort
- Will float you at the surface
How Much BC Float / Buoyancy Do you Need?
Tropical Diving (with little or no wetsuit protection) – 12 to 24 pounds
Recreational Diving (with a full wetsuit or dry suit) – 20 to 40 pounds
Technical Diving (or diving under other demanding conditions) – 40 to 80 pound
When shopping for BCDs you want to make sure (in our opinion) that you’re buying one from a reputed dive gear maker. Don’t buy anything that looks cheap or that you don’t recognize the brand name: Cressi, Mares, Aqualung, ScubaPro all good to start with and there are many other.
Look for a good fit. If you use a BCD and it doesn’t “feel right” over your exposure protection suit that you’ll most often be using then it’s probably smart to find another. Most people don’t usually have an issue with fit.
Don’t skimp on the BCD. It will last a long time and keep you safe. It’s a paramount piece of equipment. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
- Good fit, but doesn’t squeeze your body when inflated
- Easy to slip in and out of
- When inflated, do so until the overflow valve vents. At that point you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, squeezed or pinched in any spot.
- Easily accessible valves, pockets, and straps
- Clear difference in inflate and deflate buttons
Here are a few to consider:
Regulators are the one piece of equipment that you absolutely MUST BUY IN A DIVE SHOP. Unless you’re a seasoned, vet or expert diver and you know brands, fits, etc or you know which exact regulator you’re comfortable with then PLEASE buy a regulator at a dive shop.
You have to know the mechanics and how it should fit in your mouth. Good regulators, even budget ones need to do a lot like inflate BCDs, deliver proper air pressure at depth and under exertion or duress, etc.
Also, it’s a good idea to try on as many regulators as you are able to try under real world diving situations until you KNOW that you have the one that is right for you and the type of diving that you’re doing.
- Do your homework and research
- Buy only at a dive shop
- Buy your allowed budget but at the top of your allowed budget
Examples of Regulators We’ve Used:
We recommend a wrist dive computer because of their efficiency and ease of use. We’ve written our recommendations on which dive computers like here and we feel that those are the Top 5 in the industry at the time of this writing.
Dive tables are complex and not many people like working them. Dive computers take the guessing out of them and make it a more enjoyable time in the water. We do feel, however, that every diver needs to know how to work the dive tables. Sorry…it’s just a safety thing.
So, while necessary to know hot to type, for instance, a great laptop with a top word processing program makes it better, easier, and more accurate to get it all correct and to check for human error.
Dive computers work constantly to monitor, gauge, and measure your bottom time, surface time, depth time, decompression requirements, etc. They can also measure your descent and ascent rate as well as monitor tank pressure.
They’re as common as depth gauges and will also log your dives. Most have apps so that you can log, save, and enjoy your dives (along with any photos) that you take in particular locations, at particular depths, etc.
- User friendly that YOU can work with ease. The best dive computer is useless if you don’t understand it or know how to use it.
- Check out the owner’s manual and read reviews by accomplished divers. Some dive computers have safety margins set in while others will take you to the edge of safety limits and count on you to know. DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST and ALWAYS GO WITH SAFETY OVER JOY.
What Else to Consider When Buying Your First Set of Dive Gear:
Where to Buy Gear
I’m sure that you can surmise that there a few good places to buy dive gear. Each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. We’ll talk a little bit about each method to buying dive gear and why we like/dislike them.
I have no issue buying most of my dive gear from online places like Amazon or directly from Dive and Scuba makers websites or wholesalers. The only thing we don’t buy online is a regulator for reasons that we’ve already discussed above. Most online retailers have great return policies.
We do, advise, however that you buy mainstream gear from known manufacturers, i.e., Cressi, Mares, etc. This way you can get support, maintenance, etc in local dive shops where you’re living or where you diving/vacationing.
Check out “Bonus Tip” at the bottom to learn how to make it work the best.
Used Private Gear
This is probably going to be the cheapest route for you to go. However, you taking certain risks with things like (obviously) returns, re-fitting, etc. Also, expensive gear like BCDs, regulators, etc may no longer be under warranty. While buying life support gear from private parties is NOT recommended, we do know that sometimes you may find a friend or a dive buddy from classes that can get you set up with their “starter gear” at a great price. Do your research.
We don’t advise this, either. Other than a decent price, there really is no benefit. If a Target or WalMart has a dive section in it, then it’s probably in an area where diving is a “thing” and there are dive shops around. However, some retail stores in popular dive areas will have real, diving/SCUBA departments and maybe partnered with a local dive store. These can considered dive stores themselves are usually very dependable. Again, do you research. Don’t just walk into a large retailer in/around the Florida Keys and assume their dive section is legit.
Dive stores are the place to get your gear in the safest, most knowledgeable way possible. There’s no reason to NOT buy at dive stores except that they can be pricey.
BONUS TIP: Use dive stores to feel out gear for fit and comfort. Then check the price. In most cases you can get the exact same product, model, etc on Amazon for a lot cheaper than your local dive shop.
What’s it all gonna’ cost, right? Yeah. It’s not cheap. The best thing about a sport/hobby that is gear intensive like diving is that the gear is made of quality materials and made to stand the test of time with proper maintenance and care. Even the wealthiest of divers don’t want to buy new gear every year or two. Once you get perfect wetsuit, BCD, mask, regulator that is super comfortable and convenient then you’ll want it always.
Like we mentioned before: Take care of your gear and it will take care of you. Now, we’d like to add: Take Care of your gear and your gear will take care of your wallet!
How to Care of Dive Gear and Make it Last:
- Don’t just spray your gear with fresh water after use. Immerse it. Dunk it. Thrash it around in fresh water. Make sure all of that salt is off. By immersing and soaking and dunking it, you give the fresh water time to pull all of that salt out of the materials.
- Semi fill your BCD with fresh water. Shake, shimmy, slosh…then let it drain out. Do it again.
- Dry thoroughly after cleaning.
- Store in cool, dark, dry area.
- Don’t leave in sunlight, chlorinate and chemically treated water, or heat.
- ZERO contact with oil products and solvents (It eats the materials)
- Pack it correctly and prevent it from banging while traveling…particularly those lovely airline cargo holds.
- 30 days prior to a trip, inspect for working order. If any question repair or replace OR don’t dive until you’re sure that your gear is 100% serviceable.
- Annualy: Regulator, BCD and Tanks serviced by a dive expert/store.