If you’re a beginner to scuba diving, it can be tough to figure out what scuba gear you need and in what order.
This guide to the best scuba gear for beginners will help new divers start with the essentials, and decide what comes next.
There are certainly benefits to owning your dive gear. And hopefully it will help you fall in love with scuba diving, just as I have!
What beginner scuba diving gear should you buy first?
The truth is, you don’t have to buy every piece of scuba gear equipment all at once.
Unless you have plenty of cash to spare, for beginner scuba divers the best approach is to start by buying the essentials, then add based on your own interest level in this hobby.
To make it simple, I’ve divided it into three different levels, based on what I own myself, have experienced from rentals, and researched on online.
The key point is rentals can add up, so buying your own gear may not be as expensive as you think in the long run.
Level 1: Essentials
These basics make a big difference.
For the best beginner scuba gear to buy first, I recommend that people own their diving mask, snorkel, and fins during their Open Water Certification.
It’s a big plus to get comfortable and be confident underwater earlier.
1. Diving Mask
Dive masks are your window to the world while diving, so invest in a high quality mask.
Even if it’s the most expensive piece of equipment you buy to start, it’s money well-spent!
Fit on a scuba mask can vary person-to-person. So it’s helpful to own rather than rent this piece of equipment from a dive shop.
The right fit depends on the size of your face.
The mask should fit comfortably around your nose, with the edges stopping well before your hairline.
New diver tip: brush your new dive mask with toothpaste (non-whitening) when you first get it, or it will fog every time!
Best Budget Dive Mask (Frameless) for Larger Faces
I had this frameless mask for several years and was very happy with its large field of view!
That said, I didn’t realize this dive mask was too big for me and would leak sometimes as a result. Don’t be me if you have a small face. 🙂
But this is a great choice for folks with larger faces.
Best Budget Dive Mask (Frameless) for Smaller Faces
My partner uses this mask, and has been very happy with its frameless design for a wide field of view.
2. Scuba Fins
Scuba fins are critical as they propel you, help you swim against currents, navigate your buoyancy around coral and other formations.
I much prefer an open-heel fins design (as opposed to full-foot fins).
Open-heel fins require you to wear booties or scuba socks. While that seems like extra trouble, it’s worth it to stay warm for cold water diving.
Even if you dive in warm tropical waters, open-heel fins are helpful.
Booties help protect your ankles and heels from rubbing (blisters in the sea are a nightmare, talk about rubbing salt into your wounds!).
Deciding on the “best overall” fins is a big topic, as choosing the best fins depends on your style of kicking and budget range.
I’ll update soon with a post about the best fins! For now, see my favorite travel scuba fins below.
Best Budget Open-Heel Fins for Travel
These fins weigh about 1 pound and will not overweight your baggage. They are also far less expensive than Scubapro Go Fins, a well-known brand.
Despite being billed as “snorkeling” fins, I can confirm from personal experience that these fins are great for diving too. I’ve never gotten tired from kicking in these.
3. Dive Boots or Socks
If you purchase open-heel fins, don’t forget dive boots or socks to protect your feet.
In fact, you may want to buy your dive boots first, before shopping for your fins. That way you can try on the fins with the boots on to ensure a good fit.
Best Budget Boots: Cressi Tall Neoprene Boot, 5mm – Isla
I picked these boots because they are high-quality, rugged, and great for cold water diving.
Thick booties at 5mm and above are helpful for tropical locations too. Consecutive dive days even in warm water can start to feel chilly.
Snorkels are a simple addition for any scuba diving kit. It is also required by PADI during training.
Snorkels help you save air on shore dives and during surface time.
With a snorkel you can safely breathe air that’s free (rather than air in your tank) as you swim out to the dive site.
I don’t have a specific recommendation for snorkels. Any that you find on Amazon or online marketplaces will do.
Many people prefer a snorkel with a top valve like this one from Cressi to avoid choking on water.
5. SMB (Surface Marker Buoy)
Lovingly described by divers as a “Safety Sausage,” this tool is for emergencies such as getting separated from your group.
You can inflate an SMB that says “Diver Below” on it so boats can see you.
This is also now required by PADI as essential safety kit for each diver.
If you are getting your Open Water Certification, many PADI dive shops will require you to purchase an SMB like this one beforehand.
Level 2: Hobbyist
If you’re considering the scuba gear in this package, you likely think of scuba diving as a hobby.
You may be around 20 dives in, or planning a multi-day dive trip like a liveaboard where buying your own equipment is more cost-effective than daily rental.
6. Dive computer
Historically, people used dive tables to calculate how to safely dive as because the human body absorbs nitrogen at different depths.
Luckily, for recreational divers, those days of using math or paper logs are gone!
Dive computers are a neat invention that automatically log your dives and use algorithms to calculate how to dive safely.
They come in handy if you’re doing multiple dives a day and plan to be at different depths in a single dive.
Just a quick glance at your dive computer will tell you your bottom time, what your max depth should be, or your safety stop time.
Alarms help you know if you’re ascending too quickly, or approaching your No Decompression Limit.
Dive computers truly warrant their own guide — which I will update in the future.
For now I recommend these two entry-level dive computers, based on good functionality, long battery life, and reasonable pricing.
Best Budget Dive Computer for Beginners
Aqualung is a trusted and high-quality scuba gear brand, and their dive computers are no exception.
The Aqualung i300c works well for beginner and medium level divers because it is simple and at a great price point.
The benefits of the i300c is it has a backlit screen for night dives, and has only two buttons for simple navigation.
Customization includes a full range of dive modes such as Nitrox, which may be useful for beginners later on.
My favorite feature is a Bluetooth sync for your dive log to mobile.
You don’t even need wifi — once finish your dive you can upload via the DiverLog+ app.
The downsides of the i300c is that it’s more old-school.
Its battery needs to be manually changed and the screen display is only in black-and-white numbers.
Best Overall Dive Computer for Beginners: Shearwater Research Peregrine Dive Computer
The Shearwater Research Peregrine Dive Computer is perfect for beginner divers okay with a higher price point for modern features.
This dive computer may be worth the splurge as a longer term investment for like a bright, 2+ inches color display and usability that advanced divers can enjoy.
Functionality-wise, similar to my budget pick (the Aqualung i300c), the Shearwater Peregrine has has the full range of dive modes for lightweight technical diving.
The Shearwater Peregrine also offers bluetooth mobile sync — with with the added bonus of desktop/laptop.
The biggest difference is the Peregrine’s big screen with lots of colors. It also sits slim along your wrist (the i300c is a lot bulkier somehow).
Vibration alarms are a welcome change because if you’ve ever dived in a group, alarm sounds can really disturb the peace.
The Shearwater Peregrine also offers a rechargeable battery and wireless charging pad. It’s just more of what you’d expect with tech gadgets nowadays.
7. Wet Suit
If you own a wetsuit, you gain familiarity and comfort.
Many divers say the worst part about diving is putting on your wetsuit. So if you know your wetsuit well, likely the faster you’ll be at putting it on!
Unlike rental wetsuits, you’ll know no one has peed in it — unless it’s yourself. 😉
When trying on wetsuits, it should be tight along your entire body as it does stretch out a little. But not too tight that you can’t zip it up, nor breathe easily.
Another sign of an ill-fitting wetsuit is if your fingers feel numb when trying it on.
The thickness of neoprene depends on the temperature of the water, and how cold you tend to get.
Many people wear shorties for tropical waters, but unless you run hot I personally think 3mm and 5mm full-length wet suits fit a wider range of situations.
If you dive somewhere even colder, you’ll certainly need a 7mm wetsuit, and perhaps even a drysuit for regular cold water diving!
Best Budget Full-Length 3mm Full Wet Suit
A 3mm full wetsuit will be perfect for 78 F (25 C) water and up, especially if you only dive for a few days.
Cressi is also a trusted scuba diving equipment brand, but at a lower price point than other well-known brands like Mares, Scubapro, and Aqualung.
A nice feature of this wet suit is reinforcement around the knees, to prevent scratches.
Best Budget Full-Length 5mm Full Wet Suit: Cressi – Castoro for Women and Men
If you run cold or plan to dive consecutive days in water 70 F (21 C) and up, then a 5mm wetsuit may come in handy!
It is also said that if you are too cold during your dive, you’ll have a higher chance of complications from decompression sickness.
The Cressi Castoro also has a nice feature of extra neoprene lining near the back zipper, ankle, and wrist to keep water out.
8. Dive Torch (Lights)
While proper dive lights are notoriously pricey, entry level dive torches are not too expensive.
Dive torches help you get a better look at a sea creature hidden in a crack or between rocks.
Why not spend a little more to get a lot more out of your dive?
Best Budget Dive Torch
This dive torch is fairly bright for its price point (claiming 2000 lumens).
I’ve used this torch before in Northern California and it’s very helpful to spot fish and nudibranchs that might be hiding in the rocks.
There’s also a helpful safety lock to keep the light from accidentally staying on while stored in your pockets or during travel.
Best Budget Dive Torch for Night Dives
Did you know it’s possible for your dive light to be “too bright”? For the use case of night dives, a bright light can make it difficult for your eyes to adjust.
This light is not too bright for night dives and it shines a large circle wider than 3 feet so it’s easy to see the surrounding area.
9. (Optional) Underwater Camera
This is optional depending on how you like to enjoy your dive, but if you love pictures or video then you should make memories with your new hobby!
Underwater cameras really are a completely different ball game. And the sky’s the limit when it comes to pricing!
For beginner divers, my recommendation is an easy-to-use camera as you improve your scuba skills.
Best Camera for Beginner Divers
I usually recommend the latest GoPro Hero edition, since the product line is always updating.
The GoPro (with Protective Housing to survive crushing pressures) is great for divers who prefer to capture video, and is simple to use underwater.
While the touchscreen can’t be used while diving, the two-button system works well.
One of my favorite features is using QuikCapture when I see something cool during my dive. It’s a single press to turn on/start recording, and to stop recording/turn off to save battery life.
This is perfect for enjoying my dive without thinking about my camera too much!
I’ve also been very happy with the GoPro Hero 11’s 4k video quality, stabilization, ISO settings.
I can go on, but there’s so much to cover on GoPro cameras underwater (such as lights and color correcting filters) that I’ll be creating a separate post for it!
For now, I’d also recommend the Go Pro Hero 11 Accessory Bundle so you get extra batteries and a stick to hold the camera.
And most importantly, do yourself a favor and get an attachment lanyard so you don’t lose your camera in the ocean. Wrist bracelet attachments are unreliable for scuba.
Level 3: Serious Hobbyist
If you feel like diving is a passion, then you may be ready to take the leap into completing a full scuba gear kit!
This next stage is a big jump (costing $1,000+). But people who dive multiple times a year or who are self-guided divers will certainly benefit.
10. BCD Vest (Buoyancy Control Device)
Especially for vacation diving, bringing your own BCD (sometimes called Buoyancy Compensator) is a big upgrade in knowing you will be comfortable — no matter where you are in the world.
Owning your BCD is like putting on your own jacket in the water!
Knowing the ins and outs of your BCD is great for safety, such as knowing where your octopus (back-up air source) is stored.
Ideally you’d also reach for your BCD’s inflator and deflators out of instinct, and locate your d-rings and pockets quickly to grab your light, camera, etc. as you dive.
Many newer BCDs come with an integrated weight system (where weight pockets that stick inside), but I prefer BCDs without this.
Instead, I like to borrow weight belts from the dive shop. It’s also lighter for your suitcase.
Best Budget BCD for Beginners: Cressi Durable Start Jacket Style BCD
Whereas most BCDs are $500-$1000+, this Cressi BCD is well below that price point, making it a good value for entry-level divers.
On top of that, it has a good reputation for durability and resistance to wear and tear. So you can be assured that this is not a piece of gear that you’ll need to buy again any time soon.
Other helpful features include a waist strap separate from the air bladders, so you won’t feel squeezed.
The best part is it’s relatively lightweight, only about 6 pounds deflated, so you can stay under the luggage weight limit for international travel.
11. Scuba Regulator Package
Regulators are how you breathe underwater, so it’s arguably your most important life-support scuba gear. Definitely not something to skimp on!
For that reason, it’s best to stick with trusted brands, such as Scubapro and Aqualung for your regulator package.
There’s multiple components to regulators which can make it confusing to purchase online.
At a high level you have four pieces of equipment: the first stage regulator (facilitates your scuba tank’s high air pressure), second stage regulator (processes the air from the first stage to your mouthpiece), Octopus (secondary air source), and finally the pressure gauge (indicates how much air is left).
For a long time I rented regulators from dive shops, but after a scary experience with a faulty rental regulator mid-dive, I’ve decided it’s best to bring my own (and service it myself).
The truth is that you don’t know the regulator’s last service date or how it was handled — no matter how reputable the dive shop is. Sometimes things can be overlooked.
Closing tips on scuba gear
With everything above, your last pieces of equipment left on the checklist would be a weight belt (if you don’t have an integrated weight system) and steel tanks.
Given how heavy these are, you’re less likely to pack these for international flights than for self-guided local diving.
Lastly, there’s no “wrong” way to go about purchasing scuba gear.
The most important thing is that you dive as often as you can, whether its own vacation or locally. Then you can develop your own opinions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it worth buying your own scuba diving gear?
Scuba requires a lot of diving equipment. There’s just no getting around it.
After all, you’re exploring wonders of the underwater world — a thrilling but extreme environment for humans.
In that sense scuba diving is like being an astronaut! Scuba gear is your life-support to safely visit another world.
Because of that, I can say honestly say it’s helpful to buy your own gear to start.
Getting your own scuba gear helps you be more comfortable underwater, which is better for safety.
You’ll have more control over your buoyancy, conserve more air, and ultimately enjoy your dive more.
In short, owning your own scuba gear is safer and helps you have more fun!
How much does a full set of scuba diving gear cost?
Typically new divers have already spent between $500-$1,000 on their open water dive certification.
From there expenses only go up.
A full set of scuba gear can cost anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the brand and condition.
Beginner divers may be hesitant about these sunk costs (pardon the pun!).
And if you’re new, you may not be sure if this new hobby will last (although I think it will!).
Diane is an avid diver who loves to share her underwater travels with the world! She’s a PADI Advanced Certified Diver with 100+ dives under her belt, including diving in Mexico, French Polynesia, Thailand, Hawaii, Honduras, and Fiji.