I’m a new diver and looking to purchase my own gear. I know how everyone has different things to look for, but seriously need to hear a couple of brand names or models.

I am completely landlocked working for six months at a time in the oilfield in the Canadian north, so local dive shops don’t exist for me. I will be in Toronto for 24hrs this winter on my way down to Cozumel and would like to buy some gear. I plan on doing recreational open water diving down to 130 feet max, and possibly trying some basic, beginner caves. About 50% of my diving will be done in fresh water lakes all well above freezing temperatures.

I have tried Scubapro Twin Jet Max fins, and Atomic Aquatics Smoke on the water and find they are both very comfortable. I would get the Atomics because they feel a tiny bit better, but am told that all split fins stink in a current. (Cozumel). Any advice?

Masks, snorkels, wetsuit, boots and computer I am comfortable choosing myself.

I see an overwhelming amount of people on scuba forums say that they have switched to the backplate/wing style BC after a little experience and have decided just to start with it. I am considering the Scubapro Knighthawk, what do you think?

What would be one of the best regs/octos for recreational diving? Am looking at the Atomic Aquatics and Scubapro pages. I’m not concerned about cost, but don’t want something I don’t need. Just looking for the best gear that a purely recreational diver could use, and possibly do an easy beginner’s cave dive in.

How about good high quality gauges?

There is enough cut and dry data in Scubalab to pick the correct computer for myself. Reg/octo, gauges and fins are my biggest concerns.

BTW: I am not going to buy my gear online, will support my ‘local’ dive shop 1500km away in Toronto, my home away from home, but have found talking to them that they only advise me to buy whatever brands the happen to stock. Just want some straight talk from some experienced dive folk.

Thanks very much to everyone who has read this!

Also, can anyone recommend a good scuba magazine besides Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine? I already subscribe.

Go Maple Leafs!

Hehe…Go LEAFS:)
Okies, for starters how "new" a diver are you? You’ll want your advanced for what you plan on doing in Coz for some of the walls but most of your dives there will be much shallower and in the 40-70 foot range.
Current you won’t be fighting. You’ll lose. It’s all drift diving down there. Plan to be where you have to be to see what you want, well in advance. That current is a ripper. The cenotes are an awesome dive. Carwash and Grand being the popular ones. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a decent dive shop that will provide a DM to give you an intro into cavern diving but you’ll have to take the ferry from Coz as the cenotes are in and around the Mayan Riviera. It’s a day trip there and back with two dives and a little jungle gear humping at Car wash cenote and a lot of it at Grand cenote. Watch your step on the stairway. Gravity can hurt.
Now, on to equipment.
There are three dive shops worth their salt in the greater Toronto area. AquaSub in Richmond Hill, Colt Creek Diving in Newmarket ( my fav) and also in Newmarket, The Dive Shop. Also in the area is Scuba 2000, Richmond Hill. They can be pricey to cover their advertising costs and in my opinion, they are also the diver version of a puppy mill for training but…just my opinion and their bad luck for having a higher fatality ratio than the others to my knowledge. Karma?
Fins: The jury is out on to go split or traditional blade. It’s a personal thing. You’ll just have to try both. For example, I have a kick style that when used with splits…gets me no place fast. With my Blades…I leave the split guys in my wake and I find my manoeuvrability is better in tight spots or frogging. You’ll just have to figure out which fins work better for you by asking to borrow a set of both and using them in the same conditions.
BCs: The Knighthawk is an excellent back inflation and will last you a long time. Pretty user friendly, has the D rings in the right places and more than enough lift and decent pockets. The ability to trim it out is a bonus on the surface. If you don’t plan on going tech, this BC is a good choice.
Regs: All the major manufacturers make good regs. I’m surprised that I didn’t see Apeks in your list though.
You’ll need to do a little pre planning in this department though. Will you go Nitrox? Not all regs come factory ready for Nitrox. Some can’t even be used for Nitrox at all. The one thing you need to make sure of, given on where you plan to dive (here) is that you’ll want an environmentally sealed first stage in whatever reg set you decide on. Costs more but after you’ve had your first freeze and free flow in a non environmental, you’ll wish you’d spent the money. The water you’re in may not be freezing, but the air at the surface sometimes is, or nearly so on a November or March dive in the Great Lakes area. As for "toys" like second stage adjustments. Up to you. I find no need of them and actually see divers getting into trouble with them. An added distraction and I can’t count how many times that pre dive / dive selector has messed up someones dive. Lots. How many free flows have I ever had? None on old Sherwoods, Mares or my newer Apeks. My Mares second makes the rounds between all of these first stages. No toys, no problem and in some pretty demanding conditions. Having said that I’ll probably have one up in Muskoka next week end (touch wood, bet I jinxed myself now and the cracking valve shoots my buddy in the butt)
Ports…make sure your first has enough ports. Want to add a sending unit later for a fancy integrated computer or a whip for a dry suit? Need ports. Dedicated lift bag inflater? Ports and more ports.
If you’re getting into wreck diving later, you’ll want a low profile first stage or one that you can invert mount. Less to snag on a interior rail ( dunnit…not good and you can be hooked for a scary minute).
Gauges? OMS all the way. I’ve had others fail but never an OMS.

Magazines: Rodales is the most comprehensive in subject matter. It also tends to be one sided depending on that month’s advertisers. Sometimes you have to shake your head and wonder why they bothered to write an article when the condensed version is in the back in the form of an ad. If you have a peek in a Chapters store, you’ll find they have Sport Diver ( PADI’s attempt at not being biased) and one from the UK I get on occasion simply called Diver. When you hit a Toronto area dive shop, look around for a newsprint quality mag called Northern Diver I believe. Only seen one or two issues but the articles were geared toward our kind of diving and Canadian sport diving industry news.
And finally…high five!!!! Buying from a dive shop is just so much better than rolling the dice on internet sales. It’ll fit, you can easily get service for the gear and it can actually cost less in the long run. I get a 15% discount automatically for any purchase and never need to pay for air because of customer loyalty. Besides…who are you going to hoist a beer with on a Friday night planning your Saturday dives after a dive shop visit ? Your computer? Nahhh.
One last note that ties in both buying at a dive shop and your choice of gear. You get to put it all together before you pay for it. Handy if you find that your first stage’s orientation interferes with maybe the grab handle on the BC for example or the often heard "darn it…I thought that clip would be easier to operate, should have thought about my gloves" before the old Pay Pal investment. Then there’s also the " crap…the pic on the web site looked like that BC knife sheath would fit on my shoulder strap". Nice to find out these things in the shop and not in your living room if it arrived by courier a piece at a time. Granted, there can be some deals to be found on decent stuff that’s not life support, but it’s tough slogging.