How to Pack and Travel with Dive Gear

How to Pack and Travel with Dive Gear

By: Scott and Gloria Berry

Traveling with dive gear can be a bit of a challenge, but with a little planning it’s doable.

We’ve seen it all: divers who are pros at dive travel, and those who aren’t and tend to make a mistake along the way (we’ve all been there!).

We’re sharing a couple profiles of divers who travel like a pro and even those maniacs we admire that travel ultra-light! If you are in one of these two groups, you’re traveling well.

Our Two Favorite Types of Packers

Over the years we’ve learned there are many different types of “packers.” The key is not to be the over packer. Don’t be that diver!

The Pro Packer– Bested only by the Ultralight Packer (below). The Pro Packer has everything the light packer brings but instead of carry-on luggage, they have a medium bag with wheels that’s checked under the plane. This is your resident Boy or Girl Scout. Everything the other folks left or forgot, this diver has and is willing to share. No space is wasted, and they probably had room for a few luxuries. They bring their own gear including a travel first-aid kit, save-a-dive kit, GoPro, a backup computer, and maybe a laptop in their backpack. One checked and one carry-on bag.

 

The Ultralight Packer- We’re the most impressed with this person. They have dive travel down to a science. They keep it light, fast, and easy. This diver likely brings carry-on luggage and a backpack. No need to check gear under the plane. They have that hiker mentality and only bring the necessities. They know which Items can be reused, crossmatched and in the case of clothing, layered when necessary.

Some choose to rent gear at their dive location, but most have a travel BCD, travel-friendly fins or full foot fins, and maybe a 1.5 mil short sleeve wetsuit and/or shorts that are perfect for a warm water dive.

All the clothing they pack is performance wear, lightweight, easy to hand wash, wicking, and probably stretchy. They will likely only use the pair of shoes on their feet and MAYBE an additional pair in, or clipped on, their backpack.

It looks like they packed for 3 days but they can make it 5-7!

Dive Travel Packing List

Whether you’re a Pro Packer or the much-admired Ultralight Packer, here’s an essential packing list:

The Ultralight Packer (Carry-On and Backpack Only)

Personal Items

  • Passport
  • COVID-19 Vaccination Card
  • Any relevant travel documentation
  • Medications (including motion sickness)
  • Glasses/contacts
  • Wallet/cards/cash
  • Multipurpose lightweight clothes
  • Travel sized toiletries
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen
  • Lightweight quick dry towel

Essential Dive Gear

  • Proof of dive certification
  • Dive logbook
  • Dive computer
  • Save-a-Dive Kit essentials
  • Travel First-Aid Kit
  • Mask/Snorkel (*anti-snorkelers, see section “Research Country and Airline Requirements”)

Other Dive Gear

  • Travel BCD
  • Travel Fins/Boots
  • Regulator
  • Flashlight/Torch
  • Spare dive computer
  • Exposure protection (rash guard or 1.5 mil shortie)
  • SMB (*see section “Research Country and Airline Requirements”)

*The light packer cannot bring a dive knife! Leave it at home or you can say goodbye to your dive knife at security.

Pro Packer (Checked Bag and Carry-On Backpack)

Carry-On Personal Items

  • Passport
  • COVID-19 Vaccination Card
  • Any relevant travel documentation
  • Medications (including motion sickness)
  • Glasses/contacts
  • Wallet/cards/cash
  • 1 backup outfit/swimsuit
  • Laptop

Checked Personal Items

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Hat/Sunglasses
  • Swimwear
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen
  • Lightweight quick dry towel
  • Ear plugs (in case your roommate is a snorer)

Carry-On Dive Gear

  • Proof of dive certification
  • Dive logbook
  • Dive computer
  • Mask/Snorkel
  • Spare dive computer
  • Regulator
  • Spare camera batteries
  • Flashlight batteries

Checked Dive Gear

  • BCD
  • Fins/Boots
  • Exposure protection (rash guard, 1.5 mil shortie or 3 mil wetsuit)
  • Save-a-Dive Kit
  • Travel First-Aid Kit
  • Defog
  • Lightweight dry bag
  • Camera Equipment, chargers, spare SD cards
  • Dive Knife
  • Slate
  • Flashlight (without batteries)
  • Whistle/Mirror
  • SMB (*see section “Research Country and Airline Requirements”)

A great way to save space if you are traveling with a group is to assign one diver to carry a comprehensive “save-a-dive” kit and/or first-aid kit for everyone. Sadly, you should never assume the dive boat will have either on board. But that’s an article for another day.

Always carry your own supply of tank o-rings and defog. Blown o-rings are an easy fix but only if you have one handy.

Pro tip: Never take your freshly serviced gear on a trip without having put a few dives on it.

Check Or Carry On?

The Ultralight Packer has a simple task: fit what you can in your two bags and don’t pack your dive knife.

The Pro Packer must also decide what they will carry on the plane and what to check under the plane. Luckily, they still have the option of packing their dive knife if they would like, but it must be packed in their checked luggage.

The general rule of thumb on check or carry is: if losing something in your checked bag is going to ruin your trip, put it in your backpack. Maybe it’s your computer, dive certifications, medications, prescription dive mask etc. Sometimes bags don’t show up, sometimes they are late and sometimes items in your bag…disappear.

Many experienced dive travelers choose to carry their regulators, computers, and masks on the plane with them to ensure there is no damage in transit to their life-saving gear.

Pro tip: According to TSA’s requirements, dry batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, button cell, 9-volt etc.) can be checked or carried on. Just be sure to remove them from torches or make sure the torch cannot accidentally turn on and overheat.

Lithium batteries with 100-watt hours or less (generally the rechargeable ones) must be in carry-on luggage but you may check laptops, smartphones, tablets with these batteries if they are “completely powered off and protected to prevent unintentional activation or damage.” Although we recommend bringing those items on the plane with you anyway.

Pack or Rent?

Packing all your dive gear sound a bit too daunting? We don’t blame you!

There’s another option- renting gear!

If your destination offers gear rental and has availability, this is a great way to cut down on luggage.

What to bring versus what to rent will depend on several factors: rental gear is generally not very expensive, so cost to rent usually won’t be an obstacle. Perhaps the most important factor is how many and what type of dives will you be making.

If you’re making a two-tank day dive in conditions you are an expert in, you might feel comfortable renting a BCD, regulator set, and fins. If you need a wetsuit for those dives, you probably can rent that as well. Some dive shops allow you to rent other gear such as a computer, mask, and booties. But we always recommend bringing these on your own as they don’t take up much space and they are more personalized gear. If you rent a mask, it may not be the perfect fit for your face shape, and you’ll be messing with it the whole dive instead of enjoying yourself.

If you’re going on a true dive trip vacation and dive trips are “your thing” OR getting an opportunity to make some challenging dives with current, depth, night or maybe all three at once, you should consider bringing your own BCD and regulator set. Also consider bringing your main computer and your backup because maximizing dives on a multi-day trip requires not losing track of your data and being prepared for an accidental longer than 3-minute safety stop.

Dive Luggage

There are two schools of thought on checked bags. Some divers use dive-specific travel bags because they have custom features that make dive travel easy. There are custom pockets designed for specific gear and construction that can handle the rigors of getting wet gear home.

The second school of thought is to go “incognito.” Many divers don’t want their luggage to scream “I have expensive dive gear in me!” and choose a duffle or suitcase with wheels. This is also a perfectly good option. It saves money and gets the job done.

No matter which option you go with, be sure to pack to protect extra fragile items and store your mask in a box, especially if your luggage is a soft case.

You also want to make sure your bag doesn’t get confused with anyone else’s: mark it, add ribbons, tags, or pick an odd color. If someone else takes you bag accidentally, it could ruin your trip.

Research Country Border and Diving Requirements

Many countries have strict border requirements to ensure that no invasive species or bacteria make it into their country and disrupt their habitat; Australia especially comes to mind.

Therefore, there might be a question on your customs declaration asking if you have sports equipment that has been used in freshwater. If in doubt, declare yes! Never lie on a declaration form. They will likely just ask when and where your gear was in freshwater and if you have thoroughly cleaned it.

Countries and dive destinations may also have gear requirements such as needing a snorkel, SMB, whistle, or other emergency device, or that you cannot wear gloves (to discourage touching). We know there are plenty of divers with a vendetta against snorkels but do your research ahead of time to make sure not having a snorkel won’t ruin your dive trip.

Don’t rely on the dive shop providing these items for you. Some dive shops may provide you with these items or allow you to rent them but it’s important to check beforehand.

What’s Your Favorite Dive Travel Tip?

By following the tips in this article, you can make sure that your dive gear arrives at your destination safely and in good condition.

What are some of your favorite dive travel tips you’ve learned along the way?

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