The world under the sea has called out to adventurers for centuries. The development of scuba gear made it possible for more people to explore the depths for longer periods than diving pioneers ever imagined. Jacques Cousteau, probably the best-known explorer of oceans, was essential to the invention of SCUBA, an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Today, scuba diving remains extremely popular among those seeking to dive for recreational, educational, and conservation purposes. As the acronym suggests, scuba gear is designed to allow you to breathe underwater. Though diving will always carry a degree of risk, having the right scuba gear is key to minimizing the danger and maximizing your underwater exploration. Below, we’ll look at the essential gear you’ll need and what to look for when shopping.
The most important and most complex piece of equipment any scuba diver will ever purchase is the buoyancy compensator, also called the BC or power inflator. The BC is like a backpack that holds the rest of your gear together, allows you to dive deeper or head toward the surface, and helps give you natural buoyancy at any depth. BC units come in different sizes based on the intended type of diving. Look for a model that matches your dive types and fits snugly over your wetsuit, but not so tight as to restrict breathing.
The next important piece of gear is the regulator, which is what actually allows you to breathe underwater by taking pressurized air from your tank and converting it into breathable air at ambient pressure. It also delivers air to your inflator. Look for a regulator that’s got a mouthpiece you find comfortable and that works well with your diving mask. An octopus is a backup regulator that’s usually bright yellow and generally has a longer hose, which makes it easier for you or a fellow diver to access in an emergency.
A diving mask provides a dry pocket for your eyes and nose. Underwater exploring isn’t much of an adventure if you can’t keep your eyes opened and focused. Having a little breathing room for your nose means you’ll be able to help equalize pressure as you dive deeper. To find a mask that fits well, try resting the mask on your face while your face is turned toward the ceiling. A good mask will rest evenly, with no major gaps. Inhaling gently through the nose should create a seal between the mask and your face. If you can maintain this fit after adding a regulator or snorkel mouthpiece, you’ve got a good match. The skirt should feel comfortable below your nose, and the nose shouldn’t be touching the inside of the mask.
Even if you don’t intend to do any real snorkeling, a good snorkel that you can rely on when you’re near the surface can conserve air. Generally speaking, there aren’t any significant differences between snorkels; just look for one that feels comfortable in your mouth.
Wetsuits offer protection against the heat your body loses to the water. Even in warmer waters, loss of body heat can be an issue. Wetsuits are sold in different thicknesses designed for different water temps. You can even find fleece-lined wetsuits for serious cold-water diving. A wetsuit should fit snugly enough to keep air and water out, but not so snugly that your breathing or movement is restricted.
Flippers or fins are still the preferred way to move through water. Make sure you find a pair that fits well enough that you aren’t worried about losing them, but not so tight that you can’t wiggle your toes easily. You also don’t want fins that compress your arches too tightly. Stiffer, larger fins are great for experienced divers or divers with great lower body strength. If you’re less experienced and/or know that you’re not all that well conditioned, stick with more flexible, smaller fins.
Lastly, your dive computer will monitor your depth and remaining dive time. Some also track ascent rate and how much air you have left.
Finding the best and best-fitting gear to meet your needs can help you dive head first into the wonderful world of undersea adventure.