Until someone produces ultra-light dive equipment, packing your gear for a trip away is always going to be a fraught process with ever-increasing baggage fees. Here our panel of industry experts give their hints and advice on this subject.
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, bath-tub warm waters, we have to negotiate one of the most-trying aspects of dive travel – packing all of your precious kit, ensuring it is as safe and secure as possible, while trying to avoid being crucified by the increasingly restrictive luggage allowances and over-weight bag fees.
John Kendall, GUE Instructor Trainer, said: “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 and use.
“The first one is to carry your drysuit in hand luggage. There are many things that a dive centre are able to rent or loan you if your luggage doesn't arrive on time, but it is rare for them to have a drysuit that fits you correctly. The other thing that goes in my hand luggage are my lights, as 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 weight up to 10kgs, so you are using up almost half of your allowance just with the case, so find lighter weight alternatives. I tend to see what heavy equipment the dive centre can provide me with, 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 that 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 are only doing some reef diving in the Caribbean, consider a small SMB and spool instead.”
Garry Dallas, RAID Rec and Tec Instructor Trainer and Director of Training RAID UK and Malta, said: “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 intact against the odds of the ruthless baggage handlers.
“A bag is just a bag… right? Let's consider beforehand, some key practical elements in choosing the ideal bag:
- Weight of the bag, 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 so to avoid needing multiple bags. Typically, one 120-litre case/hold-all and a rucksack should be enough for most diver’s 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 equipment?
- Weight allowance on the flight and the size/bulkiness of your equipment.
- The bag’s drying ability.
He continued: “Packing a bag efficiently is key. Pack sturdy stuff around the interior walls of the bag and place the harness/BCD on the base. Compress everything as flat as possible, removing all air and water from the BCD and dry everything – and don't forget to remove weights when repacking!
“Fold neck and wrist seals of drysuit inside the wrists and neck of the suit, place wetsuit/undersuit in a separate lightweight drybag, and carry bin-liners for emergencies.
“Remove all hoses from first stages, plug them both ends and carry them, if weight is an issue. Carry dive computer and mask in hand luggage – it’s most personal! The rest of equipment can be hired easily.
“Finally, place wetsuit/undersuit on top, lace items like regulators inside the folds of your drysuit.”
Martin Robson, PADI TecRec Instructor Trainer, commented: “Make a packing list! Lay everything out before you start packing and check 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 had some sage advice: “When I am loading the bag I tend to pack BCD 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 dive, or your buddy’s dive.”
PADI Course Director and UK Regional Training Consultant Emily Petley-Jones said: “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 someone has unceremoniously bashed their bag and shattered their mask. When repacking your bag at the end of a dive trip, make sure the mask (and mask strap) is dry before you put it into storage.”
Vikki Batten, Director of Rebreather Technologies, Training Supervisor and Instructor Examiner at PADI, shared her secrets: “If you pack well and are adequately insured you shouldn’t need to take anything in your carry-on bag (some batteries have to be in your carry on – check with the manufacturer). 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, said: “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 may be possible to leave behind are:
“Fins – they are heavy and most dive centres can supply them for a minimal cost.
“Knives – do you really need it?
“Tool kit – the dive centre will have a tool kit, and unless you have some specific tool then 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 the batteries out of your torches and buy new ones at your destination.
“Backplate – while we use steel backplates in the UK, an aluminium backplate may be more appropriate for warm-water diving in a wetsuit or shorty.”
He concluded: “If you check with the dive centre exactly what equipment they have, you can determine what you can leave behind. This means you leave more space and weight allowance for the things that you really do need to take, such as your dive computer, mask and regulators.”
Eddie Clamp MBE, BSAC Travel Club Correspondent, said: “With luggage space a precious commodity on most trips, what is the most effective way to pack a holiday dive bag? Here’s my top hints and tips”
1 – Do not buy a dive bag that tells everyone it has lots of expensive goodies within… you don’t need them, and they take up space for the important stuff – your dive kit!
2 – 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 foot space. On top of that place BCD. 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.
3 – Put all the clothes you think you may need into a pile next to your case, then halve it to the really necessary stuff.
4 – Pack all above clothes into a separate mesh bag which can easily be taken out. This really helps when fitting equipment up on a dive deck or dhoni.
5 – Make the most of your hand baggage – laptop, cameras, sometimes regs if limited to 20kg hold baggage can all go in your smaller bag. Don’t forget to include some underwear and maybe a T-shirt in your hand luggage to be used in emergency (Reason below).
Finally, do not 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 explained: “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 both the standard items you always carry, and the ones which 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 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. What 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 are 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 are 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 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. 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 it 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?”
He added: “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 said: “Like most people working in the diving industry, I travel a lot and have gotten pretty good at packing for max safety and space. The most-important thing is to have the right bag for your length of stay, and to ensure the bag weight is not eating too much of 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 are trying to take advantage of budget flights with no checked baggage and hiring kit at resort, but I have seen a lot of people still falling foul at the check-in gate because they have too many bags, or bags are too heavy or too big. Make sure you read the details for your airline – some only allow one bag total, so handbags or laptop bags need to go inside them. I tend to pack anything valuable or more delicate, such as 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 are taking for the same purpose, as 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 which hold everything in place; any damage is most likely to come from kit bouncing off other kit inside the bag.”
He added: “Final advise is to only take the kit you need – I once saw a guy arrive at the airport and he still had lead in his weight pockets!”
Gary Asson, National Diving Officer of the SAA, said: “I always try to pack my dive bag so that I can get to the items I need in order, i.e. 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 dry and undersuit without having to unpack everything else. 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 everything comes with me to the dive entry point. If this is onto a boat of some sort, then fins, etc, are stored pre-packed in a goody bag inside the main dive bag, along with anything else that I cannot attach to me or my dive kit, i.e. DSMB, etc.
“The choice of bag has several dependencies. On a liveaboard, you may be limited to a single soft bag that can be stored easily, on a RIB, 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 are limited to a soft bag. When this is the case, I use things like fins, and wetsuits, etc, as protective padding for the more-delicate items. When weight is a factor, I try to ensure that all of my kit is dry, and that the BCD is empty of water.
“The next thing is to ensure 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. Therefore, we need to be selective. The best way to ensure 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 cannot dive without. Diving kit, regulators, mask, fins, safety kit, computer, cutter, etc, followed by the kit that is nice to have, plus any spares, tools, etc. Mentally dress yourself with the items in the list to ensure you have not missed anything. If you are very thorough, you can include the weight of each item. Only tick the item on the list when it goes into 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 you have not 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