Some Newbie Thoughts on Gear

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I’m new to scuba.

Got certified this year, and have only been on a couple of dive vacations so far; a week in Jamaica and two weeks in Cozumel. 26 dives in total.

Right after our “discover diving” intro class, I decided to purchase my own dive gear. I was not keen on using rental gear for my dive vacations and wanted the enjoyment and security of using my own gear.

A bunch of folks on the forum got pretty bent at the thought of a newbie buying gear. There seemed to be an undercurrent of thought that I needed to suffer through a bunch of sub-par rental gear before I should buy my own gear. A lot of my requests for gear information were met with admonitions to just use rental gear and warning me that I was going to drown (or worse, waste some money) by buying my gear when I was so new to scuba.

I went ahead and bought my own gear anyway. Used it through certification, some local dives, and my two Caribbean dive vacations. I’ve not ever regretted buying and using my own gear. Having my own gear has definitely enhanced my diving experiences so far. It fits. I have my weighting and trim dialed in. It’s in better condition than most of the rental gear we’ve seen. I’m familiar with all of the various pieces of gear. I don't worry about whether the dive operation has adequate gear for me to use.

At this point, I’ve made some changes to the gear I first purchased. The gear I’m currently using seems good now. It’s taken some trial and error to get to this stage, but I’m no longer feeling the need to mess with my gear or experiment with new gear. What I have seems to work.

Here are my thoughts on what I purchased.


I purchased an Aqualung Rogue BCD for myself and my wife. I wanted a lightweight, back inflate minimalist BCD, and the Rogue checked these boxes.
Both my wife and I ended up switching to something else however. She could never get a fully comfortable fit with hers. We ended up getting her a Zeagle Zena BCD that is designed for a woman’s shape, and this fit her much better. Switching out the Zena shoulder harness to a size small (the rest is medium) made the fit perfect for her short back length. She’s very pleased with this BCD

I liked the Rogue (certainly much better than the rental BCD I used for the discover scuba class.) It worked well and was comfortable. However, after seeing all the enthusiasm for backplate and wing combos on this forum and other places, I decided to try a bp/w set up for comparison.
I bought a backplate and harness from a Russian company called Helium Dive. The plate and all the hardware is titanium, which I like because it’s light, strong, and corrosion proof. I also like their backplate mounted weight pockets which keep the weight near my center of mass.
The wing is from OMS and fits nicely with the Helium backplate.

Thanks to Youtube, I was able to figure out how to rig the webbing harness and other hardware, and the first time I used it, it fit and performed well.

Although the Rogue is a good BCD, I prefer the bp/w set up. It is a bit less restrictive. Wife isn’t interested in BP/W at all. She loves her Zena.

The one issue with the BP/W rig is that I wasn’t sure where to stow my reel and DSMB. I got a Zeagle pocket that fits nicely on the waist belt and have solved that issue.

Regulators and Hoses

I got Atomic S1 stainless steel regulators. I like that they are solid stainless, instead of plated brass. I also like that they are made in the USA. Atomic has a good reputation, and their regulators also need to be serviced less often than some others. I got DIN first stages, with Atomic DIN to Yoke adapters for times when DIN is not available.

I experimented with a bunch of different hose lengths and alternate air configurations. Tried traditional primary with an octopus; the SS1 secondary that’s integrated into the inflator (with and without an octopus); and the DIR style long hose and necklaced secondary. Played around with various hose lengths and swivels/no swivels.

Ultimately, I settled on a primary with a 5 foot miflex hose with a 360 ball swivel,coupled with my Atomic SS1 inflator-integrated secondary/backup. The "air 2" inflator integrated backup is a hot-button issue, which seems to generate some strong opinions ranging from “you’re going to die” to “best idea ever.” After practicing shared air and surfacing with it, I can do it without any problems. The SS1 unit breathes well. On one dive, as a test, I used it instead of my primary for 20 minutes and it worked fine. One less hose to manage, and the 5 foot hose on my primary makes primary donation easy if I need to share air. I tend to favor simpler more streamlined solutions, and losing the octo in favor of the SS1 has allowed me to simplify my rig.

Computer and Air Integration.

I got the Garmin Descent Mark2i watch/dive computer along with the Garmin T1 transmitters for air integration.

The choice for Garmin was heavily influenced by the fact that I already own one of their other sports watches (Tactix Delta Solar AB) and I love it. Because of this, I was already familiar with the Garmin menus and general layout of how the functions work.

I also liked the long range of the sonar based T1 transmitter. Unlike other folks, I don’t really notice the sonar ping noises.

I was extremely pleased with the performance of the Garmin computer. For 12 dives, the air integration worked flawlessly, so much so that I ditched the backup pressure gauge, (which got rid of yet another hose on my reg.) I especially liked the fact that the Garmin allows me to monitor both my own and my wife’s air pressure levels.

And then the integrated air stopped working. No idea why, but it no longer functions when under water. I tried re-setting to factory settings, re-installing firmware, changing batteries, and pretty much everything else I could think of. None of it worked.

So, I’m now using a regular analog pressure gauge.

We’ll see what the Garmin folks say when they get it back for servicing.

I like the functions of the Mk2i, but at this point, I’ don’t trust it. Even if it comes back from Garmin fixed, I’m still going to keep my analogue gauge.

Mask, Fins, and Snorkel

The mask was the one item that gave me the most difficulty. I couldn’t find one that fit me well. I kept buying masks and using them, but couldn’t find one that worked.
Finally, I just ordered a dozen masks from various manufacturers, of all different shapes and configurations. I spent 2 hours in the pool with my scuba gear on and tested all of them.

Out of 18 masks total, I found three that worked well for my face: The Scuba Pro Synergy 2 Twin; the OMS Tattoo Western; and the XS Scuba Cortez.

My wife found two that worked for her; the Scuba Pro Synergy 2 Mini, and the Tusa Ceos.

Basically, with masks, it seems that there’s no substitute for just trying them on and using them until you find one that fits and works. Price and brand didn’t correlate with fit. It’s just random.

Regarding fins, I use the Seawing Nova Gorilla fins. I’d had the opportunity to use these before I bought them (part of my LDS’s rental gear) and I really like them a lot. Tried a number of others, but the Nova Gorillas are my hands-down favorite.

My wife initially got some Scuba Pro split fins, but extended time in them made her feet hurt. The foot box was not well suited to her foot shape. She switched to some Tusa Switch fins and they have worked well for her.

There’s not a lot of love for snorkels among experienced divers. Using a snorkel seems to be a sign of a clueless newb. However, my wife and I both like our Scubapro Nexus snorkels. We especially appreciated them when bobbing on the surface in choppy seas waiting for pick-up. The guy next to us with no snorkel kept getting smacked with waves and choking on water. We didn’t have that issue. I think I will keep bringing my snorkel, even if all the cool kids have ditched theirs.

Exposure Protection

We got traditional 3mm wetsuits, but replaced them with Probe Frogskins.
The Frogskins are significantly more comfortable and less buoyant.
I found that for the warm water diving we’re doing, I just dive in a rashguard. My wife, who is much more cold sensitive than I am, loves her Frogskins, even in warm water. We're diving Belize in December and January. I may find that I want the Frogskins when diving the Caribbean in winter. We'll see.

Misc Gear

Our cheap Athletico Mesh dive bag ($45 on Amazon) was one of the best gear purchases of all. Great solution for hauling dive gear around.

My cheap SMB got replaced with a nicer Sub Gravity DSMB. Kept my cheap Amazon delrin spool but replaced the cord with some thinner, stronger cord. Got a storm whistle.

We each got trilobite line cutters. My wife has a small folding Spyderco knife as her 2nd cutting tool. I was pretty disappointed by the quality of the dive knives available from the major dive companies. As cool as they are, I didn't feel the need to emulate the DIR guys and just carry a sawed off steak knife.
I ended up with two dive knives; a spear point knife from Fox cutlery (Fox Technoreef) and a blunt point knife from Benchmade (Benchmade 112SBK-BLK H20) I like both of these knives, but end up carrying the Benchmade more often. It’s a bit smaller and less obtrusive, and the sheath is more easily attached to my shoulder strap.

I carry an InReach Mini in a dive case for a bit of extra peace of mind. It’s small, and fits nicely into one of the weight pockets on the back of my backplate. Hopefully, I will never have to use it.

I put together a minimal save a dive box with wrenches, o-rings, spare batteries, fin straps, etc. It all fits nicely into a small waterproof box. Have already used it once.

Stuff I thought would be really important but isn’t

When I was first learning the basics, one of the things that really worried me was estimating how much time I had left under water. I thought that calculating oxygen usage and knowing how many minutes of oxygen I had left was really important. Turns out that it doesn’t really matter that much. I’m not working on time sensitive tasks underwater. While I care how much air I have left, I just kind of ignore how much time that equates to. When I’m low on air, or approaching NDL, I come up. It’s that simple. The more I dive, the easier it is to make a rough approximation of this anyway.

I thought I would need a bunch of pockets. I bought some dive shorts with big cargo pockets. Bought a bunch of pockets to affix to my BP harness too. Turns out that I don’t need to bring much with me when I dive. I never wear the cargo pocket shorts. Only use a single pocket for my DSMB, reel, and whistle.

Something else I was mistaken about.

I am a decent amateur photographer (on land.) I figured that all of my photography experience on land would have some benefit when I began taking photos underwater. Apparently not. My photos suck. I’m having to learn photography all over again. I've got a Sealife Micro 3 camera and light. Turns out that having a decent camera is no substitute for actual experience taking photos underwater. At least I have the comfort of knowing that my photos suck because I'm a lousy underwater photographer, not because my equipment is bad.
I wish you many, many, many decades of safe, enjoyable and awesome diving!!!

(That bit about snorkel is the icing on the top hahahaha. I have been diving for 50 years now and I never dive without a snorkel except when diving into overhead environment).

(Note: You are breathing "air" and your tanks have "air" in them not "Oxygen" :) )
Nice write up. Diving is a journey, underwater and thru a dive gear. Looks like you have good observations about what works for you and you make adjustments as needed. This will continue as you gain more experience and get into different environments and it is an integral part of the hobby.

The one area you might want to rethink is your approach to gas management, the simplified approach will work while everything is going well. It might not be good enough in an emergency scenario. I would recommend to search for a “rock bottom gas management “ and do some reading. It is not too complicated but will make your gas management safer.

keep having fun!
I have the Atomic ST1 for my wife....she loves it....I also have the SeaLife 3.0 with lights and I am a land photographer as well....I can't get good photos with it....I bought the SeaLife SportDiver with an iPhone 11max pro and LOVE the photos...they are point and shoot but come out 10 times better than the 3.0. I also have the TG-6 and was not successful with that one either. This one is SportDiver no lights
I’ve never used rental equipment, ever. I don’t regret buying highly rated, expensive equipment before diving either, I’m actually still enjoying it.
Thank you so much for the detailed write up!!! I'm at the point where I am starting to replace my hand me down gear with new "picked by me" gear and this was helpful. I bought a micro 3.0 and I agree.....will take some getting used to!
May I ask how much extra money you spent figuring out the details of what worked for you? (Total money spent - cost of final config - money made from selling used gear.) Buying 18 masks at an average of $75 each equals $1350, which is well outside of most people's mask budget.
Can you reach the InReach mounted in one of those rear weight pockets?

It would be OK to put some blame on the SeaLife Micro 3 also. It is very limiting. That you "failed" with the TG-6 is surprising. Care to say anything more, or give examples?

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