To some extent, males still dominate scuba diving. But as more and more women take to the water, this is beginning to change. Diving is becoming more gender balanced, which is evident in new products, including BCDs, wetsuits and more. Major equipment companies designed them specifically with women in mind. In the past, the only difference between men’s dive gear and women’s was that it was available in pink. Modern gender specific dive gear has improved significantly, with companies tailoring women’s equipment to fit the female body. Choosing female-specific gear is not simply a fashion statement (although it can be that too, if you like); rather, it’s a smart decision that can enhance your diving experience exponentially. Here we’ll take a look at the differences between male and female dive gear, and explain what to look for when buying women’s dive equipment.
The differences between male and female body shapes most affect your BCD. Women generally have shorter backs and wider hips than men. Our chests are bigger, and our shoulders narrower. Because of this, unisex BCDs are rarely as comfortable as gender-specific ones. Female divers are often uncomfortable because their weight belt is digging in to their hips. Ill-fitting BCDs that cover the weight belt and exert further pressure upon it exacerbate this problem.
As well as affecting comfort, a BCD that is too long can also impact a diver’s safety by preventing easy access to the weight belt’s quick-release mechanism. We can overcome these problems with an integrated-weight system, but the shorter cut of ladies’ BCDs achieves the same goal. This way, the BCD rides above the hips, and therefore the weight belt. Women’s BCDs are typically cut to accommodate larger chest sizes, too. Many brands (like the TUSA Selene Wing and the Aqua Lung Pearl) offer alternatively designed or adjustable sternum straps to prevent the discomfort caused by conventional straps. Ladies’ BCDs are also typically lighter than unisex ones, and provide additional back support that makes carrying heavy cylinders easier.
The methods and materials used to make wetsuits for both genders are the same; the only real difference is the suit’s shape. Wetsuits made especially for women are generally wider in the hip and thigh areas. They have narrower shoulders and more room in the chest. This may seem like a small difference, especially given neoprene’s stretchiness. But the closer a wetsuit fits, the more effective it is. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between skin and neoprene. Your body heat then warms the water. In order for them to work well, wetsuits need to fit as snugly as possible. Tight seals prevent cold water from flushing in and out of the suit, and spaces must not fill with so much water that your body cannot warm it.
Women who get cold while underwater will find that having a close-fitting suit helps them to maintain body warmth. A women’s suit will almost always fit better than a unisex one. Since more factors than weight and height determine our measurements, you must be willing to try on plenty of suits. If you still struggle to find one that fits your shape perfectly, consider having one custom-made. They are slightly more expensive, but the comfort of a good fit will absolutely be worth it.
Regulator, Mask and Fins
For some, gender-specific regulators are not much more than a sales gimmick, given that a regulator’s fit is not affected by body shape. Some scuba-equipment manufacturers have produced regulators exclusively for women, though, like the Mares Proton 42 Metal She Dives regulator. These regulators are designed to be extremely lightweight and they feature mouthpieces intended to reduce fatigue in the water. Both of these are appealing traits, although no evidence suggests that conventional regulators can’t work equally well for both sexes.
Most women are smaller than their male counterparts, however. This can make a difference when it comes to choosing a mask and fins. Those women with smaller or narrower faces will find that the average one-size-fits-all mask does not actually fit at all, and that the skirt is too wide to create an effective seal. Without an effective seal, a mask cannot keep out water, so those with smaller faces should opt for a mask specifically made with their face shape in mind, such as the Aqua Lung Micromask. When it comes to fins, most women find it beneficial to opt for lightweight designs that also offer a little extra strength in the water thanks to innovative features including drag-reducing vents and the use of multiple blade materials to optimize flex and propulsion.
Ultimately, when it comes to buying dive gear, there are no set rules. If, as a woman, you find that unisex equipment fits you best, go for it. Gender specific dive gear exists to provide you with more choice, not less. However, if you have been struggling for years with ill-fitting rental gear, perhaps it’s time to give women’s scuba equipment a try. Choosing female-oriented dive gear doesn’t mean you have to wear pink; there are plenty of options available that cater to a wide range of tastes and styles.
By addressing the comfort issues and safety concerns caused by badly fitting gear, female dive equipment may help women who already dive feel more confident in the water. Better yet, these advances may encourage all those women who don’t yet dive so that soon, female divers won’t be a minority.