You guys seemed to enjoy the chronic-overpacker reveal post that gave you a peek inside my toiletries. So I thought I’d keep the virtual unpacking going with this in-depth dissection of my scuba gear. Hold on to you dive hoods, ’cause things are about to get wordy.
Dive gear is painfully expensive. I think I snagged amazing deals on almost everything I use, and yet over the past four years I still spent a cool $900 (exactly!) out of pocket on my own set. For those who are just starting out, it can be confusing to figure out what to buy and what to rent, and what to look for and how much to spend when you do decide to start purchasing.
While I’m no expert, I can share what I use and how I came to make those choices. I’ve listed these items in the order that I personally would recommend new divers start accumulating their own gear in, but that may vary based on different diver needs (for example, someone who primarily dives locally won’t factor in size and weight of an item like someone who travels like I do.)
1. Mask and Snorkel / Oceanic Mini Shadow
I believe a mask should be any diving enthusiasts’ first gear purchase. A good fitting mask is affordable, packable, and will make a massive impact on your scuba experience. And I love having a mask and snorkel with me whenever I travel as it gives me the freedom to jump into the water anytime and explore without having to hassle over rental gear.
Personally, I prefer a single frame mask with a clear skirt, so I have as much light and as little obstruction as possible. Typically, good masks tend to run between $30-130 and snorkels $10-40. My snorkel was snagged the day they emptied out the Lost and Found at my ex’s dive shop. My first mask was a gift, but when it started to yellow (the downside of clear skirts) I replaced it with the “Mini” version of the Oceanic Shadow Frameless Dive Mask, which I paid $37 for in-store at Leisure Pro. I highly recommend it for a great quality mask at a wonderful price!
2. Fins / Mares Avanti Full Foot
A lot of people don’t like packing fins because they are quite an awkward shape. Personally, I can’t imagine traveling anywhere tropical without them. First of all, as mentioned above, I love to be able to snorkel for free whenever I want! But also I have small, wide feet and I never want to be at the mercy of whatever a dive shop has in stock. However I do use full foot fins instead of open heel so I don’t have to carry dive booties as well.
Good fins tend to run in the $30-130 range. After trying on several in person, I asked for the Mares Avanti Full Foot Scuba Dive Fins for Christmas one year and I have loved them ever since — a great combination of price and quality.
Buy via Leisure Pro for $34.
3. Dive Computer / Oceanic GEO 2.0
For someone who is becoming a serious diver, or starting advanced dive education, a computer will typically be the first big purchase. Dive computers keep track of decompression limits and provide underwater data such as depth and time of your dive — so for those that want to be precise and in control and not rely on a dive guide’s computer, they are essential. While they are typically a fair financial commitment at $200-1200, dive computers are compact and easy to travel with.
Many computers are very bulky on the wrist and so my main priority was to get something small. I got lucky when I stumbled upon the Oceanic GEO 2.0 Computer on sale at Leisure Pro for $284. It’s a very liberal computer (this article explains liberal vs. conservative computers well) and that suits my needs when I’m doing video. It’s simple, small, good looking, and I got a great deal — love.
Some people may laugh at my listing a wetsuit as a purchasing priority above BCDs or regulators, but those people probably look less ridiculous than I do in a typical shop-issued wetsuit (ironically, “shorties” look really terrible on short people.) When I finally made my big 3mm wetsuit purchase, I didn’t even consider not getting a Swish Suit.
Okay, so the most expensive thing that I wear on my body is this wetsuit, but I’m telling you — I don’t regret a single dollar. I’ve never gotten more compliments on a single purchase in my life. Wetsuits aren’t exactly known for being flattering to a woman’s body, but these are a welcome exception to that rule. I’ve seen chicas of all shapes and sizes rock a Swish, and I swear it’s like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Wetsuit — the thing flatters everyone.
I snagged mine on sale for $250, but it’s the rare item that I’d actually buy at full $350 price if I had to. As most womens’ wetsuits are in the $100-350 range, these are actually a good value considering the quality. Swish Suits are ultra light, use eco-friendly bioprene, and are just insanely stylish. So I’m extremely excited to announce that Swish has teamed with me to create an exclusive discount for Alex in Wanderland readers! Use the code “Wanderland” at checkout and receive 10% off anything on the site. For size reference, I bought a size small.
Buy via Swish Suits for $350 (only $315 with the discount code!)
Even travel-specific BCDs can be a pain to travel with, and they aren’t known for being cheap. Typically due to space constraints I do not travel with my BCD unless I’m going to be settled for a long time or specifically going on a dive trip, such as when I was doing my Divemaster course or went on a Bahamas liveaboard. That really bites me sometimes though — BCDs run large and so I wear an XS, which dive shops never seem to carry enough of. Diving with a too-big or too-small BCD is extremely uncomfortable.
BCDs typically run $250-1000, but fantastic deals can be found buying used. My first BCD, shown above left, was a cast-off from my exes’ dive shop, which he serviced and fixed up for me. I used it for years before the seals around the hoses started disintegrating. I knew I didn’t want to spend too much on a replacement, so I went into Leisure Pro with a max budget of $250. When the shop assistant pulled out the little number you see above right featuring the hottest neon pink the 80’s ever saw, the conversation went a little something like this —
Me: You can just turn right back around with that pink monstrosity.
Him: [Laughs.] Well I thought so but I just brought it up anyway as it’s only sixty five dollars.
Me: [Pause.] Actually, maybe just let me take one little look.
I was looking for something cheap, simple, and snug, and I got it — at a lower price than I ever could have hoped for. Unfortunately this model is not available online, as I’m pretty sure it was born before the internet was. However, BCDs are easy to find second hand and make up the majority of Leisure Pro’s used section — though keep in mind that the best deals are in the store rather than on the site.
Regulators are a big investment of both money and weight in your suitcase — but they are also are what’s keeping you alive underwater. Due to the cost and weight of a regulator set, and the fact that they need regular maintenance, they are a purchase I would recommend only to an extremely enthusiastic diver. I only finally purchased my own upon receiving a Continuing Education grant from the Women Divers’ Hall of Fame, which included a $500 allowance for gear. Regulator sets tend to run between $350-1000, and thanks to the grant I was able to look in the middle of that range for something very high quality. Again, you can get great deals buying regulator sets used, though some divers feel uncomfortable buying such an important piece of machinery secondhand.
I went for the Scubapro MK25/S600 Regulator for the first and second stage, as well as a Scubapro octopus and a Cressi gauge (a full regulator set is comprised of those four parts, the first and second stage being the most important and expensive.) My full reg set was $650, so with the grant I paid $150. I still winced when I handed over my credit card, but the salesman assured me this regulator will last for decades. I occasionally wish that I had looked for a smaller, lighter travel reg — but then I remember how highly reviewed and reliable this one is (not to mention good looking) and I’m pleased with my big purchase.
7. Rash Guards
In addition to my Swish Suit, I have both a 1mm wetsuit top and a basic rash guard by Ripcurl. These were total indulgences on my part (I can’t remember ever buying two tops that totaled this much), but I love them. The Rip Curl Women’s G-Bomb Jacket is fantastic for layering under my Swish on super cold diving days and will be perfect for what I hope will one day be a regular surfing habit! Note that sizes run very small — this is a size 6 and it is hard to me to get on and off.
When I ordered the jacket I also threw in a long sleeve rash guard for warm diving days, snorkeling, etc. The exact style I bought is no longer available, but this Rip Curl Long Sleeve Rash Guard Shirt is this year’s model. Sizing ran a tad small as well — I wanted a loose fit and ordered a medium, but it’s fairly tight.
My dive bag was a free hand me down similar to this. When I’m ready to fly I fold it up and stick in inside my backpack, along with the rest of my gear (except my regs and camera, which due to their high value come along with me in my carry on.) Along with everything listed above, I also throw in some mask defog, a carabiner to clip things to my BCD, and leave in conditioner to fight post-dive tangles.
Recently I bought a custom fit mouthpiece for my regulator. While it took a few dives to get used to, it seems incredibly sturdy and I’m sure it will last much longer than the usual cheapies that I gnaw through pretty quickly.
9. Camera and Accessories
Though it isn’t really considered dive gear, I couldn’t write this post without a nod to my underwater photography setup. I love my Canon PowerShot S100 and The Canon Underwater Housing and I can’t imagine diving without them. I won’t go on too much as I’ve already written nearly 2,000 words on the topic here!
A Note on Leisure Pro: As you can see, the vast majority of my dive gear has been hand-me-downs or purchased from Leisure Pro’s New York City showroom. Leisure Pro offers amazing selection with the lowest prices on gear anywhere — their in-store and over the phone prices are amazingly even cheaper than the ones listed online! However, many of their products are considered “grey market,” meaning there are not authorized retailers of the brand and offer no manufacturer warranties, though they do match the warranties with their own in store versions. Also, they do take business away from struggling local dive centers by severely underpricing them (authorized retailers are literally not allowed by the manufacturers to sell at such low prices.)
As a nomad, I have no local dive center to feel loyal to, not to mention no spare budget to play with. So I shop at Leisure Pro — and I love it. There is no sales pressure, the staff are friendly, and returns are painless. The shop can get busy, so avoid peak times if possible and also note that the store is run by Orthodox Jews so their hours reflect religious holidays and the Sabbath.
I do think Leisure Pro is best either for those on a tight budget or for the experienced diver who already knows what they are looking for. If budget allows, I do encourage new divers to resist buying online and instead shop in person with their local dive centers, where they will find assistance in finding the best fit for masks and BCDs and also have loyal local service for regulators, etc.
Divers, what gear have you bought, and what do you continue to rent? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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Note: All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission from anything you buy through them. I have no affiliation with Leisure Pro or any of the brands listed here — these are just products I love. Thank you for supporting Alex in Wanderland!