We’ve all heard it — buy your own dive gear as soon as possible. It’ll fit better and you’ll be safer on dives, as you’ll know your way around your gear. But kids grow fast and dive gear is expensive. So how do you buy dive gear for kids without breaking the bank? It’s all about fit and knowing where you can and cannot compromise.
If a child has spent time snorkeling, he may already have a mask, snorkel and fins. Even so, if his mask came as part of a snorkel set, you may want to replace it. The mask is not an item to cut corners on. If the mask lacks a good fit and seal, your child will not be comfortable underwater. He may even be turned off to diving because he must constantly clear it or it hurts his face. The mask fit, along with a good seal and clear line of sight, are imperative to a child’s ablity to concentrate on the activity at hand. Many of us have had masks with little leaks and that’s fine once you’re a seasoned diver. But a child is simply going to be more sensitive to changes or mask issue, and they just have more delicate skin.
Talk to your dive shop about junior-sized masks that may be less expensive and will likely fit a young child’s face better. The child should be able to hold the mask on his face by breathing in through his nose, without using the strap and without holding the mask on with his hands. Also, make sure the skirt’s length does not touch the child’s hairline. Finally, check the skirt area around the child’s mouth to ensure that it’s not so close that he’ll break the seal when he puts in a regulator.
Don’t worry about added features like built-in purge valves on snorkels and bigger peripheral views on masks. You needn’t spend extra money on those until your child is old enough for a more permanent mask selection. Low-profile masks are often lighter anyway and that’s important to a child’s comfort as well. The Marea Jr. & Mini-Dry snorkel set from Cressi is a great place to start, as the set can transition easily from snorkeling to diving.
Fins are quite forgiving when it comes to size as they typically span two or three shoe sizes. Buy a nice pair of fins for your child and they will likely last a couple of years. Search for flexible fins that also displace water well. Remember that a child will likely be slower in the water, so needs efficient fins to keep up with the group, but you also don’t want him to get leg cramps or ankle pain because he’s trying to move large, heavy, or rigid fins.
Booties are like shoes. They are typically quite affordable, but just as with shoes, you’ll want a good fit. Because they will get wet and your child will be pulling fins on and off, you don’t want booties to come off to easily. If you do any shore diving, they also must stand up to sand or rocks as you walk to the entry point. However, you don’t want to buy a $50 pair of booties every year (or more often). To combat slippage and save a bit of money, buy crew-length booties that zip partially up the leg versus slip-on booties that just come up to the ankle. They may be a little more expensive, but you can usually buy a size or two larger so that your child has room to grow into them.
Just because you may not need a wetsuit doesn’t mean your child won’t need one. Kids get cold faster and stay cold because of their smaller size and lower body fat. This can be a factor especially on repetitive dives. Be careful about getting a wetsuit that’s too big because of how they work. A wetsuit allows water in and uses the body to heat it up to provide a warm layer of water against the skin. If a wetsuit is too big, water won’t stay inside, so you’ll lose a lot of the suit’s usefulness. If you’re going to be diving primarily somewhere warm, the shorty Lido wetsuit by Cressi is a great option. It’s got a front zipper so kids can dress themselves, and it provides some extra warmth without being cumbersome.
We’ve always gone one size bigger than our child’s current size when buying wetsuits. This has gotten us a few years out of each one while keeping the size appropriate for the job. Since the wetsuit isn’t critical from a safety aspect, it’s fine to look for used ones through your dive shop or scuba swap-and-sell websites, for example. Your dive shop may also have rental wetsuits for sale at the end of the season. While most dive shops don’t carry rental wetsuits for kids, they may have something appropriate for a young teen.
I have written before about buying a BCD for a child. It’s stating the obvious, but kids are typically much smaller than adults and have very different bodies. Diving equipment can seem overwhelming to a small child. If they try to use your gear, they won’t be as comfortable — this is especially true with a BCD. We have all worn ill-fitting BCs that rise to our ears or higher when we jump in the water. The BC should fit snugly when inflated so that the child is not adjusting his tank placement as he turns his body in the water. It should be snug enough that when there’s a tank attached while he’s standing on land or on a boat, the tank does not ride too low.
With that said, today’s BCs are often highly adjustable. The more adjustable a BC is, the more you will be to buy something slightly larger. While it may cost more to buy something more adjustable, it will probably be cheaper than buying multiple BCs. Cressi’s got a great option in this category as well, with the new Start Pro 2.0, which runs $329.95 USD and starts in size XXS. It’s light at only 5.2 pounds (2.4 kg) and has a lift capacity of 15.7 pounds (7.1 kg).
Or, ask if your dive shop has junior-sized BCs. Ours carried a few junior BCs for rent and, at the end of the season, sold them for a fraction of the cost of a new BCD. This helped ease the pain of growing out of gear. You can also get BCDs “built” for your child’s size. I have found these to be more expensive, but some offer optional shoulder straps, waist straps, etc., based on the size you need. When your child outgrows them, you can trade them in for some credit against the next purchase.
This was the toughest piece of gear to buy for our son who certified at age 10. Regs do not differ a lot in size and weight. It can be difficult for skinny little kids with small mouths, and sometimes lots of missing teeth, to even keep the reg in their mouth. Couple that with the rigid hose attached to the reg and you end up with a child who holds his reg in his mouth with his hand, especially toward the end of the dive or after repetitive dives, when the jaw may become fatigued. Kids also tend to bite down harder on the mouthpiece to try to keep it in place. This further adds to fatigue. This can also mean extra mouthpieces when they bite through them.
There is not a lot you can do to combat this, but remember that they will not outgrow their regulator. Take comfort in spending a little more in this area, since they won’t need a new one every few years. The best advice I can offer is to find the lowest profile and lightest regulator that you can. Do not worry about a bunch of adjustments, as the size and weight are the most important consideration. You can also upgrade to flexible hoses that will result in less pulling on the mouthpiece. Again, this will mean added costs, but they will not outgrow this crucial piece of equipment. A regulator that’s been designed for travel can do the trick here. These are almost always lighter weight and feature a lower profile than full-size regulators.
There’s a lot to think about when buying dive gear for kids. Both size and comfort are imperative. You can appropriately outfit your child without breaking the bank if you put a little extra effort and thought into the purchases. And remember that the first time you buy dive gear for kids is (hopefully) the worst. After that, they should outgrow gear at varying times, allowing you to spread out purchases a little more.