For a new diver, buying gear is the final step, the act that says "I'm committed to really enjoying diving." But if you're newly certified, how are you supposed to know what to buy?
Relax. Between our advice and your instructor's help, we'll have you outfitted in no time. It's helpful to think of buying gear in two phases: first, the basic stuff you need for class; second, the major pieces of life support--regulator, BC and dive computer--that you're allowed to purchase once you've got a C-card. Let's start with the basics.
Phase One: The Basics
Your First Set of Gear: Mask
The one-pane oval mask of "Sea Hunt" and those old Bond films is practically a relic. In its place is a variety of styles for a world of faces. Your job: Choose the one right for yours.
What it Does - The mask creates an air space in front of your eyes that allows them to focus under water. The nose pocket allows you to equalize the air pressure in your mask as you go deeper.
What to Look For - A good watertight fit. Our Scuba Lab experts have come up with this six-step plan for foolproof mask fitting:
1. Look up at the ceiling and place the mask on your face without using the strap. It should rest
evenly with no gaps.
2. Place a regulator or snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth. Does the mask still feel comfortable? Any gaps yet?
3. Look forward. Place the mask on your face without using the strap and gently inhale through your nose. The mask should seal easily on your face. Caution: A strong inhale will close minor leak areas and invalidate this test.
4. Repeat the sniff test with a mouthpiece in place.
5. If the mask is still in the running, adjust the strap and put it on your face. Make sure the
nose pocket doesn't touch your nose and that the skirt feels comfortable on your upper lip.
6. Put the regulator mouthpiece in one more time to make sure you can easily reach the nose pocket to equalize your ears.
Any mask that passes this test is a potential keeper. You'll find a whole range of options on masks, including side, top and bottom panes for a wider field of vision. Some also have purge valves for venting any water that leaks in, and others have quick strap adjustments. These options (and a range of color schemes) are a matter of personal preference--just make sure the mask you choose fits right.
Cost - From RM60 to RM500
Our Advice - Clear or light-colored mask skirts let more light in and are generally more comfortable for new divers.
Your First Set of gear: Snorkel
It seems simple enough: a curved tube that lets you breathe while floating face-down on the surface. Yet, as you look at the giant wall of snorkels at your local dive store, you'll see an array of options and features to choose from. Don't worry. Stay focused on the basics.
What It Does - As a diver, you primarily use a snorkel to conserve air in your tank when on the water's surface.
What to Look For - Comfort. You want a mouthpiece that feels good in your mouth and breathes dry and easy. The problem is, most attempts to keep snorkels dry also make them bulkier and harder to breathe through. The snorkel for you is one with a good compromise between ease of breathing and dry comfort. Remember, the bigger a snorkel is, the more drag it creates in the water. Also important: how the snorkel attaches to your mask. Look for a durable, yet simple and easy-to-operate attachment.
Cost - From RM20 to RM200
Our Advice - If you don't plan on doing a lot of snorkeling, this is the one piece of gear you can skimp on. Get a simple, basic model and be done with it.
Fish don't have legs for the simple reason that fins are the best way to move through water. So if you're going to play in the fish's territory, you need a good set of flippers too.
What They Do - Fins translate power from the large leg muscles into efficient movement through water, which is 800 times denser than air.
What to Look For - Comfort and efficiency. When trying on fins, look for a snug fit that doesn't pinch your toes or bind the arches of your feet. If you can't wiggle your toes, the fins are too small.
Efficiency of fins is largely determined by their size, stiffness and design. Divers with strong leg and hip muscles can efficiently use a bigger, stiffer fin. Smaller divers or less conditioned divers will be more comfortable with smaller, more flexible fins. Finally, make sure buckles and straps are easy to use.
Cost - RM100 to RM800.
Our Advice - Don't skimp on fins. Choosing the right pair is important to prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. Good fins will enhance your enjoyment of diving; bad ones can ruin it. Full-Foot or Open-Heel Fins?
Full-foot fins don't require dive booties and are best suited mainly for warm waters.
The straps of open-heel fins can be adjusted for the different booties you may wear or for different family members and children as they grow.
Open-heel fins require less effort to put on, especially if a pull tab is added to the strap.
The dive booties required with open-heel fins also provide foot protection and comfort while diving and walking.
Exposure Protection Suits
Form-fitting exposure suits are usually made of foam neoprene rubber (wetsuits) or spandex-like materials (skins), sometimes with a fleece lining.
What They Do - Exposure suits insulate you against the cooling effect of water, which can rob your body of heat 25 times faster than air. The thickness and type of exposure protection you need depends on dive conditions. Simple Lycra suits provide little thermal insulation, but do help protect against scrapes and stings.
What to Look For - Fit and comfort. Exposure suits should fit snugly without restricting movement or breathing. Reject any suit that's too loose, however. Gaps at the arm, leg, crotch and neck allow water to circulate and defeat the suit's ability to prevent heat loss.
Cost - Wetsuits and skins range from $70 to $650. Dry suits can cost from $650 to $2,800.
Our Advice - As long as a wetsuit fits correctly, it will do the job. If you're going the budget route, your choices will usually be limited to basic models. Bright colors and graphics aren't necessary but do make you more visible to other divers.Exposure Suit Comfort Zones
75-85F - 1/16" (1.6mm) neoprene, Lycra, Polartec
70-85F - 1/8" (3mm) neoprene
65-75F - 3/16" (5mm) neoprene
50-70F - 1/4" (6.5mm) neoprene
35-65F - 3/8" (9.5mm) neoprene, dry suitOnce you're a newly minted diver, the anxiety you had about buying gear will likely be replaced with a rush of excitement--a desire to max out the plastic or convert the Roth IRA into a heap of the latest and greatest in scuba gear.
Fine. Having your own gear is essential to enjoy this sport fully and to maximize your comfort and safety. Just remember that your experience with equipment is limited. You've got to study the field and understand what you want--and need--out of each piece of gear.
Phase Two: Life-Support Equipment
The BC is the most complex piece of dive equipment you'll own and one of the most important. So choose carefully based on the style of diving you'll be doing most.
What It Does - What doesn't it do? It holds your gear in place, lets you carry a tank with minimal effort, floats you at the surface and allows you to achieve neutral buoyancy at any depth.
What to Look For - Correct size and fit. Before you try on BCs, slip into the exposure suit you'll wear most often. Look for a BC that fits snugly but doesn't squeeze you when inflated. The acid test: inflate the BC until the overflow valve vents. The BC should not restrict your breathing. While you've got the BC on, test all valves for accessibility and ease of use, then make sure the adjustments, straps and pockets are easy to reach and use.
Pay particular attention to the inflator hose. Is it easy to reach and extend over your head? Make sure there's a clear distinction between the inflate and deflate buttons and that you can operate them easily with one hand.
Cost - RM350 - RM1000
Our Advice - This is an important piece of equipment that you can expect to use for many years. Don't skimp; go for quality. Test as many different models as you can in real diving situations before buying. Rent them if you have to.How Much BC Lift Do you Need?
Tropical Diving (with little or no wetsuit protection) - 12 to 24 pounds
Recreational Diving (with a full wetsuit or dry suit) - 20 to 40 pounds
Technical Diving (or diving under other demanding conditions) - 40 to 80 pounds