Every fanatical scuba diver remembers the moment they got hooked on the underwater world. The 'this is what life is about' moment, when you decided right there and then to devote countless holidays to it, perhaps even considered a change in career, but most certainly to allocate a lot of money to your new love. But, before you log your 100th dive, or are celebrating your Dive Master qualification, really, when you first start diving, what do you need to buy?
How much should you spend on your first basic kit?
I've been on quite a few dive boats, surprised to see very newly qualified Open Water diver, almost or even fully kitted out, Wetsuit, expensive dive computer, BCD, etc... but then, I'd catch myself, put judgment aside and think, well, if you have the money and the passion, why not? But actually, even then, should you go all out before you've really had a chance to get to know who you are as a scuba diver? What you specifically will need in terms of what type of diving you are most interested in, and what you prefer in terms of comfort and style. To buy on the lower end of the price spectrum (but not budget, or compromising quality) I’d say you would be looking at the following costs as an average beginner guide:
Computer: For a decent easy use beginner computer £150 - £400
Regulator Set: £300+ (1st/2nd stage, hoses, octopus)
Now let's look at which specific items we like and what to look for:
Mask and Snorkel
The most common first purchase, and a pretty important one. The number one rule when purchasing a mask is to try it on first. Try it at a shop, or one of your friends, but make sure it fits and doesn't leak. We all like different masks, yes, some of us choose a mask based on it's colour; and that's fine as long as it fits. If you have a bigger nose we've found frameless ones work well, and if you wear contacts or glasses get yourself a prescription mask. Here are some of our favourites (some are specifically designed for women). Click on the image for more info on the mask. We recommend spending up to £40 on your first mask and another £10 on a snorkel if it doesn't come in a set. Snorkel masks are slightly different and much cheaper so take a look at the best snorkel masks here.
We actually think a mask strap is a really essential tool. Trying to remove your mask when doing your Open Water training is near impossible if your hair decided to get caught around the rubber band. We even designed our own to help GTS girls all around the world! Get your GTS mask strap here.
Given that its clothing, and clothing that people are known to pee themselves in, this might seem like one of the most obvious first buys. But, for the extra expense, the travel space and high possibility of having to stuff it in your suitcase semi dry for your flight home, do you really need one early on?
I have mixed feelings about this. I was put off buying one as I just didn’t know what would be best to buy for the diving I did. In some tropical places I’d be in a shorty, in others long, and then in some really hot countries I’d show up and find the water was actually pretty cold, and be diving in a hood! Also, as a beginner solo female diver often feeling self conscious, I was too shy to ask ‘stupid’ questions on the dive boats, even as simple as ‘what mm suit am I wearing?’ (Seriously!) But being older and more confident now (because really, life is too short) I speak up when I’m unsure or inquisitive. No one was born knowing it all. So this one is down to your preference, once you start diving a lot, your own wetsuit it essential, but if you are just doing a few dives a year you might want to save yourself luggage space and hire one.
We've written a lot about female wetsuits, from which one to buy to an open letter to wetsuit manufactures about making larger sizes, so check out those for our recommendations, but here are just a few we love.
Years ago I had a pair of snorkeling fins which I used diving. It was only after a dive in which I was sucking up huge amounts of air due to fighting against really strong currents the DM said to me; 'oh, you have snorkelling fins, you should use diving fins’ I found out that there was a difference! The difference in wearing comfortable well-fitting fins is huge. But, I think had I bought them early on – I would have gone full foot, whereas now I know that my feet get cold easily and I prefer booties, so make sure you consider the right fins for you.
I was lucky to inherit a dive computer whilst getting my OW Cert. It was a big bulky yellow Mares thing, and I never really learnt how to use it properly as I had no manual and no one seemed to have the same one! I read my depth, and how long I was down for, and at that point, that was enough for me anyway. It died last year, and I’ve really missed having this basic information, and so very excited to now own one I think is suited to my needs and experience. As a beginner it’s an expensive unnecessary piece of equipment (to buy straight away, but essential to borrow or rent), but one that is very nice to have. If you really are determined to buy one early on I’d just recommend doing a lot of research (GTS!) and being realistic on what you would actually use it for. Dive computers are expensive, really think about spending that few £ extra to upgrade to a much better one. The Suunto Zoop is the most popular cheap, beginners computer.
BCD and Regulator set
Just my point of view, but I would definitely get quite a few dives under your belt before thinking about buying your own. First off, they are expensive, but more importantly, and relevant to all, require proper care and maintenance which is crucial to you diving safety. Getting to know more about what you find comfortable, what the different components do, how they work and relate to each other is something that can take time. It can be more fun and rewarding to buy equipment like this when you feel you are ready for it and have earnt it, not when you are still trying to remember what the BWARF acronym stands for!
My advice to a beginner… looking around and being in the moment is much more important, and rewarding than trying to get a perfect picture of a fast moving fish or selfie. I’ve seen many new divers miss out on seeing beautiful creatures because they are too busy trying to take photos whilst still not quite able to control their buoyancy or awareness of what’s around them bumping into other divers, smashing into coral, etc. So, take pictures, but be aware. And be present!
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When you first start scuba diving I'd recommend spending your time and mental energy learning more about diving itself, the marine life you will see, the environments and where to dive than whether you want your first stage to be of piston or diaphragm designs. I don't feel I lost out at all from not having much of my own equipment, and in buying it later I knew exactly what I wanted from starting to look more closely at the BCD I was putting on, ask what mm the wetsuit I was wearing was, and know what to ask the retailers, or other divers, and feel confident I’m getting what is suitable for me, and the type of diving I prefer. Ultimately, I think it’s the right time to buy the gear when you can say, ‘I want to buy this because ‘insert sentence with specific meaning to yourself here’ rather than, ‘ I think it’s what scuba divers need and should have, and I’m one of those now…’
About the Author
Weeze recently moved back to her home town of Hong Kong from London and is looking forward to spending a lot more time underwater in Asia, especially seeking our sharks and exploring wrecks. Advanced level diver who works in Human Rights, Weeze is planning to level up to Divemaster and see where it takes her. Not only does she love to explore the underwater world, but up top too, especially learning about local cultures and social history whilst seeking out vegan ice cream! She writes about her adventures in her blog Weeze x Christina, as well as sharing photos on her Instagram.