10 Pieces of Beginner Scuba Diving Gear for Your First Tropical Trip

Technology + Gear Diving
by Matador Creators Oct 30, 2023

Scuba diving is one of the most amazing ways to see the world. And since about 70 percent of the world is water, it also means you get to see islands, creatures, and underwater worlds most people can barely dream of.

Whether you just got certified or have been certified for a while but are just now planning your first dive trip, there are a few pieces of basic beginner dive gear you’ll want to buy. While you certainly can run out and spend a few thousand on a full dive set-up, including a BCD, a full set of regulators, fins, and more, most beginners can rent those items from dive shops fairly easily. And renting from your dive operator also means you don’t need to lug heavy gear through airports. But there are some pieces of beginner dive gear where it’s really important to have your own, either for safety, for comfort, or a combination of the two.

If you’re packing for your first scuba diving trip and have no idea what gear you do and don’t need, the list below should help you get started.

We hope you love the scuba gear we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The first pieces of beginner scuba diving gear to buy

Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to buy all the gear your instructor or dive shop recommends. Scuba diving companies are a for-profit business, so of course, they’re going to recommend you buy all your own gear right away. But if you’re new to the sport or diving infrequently, you don’t need a full set up. You just need the items below.

A snorkel mask: $49-$59

Snorkel mask from Cressi one of the most import scuba diving gear items

Photo: Cressi

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One of the easier ways to make your first dives even harder than necessary is to have a mask that leaks, pushes painfully against your nose, or constantly needs tightened underwater. Though a leaky mask is a manageable issue, having water floating around in front of your eyes can feel alarming for beginner divers. So it’s best to bring your own scuba diving mask (and, bonus, you can also use it for snorkeling!)

You should always try your mask on in person, so if you’re buying it online, buy it from a shop that allows for easy returns. A trusted, quality brand is Cressi, which makes the Perfect View Snorkeling Mask — a very highly-rated option. It’s usually between $50 and $60, with swivel buckles, easily adjustable straps, and clear sides to maximize your field of vision. It comes in a handful of colors and at about half 7 ounces, it won’t add much weight to your bag. It also comes with a protective case so it doesn’t get scratched while traveling.

Buy Now: $49+

A neoprene mask strap: $25.49

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One of the worst parts of putting your scuba diving mask on is feeling the rubber of the strap rip and pull on the back of your head. Fortunately, one of the cheapest pieces of beginner scuba diving gear you can get is a neoprene mask strap (the same fabric as a wetsuit). They go around your rubber mask strap, making it much easier to slide the strap on without ripping out your hair. They also make it much easier to adjust your strap underwater. The $25.49 Best Divers straps come in a handful of different patterns, all in various blues and ocean colors.

Buy Now: $25.49

A suit to wear under a rental wetsuit: $35-$175

SlipIns scuba skins, dive skins essential scuba diving gear

Photo: SlipIns

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Sometimes called scuba skins, dive skins, or shark suits, these thin, full-body suits have two main perks. For starters, they’re slick, so they make pulling a sticky, tight wetsuit on and off much easier — and anyone who has tried to pull up a snug wetsuit knows how frustrating the process can be.

The second benefit of having a slim layer under your wetsuit is that they protect your skin from touching rental wetsuits. Since there’s no way of knowing how well the rentals are washed, how dirty the person who last wore it was, or — worse — whether someone decided to pee in the wetsuit, keeping it off your skin is a good thing. They can help avoid rashes and skin irritations and are very similar to T-shirt-style rash guards worn by surfers.

The most chic undercuts come from SlipIns, which makes super-fun suits in patterns like whale shark print and octopus. They may look dorky on the promo images, but if you rock one of these on a dive boat, you’re guaranteed to get compliments.

If you do prefer a cheaper option, you can buy more budget-friendly ones starting around $35 on Amazon.

Buy Now: $149+

Swim Ear: $4.98

Clogged ears are annoying at best, and can cause ear infections (and make you miss out on days of diving) at the worst. Fortunately, Swim Ear drops are cheap, easy to carry, and work very well for unclogging waterlogged ears. They also come in a one-ounce bottle, meaning it’s A-okay to pack them as part of your carry-on gear. Consider them an essential part of your beginner scuba diving gear, especially if you’re prone to ear infections.

Buy Now: $4.98

A mesh dive bag for wet gear: $38

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A mesh dive bag is super helpful for transporting wet dive gear between dive shops, hotels, and boats. A good choice is the under-$40 Athletico Scuba Diving Bag. It’s always best to get a slightly bigger bag than you need since they take up basically no space in your luggage, and a bit of extra space is helpful for carrying wet towels or swimsuits. This particular bag has backpack straps and a small non-mesh pocket for things like sunglasses or goggles.

Over time, any mesh bag is likely to show wear and tear, especially if you’re hauling heavy gear that can cause snags or throwing your bag on the rough floors of boats and dive shops. So there’s no point in getting anything too fancy — in fact, the more basic, the better, so you can wash the saltwater off it in the sink after your trip. You can also find even cheaper duffel-style bags, in case you don’t like the backpack concept, which smush up even smaller in your luggage.

Buy Now: $38

Mask defogger: $12

While clearing your mask underwater is a skill that’ll become easier over time, you still don’t want to have to do it 10 times per dive. Most dive operators carry some kind of mask defogger to rub on the inside of your mask before you start your dive, but just in case they don’t, it’s very helpful to carry your own. The Stream2Sea Reef Friendly Defogger is only two ounces, so it’s carry-on friendly. But since you only need to use a few drops before each dive, even one bottle should last you for several years.

While homemade mask defoggers and watered-down baby shampoo work well for defogging, it’s best to buy an actual scuba-specific liquid or gel as they’re made with reef-safe ingredients. Other options include chemicals that can eventually harm oceans and lead to coral bleaching (like soap).

Buy Now: $12

Your own dive computer: $299

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A dive computer is arguably your most important piece of gear underwater. It’s your tool for avoiding critical errors that can cost you your life, like going too deep, ascending too fast, or staying underwater too long. So while you can rent them, if there’s one piece of gear you want to own, it’s a dive computer.

Many, many divers will agree that the Zoop from Suunto is by far the best piece of beginner scuba diving gear you can buy. It’s extremely easy to use, which is important, as you want to be able to rely on it and understand what it’s telling you. While it’s beginner-friendly, it does have the option to adjust for Nitrox or do decompression dives, so it can grow with if you start getting more advanced certifications.

Just remember to keep it in the case when not diving, as the screen can be a bit difficult to read underwater if it gets overly scratched. The basic version is usually around $300, making it one of the least expensive dive computers on the market. It’s the most expensive, but also the most important, piece of beginner scuba diving gear you can buy — don’t scrimp on it or go without one.

Buy Now: $299

Level two beginner dive gear

Okay — you’ve got the basics, but now, you’re thinking you want to expand your dive gear collection a bit more (or are just sick of paying for rentals). Here’s the beginner dive gear to consider buying next.

A 3-mil wetsuit: $130

Wet Suits Drying Out in the Sun

Photo: The Stock Photographer/Shutterstock

Having your own wetsuit comes with a lot of perks, and that goes beyond just knowing that no one has peed in it. Wetsuits that are thin and stretched out (as many rentals are) don’t work as well, so if you find yourself getting chilly on dives, it may be your suit. You may wear a rental suit and be freezing, but find when you wear your own suit that fits better, you feel good underwater. Wetsuits generally come in three thicknesses — three millimeters, five millimeters, and seven millimeters. Three is sufficient for tropical diving when the water is in the high 70s Fahrenheit.

For tropical diving, the three-mil wetsuit from Cressi (it’s a great, budget-friendly diving brand!) is a great pick, offering high-tech and high-quality warmth at a reasonable price. You’ll find a lot of super cheap “wetsuits” online, but most of them are actually either (a) made for activities like IronMan races or surfing, or (b) not actually made with neoprene, which is what keeps you warm. The sizing is pretty straightforward, but remember that it should feel pretty darn tight when it’s dry. It comes in both a women’s and men’s style.

By the way, you may also want to buy a wetsuit cleaner for use once you get back from your trip.

Buy Now: $130

An underwater flashlight: $49

Wurkkos underwater flashlight essential scuba diving gear

Photo: Wurkkos

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You don’t need to be a night diver to make use of a flashlight. They’re useful during daytime dives, when you want to peer at small critters hiding in reefs, see inside wrecks, and illuminate underwater photos.

A good, affordable pick is the DL30 Dive Light. It has three light settings, an adjustable wrist strap for clipping or attaching it to yourself, and is relatively small in your hand. It also had a brightness rating of up to 3,000 lumens (your average 40-watt household bulb is about 400 lumens), so it’s extremely bright — far brighter than other lights at a similar price point.

Buy Now: $49

A depth-rated underwater camera: $111

Photo: Akaso Tech

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Once you start to feel comfortable underwater, introducing photography can be pretty fun. However, the reason this isn’t a first piece of beginner scuba diving gear to buy is because many beginner photographers with cameras tend to get distracted while shooting, and forget about important details like watching their depth.

Most GoPros are great for beginner photographers, though for diving, you need to buy an underwater housing. GoPros are only rated to about 33 feet deep, but the pressure below that will make them stop working. So keep in mind if you buy a GoPro, you’ll also need to buy the $50 scuba diving case.

If you don’t want to drop that much dough, instead, get the $111 AKASO Brave 7 action cam. It has lots of the features people love about GoPros, like an image stabilizer, 20MP shooting, 5x zoom, and a touch screen (though it doesn’t work underwater, obviously). The AKASO cam comes with lots of useful accessories, including a backup battery and an underwater case so you can take it as deep as 133 feet.

Buy Now: $111

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