So you've started diving and realised you love it? We’ve all been there! You want to do more and start collecting your own gear and equipment but, where to start?
Owning your own dive gear will increase your comfort levels immensely when out on dives. We’ve all experienced that frustrating dive where your mask doesn’t fit quite right and you spend the whole dive clearing water from it, or your BCD is too big so the air sits in the wrong place ruining your perfect trim.
Together, let’s take a look at the order of priority in which most of us buy our gear for once you decide you want to start, hopefully you’ll find some useful tips.
Mask & Snorkel
Almost every diver’s first purchase is a mask and snorkel and for good reason. As I mentioned above there is nothing worse than an ill fitting mask to ruin your dive. Many people will even purchase them before diving to enable them to use on their Open Water Course, a great way of getting used to your new mask and snorkel! Or sign up for our Open Water Course where at the moment, we are currently offering a free mask and snorkel for every student*.
So, you’ve decided that you want to purchase your very first dive mask, but where to start, there are so many different options available, here are our main considerations.
Single or twin? Quite simply single offers just one tempered glass lens and the twin has two lenses, connected over the nose pocket. Personally I prefer a single lens as I feel it gives me a less obstructed view of the underwater world. Although lots of people prefer the viewing from the twin lens, and these are also much easier to have prescription lenses fitted if this is something that you require. Twin lens masks are often considered more durable as they have a full frame, perfect if you can be a little heavy handed with your gear.
The reflective lens is also an option, and honestly, not one I’m a fan of. Having had a diver with one of these panic on me during a 30m wreck dive it was very difficult to calm and reassure him without being able to make eye contact! My advice - keep the reflective lenses for the sunnies pre and post dive!
We all have our personal preferences on colour, but I would focus more on whether you want an opaque or translucent skirt on your mask. Translucent skirts will increase the amount of light able to penetrate your mask, which can allow for better viewing, especially during ‘darker’ dives such as low visibility, deep dives or wreck diving. Whereas opaque mask skirts (black, white or a cool colour) will block some of the light and it can reduce glare and make it easier to focus during a dive. Find the mask that works for you, then pick your favourite from the colour options available for that model.
Almost all masks are now made from silicone so generally designed for comfort but there are varying degrees of texture, some softer than others. Again this is all about finding what is most comfortable.
Mask volume is the amount of air that sits inside your mask, this can be classed as high profile (lots of air) or low profile (minimal amount of air). One of the main considerations in choosing this is equalisation, especially if you are an Advanced or higher certified and planning on doing deeper dives. The more air inside the mask the more you may have to equalise, making lower profile masks popular, especially for divers who also like to snorkel or freedive and want to preserve as much air as possible. With a lower profile mask comes a closer fit to your face, which depending on the shape of your face, can become uncomfortable, for example it may be tighter across a prominent brow bone, they also give a wider field of view.
There are certainly many different brands of dive equipment, masks included. Although generally now they are all made to a good quality I would recommend finding the perfect fit and specifications rather than concerning yourself too much with the brand.
A lot of this comes down to personal preference. All of us here at Waiheke Dive have different masks, and will all argue that ours are the best. Many divers will even replace an old mask with the exact same model as we love them so much - Adam is a perfect example, having used the same model of mask since he started diving, now on his fourth - he just won’t admit how many years this is over! (unfortunately even the best masks will not last forever, but with a little tlc can be long lasting) So the best advice I can possibly give when looking at purchasing a mask is to try it on. Visit us here on the island to try our range of masks and find the one that fits you. We all have different face shapes and sizes so masks are definitely not a ‘one fits all’ product so try them out and find what works for you.
Understandably at the moment you may not want or may not be able to get down to the shop to try on masks, and ordering online can be tricky, so we have amended our returns and exchange policy to include our ‘perfect fit guarantee’. If you want to exchange your mask we will cover the shipping to get your new one to you for the first exchange! After the first size exchange, the customer is responsible for all shipping costs. See full terms and conditions here.
Having a great mask that fits not only increases your comfort level on a dive, but diving with an ill fitting mask can lead to increased air consumption and stress, and we all know we don’t want that!
It’s always a great idea to buy your snorkel with your mask, they’re great for when you have a surface swim and want to save your precious air for the dive, or if you can’t get out for a dive and still want to head to the ocean for a snorkel.
Fortunately there aren’t as many things to take into consideration. We have a range of snorkels, best for diving are the ones with a part of the hose that is flexible, this means it drops away from your face whilst not in use so less annoying as its not hitting your regulator. Some of them have ‘splash protection’ built onto the top, which protects the snorkel from flooding if the surface is a little choppy. Also look at the holder with which you attach to the mask, some are easier to connect and remove than others.
Alongside a mask and snorkel, a popular first purchase is fins, again finding great fins that work for you make your diving experience so much more enjoyable.
Open Heel or Full Foot
The main consideration when buying fins is whether you want to go for open heel fins or full foot. Fairly self explanatory, full foot fins cover your full foot and enclose your heel in a moulded pocket, whereas open heel have a foot pocket with a strap of some sort around the back of your heel.
One of the things to think about when buying fins is the type of diving you will be doing. For shore diving where you are walking into the water (often on not so comfortable rocks rather than white sand) open heel fins are generally preferred. They are worn with neoprene boots or socks that provide protection for your feet as you walk into the water, also preferred for cooler water diving as the socks/boots offer some extra warmth (so take into account that you will also need these if purchasing open heel fins). The fact that they have a strap also makes them adjustable for a more custom fit.
Full foot fins are often more simple, just pop them on and go. Popular in warmer waters where the thermal protection isn’t required, or boat diving where there’s no walking into the water necessary. If you decide that full foot fins are the one for you, fit is very important, as they are not adjustable like the open heel. Get the right size and they will be super comfortable and feel like an extension to your webbed feet while diving, but a poor fit will see you ending the dive with your feet covered in cuts or blisters.
Flexibility of fins is an interesting one. Softer more flexible fins are super comfortable to dive in and can reduce exertion and leg cramps, however, not so much use if you’re a fan of diving in currents where you may need to swim against them. Simply put the more flexible the fin, the less resistance it is going to give you against the water, making it necessary to kick more forcefully and more frequently.
Hence where ‘stiffer’ fins come in. Amazing for diving in strong currents where the extra power of a stiffer fin helps you counteract the force of the water. In calm waters the propulsion given is incredible, though bear in mind all of this extra power comes with extra weight and more resistance in the water. These fins are usually made with a much harder rubber and can weigh a lot more, so not the best fins for travelling (pesky airline weight restrictions won’t thank you!).
Split fins divide the diving world, you either love them or hate them! They are usually the same traditional paddle shape as standard fins, but are literally split down the middle. They are great for divers who prefer ‘flutter’ kicks as the power comes from the speed of the kicks rather than the force - kick more not harder! Usually a softer material which makes them easier to kick and reduces calf cramping and leg fatigue. However due to this they are not popular for diving in strong currents or for diving with heavy loads. They don’t work well with ‘frog-kicks’ so not for divers who prefer this kick method.
There are also some fins that are much more ‘unique’ in style, such as the Scubapro Seawing, designed with the idea of one fin to suit all of your needs. Their unique style features a separate foot pocket and ‘paddle’ connected with a hinge which allows for maximum flexibility, propulsion and maneuverability, with a bungee heel strap. Scubapro are always upgrading with each new version of these fins and they remain super popular.
Don’t worry if you’ve already got the basics and are looking to expand, keep an eye out for our blog on upcoming posts to help you choose dive computers, regulators and BCDs.
Thanks for reading! As ever get in touch with us for any further advice or share in the comments below your favourite bit of kit and why.
The Waiheke Dive Team
*subject to terms and conditions and possible change/removal of offer.