When is the right time to start buying tech gear? Before you start your initial training? Right after the course? Should you buy a whole package or add to your equipment piece by piece? Buying tech diving gear involves quite a bit of decision making and a solid investment. And while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we’ve put together a bit of a guide for you.
Take an inventory
Your answers to the questions above will depend on where you are in your tech-diving life, and on your budget. Independently of either of these, a good starting point is to make an inventory of your existing equipment. Even if you are just looking at entry-level tech diving courses, you’ve likely been a diver for a while. That usually means you have bought some gear: mask, fins, booties, a wetsuit or a drysuit and most likely your own dive computer.
Most of those should transfer to your tech-diving life, with two potential exceptions: fins and your dive computer. Short, stubby fins are ideal for the propulsion techniques a tech diver needs to master. That doesn’t mean that no other fin will do — it will simply make mastering those propulsion techniques harder. Split fins can make it impossible to master some of those techniques as they are simply not designed for the job.
Your existing gear
Is your dive computer tech ready? There are a number of things to consider, which is why we devoted a separate post to the topic, but two things stand out. First, you need the ability to pre-program and switch between different gases on the dive. Many entry-level computers offer that. Second, and more importantly, your computer must have an algorithm designed for intentional decompression diving. This includes letting you plan decompression dives on the computer itself. If you’re not sure, ask your (prospective) tech instructor. They can either advise you what to buy or help you rent a computer for the course. Worst case, your current computer can become a back-up bottom timer and gauge and still be an integral part of your tech-diving starter equipment.
Looking at the chunkier parts of your equipment, like regulators and BCs, you may be able to reconfigure some of these. Let’s start with regulators. If you currently own a high-performance, balanced first stage and second stage, you can reconfigure and fit them with a long hose. If you already dive a wing, harness, and backplate recreational setup, you can use the harness and backplate with a bigger wing to accommodate a twinset/doubles. You only need to add a larger wing to provide sufficient lift for the kind of diving you’d like to do.
When to start buying
But when do you start shopping? Before you join a course? After you’ve graduated? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Buying equipment before you start or continue your training means that your instructor can help set up and fine tune that equipment correctly. Especially in sidemount diving, correct configuration and equipment setup are a huge game changer. If that’s your plan, let your instructor know before the class so they set aside additional time for equipment workshops. The risk here is that you’re purchasing gear for something you may not want to continue doing. You may, quite simply, find out during the class that tech diving is not for you. The gear you purchased also might not suit you after all.
That’s one of the main reasons to delay purchases. Instead, take the class and try out the shop equipment. Your tech instructor will explain the difference between types of wings, backplates, regulators etc. Then, when you start shopping for gear, you can make a more informed decision. Taking this a step further, if you are tech diving with a shop that sells gear, you may even be able to try out some gear before committing to a purchase. The same goes for different kinds of rental gear.
Why buy at all?
So why buy at all? Because tech diving gear, even more so than recreational diving gear, is very personal. Assuming you begin training using a rental harness, sidemount or doubles, you will find that setting up and adjusting that harness is a process. It takes expertise to get it even 90 percent right. Then it takes time and a bit of dedication to finesse the remaining 10 percent. Most tech divers enjoy the process, but not enough to repeat it every single time they dive in a new location, which you will have to do with rental gear.
Owning your gear also gives you better control over its servicing. You’ll know for sure that your regulators are up to the dive you’re planning and that your inflator button moves freely, just to name two examples.
Another question is where to buy — online or at your local shop? Online is the obvious choice for window shopping. Online dive retailers also offer a great way to compare products and prices, as you have access to a wider variety of products.
However, consider the advantages of your local dive shop, too. There, you can actually look at the physical product. Trying on a wetsuit beats looking at a size chart any day. And you can get advice from someone who has actually tried the product, as this is what dive shop employees and owners do — dive the equipment they sell.
One last consideration is whether to buy all your equipment at once or step by step. Most divers answer that question through budgetary restrictions, and they simply add to their dive gear bit by bit. If your budget can stretch to a package — for example a wing, backplate and regulator set — you may be able to negotiate a better rate for the lot. On the other hand, especially if your budget is tight, second-hand gear may be another option.
At the end of the day, there is no one correct answer when it comes to buying tech gear. Two good places to start, however, are within your own existing dive gear collection and the instructor you intend to train with.