There are a lot of different pieces of dive gear you’ll see when you walk in your local shop or browse online. Among all the options, it can be tricky to sort out which are actually essential, and which are just fun extras.
Here are the key pieces of safety gear and dive equipment you need to be safe and have fun under the waves:
Even though some people can get away without them in tropical conditions, the vast majority of divers always use a wetsuit. They’ll keep you warm in cold water, and keep you from getting roasted on the deck. O’Neill makes the best affordable ones, in my experience.
Life Support Components
You’re going to need three key life support components for any dive: a BCD (buoyancy control device, which is basically a sophisticated life vest), regulator mouthpiece (which controls the air coming from your tanks to your mouth) and an octopus (a secondary regulator mouthpiece that you can use as a backup or to help someone whose system fails.
Get these as a kit, to maximize value and ensure compatibility. My favorites are Cressi’s kits, but Aqualung also make good sets. Most of them include a computer as well, which makes the whole thing a nice bargain.
Obviously, nobody’s going to move around much underwater without fins. I use Cressi Reaction Pro’s, but the kind you want depends on the type of diving you do. Long/short, stiff/flexible, there are plenty of options, do figure out what works best for your body and your dives.
Get some spring straps, while you’re kitting yourself out with fins! These are one of the best new things to hit the dive market in a long time. They’re spring-loaded back-straps which make all your fins into secure slip-ons. Tusa make the best, in my opinion. Theirs fit pretty much any standard kind of fin.
A lot of scuba people neglect the humble snorkel. But as much as you think you’re going to spend every waking hour of your trip underwater, the fact is that most of us will spend at least an afternoon snorkeling in whatever location we visit. So, I always pack a Cressi Alpha for cruising around reefs and shallows.
In some ways, your mask is the most important piece of equipment you’ll buy! It might not be the most expensive, but you can’t dive without a good one–period. I hesitate to recommend one for everyone since a mask has to fit your own facial contours, but the Cressi Matrix is my go-to. Make sure you do your research and learn about what a well-fitted mask actually feels like.
It pretty much goes without saying that you need a dive computer in the 21st century. Nobody wants to do dive tables by hand, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any training or rental program that doesn’t include dive computers. They’re the easiest, most reliable way to stay safe and on-track underwater.
I like the Shearwater Research Perdix AI, which is a top-notch model for technical and advanced divers. If you don’t need something technical, the new Suunto Zoop Novo is a fantastic budget computer for recreational divers
One lesson I’ve learned is that luggage from dive companies is rarely worth the mark-up. It’s basically the same as anything else you’d buy for outdoor/adventure travel, aside from some extra straps to squish your wetsuit down. You can easily get some velcro straps to use separately, and that way you’re not having to work around your bag.
Patagonia’s Black Hole luggage series is perfect for scuba trips. It’s all water-resistant, rugged and ergonomic. It also keeps weight down extremely well, so you don’t have to worry about coming over the threshold at the airport.
You’re also going to need a dry bag for when you’re on the boat or at the beach. Dry bags keep all your essentials (phone, wallet, passport, etc.) safe and sound around the water. Sea To Summit make some good ones that don’t cost too much.
Compass (Aqua Lung Suunto)
Depending on whether your dive computer has one, every diver should have a compass. So, get one either as a backup or as a companion to your computer. They might seem old-fashioned, but as soon as you get to be more adventurous, you’ll find they come in handy pretty often!
Half the fun of scuba diving is the exploration factor. Sure, it’s fun to be in the water and watch the wildlife, but you want to be able to explore shipwrecks and caves, too! Whether you’re doing those things or trying night diving, it’s important to have a good light underwater. Moray Diver’s Communication Torch is the best I’ve found. It has a bright lamp, and you can also use it to signal distress or find companions underwater. It makes a noise that reaches 100 feet!
Especially if you’re diving solo or in a group without an instructor, you need to have your own method of contacting help if you run into trouble. The Nautilus Lifeline sends out radio signals to your boat, and it can also contact the Coast Guard. Consider this a must, must have!
A lot of people are put off by having a knife underwater, but you never know when you’ll get tangled or need to cut something free. The Spyderco Enuff has been my go-to for several years. It’s serrated, compact, and very hardy.
First aid kit
Nobody should be scuba diving or undertaking any other kind of adventure without a first aid kit! The DAN Coast Guard Complete is a fully-stocked set you should take next time you dive. It includes lots of things specifically for dive injuries, but it’s a general first aid kit as well