The Dive Otter

What Gear to Buy When?

ALL OF THESE RECOMMENDATIONS ARE FOR A RECREATIONAL DIVER IN THE MIDWEST

Scuba diving can become expensive, especially if you’re into gadgets and technology. But do you really need all that gear? Here’s a guide to help you prioritize your purchases, listed in order of importance and with reasons why. Remember, for items requiring regular maintenance like regulators and BCDs, it’s best to buy from a local shop that can service them. Sometimes, you'll get free lifetime parts with your purchase. making it more practical to stick with your local shop, even if it limits your brand options. Supporting your local dive shop ensures you know the people servicing your gear and helps you maintain a good relationship with a shop that fits your vibe.

Mostly Local Diving (Cold Water) or Mostly Travel Diving (Warm Water)?

This matters because the first couple pieces of gear you should buy will change. The below list assumes you are going to be a mostly local diver with the occasional travel diving to a warmer destination. If you are mostly a travel diver in warm destinations...see this list instead.

Let us assume you are going to buy your own gear and you already have the basic mask, fins, snorkel...
The GearCostWhy / Considerations?
Wetsuit/Gloves/Hood$500I know...I know...controversial. However, proper fit can make a HUGE difference in how comfortable you are underwater. And if you are always cold...you won't keep diving. Do yourself a favor, buy a wetsuit soon. For Chicagoland...start with a 5mm unless you know you run cold. You won't be diving lake Michigan right away (or at all until you get a drysuit...brrrrrrr) and the local quarries are all 5mm doable except early spring and late fall. If you are a little concerned with 5mm...spend an extra $200 and buy the 5mm Bare Reactive..oh my word is it toasty.

Note: I originally purchased a 7mm...I think it's overkill for Chicagoland unless you want to try it in lake Michigan or you are looking to push into early spring or late fall when the water is below 65F. I told the shop I ran cold generally so they recommended a 7mm and I've taken it down to 54F but it wasn't fun.
$1003mm Bare Ultrawarm gloves...no other discussion necessary. (Note: I originally purchased 5mm Aqualung gloves...overkill for Chicagoland unless you've decided you need a 7mm wetsuit too)
$100Get a 7/5mm or 5/3mm hood of whatever brand your local shop has.
Regulator Set$1,000This is life support equipment and the one thing that if poorly maintained...can literally kill you. I don't trust the service interval on rental equipment and you won't either once you've seen the rental equipment in remote locations. Save up your money before you buy anything else.

As a recreational diver any major brand regulator will be fine...go with whatever your local dive shop can service.
Computer$500One could argue to buy a computer before the regulators because it is likely cheaper. I think you should get the reg first because you don't need a computer as a new diver doing 2 dives a day in the local quarries because you will have no deco obligations and the depth is rarely more than 40ft. And at this point you don't really know if you want Air Integration or not which will increase the computer price by $300. If you are on a tight budget and you feel like you must have a computer immediately....buy a cheap one without air integration. We'll buy a better one later, and you can eBay this cheap one...or keep it as a backup. If you know you want Air Integration in the future and you are willing to spend $700 right now...buy a Shearwater Peregrine TX and upgrade to AI later. I didn't...and I regret it.
BCD$600Oh man...picking a BCD can start a holy war. I would wait to buy your BCD until you are ABSOLUTELY sure you know what the next few years of your diving will look like. The main choice will be a "jacket" style BCD or a Backplate and Wing (BPW). Jacket style BCDs will serve you just fine...but a BPW feels sooooo much better from a buoyancy/trim perspective....at least for me. I have owned both types...I simply prefer the BPW if I have a choice.

If you do go BPW...most people should buy an Aluminum plate as a "do it all" BCD until you have the funds to buy more than one. I also knew I would end up buying [2] BPWs so I purchased a Stainless Steel one first for 5mm/7mm/Drysuit diving and then bought an ultra-light plate for the same wing for when I travel to somewhere tropical and use 3mm or skin. I eventually gave away my Jacket BCD as it never saw water again after I got my BPW.
Defog$15I've used it all. Baby shampoo, spit, some boat mix thing in a bottle...buy yourself a small bottle of Stream2Sea defog and call it a day. It has never failed and it beats all of the other options by miles. (Note: If you don't prep a new mask nothing will help...prep your new mask!)
dSMB$50Do not get the pre-packaged ones or ones that come with their own pouch. Sounds like a good idea...they suck. Just buy a normal one from your local shop...it's probably HOG brand. I prefer closed end SMBs, but open ended are fine too for recreational needs. Your first one does not need to be some 7ft monster...just get a 4ft and do some practice and carry it with you on EVERY dive. Literally every dive...why?
100ft Spool$30You do not need the $120 Apex spool. Your local dive shop should have a ~$30 plastic/Delrin basic spool.
Bolt Snaps &
Double Enders
$100Buy at least 4 double enders and at least 4 regular. Don't cheap out or you'll end up buying these twice. Spend an extra couple bucks and get the xDeep brand. Yes..they are better. Bigger finger knob to open the gate and a bigger hook area with a wider gate opening.
Trilobite$30You don't need a dive knife. I repeat. You do not need a dive knife. Get one of these...put it on your belt or chest strap...or some folks put it on the strap of their dive computer.
Weights$150You'll need to pick hard weights or soft weights. I prefer soft...but get whatever you can find locally because shipping lead is expensive. If you buy the following you can do any combination of weight up to 32 lbs and have enough assortment to work on adjusting weight placement for trim as you get better...
  • (4) 1 lb
  • (2) 2 lb
  • (2) 3 lb
  • (2) 4 lb
  • (2) 5 lb
You now no longer have to rent to go diving....except for tanks
Rolling Cart$100I found a folding cart on Amazon that works amazingly well for hauling 2 tanks to a park bench or the waters edge. Save your back....get one...even if you rent.
Torch/Light$150Get an OrcaTorch D710 or D530. They will work just fine for what you need.
Save-a-Dive Kit$100No need to buy everything at once. Put spares of things you buy in a tupperware you stole from your kitchen. If you want some ideas on what to put in it...See Mine
Air Integration$300Hopefully you saved your money and bought the more expensive computer above that had Air Integration capability. Buy the Air Integration transmitter module now. If you didn't buy the better computer...well now you need to buy it. Air Integration is a convenience thing, but man is it great.
Stop here and think very very long and hard before you go any further!
(2) Tanks$600 See our analysis of Tank ownership
Drysuit$4,000Now it's really going to hurt. You are easily going to spend more than double what you have already spent on diving. A drysuit will also make owning that 7mm wetsuit you paid $700 for pointless because whenever the temperature is cold enough for the 7mm you'll want the drysuit anyway. Be absolutely sure you want a drysuit and why. Don't forget it's not just the drysuit, but the undergarments, the gloves, the boots, the whole package. I didn't buy a drysuit until I got an unexpected large bonus from work. Yeah...they are expensive!

At this price...I recommend you buy once / cry once. Unless you have a particular reason NOT to use Dive Right In Scuba...you really should. They are literally the largest drysuit distributor in America and they have two shops within driving distance of us...they also offer lifetime warranty, yearly leak checks, the works.

What You Probably Don't Need...but can be situationally useful

The GearCostWhy / Considerations?
Dive Bag$200At this point you've probably been throwing stuff in an old duffle or carrying it in your hands. You have a couple options here. You can get a duffle bag on Amazon (make sure it fits the parameters of checked luggage if you want it for travel too) or you can go specialized like a Pelican or Stahlsac. I used cheap duffle bags for 2 years and they worked just fine before I invested in something nicer. You'll have to consider if you are willing to carry a 45lb bag on your shoulder or if you want wheels for the airport. (Note: This is not the "mesh" bag your local dive shop tried to sell you...see below. You don't need this...save your money.)
Scissors$40If you do rope or line work these are far more useful and safe underwater than a dive knife. I purchased the Dive Right Shears and they work perfectly fine.
Thigh Pocket$80 - $300In a wetsuit you'll eventually think about having thigh pockets. They are dead useful. You have basically two options...the Bellows Thigh Pocket...I have it...it works fine and attaches to your BCD waist strap as a "dangler" and then straps to your thigh. Or Technical Shorts which will cost you 4x that amount, but are arguably less hassle.
Tank Strobe$20If you do night diving or want a little bit of extra safety on murky dives, grab a tank strobe. Not strictly necessary...but a bit of added comfort for your dive buddy to keep track of you. OrcaTorch makes a couple different versions. They work fine.
Compass$150Do. Not. Go. Cheap. I did....and I paid for it. If you need one for your Navigation class...borrow or rent one. Buy the Suunto SK8 in either retractable or wrist (or convertible). You won't believe that they are better...even though everyone tells you they are...until you buy a crappy one and it sucks and you realize it's true.
Slate$20Useful to have, but not on every dive unless you have pockets. A regular dive buddy of mine wears a wrist slate. It's not for me, I prefer the flat slate...but it works for him. Buy a cheap flat slate, cut off the crappy buckle and the crappy pencil and go buy a proper graphite pencil off Amazon and attach a proper bolt snap. You can also easily 3D print a dive slate if that's your thing.
Dive Flag$100A bit controversial I would say...some places require them or say they require them...but then actually do not. You can also use your SMB as a "dive flag" in a pinch. It can be useful to have one if you want to do buoyancy drills in a place that does not have a fixed buoy.

What You Will Never Need

The GearCostWhy / Considerations?
Mesh Dive Bag$100Yeah...I bought one just like everyone else. It seems like a good idea. Put all your crap in one bag...but it's actually a pain to use. You will be much happier if you buy a dive bag you can also use for travel. There are much better options for boat diving.
Dive KnifeNo.Just.No.Totally unnecessary...we're not hunting things underwater and there are far superior cutting devices. Like scissors. But they are cool..I'll grant you that.
Tank Banger /
Noise Maker
No.Just.No.I swear to $diety I want to stab anyone who has one on the dive that isn't the dive master. Okay maybe I do need a dive knife.
Pointy ThingNo.Just.No.Dude. You're not the dive master! Put that thing away!
Dive WatchSadly NoThey are absolutely beautiful and one day I will own one and dive it. But totally unnecessary. It's going to be a hard day when I have to pick either a luxury Dive Watch or a Rebreather. hahahah