So you’ve finished your open water certification, and maybe even some more advanced certs. Congratulations! Now you’re excited and a real scuba diver, and part of being a ‘real’ scuba diver is having gear. You’re researching gear, wandering through your local dive shop, trying things on, and looking at price tags and perhaps it’s overwhelming — how do you know which scuba gear to buy first? Maybe your eyes have even started glazing over as you are overloaded with choices and expense. There’s a good chance that you can’t afford to buy all of the gear you need at once. Join the club! But, you can probably afford to buy one thing now, and another thing later, so on and so forth until you’ll eventually have it all. Putting aside the fins, mask, and snorkel that were likely a required purchase for your class, what’s next? The answer to that question varies from diver to diver, but I’m going to give you my take on it. Others may disagree for very valid reasons, and I welcome them to give those reasons in comments.
The fact of the matter is that every piece of core dive gear is of vital importance. The first stage and regulator feed you the air necessary for your survival, but the BCD controls your buoyancy, which is also of utmost importance (not to mention that it holds the tank that has the aforementioned first stage and regulator attached to it). Wetsuits or other exposure protection are necessary on many dives too, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tolerate the temperatures. And then there are computers. Each one of these pieces of gear is, even at the lower end of the scale, somewhat pricey. You’ve decided you can get one piece of gear now, but haven’t decided which one to get.
Here’s my take on it.
The first piece of gear you should get: wetsuit I know many other divers are screaming right about now, so let me explain. I did say this was my personal opinion, and personally I don’t like wearing things that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt multiple strangers have peed in. I’m sure many, if not most, dive shops rinse the suits in some solution that kills “germs,” but that doesn’t stop the“ick” factor for me. When I’m handed a rental wetsuit, all I can think about as I’m putting is on is how many bladders have been emptied in it. And, well, it kinda grosses me out. So there’s the hygiene reason.
The second reason is fit and comfort. What if they don’t have your size? What if they don’t have the thickness you want? What if the style of suit just doesn’t fit your body type comfortably? You’re going to be wearing that wetsuit a lot, so you want it to be as comfortable as it can be, and you need it to fit correctly or else it’s pretty worthless for warmth. You can achieve these things by buying your own suit(s), maybe even having them tailored for you (I have to have inches cut off the ankles and wrists of my suits because of my height). So, if you’re at all concerned about comfort and having a suit that fits you like a glove, this is a very good reason to buy your own. If you buy a suit, at least you know the only person who peed in it is you.
Next piece of gear you should get: dive computer I think I just saw some rotten veggies thrown at me from the divers in the back corner, but I swear, I have a good reason. In all honesty, I debated hard between this and the third item on the list. It’s really almost a tie. Many dive shops and tour operators require you to have a dive computer nowadays, and while some of those shops rent them, others do not. Even if you do rent one, you’re still not going to be familiar with it or how it works. It’s for these reasons: increasingly required, not always available for rent, and learning-curve factor that I highly recommend at least a simple dive computer as your second purchase. If you want to know more, see my previous article about Dive Computers.
Third purchase should be: BCD This was nearly tied with dive computers as a second purchase, but the whole ‘sometimes required and not always rentable’ factor pushed computers into the second slot. BCD comes in ahead of a regulator set-up because of sizing, fit and comfort issues. It’s possible that your size will be unavailable for rent, so you could be left squeezing into one that’s too small, or swimming in one that’s too large. Then there are the familiarity concerns. Each time you rent a BCD, it’s going to be a different one; the pockets and D-rings will be in a different place; the releases will be different; the weight system will work a little differently. Because of that, each time you will have to learn where everything is and fumble around trying to locate what you need. If you have your own, you learn once and that’s it for the life of the BCD. It becomes second nature to you — no more searching for your releases, D-rings, low-pressure inflator, or struggling to find the right height on the tank for it.
Last but not least: Regulator setup I considered this one last in this particular list because a regulator is a regulator. They give you air and all of them do it in pretty much the same way. What I mean by that is, unless you have a particularly small mouth, any regulator is going to “fit” you and this is a piece of gear that doesn’t require familiarity with specific makes and models in order to use effectively. Yes, I understand that some are easier to breathe than others, some allow for micro adjustments without taking them apart, some are environmentally sealed, some are lighter. I don’t dispute that, and I definitely think divers should eventually buy their own regs. But when it comes to deciding what to buy in order, I put regs at the bottom because they’re always available to rent, they’re one-size-fits-all, and they all work the same way (breathe in, breathe out).
Obviously some divers are going to disagree with my assessments on which scuba gear to buy first, and others will agree. I expect that and welcome everyone’s input and advice!