If you’re new to the diving world or maybe even just the idea of cold water scuba diving, this graphic should give you an idea of how you can make this a lifestyle, rather than just something you do every now and then on holiday. By purchasing your own dive gear you will not only be able to dive more (and have the desire to dive cold water) but also to dive more safely.
The infographic below does not recommend any particular brand of scuba gear, but rather, the equipment needed for cold water diving. Where I have chosen one type of scuba fin over another, simply bears reference to the gear I use, or that I know and not the cold water diving gear that is necessarily right for you.
I also recommend learning more about the opportunities that scuba diving opens up. No doubt you will purchase more gear as you progress, but there’s no harm in getting a few of the key pieces right from the start, especially if you know what “track” you want to head down. Are you a dry caver looking to become a serious cave diver? Well you may want to speak to other cave divers and do your research. If technical diving sounds like a thing you’d eventually like to try, do the same—I never learned as much as when I spoke to people in my field of interest. Bear in mind, however, that everyone has their personal preferences. If you like something different than the rest, that’s just fine!
When I started diving I had no idea what gear to buy. My dive shop was good enough to recommend and set me up with cold water recreational gear, most of which I still use to this day. Substitutions I’ve made, or additional gear I’ve purchased has largely been done as a result of my expanding interests in diving—so while I may own more fins than I probably need, each of them has their place!
This guide to buying cold water dive gear is broken into sections. It mirrors how I purchased my own gear, but is not necessarily an order you need to follow. It simply helped me budget. I purchased my gear over the period of a few months, slowly buying what I most needed and then renting the rest from my dive shop. This is a good approach if you’re looking to buy slightly more expensive or specific gear.
A few additional notes on specific cold water diving gear
Fins: There is no single “right” or “best” fin, just the fin that is right for you. I use OMS Slipstreams because they don’t make my feet buoyant and because they offer me the best performance for my finning style (frog kick). Other people in my diving community prefer the Scubapro Seawing Novas and yet others, the Atomic Split Fins. The best course of action is to try a number of fins if you can so that you can figure out what feels best for you.
Mask: I use a low volume mask because it’s easy to clear. I also prefer a frameless mask so I have a little more visibility. The first mask I ever bought (a TUSA) is now a very handy back-up that I keep in my drysuit pocket, in spite of not being the easy low-volume one I now use. If you care more about color and appearance, that’s just fine too—it doesn’t take much more effort to clear a regular mask.
SMB/DSMB: Your first purchase will likely be an SMB (or safety sausage) inflated orally. This is great—it’s small and easy to keep in a pocket, or attach to your BCD with a bolt snap. Once you progress, you may want to try other options, like a Delayed Surface Marker Buoy attached to a reel and inflated from depth. You can choose one with an open end (you add air from a spare regulator), or one with a stainless steel nipple that can be inflated using your drysuit hose. Suffice to say, a regular old SMB will get you started just fine!
BCD, Transpac, or Wing, Backplate, Harness Package: For this category, I truly recommend trying different options. While I like the simplicity of my BCD, I hate the size of the D-Rings on it (apparently women don’t need to carry a lot of gear?!) and have often wished I could use one of the tech diving harnesses due to the abundant and oversized D-Rings, making clipping things off on it a lot easier. I also dislike the pockets and find myself rarely using them. Instead, I use the pockets on my drysuit. Once again, consider your goals. Scientific Divers typically use backplates, wings and harnesses, whereas technical divers have a great number of options. Many recreational dive shops nowadays sell both recreational BCDs and wing/backplate/harness packages, so there is something for everyone. Do your own research, interview your mentors!
Dive Computer: To this day, I still use the Aqualung i300 that came free with my BCD. It’s a nice back-up dive computer and simple enough for much of the basic cold water recreational diving I do. That said, I wish my very first dive computer purchase had been a Shearwater as it’s in line with my own goals. Unfortunately, at the time I knew nothing about technical diving, or advanced dive planning, or indeed, any features on a dive computer that I might or might not like. Unless you know what you want, your dive shop can only help you so much, and your budget will also likely dictate what you can buy. Again, all I can say is do your research and speak to people in your desired field.
Thermal Protection: I dive a dry suit (as do most people in the Pacific Northwest) but it is still possible to dive a thick wetsuit (7mm) with a farmer john over it for added warmth. Dry suits can be personalized at the start, or over time—what I chose to do when I had someone from our dive shop add pockets and suspenders to it. Note: dry suits can be purchased in a number of different materials. Try a couple of different options. I have a crushed neoprene dry suit because I get cold super easily! One day I may add dry gloves. In the meantime, my 5mm wet gloves still do me just fine.
Scuba Tanks: Of all the gear I recommend purchasing last, it’s your tanks. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s about as expensive to fill a tank as it is to rent one. Secondly, you’ll have to pay for annual maintenance on your tanks. I prefer steel 80s and steel 100s as they are heavy and mean I can subtract loose weights. Others prefer aluminum tanks. Again, there’s no right or wrong.
About the Infographic
This infographic was created by Candice Landau for Scuba Scribbles and for the benefit of scuba divers looking to buy their first cold water diving gear. Please feel free to use and share it with attribution—the links back to my site really help!