Traveling with Dive Gear... or Not?

Bottom Line: There are three types of dive travelers: The PACKERS, The RENTERS, and The LIGHTWEIGHTS. What kind of a dive traveler are you? 

Those of us here at ATA/BAR Divers frequently travel for the sole purpose of diving. And, with rare exception, we are typically accompanied by mature, experience divers on our underwater world excursions. All of our diving friends own their own gear, but not all travel with their regular dive gear—the equipment they dive with in local waters. Over the years, we have unofficially divided our traveling diver friends into three groups:

  1. THE PACKERS: Divers who bring all gear except tank and weights to dive destinations.
     

  2. THE RENTERS: Divers who rent nearly all necessary equipment at the destination.
     

  3. THE LIGHTWEIGHTS: Divers who own and pack a separate set of travel gear—dive equipment that is marketed for its compact style and light weight (see Image 1).

Full Disclosure: As this article was written by self-proclaimed PACKERS, it should come as no surprise that the mindsets of the RENTERS and the LIGHTWEIGHTS escape us, even though their justifications seem sound: Neither group wants to hassle with toting around large and heavy dive equipment bags. We get it, but let’s take a deeper (admittedly with a bit of tongue in cheek) look at each groups’ mindset and justifications:

THE RENTERS
 

  1. We love our own dive gear but hate packing it on trips. We have too much other stuff to take and would hate getting stuck paying overweight or extra baggage fees.
     

  2. Rental gear isn’t that bad. We would rather pay money for rental gear than extra airline baggage fees.
     

  3. We are afraid our expensive gear will get stolen while traveling.
     

  4. Infection, illness, injury (see Image 2) or even death from ill-fitting equipment, a malfunctioning dive computer, poorly maintained regulators, or BCDs that don’t hold air? Not a big deal. At least we aren’t schlepping gear through airports and into taxi cabs or rental cars.

THE LIGHTWEIGHTS

  1. We love dive gear. The more we have, the better we feel about ourselves.
     

  2. Money is no object. Dive travel gear (see Image 1) shows we are uber-cool even though we only get to use the set-up once or twice a year.
     

  3. The equipment isn’t as comfortable as our regular gear, but the bloody feet and sore gums show we can have fun in spite of pain and discomfort.
     

  4. If my travel gear gets stolen, I’ve got insurance and another gear set waiting for me at home.

THE PACKERS
 

  1. We can pack everything we need in a lightweight dive gear bag and make the 50-pound limit for checked baggage on most commercial flights with plenty of room to spare for toiletries, sunscreen and clothing (see Image 3 and 4).
     

  2. We know our own gear. We maintain it. We feel more comfortable and safer in it.
     

  3. Why spend extra money on lightweight travel gear or rental gear that we’ll rarely use?
     

  4. Rental gear can be sketchy at times. We don’t know its condition or how its maintained. Did the last renter have a lung infection or a skin condition?
     

  5. They might not have my size. Will the Indonesian-based dive resort have size 15 booties and a XXXL suit?
     

  6. It is not unusual to dive four or more times a day when traveling. Dive trips without your own gear is like running a marathon in someone else’s shoes. Who would do that? (Oh, that’s right. Some of our diving friends would!)

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
 

Temperature Matters. If you are headed for a cold destination, that 7 mm wetsuit or drysuit will probably make that single 50-pound bag weight limit a tough goal to meet. Similarly, if you’ve got a huge camera rig or rebreather, you’re already used to paying extra fees for that megalodon-size Pelican case. But if you’re destination is warm waters with a full or shorty 3 mm suit, hitting your weight target shouldn’t be a problem.

Renter Wounds. Too often we have seen injuries from ill-fitting equipment, like what is shown in Image 2, the beaten toes of one colleague who suffered through a week’s worth of diving with ill-fitting full-foot fins. In hindsight, this self-proclaimed RENTER is now a PACKER convert!

Get Into the Right Bag. Not all bags are made equally. Choose and use wisely. Pack with a strategy. Some things to consider:

  • Branded vs. Unmarked Bags. Some divers opt for a plain vanilla bag to stow their gear, avoiding prominently labeled dive gear bags for fear of increasing the likelihood of theft.
     

  • Roller Bag or No Wheels. a 50-pound bag can be a good choice unless your destination requires lots of walking and forging crowded sidewalks, dirt, gravel, or cobblestone pathways. Two roller bags (one dive bag and one carry-on bag) can prove to be unwieldy, even across smooth surfaces. Many roller bags convert to a backpack with shoulder straps, but if one of your two carry-on bags are a backpack, your packing strategy might be in jeopardy.
     

  • Lock vs. Unlocked. Consider locking your checked baggage with a TSA-approved lock. It’s not a foolproof method to avoid pilferage, but doing nothing is likely a worse idea.
     

  • Carry-on Decisions. We carry-on our most expensive gear, such as regulators, computers, lights, and cameras. If you decide to carry aboard a BCD, make sure to check your dive knife, line cutters and/or shears. Confirm that airlines will accept loose batteries in carry-on. If not, check it. Padded regulator bags make a great option for carrying on gear (see Image 5 and 6).
     

  • Pack Strategically. Lightweight gear bags, like the 10.5-pound Aqualung Traveler 1600 (see Video 1) are light for a reason: They lack impact protection seen in competing travel bags that come with padded sides. With this in mind, some strategic packing is suggested:
     

    • Pack fins as instructed. They will add side protection to your gear.
       

    • Place exposure suit at the bottom. It will provide impact protection and cushioning on the uneven, rigid back side of the bag.
       

    • Pack durables along the rigid base and along the sides of bag. This adds additional protection.
       

    • Pack less-durable items (BCD, mask, toiletries, etc.) in the middle and sandwich with clothing.
       

    • Top off equipment with a light pillow and cinch with supplied straps. The cover of the bag offers zero impact protection—a pillow offers a great topper to your dive gear and you get to sleep with your own pillow. How perfect is that?

Typical dive gear travel package set

Image 1. A typical dive
gear travel package set.

Damaged toes from rental fins.

Image 2. Damaged toes from a
week of diving with rental fins.

Without Pillow 800w.jpg

Image 3. Strategic packing using
the Aqualung Traveler 1600.

Top off packing with pillows and straps.

Image 4. Topping off gear
with a pillow and straps.

Padded regulator bag for carry-on gear.

Image 5. Padded regulator bag for carry-on containing expensive/fragile gear.

Aqualung Legend padded regulator bag.

Image 6. Aqualung Legend padded regulator bag: Perfect for carry-on gear.

Video 1. Aqualung Traveler 1600 dive
bag review by SimplyScuba.com.