Buying scuba gear when NOTHING fits

One of the many questions that pop to one’s mind when starting scuba diving – and obsessing over it – is WHEN or IF to buy personal diving equipment.

If you are like me, you might have decided – at the very beginning – that this question was a no-brainer. That there were too many reasons NOT to:

  • Buying equipment is costly
  • It adds the extra hustle of maintenance
  • It takes up storage space
  • It needs to be carried around when travelling – even for the backpacking trips in which diving is a part but not the only activity

Because of all of these and the fact that

  • I am quite a minimalist and having possessions stresses me out,
  • I travel extra light (more on this on Light Packing for Scuba Diving Trips),
  • I also like trekking and visiting cultural landmarks as much as diving when travelling,
  • and a bit of common sense to top it all up…

… I decided that owning my own equipment was definitely not my thing. Not now. Who knew IF EVER.

Although this soon changed – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. If you are also dwelling on the “to buy or not to buy” question, you might have ended up here. So I will explain why I changed my mind, and hope to help you make your own.

To help you navigate through the different parts of this text, here is a list. (I love lists). This was the order – more or less – in which I bought my diving gear. I thought it was the most efficient, from most essential to most unnecessary or whimsical. But this is an entirely personal opinion, and also due to external situations and factors that made me own certain gear at certain stages.

  1. Diving computer
  2. Diving mask
  3. BCD and fins
  4. Wetsuits
  5. Regulator
  6. Miscellaneous items (BCD attachments, headbands, mesh bags, etc.)

I finish with my own personal conclusion about why, when and if to buy your own gear, but you should draw your own conclusion.

This text is not only applicable to women but to anyone looking at buying their own equipment. I found it especially hard as a petite woman to find properly fitting gear for rental (or even at dive shops), which is why I decided to buy my own, but my reasoning can be applied to anybody having troubles finding their size or just wanting to get their own.

First Essential: diving computer

With the original reasoning in mind, I decided that the only investment I wanted to initially make in this new hobby was a diving computer: this was essential to me as I needed to rent it at every centre, and adapt to new parameters every time. It is also proportionally quite expensive to rent a diving computer compared to the rest of the gear. And it is handy to have your previous dives logged in. Plus it is a matter of safety to have a reliable and familiar computer with you during a dive, since I rather trust what my own computer says about my depth and decompression times. And it is a small enough item that hardly has any impact on your luggage or home storage.

I looked at the different options out there and considering I never wear a watch outside of the water I decided to buy a computer that was only going to be used for diving: a big and simple computer that was going to be visible and sturdy underwater.

There are many options out there, but I went with what I knew and trusted from my PADI courses and got the Suunto Novo Zoop.

Capture

I promised myself in that moment that this was the extent of my equipment investment… This was not going to last long.

Second Essential: diving mask

When I took up diving in the first place, as during my training, I would find a good mask and stick to it for a couple of days, if I could. Something that would fit my face, keep the water out, not fog, and especially one that would not hurt my nose or ears while diving. A mask is something a bit personal and the wrong fit can make your dive suck. I remember borrowing a mask and realise, at 30m looking at a marvellous wreck, that it had not been defogged properly and at that temperature I could hardly see for a couple of minutes before needing to flood my mask again in the hope of seeing part of the wreck. That was not pleasant, but it was also dangerous as I lost perception of distance and direction. Sometimes even losing sight of my guide.

In my case I did not “decide” to buy a mask. It was a gift from one of my instructors, who had simply found it underwater. It surprisingly fit perfectly well, and after burning the inside to make sure it would not fog up, it was a delight.

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At that point I realised that, without the intention of doing so, I had two diving items. And I convinced myself that it was going to be it.

The domino effect purchases: fins and BCD

I was convinced that I didn’t need any more gear than I already had. However, when you start diving more and more you also get excited and you start checking other divers’ equipment. Asking questions about their experience. Checking specs online. Visiting diving shops and having a look… All quite tempting…

I also started realising that every time I changed diving centres there was a risk my first dive might suck: because the BCD might not fit properly, because the weight I need to put depends on how heavy my equipment is, because it might take half of the dive to adjust the kicking style to the fins, etc. These little nuisances were hardly an issue when I first started diving, because I was too focused on the more crucial endeavours – such as not kicking the corals and trying to stay streamlined. But when you get better, you get more picky as well. From my Advanced Open Water onwards I started to feel uncomfortable on certain BCDs, or to dislike certain fins. Call it being a spoiled brat, if you like.

Fins seemed quite a silly thing to buy, since they are generally too long to fit in my cabin-sized backpack. However, I thought that travel fins together with my mask could double as snorkelling gear… Not like I snorkelled in general, but having the gear with you on a beach trip would make a fun travelling add-on. Plus I thought of the many times I saw dolphins at the bay and struggled to swim towards them… that would be so much easier with fins!

After all the excuses and self-justifications that I made while checking fins and asking around at local dive shops and divers I knew, I ended up buying a pair of travelling fins. I went for the ScubaPro GO fins, designed to travel because of their small length and their negligible weight. Adding these fins to my backpack doesn’t change a thing. They are so light and small that buying them was FULLY justified.

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I have to say that I wanted to get some high performing fins, but those that were small enough to fit in my beloved backpack were not made for me. Meaning that having a EUR37 foot size (US6.5, UK4.5) makes it a little bit hard to find proper diving gear. For example, I tried long and hard to find myself a pair of ScubaPro Jetfins, but as it happens they do not come in small “women size”. I even bought myself a pair of Beauchat impressive-looking fins that promised to be a EUR38 but, once in the water and with my booties to compensate for the number up, would come loose. I have never panicked more in my life as I did in this dive when I felt myself holding onto the straps of my fins while kicking…

Which brings me to the starting point: when you are petite (and especially a woman) finding the proper gear can be very difficult. Which is what convinced me to buy my own equipment – and write this post.

Talking about the size issue when diving, and diving as a woman… if proper sizing when buying is already a challenge, there are even less options when renting out of the stock of a diving centre. Sure there are small sizes, but with the straps as tight as they go, I could still feel the jacket moving around during my dive. Sometimes the tank bouncing on my back, in my worst dives.

So before I keep rambling about I will introduce you to my lovely Zena:

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Zeagle Zena – PS: I have customised it by sewing a NZ flag over the original American one. Go NZ!

This BCD is especially made for women. There are others out there too (Aqualung Zuma and the ScubaPro Ladyhawk have amazing reviews and are also travel friendly).

I have talked with many women that use the Zena, both curvy and petite, and they all seem happy with it. Looking for a small enough BCD was a bit difficult, but the beauty of the Zena is that is extremely adjustable thanks to the straps on the side. Everything clips away and back into place, and this was the only BCD I could make tight enough on my waist. Another thing to mention is that even with weight change (IF it happens over time) you will still be able to perfectly fit it to your waist and chest.

It took me a couple of dives to adjust to this BCD; now I couldn’t dive without it.

The “this is getting out of control” addition: wetsuit(s)

In my case I did not exactly decide to buy a wetsuit. I thought it was too limiting for a travel diver as the water temperature might change a lot from place to place.

From my many years of surfing, though, I did have my good old O’neill 3/2mm wetsuit. This was great for warm water, and considering I am hardly ever cold it was good for moderately warm water too. Although to be perfectly honest: one time I went diving in the Mediterranean at 19ºC and refused the 5mm wetsuit I was offered because I stubbornly wanted to wear mine; that was an extremely bad idea… Moreover, 3/2mm of a 12 year old wetsuit is not even 3/2mm anymore.

For all of my SEA diving this wetsuit has been great though. In Greece, in the summer, this was also more than enough. But when I went to the Red Sea in January, with water at 24ºC, I left it at home. The water was great but the sun wasn’t hot enough to warm up between dives, so I decided to stay warm with a 5mm instead.

And then, as many female divers before me, I made a bit of a whimsical purchase when I got my “mermaid” sirensong wetsuit. To be honest I used it all the time when diving in Borneo on my last trip, over the course of 15 days of diving, and at 2.5mm this was great. I wore it underneath my 3/2mm in a colder dive too and both together are more than I would ever need even at 18ºC.
(That would be 5.5mm on the core, 4.5mm on arms and 2mm on legs).

But if you are thinking about wetsuits some people would tell you to keep renting – and they would be right – or buy the one at which you dive the most (3mm or 5mm).

I do find the idea of layering up very convenient and versatile, though. And in my case… I just enjoy peeing on my own wetsuit too much… (sorry TMI 🙂 )

The “I admit that I’m all in now” addition: reg

It took me a while to decide on this one. I thought that the maintenance would freak me out and that it was too heavy and fragile, and I was happy being able to fit everything into my 60L backpack, including Summer clothes for a month. I do washes when travelling for that long anyway.

But considering that: I had two wetsuits, a very nice BCD and fins that fit me well, all kind of extra stuff, and that most of my diving trips are long-haul flights with luggage included… I decided that it was time to enjoy the perks of having my FULL equipment and no longer renting.

If peeing on my wetsuit – and especially having the certainty that no one else had peed on it before me – was important to me, having my own regulator fell into this category as well. Diving centres that I have known do maintain their regulators thoroughly, and they clean them well. I am not the most bacterophobic person, although I know that for some people this is important too. The mouthpiece of the regulator can be too big or uncomfortable for some, and that may cause jaw pain after diving. I certainly have had this problem in the past. Having your own mouthpiece, one that fits your specific mouth, and that only you bite onto is much more gratifying.

TIP: if you do not want to buy a regulator but want to use your own mouthpiece, you can buy one and exchange it with the one at your dive centre for the time that you’re diving with them; you will need to have zip ties to reassemble the previous mouthpiece though (and always ask for permission first!); for your own mouthpiece you can reduce plastic waste by buying a reusable zip tie.

In addition to the mouthpiece, knowing your regulator and how it performs can be great for a constant air consumption. This helps you learn how to optimise your dive, rather than using different regulators each time. I would say it does not have SUCH a great impact, but at this point of the shopping frenzy… let’s roll with it 🙂

Since I still wanted extra light equipment (it adds up, but let’s ignore that) my two regulator choices based on lightness and budget where the Apeks Flight and the Aqualung Mikron. Both had amazing reviews. The Apeks Flight is slightly lighter, but Apeks is harder to service than Aqualung – which can be serviced almost anywhere in the world (I say “almost” to be on the safe side). So I went with the Aqualung Mikron and it was great.

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Miscellaneous items

These are bits and pieces that I could not live without – but I never knew before.

There are a series of small items that make your dives much more comfortable. I will start with the different methods you can attach your “dangling” gear to your BCD. To me an important one, especially when your BCD is quite minimal, is attaching the manometer to your side. I cannot dive with anything dangling about, hitting the corals. This is obvious. And I cannot place my manometer in an awkward spot that makes it difficult to read from. On a stab jacket BCD you might be able to attach it within the straps, but not on my zip-type BCD. The same goes with the octopus. They need to be out of the way yet at hand when needed.

There is a big selection of attachments for your D-rings. My favourite for the manometer is the very simple one (picture below, left). You can cross over your octopus and attach the hose to the same one, but I prefer the octopus specific holder to keep it on my right side (see the yellow bubbly rubber below). The biggest one, that I use to attach either a camera or a lamp (or both) is a little more complex, with an extendable cord so you are not limited when using those (bottom of the picture). A lamp is useful for night dives and for caves and wrecks. You may also use it to aid you get a better picture.

Just remember: do not point lamps directly at animals. It’s extremely rude, and it can disturb and hurt them.

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When I started diving I remember a very experienced diver told me to “never dive without a knife”. And I DID dive without a knife, for all of my dives for over 50 dives. Then I remembered his comment again, and followed his advice. A knife won’t protect you from a shark attack, although that may seem much cooler on films than real diving dangers. (The most hurting thing a shark would most likely do to you is to swim away while you’re trying to get a selfie!)

What a knife will do for you is mainly to help you untangle yourself or others – including wildlife – from nets and fishing lines, or from seaweed. Seriously, this is a thing. So if you don’t want to get a knife that’s fair enough (after all that forces you to check-in your luggage every time). But you should at least get some sort of cutter.

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Some great, practical items that I started using along the way include a headband to protect my hair. There are plenty out there, and I didn’t get a fancy nor a pretty one. I basically want something to protect my hair under the mask in order to avoid pulling it out every time. This is also great to keep my hair away from my face and lenses while diving. It used to be a nightmare.

For the logbook, some people go paperless. There are plenty of applications online, including the official ones by PADI, SSI, etc. However I still like having my little travelling notebook where I have all my logged dives and my cards and some dive maps and little tools. I made mine myself with a leather 3-ring cover that I found and some customised logbook pages that I designed myself. I even keep some notes from my Rescue course just in case I need a refresher, and different notes on things I have learnt, including fish ID cards.

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**Personal Conclusion**

The only 3 things that I would have purchased if I wasn’t sure of my commitment to diving or if I was on a tight budget are:

  • logbook – negligible price
  • diving computer – around 200€
  • mask – around 50€

These are the very essentials I could not dive without. And honestly, I could even skip the mask if I had to. You don’t need a computer with lots of functionalities – just one that is reliable so you can monitor your decompression times, depth, safety stop, etc.

Although being fully equipped, and not just having bits and pieces, saves you from paying rental costs every time you dive, I recognise that unless you live close to a diving spot and you go very often, it is NOT economically worth it. It is, in my case, only worth it experience wise. You are a more confident diver, your performance improves, and you love the entire ritual of cleaning, carrying and caring for your equipment as part of your diving. It is part of the anticipation, and also of the recollection.

Being a petite woman, having my own equipment also guarantees that I won’t have to skip a day of diving because I’m waiting for other guests at the dive centre to return their equipment.

WHEN and IF you feel like you want to have your own, and you can afford it, then do it. Otherwise keep renting and trying out different equipment every time: that also makes you a better diver.

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If you are a female diver and you want to join the awesome ladies at the Facebook Community “Girls That Scuba“, they have enormous insight and experience into the diving world, whether professional or recreational, and they are amazing at giving tips on equipment, locations, environment and techniques to help us enjoy our diving even more.

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