You’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive and you’ve taken the first step and signed up for a beginner certification course. You’re on your way to earning a C-card, your passport to underwater adventure, fun and “diving like a girl.”
But with all the myriad choices of gear, how do you know what’s right for you? As any diver — male or female — can tell you, fit is essential. There was a time when women had to “make do” with gear made for men. But those days are thankfully behind us. Today, women can find masks that fit smaller faces, lightweight fins, wetsuits and BCs that take into consideration a woman’s curves, comfortable regulators that fit smaller mouths, and dive computers that are sized for smaller wrists.
However, it takes more than searching online for made-for-women scuba equipment. Before you buy any piece of gear, make sure you understand its performance features and safety elements. Here’s a look at the dive gear you’ll need to keep you comfortable, stylish and above all, safe.
Visit any dive store and you’ll find a bewildering array of dive masks and snorkels displayed in assorted styles and colors. A mask and snorkel is what most open-water students purchase first — and it is an important one. Yet most new divers try on just a handful and pick a color they like — or worse, choose one from an online catalog without ever trying it on. No two faces are alike, so mask fit is an essential consideration — when you’ve got the mask on your face, keep in mind that any gaps you notice in the mask skirt will let water in while you’re underwater. (Trust me, there’s nothing worse than a leaky mask when you’re diving.) Another critical feature is comfort. Pay attention to any part that pinches or digs into your skin — especially your nose, forehead or upper lip. Any part that hurts will feel worse when you’re underwater. It’s also vital that you’re able to pinch the nose pocket — that’s how you’ll clear your ears as you descend.
Here’s a simple “dry” test: Place the mask on your face without using the strap and look up at the ceiling. Make sure there are no gaps where the mask skirt rests on your face. Place a snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth. Check for any gaps. Now, look forward and place the mask on your face and, without using the strap, gently inhale through your nose. That should create a seal; again, there should be no gaps and it should not hurt any part of your face. Now, adjust the strap and put the mask on your face. Make sure the nose pocket doesn’t touch your nose and that the skirt feels comfortable on your upper lip.
For most women, Cressi’s A1 mask, with its velvety-soft skirt and strap, not only fits well and is comfortable but it also has a number of other features you’ll want to consider: a single, tempered-glass lens that provides a wider angle of view that lets in more light, a specially treated lens that prevents fogging and easy-to-adjust buckles. The white with clear lens A1 is stylish (it also comes with a yellow lens, which can help to make the colors of corals and fish on the reef really pop) and pairs nicely with Cressi’s Supernova Dry Snorkel in white. The Supernova Dry has a hypoallergenic silicone mouthpiece and a large, easy-to-clear purge valve on the bottom, and a completely dry top on the other end.
Fins also come in a rainbow of colors and styles and colors. Generally speaking, most women will be more comfortable with smaller, more flexible fins (easier on your ankles and calves especially when you need to kick hard), but if your main location for diving has a great deal of current, you’ll want to consider getting a bigger, stiffer fin. Either way, your fins should fit snugly without pinching your toes or cramping your feet. When you try them on, make sure you can wiggle your toes. Also make sure the buckles and straps are easy to use and comfortable on your feet. With its white and pink accent colors, Cressi’s Thor EBS fins are not only good-looking but they offer nice power, thanks to the firm side rails that give the fin just enough support to provide acceleration when you need it without any stress on your ankles or calves. You’ll also love how easy the big, soft finger loop on the bungee strap makes getting this fin on and off.
As you’ll learn in your beginner certification course, water has a cooling effect that “robs” your body of heat 25 times faster than air. Feeling like you’re swimming in ice water is just as miserable as a leaky mask, and in general, women tend to feel colder underwater than men. Fit is absolutely essential when buying your first wetsuit. A good-fitting wetsuit will keep you warm and keep water out. As you try them on, pay attention to their comfort and whether they give you good range of motion. Make sure there are no gaps that will let water in. A wetsuit should fit you snugly without binding any part of your body.
The wetsuit you choose should also match the water conditions for where you will be diving — for example, if you will mostly be diving in the cooler waters of say, Hawaii or California in the Summer, you’ll want a full suit made just for women, such as Cressi’s 3mm Morea. The stylish Morea has a rubberized chest panel that not only helps keep your core warm while you’re underwater but also holds up well to constant wear (this is where parts of your BC will be rubbing against). It’s made from a highly flexible neoprene that’s cut to fit a woman’s body. The wrist and ankle seals are rolled and hemmed and the neck seal is lined with smooth-skin that provides a leak-free seal. The knee and shin patches also hold up well to wear and tear and give a bit of comfortable padding.
If you’ll be diving in mostly tropical waters, such as Florida or the Bahamas, you may be comfortable in a shorty, such as Cressi’s 3mm Tahiti, which is oh-so-easy to slip on and off. Like the Morea, it’s made just for women, so it’s cut to fit a woman’s curves.
Once you start diving, you’ll realize how critical a BCD is to your safety and underwater comfort. It holds your tank so you have stability both underwater and topside, floats you comfortably at the surface, aids you in achieving neutral buoyancy at any depth, and usually provides lots of pockets and D-rings to help stash other important items, such as a dive light and backup regulator. As with all other scuba gear, a good fit is critical. Like your wetsuit, your BCD should fit you snugly but not squeeze you when inflated. When trying them on, inflate the BCD. You shouldn’t feel any uncomfortable restrictions. Make sure you can access all valves, adjustments, straps and pockets and that they are easy to use.
Women will find that Cressi’s streamlined Cressi Lightwing is a lightweight version of a traditional jacket BCD with all-around lift to provide good balance and trim under the water and support while on the surface. The overall weight of the Lightwing has been reduced by careful selection of strong but light materials to allow the BCD to be packed down into a very small carry bag that is ideal for traveling.
Your budget will come into play when you’re shopping for this life-support gear item. The good news is that most regulators deliver what you need underwater. So what do you need to consider? Comfort is especially important for a woman. Heavy second stages and a large mouthpiece can be uncomfortable and cause jaw fatigue. You’ll also want a regulator that offers diver-controlled knobs or switches that aid ease of breathing as you move through varying water depths (as you go deeper, your “work of breathing” gets harder; a Venturi or dive/predive switch allows a diver to adjust air flow so that the regulator breathes easily).
Cressi’s MC9/Compact regulator does all this and is especially well-suited for women. The hyper-balanced diaphragm MC9 first stage has a small, chromium-plated brass body that’s protected by a special elastomer skin. The Compact second stage is ultra-light and comes with a large, easy-to-use purge cover and a dive/predive lever. And I’ll confess to liking its looks: the white version of this reg is eye-catching.
By monitoring your depth and bottom time, dive computers constantly track your no-decompression status, which is vital to your safety underwater. But if it’s not user-friendly, a dive computer is useless — look for one that allows you to see basic information at a glance.
Cressi’s Neon dive computer is sleek, stylish and high performing. But don’t just take my word for it — also consider that the well-respected ScubaLab testing group found that this dive computer is more than just another pretty face. ScubaLab testers gave the Neon its coveted Testers Choice Award for wrist computers. Their test of the Neon included a series of simulated dives alongside other computers to see how its decompression algorithm compared, as well as real-world underwater testing. ScubaLab testers found the Neon was intuitive — it was simple to set up and use and presented important data clearly when in real-world dive conditions. And what’s not to like about its lilac accent color?