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 are 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

What Does it Cost to Get Scuba Certified?

Taking the plunge and getting certified for many people is scary not only because it is a new experience but also because of the cost, So what does it cost to get certified?  This is one of the greatest questions in the diving industry, and most commonly asked in any dive shop.  No matter which agency you get certified through Padi, SSI, Naui, to name a few, all of them are providing the same fundamental training and skills.  The differences will be in the format that these skills and how the information is taught.  Since it is safe to say that all open water certifications no matter the agency are equivalent lets break down the what the general expected cost of an Open Water certification would be.

There are many ways to break down these cost and different shops and different agencies will vary in their prices but this is a guide to provide a general idea of how much it should cost to get scuba certified.  These cost will be broken down into training (Classroom, Pool, and Open Water dives), Materials, Rental, and Personal gear.  Now with all of these they will vary from shop to shop for training, rentals and personal equipment and agency to agency for materials, so i will be providing a general estimate for each of these because it may differ at your local dive shop.

scuba trainingTraining is the most important part of the certification and will be what truly molds the experience of getting certified.  It is the personal touch that the instructor provides that will shape your experience and path as a diver.  The ability to provide clear instruction and knowledge for the students will leave a huge impact on new divers.  This is where the true value of shopping around for your certification will matter.  Finding a shop and instructor that are devoted to providing you the student with the best experience possible.  As for the price this is the portion of the cost that the instructors themselves are paid from.  Some shops will split the cost of classroom/ pool and open water dives, and others will provide an all in pricing.  For the aspect of training expect anywhere from $200 to $350 to cover the cost of training (classroom/pool/open water dives).

Materials are completely determined by the certification agency and can vary depending padi materialson what format of program you are taking, accelerated programs will be more costly and allow students to complete a majority of classroom portion of the program at home.  The three largest and most recognizable agencies Padi, SSI, and Naui materials will range from $75-$189.  With these materials they are at this point in time offered as printed books to study or online digital material, SSI provides only digital material, while Padi and Naui offer printed material or digital e-learning.

rental gearRentals are something that are absolutely necessary for open water dives unless the new diver has decided to purchase their own BCD, regulator, tanks, weights, and wetsuit.  These items to purchases would quickly reach a couple thousand dollars, most new divers will rent these items for their certification, once again rentals will depend on the shop and what kind of gear is needed for the dive, wetsuits will depend on the temperature of the water, the other items will be necessary regardless.  Normal expected rental cost for this equipment should be expected around $60-$150.  Some shops may provide rental packages that include other gear like mask snorkel, fins that may affect this price.

Most dive shops will request or require new students to purchase their own personal gear, Mask, Snorkel, Booties, Fins, and Gloves.  This is because these items are a personal personal gearfit gear that will drastically affect your diving experience if they do not fit properly.  Once again these items will vary drastically in price and some shops will offer student discounts to help promote the purchase.  In general expect at minimum $150 for all of your personal gear and price can go up to as high as $500.  Keep in mind this is equipment necessary for scuba, made to a very high quality and made to last when taken care of properly.

In the end the price is hard to give an exact number, and when you ask a dive shop employee that is why they will hesitate to answer because there are many factors that can affect the total cost. The lowest to expect when getting certified not including personal equipment would be somewhere around $400 and the highest could be somewhere around $700 with a majority of them somewhere in between.  With this being said average price all in to get certified will be somewhere in the range of $600.  Personal equipment is where the larges variance in price will be in terms of personal choice, the Training, rental, and materials will be pre determined by the shop.  The most important thing to consider will be what will work best for you, dive shops and dive professionals will provide advice for what the best route to take is for the goals you wish to meet.

Oceanic Jetpack BCD Review

The Oceanic Jetpack BCD is a bit of an anomaly, it is a one size fits all travel BCD that strives to slim down all of our favorite aspects of back inflate BCD’s into one convenient package.  The Jetpack BCD comes in two different packages one thats just the BCD and the complete package which includes a detachable backpack.  The gimmick of the Jetpack is that this BCD transforms from a bag able to fit all of your personal gear, to a light weight travel style bcd with a large amount of personal adjustment.

In terms of what this bcd is designed for it does function well, everything about it makes sense and performs the way it should.  With that being said i’m just not in love with this bcd.  I am a fan of all of the features, many of them are clever and makes sense in their purpose, but it just doesn’t feel the way I want a travel bcd to feel.  Lets start by covering the features of this bcd.  The Jetpack is designed as a travel bcd, but not the traditional travel bcd.  Instead of purely going for the most light weight and basic design to cut weight for checked baggage, the Jetpack does cut weight but doesn’t cut as much retaining some of the many comforts of a standard bcd.

The breakdown/set up

jetpack diagramThe jet pack is made as a one size fits all bcd that almost completely comes apart, removing the cumber bun weight pockets and storing them in the zip away rear panel that contains the bladder, inflator, tank straps, cumber bun and weight pockets when in the travel mode.  In this configuration there is a backpack that can attach to the broken down bcd and can be used as a carry on bag for airline travel.  This system does work pretty we’ll and the detachable backpack is very large and has a great amount of storage space.  The set up is fairly simple, the rear panel unzips and rolls up secured with a few pieces of velcro the bladder extends beyond the edges, the cumber bun, weight pockets are attached and the shoulder straps are unclipped from the base of the bag and attached to the weight pockets.  The most difficult part is threading the cumber bun through the hidden loops and adjusting the shoulder straps for personal comfort lengthening and shortening the nylon webbing.  The cumber bun does attach using velcro attaching to itself appears to be surprisingly secure but I can only assume that over time the velcro will give out.  But for the time being it appears to be working just fine.

What I like:

The truth is this BCD does really work well, the modular pieces feel secure when attached and provide an abundance of adjustability.  One feature that I am very happy to be included is the  cumber bun, most travel bcd’s this is the first feature to be eliminated in order to cut weight.  For me it provides an additional level of security and makes the bcd feel like it is wrapping around me more.  They also employ a different stomach strap jetpack bcd 2system from other Oceanic BCD’s instead of the traditional pull from the center out the straps are laced back and use a pul from the sides to center, This is a feature i have seen on many Aqualung bcd’s.  The back inflation style makes it a very comfortable dive and uses high quality durable materials that dry relatively quickly.  The materials never felt over saturated with water leaving me wondering if it had dried fully before packing.  The last thing I am very fond of is the backpack, this thing is great.  Weather it is attached or detached this thing has a ton of space, pocket for laptop, many interior mesh pockets for storage of small items, two exterior pockets, straps on the sides great for sandals or beach towels, and zips completely open which can be nice when you are unpacking or looking for something in the bag.

What I don’t like:

For the most part I am pretty happy with the Jetpack, it functions how a bcd should and has many features that I wish a traditional travel bcd would have, but it is not perfect at least not for me.  I am not a tall person and the length of this bcd is a little too much, I jetpack 3feel like no matter how much i play with the adjustments that I cannot get it to sit perfectly for me because I have a short torso.  I have also found that the placement of the deflator is just not right for me I find my self having to adjust my body positioning more while diving to deflate.  This could be because of the length of the bcd and how it fits my body or just that I am so used to my primary bcd I need more time to adjust.  Another small issue I have is the weight, for a travel bcd the jetpack is a little heavy, about 6.25 lbs which is lighter than a traditional bcd but also heavier than most lightweight travel bcd’s sitting somewhere in the middle.  The salvation for this issue is that it packs into a backpack and can be used as a carry on so weight is not as much as a factor in the long run.  My final issue is with the placement of the tank strap, I understand that for the length of the bcd it has been set low to prevent swing of the tank but I wouldn’t mind an additional strap a little higher for a more secure hold, it does have a valve strap that can aid in some stability but I personally prefer a double strap system.

In the end it is going to depend on what you are looking for in a travel bcd, if you are looking for something that is very adjustable, and can be used as a carry on this is a perfect option.  If you are looking to cut as much weight as possible then it may not be the best option.  It does function as a high quality bcd with durable materials and I experienced no technical issues.  The price is a little high for a travel bcd with the Jetpack Complete (includes backpack) coming in at $599 while most travel bcd’s are around the $450 price range.  The one size fits all feature may be a bit exaggerated not the most ideal for those who are on the shorter side but as a bcd that could be an extra for a friend not needing to worry if it fits is a very nice option.  Over all I do like the Jetpack, it functions well as a bcd and has many clever features but I am not in love with it.

Diving Masks Too Many To Choose From

The Scuba diving mask is the most integral park of diving equipment and usually one of dive mask 5the first pieces of equipment a diver buys.  There are no shortage of mask to choose from with a variety of options, from skirt color, number of lenses, lens colors and strap styles.  Despite all of these variations the most important feature of any mask is fit and comfort.  The fit and comfort of a mask is a personal decision but these other options for mask style can help narrow down which masks to start with when choosing a mask.

Skirt Color:

The first and most obvious variations of a mask is the skirt colors.  All mask intended for diving use high quality silicone that is made to be durable, soft and long lasting.  With clear silicone mask they allow a lot of light into the mask providing a wide open feeling, this is a very common option for starting divers.  Some diver may notice that allowing the light into the mask may cause a visible reflection inside the mask which may be distracting.  Black or solid colored mask prevent the excess of light through the skirt of the mask, this can cause a feeling of tunnel vision which may be detrimental for those that are susceptible to claustrophobia.  Free divers, spear fishermen, and photographers tend to prefer solid colored or black silicone mask because they block this light and allow for the eyes to adjust to lower light conditions much quicker.

Number of Lenses:

The lens is a very integral part of the diving mask and provides the template for which the shape of the mask is formed.  The two most common mask lenses are either a single lens design, a dual lens design and a panoramic design.  All are effective and functional as a mask lens and provide their own positive and negative aspects.  The single lens design provides an unobstructed field of vision, allowing for a wide open feeling for the user, it also usually brings the frame of the mask lower on the bridge of the nose that for some people can cause uncomfortable contact that could become very uncomfortable.  The dual lens design generally will allow more nose space because of the separation of the lenses that can be more comfortable for some, this separation of the lenses can cause a obstruction or blind spot that can be noticeable for some divers.  The panoramic design provide peripheral windows on the side of the mask and can be paired with single and dual lens mask.  This style of mask increase the field of view for divers while also increasing the air volume inside the mask.  Some divers prefer this more because of the open  field of view.

Framed or Frameless:

Frameless mask are growing in popularity, these mask remove the plastic frame from the design and have the silicone wrapped directly around the lens.  This design is popular because it reduces the volume of the mask and potential for parts that can break.  The downside of the frameless mask is in instances of prescription lenses there are only the option to have lenses bonded into the mask.  Traditional framed mask in some styles have replaceable lenses that can be installed to accommodate standard vision correction.   Some of these mask designs can be either very high volume or low volume in design covering a very wide assortment of styles.

High or Low Volume:

In diving the volume or air space in a mask is something that has evolved since its inception where mask originally had a very high volume with large windows for a greater viewing space.   As technology has evolved the mask and the rise of popularity in free diving the low volume mask has increased in popularity.  Low volume mask require a lower amount of air and effort to clear the mask when flooded and equalize the airspace, which is very important when free diving, but not so much when diving.  Because divers have a supply of air it is ok to use more air to equalize the air space or clear the mask when flooded.  Both are suitable options for divers, but those that might be looking for a dual purpose ideal for free diving might look for a mask with a lower volume.

Lens Color:

Lens colors are options traditionally taken on by spear fishermen, using colored lenses to help the eyes adjust to low light conditions, when looking under ledges and into crevices.  The most common lens colors are clear, amber/yellow, and HD lenses.  Clear lenses are the most common and virtually all mask come with this standard option.  The amber/yellow lenses are found in spear fishing/ free diving low volume mask, these mask like yellow lenses for snow skiing help the eyes adjust to low light conditions, ideal for searching for fish in holes, crevices and under ledges.  the HD lens is a pigmented lens that is used to restore color lost with depth.  These lenses often have a mirrored appearance from the front and generally have a red or rose pigment to the lens itself.  Lens color is a less common option for most mask designs and generally are specific to higher quality mask designs.

Mask Straps:

The silicone mask strap is the most widely offered standard for diving mask, some select mask offer neoprene mask straps.  The silicone mask strap commonly offers more easily adjustable straps for quick and fine adjustments, while the neoprene mask although nicer for longer hair can be adjusted but not as easily or on the fly.  With this being said any mask can be outfitted with a neoprene strap either by replacing the entire mask strap or a cover that slides onto the mask strap.

Conclusion:

With many different considerations in choosing a mask it is important to note that the fit and comfort of the mask are the most important factors.  These additional options of silicone color, number of lenses, frameless/framed, high/low volume, lens color, and type of strap these are secondary considerations when choosing a mask, there are many mask out there and a mask to fit each face.

Tank You for Asking

IMG_0217
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.

IMG_0213
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.

IMG_0215
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.