Buying new dive gear is exciting for any diver, no matter their certification level. It’s no different for new techies but buying tech diving equipment can be a bit bewildering. Here’s our guide on what to buy and when.
The journey into technical diving starts like that into recreational diving — with a series of courses. Depending on the tech-training agency, prerequisites usually include a minimum number of dives, which means tech students have usually been recreational divers for a while. As a consequence, many already own some gear. As you progress, it’s worth considering which pieces will remain useful on your tech journey.
What you need for your tech courses depends on where you take them. Many tech centers and instructors offer equipment rental for students. Whether or not a tech center includes equipment rental in the cost of the course varies from school to school.
Shopping before certification is really only for those divers who are absolutely sure that tech diving is for them. They should also know which direction they want to go: twins/doubles or sidemount? Warm or cold water? Are rebreathers a budding interest? The answers to these questions will determine what you need.
Buying the basics
No matter the configuration, you may already own the basics. These include an exposure suit, a well-fitting mask, fins and a dive computer. Whether or not your current exposure suit is enough for your future technical dives again depends on where you are. In tropical locations, a 5mm wetsuit may be enough. If you intend to dive anywhere else, a drysuit might work better since tech dives tend to be longer. As a tech diver you’ll also need a back-up mask. This is no place to penny-pinch — using your back-up mask indicates some sort of emergency or problem with your main mask.
Technical diving skills include precision finning techniques, and short, sturdy fins are much better for this task than longer fins. Anyone who’s ever tried back-kicking in split fins will understand that not all fins are the same. However, most fins will take you through your tech diving course.
Computers suitable for technical diving are a topic long enough for a separate article and then some. Many modern recreational dive computers let users program and switch between multiple gases during the dive. The main difference lies in whether or not manufacturers have programmed the computer for intentional decompression diving. All recreational computers currently on the market will provide divers with an emergency decompression plan in case they exceed no decompression limits.
If you are planning to tech dive regularly, you need a computer that’s made for the job and equipped with current algorithms suitable for technical diving. Talk to your tech instructor about their recommendation and consider buying a computer that will grow with your diving. You may want to dive trimix, for example, or use the computer as a backup for CCR dives. What about your current computer? You’ll need to get a backup for your primary tech-diving computer and, as long as your current computer has a gauge mode function, it can help get you started as your backup depth gauge and timer.
Now that you’re qualified
Let’s assume you’ve successfully completed your initial levels of tech training and are ready to set out on twinset dives. You’ll need a backplate, harness and wing, plus a set of two regulators.
If you’ve already been diving a similar combination regularly, all you need to invest in is a larger wing, an additional first stage and various other bits and pieces for your regulators. If this is a complete change of equipment, your choices include steel (heavy) versus aluminum backplates or even carbon-fiber versions. Wings come in either donut or horseshoe shapes and have single or dual bladders. What you need will depend on the types of cylinders you use (steel or aluminum) and which options you have for backup buoyancy, such as a drysuit and personal preference. Ideally, try a few different types before you decide to buy.
Regulators are another item that would fill more than one blog post on its own. Your back-gas regulators need to be high-performance as you’ll rely on them at depth, breathing a denser gas mixture than what you are used to as a recreational diver. If you dive or live in a remote location, it’s also important to buy a brand that you can easily have fixed.
You’ll be carrying some gas tanks just for your decompression obligations. For these tanks, you regulators must be ‘oxygen-clean.’ This means they must be prepared to come in contact with gas mixes that have a high oxygen content. You must specify this when buying your own regulator and when you take it in for service.
And then there are accessories. This list is incomplete, and you’ll add to your own collection based on location, types of dives and other changes. Tech shorts are very useful if you don’t already have pockets on your suit for stowing these accessories. You’ll need a backup mask, two SMBs or liftbags with reels long enough to suit your dive, bolt snaps to attach them, a wet notebook, dive lights — the list goes on.
Once you’re truly committed
Depending on how much you like tech diving and what facilities are available locally, you might even invest in your own tanks. Having said that, there are plenty of well-equipped dive shops at tech hotspots around the world, more than able to cater to the needs of newly qualified and seasoned technical divers as well.
So, while your collection of diving equipment will definitely grow as a tech diver, you needn’t start investing before you even start tech diving. Talk to your instructor and get recommendations. Talk to seasoned tech divers and ask for advice. Generally speaking, having your own tech-diving computer is a good initial step. After that, much depends on the type of tech diving you really want to pursue.