My Gear

Over the past year I've begun to transition to a new equipment configuration more suited to technical and cold water diving, so I'm going to outline what my current configuration is and why I chose the gear I'm using. Generally, cost, durability, and compatibility are the three factors I use to evaluate the specific items, however their ability to perform well in cold water (down to -5C) is also a consideration. 

Hollis Elite 2 Harness, Stainless Backplate and LX Series 45lb Wing

I've decided that it's about time I start using a bp/w setup, since I need the d-rings and simplicity for the technical diving I'm getting into, and I want to start diving doubles which requires a backplate/wingsetup as well. 

I chose a stainless steel backplate because it's heavier and for cold water diving with drysuits the heavier backplate means that I need to carry less weight around my waist or on the harness. 

When choosing a harness it come down to the DiveRite TransPlate system or the Hollis Elite 2 system. The costs are very comparable, and in the end i chose the Hollis system because the Hollis wings are simple and very durable, and because they have a doughnut configuration. The doughnut bladder shape allows air to flow throughout the wing whereas the horseshoe shape of the diverite wings could allow air to get pinched and stuck in one side of the wing and throw off buoyancy, or worse, prevent dumping of air from the BCD to slow an ascent to the surface. Given that i chose the Hollis wing, the harness and backplate from the same manufacturer seemed prudent. 

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Drysuit

I started diving wetsuits in the warmer waters of Australia and South Africa, moved to a semi-dry in New England, and now that i'm starting to dive deeper, and longer, to depths over 100ft, and for bottom dives over 45 minutes, a wet or semi-dry suit won't cut it anymore when then water temperatures are 10C (50F) or lower. technical diving can allow divers to reach depths of up to 170ft for dives times of several hours, so a drysuit is critical to preserve body warmth.

I debated between several varieties of drysuits (see the drysuit comparison article for details), but settled on a laminate "shell" style for cost and versatility reasons. Whites make a great selection of shell drysuits with a new design where the inner dry shell is over-sized to suit a larger variety of people (thus allowing them to keep the manufacturing cost down), and then they have an outer lycra or neoprene skin which goes over the shell and sucks al the excess material in. This allows for a cheap drysuit which has the streamlined characteristics of a wetsuit and the tough characteristics of a neoprene drysuit. Overall a great deal. The drusuit itself also allows for drygloves and silicone neck and wrist seals which are critical for me as I have latex allergies. 

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Regulators

When advanced diving one needs at a minimum a set of primary regulators which attach to the tank(s) on your back, and a regulator set for a redundant air supply.RG3000
I have a Scubapro Mk11 1st stage regulator which is indicated for cold water use and is environmentally sealed against sea water. This makes is more resilient against the stresses of cold water and prevents the regulator from freezing up in cold water and free-flowing. The 2nd stage regulator is a Scubapro S600 primary and R190 secondary (octopus). Both of these regulators are time-proven cold water regulators and have breathing resistance control to allow the diver to adjust the breathing for different depths. For my redundant air supply regulator (attached to a 40 cubit foot "pony" tank which I sling by my side I have a DiveRite RG3ICE regulator set which is environmentally sealed to protect against contaminants and is suitable for diving in cold water to { 27°F | -3°C }.  

Redundant Air and Hollis F1 Fins

When technical or solo diving, a redundant air supply is almost always necessary as a precautionary measure. When a pony bottle is used for this redundancy, the system is composed of a separate cylinder which is not intended for use asd the primary breathing gas and a separate regulator attached to this cylinder. The cylinder is normally smaller than the primary tank (for deep or technical diving this is normally 30 or 40 cubic feet (cf). The size of the pony bottle needs to be large enough to allow the diver to make a controlled ascent to the surface from whatever depth they are at, with any safety or decompression stops included. Thus for deeper or technical dives the  larger 40cf cylinder is generally used. This is what I have. The tank obviously needs to be connected in some way to the diver, and there are as many ways to do this as there are sizes of tank. XSSSBSK5

Every school of thought in diving has a different preferred way to attach the tanks to the diver. Some prefer hard mounting the tank to the primary tank with a bracket connection, which keeps the tank out of the way of the diver. This method is more expensive than others however, and provides less flexibility for changing dive conditions or diver needs. The more common mounting method is with a stage strap kit. This method is cheap and simple. A series of bands are secured around the tank and some strong rope or webbing secured between these bands with bolt snap clips at either end. 

This allows the tank to be easily mounted to the diver in several configurations, and again, there are as many ways to do this as there are diving institutions. The way I mount the tank is by clipping the upper bolt snap to a D-ring on the left-top side of my BCD. I leave the lower snap free as it is harder to clip and unclip, and the way I dive allows the tank to be securewd under my left arm, thus removing the necessity for an additional point to secure to, as my arm keeps the tank close to my body. With the single pivot, I can easily grab my tank, remove the regulator, and hold it in front of me while checking depth and tank markings, which is a nice feature. 

The fin I selected is a Hollis F-1 "Bat Fin." The Hollis F1 is a simple fin in appearance, which belies it's high functionality. When advanced diving, the fewer failure points which exist, the better. The Hollis F1 is not a split fin, or a particularly fancy fin. It is black, made of heavy rubber, and a one piece design. It is designed for advanced divers who want a fin that is easy to don and doff, so it has built in spring straps which are integrated with the fin, and has very few points of failure. The fin is very heavy, which I consider a very positive feature. The weight of the fins means that I do not need to use ankle weights, and the fin will clearly stand the test of time. The spring straps are essential for cold water diving where adjusting straps underwater is far more trouble and effort than it is worth. These fins are perfect for cold water drysuit divers, and cave divers. They allow for highly efficient frog-kicking, great trip in the water, and will last longer than any other piece of equipment in your dive setup. 

Primary and Secondary Lights

To quote on of the main characters from the movie Sanctum, "My old man is obsessed with torches, right? All cavers are; it's like their thing."

True words. Divers and cavers and especially cave divers are mad about powerful lights. For good reason. Very little is more dangerous than running out of air, but losing the ability to see in a pitch black environment is certainly up there with some of the more dangerous scenarios a diver can find themselves in. In the pacific northwest, where most weekday dives occur during the months of the year when daylight is limited to working hours, morning and night dives are dives in darkness. Thus, ensuring you have a powerful dive light, and a backup for this light, and a backup for your backup, are important considerations. Furthermore, different water conditions require different kinds of dive lights. Up here the water is thick, and green. This makes it hard for light to penetrate the darkness, so a powerful dive light with a narrow beam is necessary to cut through the gloom of the Puget sound waters. 

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Generally these requirements translate to a dive light which has a narrow (<10 degree) beam and at least 800-100 lumens of light intensity. Diverightinscuba.com make a great handheld light wiuth 1000 lumens and a very narrow beam, for $90, which is an incredible price for this kind of light. Most divers have at least one of these, at attach the light with a bolt snap to their BCD. However for long duration dives, or deep dives, or dives requiring lights even brighter for video purposes, this light doesn't quite cut it. The next step up is a canister light. The canister holds a large battery which allows for a bright light and long "on" times. After much thought I decided to purchase a light from a local diver who machines his own canister lights. The price is much lower than commercial lights and the quality is as good if not better. The canister light I have can put out 1800 lumens on high, 1000 on medium, and 500 on low. Each light is pressure tested to 300 ft and the beam is tightly focused to penetrate in poor visibility. The battery allows the light to last for up to 6 hours on low and 2 hours on high, and a replacement battery can be purchased for $40, whereas the batteries in commercially available dive lights are several hundred dollars. 

Suunto Vyper Dive Computer

A good vie computer is one of the more important pieces of kit a diver can own. They track your depth, bottom time, and most importantly decompression obligation/limits. I've been a Suunto fanboy for several years now and I love their product line, so it was a relatively simple decision for me to narrow it down to one manufacturer. When choosing a dive computer it's especially useful to use a consistent manufacturer as they all use slightly different algorithms and if you mix and match you might end up with a decompression obligation on one computer while you're still fine on another. That can be useful at times, and then you follow the more conservative computer, but as some computer lock you out and prevent you from diving under certain circumstances, you could find yourself in a situation where you have lost the use of a computer, and that isn't desirable. 

vyper
The Suunto Vyper is a great coimputer for advanced diving. It provides more functionality than the entry-level Gekko in that it supports multiple gas mixtures, O2 mixtures up to 50% and most importantly can function as a depth gauge and bottom timer. For advanced technical diving, the Vyper won't meet the complicated multi-gas multi-stage decompression needs of advanced diving, but in this case it can be switched to this gauge mode and used with a more advanced computer like a Shearwater Petrel/Predator for redundancy and safety. You always want a backup computer when tech diving so the Vyper can be re-purposed in that case.