HOW TO BUY A GEAR PACKAGE
So youíve finally decided that itís time to buy dive gear but youíre deciding whether you should buy things piecemeal or go for a "package." There are arguments that can be made both ways but, for most divers, a gear package will be a good choice.
PACKAGE PRICING vs. A LA CARTE - You should definitely save money buying a package compared to buying the same items a la carte. Because the store knows youíll be a buying a number of big-ticket items, theyíre usually willing to take a little less profit for the bigger sale. So packages should generally be priced lower than the individual items would be if you bought each one separately.
But youíre going to give up freedom of choice since the store has picked the items for you. If itís important to you to have EXACTLY the regulator you want and EXACTLY the computer you want and EXACTLY the BC you want, then stick with a la carte shopping and pricing. But youíll pay a bit more for the privilege.
WHAT IT IS - Basically, a package consists of at least a regulator (frequently with an octopus), gauges (often with a dive computer, though less-expensive packages might not include one), and a BC. Some packages might go beyond the basics and include a wetsuit, knife, dive light, tank, &/or gear bag. Package combinations are created individually by each store so youíll see different combinations if youíre dealing with a couple of different stores.
BASIC vs. COMPLETE - Once youíve decided that a package is right for you, you need to decide whether youíd like a basic package or if youíd rather go for something more complete.
If finances are tight, think about just the basics (reg, octopus, gauges, BC). Thatís certainly enough to get you going and you can always rent the other stuff youíll need.
But if renting seems a hassle to you, think about a complete package that will outfit you from head to toe. Not only will you avoid having to schlep to your local shop to rent each time you want to go diving, but the amount of money saved in rentals you wonít need in the future will partially offset the increased cost of a complete package.
Youíll also want to base the "basic vs. complete" decision on where you live and where you dive most often. If you live in a place like California or Florida where you can dive locally, a complete package that includes a wetsuit, tanks, weights, and a gear bag makes a lot of sense. If you donít do local diving (or itís not available to all) but you only travel to foreign locales to submerge, buying a package that includes weights and a tank would be a waste of money since you wouldnít pack those to take with you on the plane.
HOMOGENOUS vs. MIX-AND-MATCH - Some packages feature gear all from one manufacturer, others feature items that are made by different companies. Either one can work well for you.
If youíre a big fan of ABC gear because you know and trust the brands, and can get it serviced locally or anywhere else you dive, and thereís an ABC package available in your store, that would seem to be a good choice as itís something youíll be comfortable with.
But thereís nothing wrong with choosing one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C. You may find that you really like the ABC regulator, the XYZ BC, and the DEF computer. If theyíre all available in one package, thatíll be a great choice for you. But thereís no rule that says all your gear must come from the same manufacturer. All equipment is pretty much designed to work with anything else and the DEF computer doesnít know if you have an XYZ or an ABC reg attached.
MAKING ADJUSTMENTS - Some stores may allow a substitution in some packages. (You swap out one component - like a regulator - for a different model or brand.) You should expect to pay the difference between the price of the package piece and the piece you added. But donít assume you can always play switcheroo.
From a retail standpoint, stores offer packages to help move certain items, either because the store is overstocked, theyíre getting a good deal from the manufacturer, or theyíre trying to increase overall volume with a specific manufacturer. But if you start swapping those items out, it defeats the purpose. So donít be surprised, shocked, or offended if some stores wonít allow a switch unless you want to convert to a la carte pricing.
CREATE YOUR OWN - Some stores, especially those that donít have packages pre-selected (your tip-off will be whether or not they have gear packages on display), may let you make your own. Tell them ahead of time what you plan to buy, and ask if you can assemble your own package and get a deal thatís better than a la carte pricing. But realize that the deal you can cut will probably be better if youíre willing to take some slower-moving items than if you want the #1-seller in each category.
CLOSE-OUTS IN A PACKAGE - Donít shy away from close-out items that are part of a package. Although change in the scuba industry, especially when it comes to gear, is fairly slow, you will find a discontinued item every now and then as part of a package. Ask the retailer why the item is being discontinued. Since scuba gear is designed to last quite a while, itís not like buying close-out items will make you unfashionable. And itíll probably save you even more money. Still, if youíd rather have the latest-and-the-greatest (and there are certainly those of us who always want to have the newest toys), then stick with packages that include current items.
ADD-ONS - You may also find that in buying a package, the dealer will include some other items at no extra charge, like hose protectors or gauge guards, that you would pay for if you were buying the items a la carte. Thatís also something that should be factored into your overall decision about whether a particular package is right for your diving style and budget.
Thereís no question in our mind that buying gear is a good investment that will encourage you to dive more often and, therefore, help turn you into a better diver. Taking advantage of the extra savings offered with a gear package makes the investment even more worthwhile.