Which Scuba Brand Makes the Best Equipment?

This may be one of the difficult answers to truly answer in the dive industry because it is subjective and always going to to be driven by personal opinion.  Each dive shop will likely claim that the brand they carry has the most reliable, highest quality equipment that puts others to shame, and they will say this to sell the equipment.  Some dive shops are unfortunately just like used car lots saying whatever they can to up sell you to the next item.  Now most dive shops are not massive and it is impossible for any one shop to carry every brand, so most pick one, two or even three primary brands.  The other dilemma is the actual number of brands I am going to focus on a few of the largest names including, Scubapro, Aqualung, Mares, and Huish Outdoors (Oceanic, Zeagle, Suunto, Atomic, Hollis).  You should be able to find at least one of these brands at any dive shop that you may visit, there are others like Sherwood, Seac, and Tusa but are probably not going to be the primary brand especially for BCD’s, regulators, and Computers.  Here is a brief overview of what to expect from each brand.

imagesScubaPro

Scubapro is probably one of the most recognizable names in the industry right now and has some equipment that stands out.  The first thing to know about Scubapro is that it is most likely going to be the most expensive option.  They make a very high quality product but they have little to offer in terms of middle of the road pricing.  Scubapro equipment is either the more expensive low end, or the most expensive high end.  Now they do produce a very high quality product that is rigorously tested and reliable but you will pay a premium.  Now in terms of equipment BCD’s are really where Scubapro shines in my opinion they have many options with multiple styles and prices ranging from about $450 on the low end to over $1000 on their high end bcd. Bcd’s are also were there is going to be the largest variation between these brands. While Scubapro does make a quality computer and regulator I feel you only have two choices for each very high end or low end no middle ground, and while this is true for the bcd’s there are enough options to minimize that gap.

imagesAqualung

Aqualung is a company that has been around since the beginning and may be one of the most recognizable brands.  In terms of over all pricing Aqualung is a little more spread evenly with very budget friendly options especially with regulators and computers, and high end regs that don’t knock the wind out of you when you hear the price.  In terms of their BCD’s they have the I3 inflator system that I am not personally sold on but have met  a number of people that are very happy with it.  The regulators are what really stand out for me, the dive computers are actually almost identical to oceanic dive computers because they purchase from the same company oceanic does.  The regulators provide a large variety of options for divers on a budget and divers looking for a high quality versatile regulator.

maresMares

Mares is a very large brand that most don’t realize is as big as it is.  Owned by the Head company and this partnership also owns SSI the training agency.  Now this is where i find it hard to hide my opinion because in terms of dive equipment I am not overly impressed with anything from Mares.  I am not a fan of the quick disconnect pockets on their bcd’s, their regulators are underwhelming, they function but I would  prefer another brand first, and their computers are functional. I would have to say that of everything Mares I would  have one of their low budget computers as a starter or backup.  Mares in general is a great starter equipment company but I have not seen the value in their equipment beyond that.  Its not that I think that they make bad gear I just believe that these other brands make better gear.

huish outdoorsHuish Outdoors (Oceanic, Suunto, Zeagle, Atomic, Hollis)

Huish Outdoors is a Unique situation and in a dive shop you are not going to see the Huish logo most likely but they do own all of these brands, (at least an exclusive distributor for Suunto).  One of the reasons I wanted to include Huish is because I like the fact that they have accumulated brands that specialize.  Now for the most part each of these brands has a primary focus, most of them do dabble in other areas but are known for one primary thing.  Zeagle is known for BCD’s, Suunto for Computers, Hollis for Regulators, Atomic for Regulators, and Oceanic dabbles evenly in all three but has been known as an innovator for computers for many years.  Unlike the other three brands above that are distributing R&D among all aspects of equipment Huish has brands that they have acquired that have a particular focus.  Most of their equipment is reasonably priced With the exception of Atomic they make very high end regulators on par with Scubapro.  If you get something from one of these brands especially in their wheelhouse you know it will be very high quality for the cost.

In the end it is a personal choice which brand is best it may be situational, when picking a brand it is important to consider the long term, how easily can I service this equipment, is there a shop that I can take this equipment to if I have an issue.  I this equipment going to fit the style of diving that I intend to do and fit my personal budget.  The key to all of this is to determine your needs, figure out what features you want and then talk to your local dive shop professional because in all honesty no matter which brand you ultimately decide on you will have quality gear.  You just want to make sure you are comfortable in that equipment and how to properly use and care for the equipment.

So in order to avoid giving a BS answer that there is no best equipment I am going to break it down into tiers High, middle, and low, in terms of price and among those name brands for my preferred for BCD, Regulator, and computer.  Now keep in mind that all of these brands make quality equipment and the ultimate choice comes down to personal preference in features and access, talk with your local dive shop cause they will likely be the ones servicing your equipment.

High:
BCD: Scubapro
Reg: Atomic
Computer: Suunto/Scubapro (the G2 is a pretty amazing computer)

Middle:
BCD: Zeagle
Reg: Aqualung/Oceanic
Computer: Oceanic/Aqualung

Low:
BCD: Oceanic/Mares
Reg: Oceanic/Aqualung
Computer: Mares/Aqualung/Oceanic

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Tank You for Asking

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Blue Tanks are LP Steel 72’s, Yellow tanks are AL 80’s 50’s & 65’s

Scuba tanks while a very important piece of equipment are often under appreciated.  While many divers are taught about tanks in their open water certification the role of a tank is left as the container of air.  But in many cases the choice of tank can be as important as choice of BCD or fins.  For most divers tanks are something that they might not normally think about, you travel to your destination and the shop provides tanks for you.  Some divers might be surprised to find out that there is as much variety in tanks as most other pieces of scuba equipment.

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Aluminum Tanks, AL50, AL65, AL70, AL 80

Many divers are unaware of the effects of tank choice has on our diving especially buoyancy and time.  Tanks come in a variety of sizes, the size of the take is determined by the volume of air that it is able to hold.  A common tank size is 80 cubic feet, but these sizes can vary from as small as 6 cubic feet for a backup pony bottle to as large as 149 cubic foot high pressure tank.  It is pretty obvious that the larger tanks will hold more air than the smaller if they are filled to the same pressure, but with the use of different metals and high and low pressure tanks this can also vary.  For the most part Aluminum tanks despite the size will be filled to 3000psi, steel tanks on the other hand have a fair amount of variance.  Low pressure steel tanks are exactly what they sound like they are rated for a lower pressure, depending on the tank it can range from 1800psi to 2600psi.  High pressure tanks (commonly using a DIN valve) fill on average to 3445psi, which is higher than the standard 3000psi of aluminum tanks.  What this means is that tanks that fill to higher pressure have more air packed into them than tanks that are the same size that till to a lower pressure.  So by choosing tanks that are larger and fill to a higher pressure (my favorite is HP80) you can increase your dive time compared to a smaller tank.

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High Pressure tanks with DIN valves, left to right HP 65 (with Yoke Insert), HP 80, HP 100

While size of tank might be an obvious way to increase dive time, tanks also greatly influence our buoyancy underwater.  With different choices of metal aluminum being a weaker metal and steel being a stronger metal these weights contribute to our buoyancy underwater.  Although aluminum is a lighter metal because it is weaker the walls of the tanks are much thicker.  This does usually give tanks a greater overall weight when full, when the tank is emptied the is a drastic swing in its buoyancy characteristics.  Aluminum tanks while they may vary slightly from manufacturer generally are about 4 lbs positively buoyant when empty or near empty.  This means you will be lighter at the end of the dive making it more difficult to complete a safety stop.  On the other hand while steel tanks are a stronger metal they don’t require as thick of walls and on average may be 1 lb positively buoyant to 2 lbs negatively buoyant depending on the manufacturer.  This means with a steel tank that might be 3 to 4 pounds less lead you will have to add to your weights.  The high pressure steel tanks can even be up to 4 lbs negatively buoyant when empty.

So weather or not you are buying a tank or renting a tank it is important to know how it is going to affect your dive, weather its is going to affect the duration or your buoyancy.  Be prepared to make adjustments as necessary.  If your unsure talk to the dive professionals to find out the buoyancy characteristics, and don’t forget to record in your logbook, your weights with each type of tank you use so you never have to second guess again.