Diving — as if you needed reminding — is seriously addictive. If you’re going to be spending much time underwater, you’ll need to choose and purchase properly fitting dive gear. When it comes to buying your first regulator, you’ll want to consider several factors. Here’s our guide to picking the right one.
How deep do you dive?
Most rental regulators are what we call “unbalanced.”
This means that the ease of breathing gets more difficult as depth increases and tank pressure falls. This is not a problem for dives up to 63 feet (20 m). But as you descend to around 70 feet (30 m), it is noticeable. The issue can also become evident when sharing air, which is obviously not ideal. So-called “balanced” regulators breathe more easily at all depths and tank pressures. And, if you’re considering becoming a technical diver or diving deeper than 70 feet (30 m) regularly, a balanced regulator is essential. They are more expensive than unbalanced regulators, but for such a critical piece of life-support equipment it’s worth spending the extra money.
How cold is the water?
If you live somewhere cold and plan to dive there, or visit cold-water locations on vacation, the chilly temperature of the surrounding air or water during the dive can make your regulator free flow. In many cases, simply turning off the valve or covering the mouthpiece to create back pressure will not stop it. An environmentally-sealed or cold-water regulator will reduce these risks substantially. There is little point in buying one if you only dive in tropical water, but in colder locations, this type of regulator is essential.
What connections do your cylinders have?
In tropical locations, your regulator will likely be a yoke or “A-clamp.” This means that the first-stage opening is clamped to the O-ring on the tank-valve opening. In colder locations, we commonly use a DIN connection. DIN first stages have a barrel that screws in to the tank valve, which makes it more secure. The O-ring is internal. Tec divers tend to prefer DIN so, again if you might progress on to tech diving, factor that in. You can also use a yoke regulator on a DIN tank valve with an adaptor and a DIN regulator on yoke tank valve with an insert.
You can choose from many different hose lengths, including whether you want a long hose on your primary second stage or not. It’s best to talk to your local dive shop or club about what length hoses are optimal for your SPG, low-pressure inflator and second stages, but they should be streamlined. You can choose from rubber or Miflex when it comes to material. The latter is a little more flexible than conventional rubber hoses and tends to stow away easier without kinking. Miflex hoses do tend to float, however.
Another consideration is whether to opt for a simple SPG or a console that houses the SPG, a compass and/or a depth gauge. This comes down to whether you like having everything in one permanent location or want things like a compass available separately.
Finally, if you do think you might begin technical diving at some point, choose a regulator that will be compatible to save some money in the long run. Many regs now come with a swivel turret and additional ports, which are very useful if you want to convert the unit into a sidemount or decompression-cylinder regulator.
Although you can find lots of information on the internet, nothing beats talking to your local dive shop owner or dive club members to help you decide what’s best for you when it comes to buying your first regulator.