Until someone produces ultra-light dive equipment, packing your gear for a trip away is always going to be a fraught process because of ever-increasing baggage fees. Our panel of industry experts provide a plethora of hints and advice
Many of us love to head off to sunnier climes for a spot of tropical diving, but before we get to enjoy those crystal-clear, bathtub-warm waters we have to negotiate one of the most-trying aspects of dive travel – packing all our precious kit and ensuring that it is as safe and secure as possible, while trying to avoid being crucified by increasingly restrictive luggage allowances and overweight bag fees.
John Kendall, GUE Instructor Trainer: “I spend a large portion of my life on aeroplanes travelling to teach classes, and packing for these trips is always hard. I have a couple of rules of thumb that I try to use.
“The first is to carry a drysuit in hand-luggage. There are many things that a dive-centre is able to rent or loan you if your luggage doesn‘t arrive on time, but it is rare for it to have a drysuit that fits you correctly. The other thing that goes in my hand-luggage are my lights, because lithium batteries should generally be hand-carried.
“With airlines constantly charging more and more for luggage, it's important to look at the weight of everything, and that should include the cases/bags that you use. I have on occasion headed to a bag shop with a set of luggage scales. Big hard cases can weigh up to 10kg, so you’re using up almost half of your allowance just with the case. Find lighter-weight alternatives.
“I tend to see what heavy dive equipment the dive-centre can provide, and will rent items such as backplates or fins (and, in fact, I have several sets of these that I have bought and leave at locations that I regularly visit).
“Finally, make a list of everything you need for a trip, and then go through it again and think about every item carefully. You probably don't need a crack-bottle SMB and heavy reel if you‘re only doing some reef diving in the Caribbean, so consider a small SMB and spool instead.”
Garry Dallas, RAID Rec & Tec Instructor Trainer and Director of Training RAID UK & Malta: “Most of us go away to dive our bucket-list of fantastic destinations around the world, some more than others. The art of packing takes some consideration and experience if you want everything to stay intact against the odds of those ruthless baggage-handlers.
Selecting a bag
“A bag is just a bag… right? Let's consider some key practical elements in choosing the ideal one:
- Weight, volume and durability
- Wheels, carry-straps or shoulder-harness?
- Hard, holdall or waterproof dive-boat bag?
- Adjustable exterior fin-straps?
- Compartments inside and out?
“These key points should be taken into account when choosing your luggage to avoid needing multiple bags. Typically, one 120-litre case / hold-all and a rucksack should be enough for most divers’ holidays.
“Keep in mind while packing, potential problems:
- Damageable items must be padded well.
- If your bag gets lost / delayed at the airport, how important is the dive equipment?
- Weight allowance on the flight and the size/bulkiness of your equipment.
- The bag’s drying ability.
“Packing a bag efficiently is key. Pack sturdy stuff around the interior walls and place the harness/BC on the base. Compress everything as flat as possible, removing all air and water from the BC and dry everything – and don't forget to remove weights when repacking!
“Remove all hoses from first stages, plug them both ends and carry them if weight is an issue. Carry your dive-computer and mask in hand-luggage – it’s the most personal kit! Other equipment can be hired easily enough.
Create a packing list
Martin Robson, PADI TecRec Instructor Trainer: “Make a packing list! Lay everything out before you start packing and check that it all works. Don't forget spare O-rings or any specialist spares you might need. Consider sharing spares with someone else on the trip, if luggage is limited. If necessary, print out any safety data-sheets for items such as batteries.”
PADI UK Regional Manager Matt Clements: “When I’m loading the bag I tend to pack BC first with the fins along the sides, then load the rest inside the slight protection this offers. Fin foot-pockets are great for more delicate items. Don’t forget spares – it’s amazing how often it will save your or your buddy’s dive.”
PADI Course Director & UK Regional Training Consultant Emily Petley-Jones: “Keep the box you purchased your mask in and use it. I have seen many people arrive on a dive-boat and unpack their kit bags only to find that someone has unceremoniously bashed it and shattered their mask. When repacking your bag at the end of a dive trip, make sure that the mask and mask-strap are dry before you put them into storage.”
Vikki Batten, PADI Director of Rebreather Technologies, Training Supervisor & Instructor Examiner: “If you pack well and are adequately insured you shouldn’t need to take anything in your carry-on bag apart from some batteries that have to be there (check with the manufacturer if in doubt). I know it’s tempting to ‘baby’ your regulators or dive-computer, but your journey through security will be easier, and your back will thank you for not overloading it during your journey.”
Mark Powell, TDI/SDI Business Development Manager: “Think about what you really, really need to take and what you can leave behind. Some of the things that are tempting to take but might be possible to leave behind are:
- Fins: They are heavy and most dive-centres can supply them for a minimal cost.
- Knife: Do you really need it?
- Tool-kit: The dive-centre will have one, and unless you need some specific tool you can leave it behind.
- Spares: While it might be useful to have a spare of everything, do you really need to take it or can you source spares at your destination? You can also share spares to cut down on weight.
- Batteries: Take them out of your torches and buy new ones at your destination.
- Integrated weights: Yes, really, I have seen people taking integrated-weight systems and forgetting to take out the weights.
- Backplate: We use steel backplates in the UK but an aluminium one mighty be more appropriate for warmwater diving in a wetsuit or shortie.”
“If you check with the dive-centre exactly what equipment it has, you can determine what you can leave behind. This means you leave more space and weight allowance for the things you really do need to take, such as your dive-computer, mask and regulators.”
Hints & tips
Eddie Clamp, BSAC Travel Club correspondent: “With luggage-space a precious commodity on most dive trips, what is the most effective way to pack a holiday dive-bag? Here are my top hints and tips:
“Don’t buy a dive-bag that tells everyone it has lots of expensive goodies within. You don’t need it, and it takes up space for the important stuff – your dive-kit!
”Maximise the use of space within and around your kit – fins in bag on the bottom end to end, with small items packed in the footspace. On top of that place your BC, with delicate items packed within it. Wetsuit on top of that. I mostly pack my regs in a dedicated bag and place it at one end of the main bag.
“Put all the clothes you think you might need into a pile next to your case, then halve it to the really necessary stuff. Pack these into a separate mesh bag that can easily be taken out. This really helps when fitting equipment up on a dive-deck or dhoni.
”Make the most of your hand-baggage – laptop, cameras and sometimes regs if limited to 20kg hold baggage can all go in your smaller bag. Don’t forget to include some underwear and perhaps a T-shirt in your hand-luggage to be used in emergency – reason below.
“Finally, don’t worry too much. On one liveaboard trip my bag remained in Gatwick for the whole week. Get on with it, it happens sometimes!”
IANTD General Manager Tim Clements: “Rather than dipping ourselves in glue and rolling around in our dive-cave with a big bag of speculative ‘just in case' items and a colossal bill for excess luggage, good divers of all levels will use bag-packing as part of their dive-planning.
“Take a moment to imagine the dives you will be doing. This is an important process. Run through your dive as if you were making a video. You'll be able to identify use of the standard items you always carry as well as the ones that are specific to the purpose of your dive. Once you have worked through your dives, you'll have a list of what you'll need.
“Next run through it again, this time from unpacking your bag. Imagine what you would like to find in it after the baggage-handlers have had a good go. Which spares do you need to fix what's left?
“Run through your dive with some common problems. Do you have spare O-rings, hoses, etc, that you might need? What can you imagine dropping on a dive that would prevent you completing your task or holiday? That needs to go on the list, unless you’re sure you can get it in the field and at a price you can afford.
“Think again about emergencies – that's another list of gear you might need. Once this is done, ensure that everything you' a’re taking is serviced and functional. Why ruin the trip of a lifetime, or cause an expedition to fail, or an incident to become an injury, for the sake of a service or tune-up?
“Only now are you ready to pack your bag. Assume that if it can be broken, it will be. Take delicate items in hand-baggage, remove CCR electronics if you can and pack smart with the rest. Protect regs with thermals or wetsuits, use fins / backplates as a harder base in the bag and then weigh it – optimism won't pay your excess baggage at the desk.
“Use robust boxes for CCR and take spare cable-ties to reseal them after inspection. Take a brochure to demonstrate what it might be, if it's anonymous electronics with flashing lights.
“Lastly, the most important items you need to take are your brain and your skills. Run your dive again and make an honest appraisal of the skills you need – are they sharp and task-ready?”
“Enjoy your trip and discover something new, even on sites that are heavily dived. Pack curiosity – it's free, and makes everything else worthwhile.”
SSI’s Richard Corner: “Like most people working in the diving industry, I travel a lot and have got pretty good at packing for maximum safety and space. The most important thing is to have the right bag for your length of stay, and to ensure that the bag weight is not eating too much into your baggage allowance.
“I’ve moved away from big bags with trolley handles and am currently using the Mares Cruise Roller, which gives me 128 litres volume for 3kg bag weight and folds up nice and small for storage at home or on a liveaboard.
“A lot of divers try to take advantage of budget flights with no checked baggage, hiring kit at the resort, but I have seen a lot of people still falling foul of the check-in gate because they have too many bags, or bags that are too heavy or too big.
“Make sure you read the details for your airline. Some allow only one bag in total, so handbags or laptop bags need to go inside them. I tend to pack anything valuable or more delicate, such as my dive-computer, in the centre of the bag surrounded by my clothes to give them some impact protection.
“You can use any neoprene items you’re taking for the same purpose, because neoprene offers great protection from the cold and is pretty good at absorbing impacts.
“Make sure everything is secured properly. Your dive-bags should have cinching straps that hold everything in place; any damage is most likely to come from kit bouncing off other kit inside the bag.”
“My final advice is to take only the kit you need. I once saw a guy arrive at the airport and he still had lead in his weight-pockets!”
Gary Asson, SAA National Diving Officer: “I always try to pack my dive-bag so that I can get to the items I need in order – if I know I will need to kit up before getting onto, say, a RIB, I will make sure that I can get to the drysuit and undersuit without having to unpack everything else. That’s especially useful when kitting up in the rain.
“My main dive-bag is basically a box with two zipped sections, upper half and lower. It has two wheels, a telescopic handle, several other handles, and straps that convert it into a rucksack.
“I use the top half for drysuit, undersuits etc and the lower section for everything else. Regulators go into a padded reg-bag, primary mask in one fin-pocket, hood and gloves in the other. This protects the mask, and ensures that everything comes with me to the dive entry-point.
If this is onto a boat of some sort, then the fins and so on are stored pre-packed in a goody-bag inside the main dive-bag, along with anything else I can’t attach to me or my dive-kit, such as a DSMB.
“The choice of bag has several dependencies. On a liveaboard, you might be limited to a single soft bag that can be stored easily; on a RIB, to a goody-bag. When flying weight is a major factor, with some airlines charging extortionate amounts for each kilo over the allowance.
“In most of these cases, you’re limited to a soft bag. When this is the case I use things like fins and wetsuits as protective padding for the more delicate items. When weight is a factor, I try to ensure that all my kit is dry, and that the BC is empty of water.
“The next thing is to ensure that you arrive on site with the kit you want / need. Most of us by now are past the point where we take everything we own, so we need to be selective. The best way to ensure that you don’t arrive at the dive-site without the correct kit is to use a check-list.
“Remember when compiling the list that you should start with the kit that you can’t dive without. Diving kit, regulators, mask, fins, safety kit, computer, cutter and so on, followed by the kit that’s nice to have, plus any spares, tools etc.
“Mentally dress yourself with the items on the list to ensure that you haven’t missed anything. If you’re very thorough, you can include the weight of each item. Only tick the item on the list once it‘s in the bag. Uncheck an item if you remove it again. Laminated check-lists are excellent for this, and have the advantage of being re-usable.
“The checklist is also useful when repacking the bag for the homeward journey, to ensure that you haven’t left anything behind. If you leave a blank section, you can note any defects you have found with your kit, or anything you would have found useful. This will give you a visual reference as to what needs to be fixed before the next trip.”
Photographs by Mark Evans and Garry Dallas / RAID