Buying your first set of dive gear can be a daunting task for newly qualified divers. Countless gear reviews, buddy recommendations and magazine articles celebrate the latest “must-have” piece of equipment. It’s hard to separate what’s important from what’s not. Here are our top tips to help you when it comes to buying your own first set of dive gear.
What sort of diving do you want to do?
This will have a huge influence on your gear selection. Ask yourself where you’ll be diving: mostly in tropical waters, or are you planning to explore more temperate underwater environments such as California or Southern Australia? Maybe you’re heading to the cold waters of the North Sea? You should also consider how much use you expect your equipment to get. Will you be taking it only on a two-week vacation every year or on weekly forays to your local dive sites? Depending on your answers, a lightweight travel BCD might be the right choice for you as opposed to its heavy-duty Cordura equivalent, designed to withstand the rigors of guiding and assisting divers.
Should you buy all at once or piece by piece?
Buying your first set of dive gear doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Most divers will buy equipment piece by piece as they become more enamored with the sport, and doing so also allows you to find out what sort of equipment and what brands you like. A mask and snorkel are typical first buys and many dive schools require trainees to have their own even for their Open Water course.
So, how about the rest? Buying a complete equipment package at once is often more cost-effective than making individual purchases, but this may limit your options, especially if you want to combine equipment from more than one brand. For those with limited budgets, buying piece by piece is often the only option. If you’re replacing gear, a complete kit change can also have a big impact on your diving. Acquiring equipment piece by piece can help make the transition easier.
What is the most important piece of gear to own?
While it would be great to be able to afford all of your equipment at once, realistically, most divers have to prioritize. As mentioned before, a well-fitting mask can make or break a dive. This is even more important if you require prescription lenses. Fins are also a relatively low-cost investment, and one that’s worthwhile for the right fit.
If you’re diving with any frequency, you’ll probably want to buy open-heel fins and booties, even if you’ll be in mostly tropical waters, as these will provide you with an easier finning experience. Try a few types of fins out via rental equipment first if possible to see what you like. The first pricey purchase on most peoples’ list is a dive computer. Some dive schools do rent them, but it’s far better to have your own to keep track of your personal dive profiles as well as exposure to nitrogen and oxygen.
Following that, priorities depend on the amount of diving you do and the environment you’re diving in. For cold-water divers, a drysuit is often next on the list, while those in tropical waters will typically buy a wetsuit.
Where is the best place for buying your first set of dive gear?
Online shopping is just as popular among divers as with everybody else, but there some drawbacks. While a product may look great on screen, trying it on in a shop simply gives you a better idea of whether that BCD fits correctly, those regulators are breathing easily, or that wetsuit is as snug and comfortable as it looked online. And, by buying your gear in a brick-and-mortar store, you’ve got the experience of the dive shop to back you up, as the employees are usually quite familiar with all the gear they sell and will be able to give you personal advice, as well as aftercare once you purchase. So, although a shop may not be able to offer the same discounts as its online counterparts, it’s usually the way to go when it comes to that initial equipment purchase.
If you want the best of both worlds, consider visiting a dive exhibition. They often combine competitive deals with an opportunity to try out equipment by several manufacturers, and there’s often a pool to test your potential purchases in almost-real conditions.
Is buying second-hand gear a good idea?
Buying used equipment can be an excellent option. Some dive schools change all of their equipment every one to two years. Beginner divers can get great deals, as well as the advantage of already being familiar with the gear. In places where numerous divers train as Divemasters or Instructors there is usually a steady supply and lively trade of second-hand gear that was often bought only weeks before the sale.
Auction websites such as eBay are another good source of second-hand gear. But take care if you go this route, as you won’t know the history of anything you buy. For safety’s sake, you should have any secondhand gear you purchase serviced right after you buy it and before you use it.
All in all, it pays to do your research before parting with your money. Create a realistic list of items you want to buy in order of priority depending on your style of diving. Ask your instructors or other divers you trust for guidance and a no-nonsense opinion. And don’t forget – if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.