Travel is fun, and dive travel is even more fun. Some scuba divers, either through lifestyle or luck, are able to jump on planes two, three, even four times a year to dip their fins in exotic dive locales the world over. Most of us, however, aren’t so footloose and fancy-free; vacations to the lands of palm trees and warm water are rare events. Either way, we all get there eventually, and from the initial touch-down in paradise to that inevitable take-off for home, we all try to squeeze every drop of fun out of the experience.
And that fun can start as early as the packing phase, if done right. The first step, of course, is picking the right scuba dive bags. Since we’re all different types of travelers, it stands to reason that the bags we use to haul our stuff are also going to be different. For example, a jumbo cargo carrier is just going to complicate life for a diver who travels often and travels light. On the other hand, a too-small bag overstuffed with gear is going to cause nothing but headaches for a diver who likes to hit the road with a few more creature comforts.
To illustrate the point, we’ve come up with profiles of three different types of dive travelers, created a dive gear inventory for each of them, then we took a look at a representative sample of a dive bag that would best suit each type’s travel needs. Small and sleek, big and roomy, or somewhere in between. As a traveler, where do you fit in? Read on and find out.
Note: While there are lots of scuba dive bags on the market that would fit perfectly into each of these categories, we decided to use as our examples three new dive bags that have recently hit the market. They serve as good representatives of their categories, plus this gives us an opportunity to take them on a test drive.
Most Recommended Scuba Dive Bags by RDC’s Experts
Travel Type #1: The Frequent Flyer
Divers who take multiple long-range dive trips each year tend to own a complete set of dive gear, separate from their at-home rigs, that is designed specifically for travel. Experience on the road has also taught them to keep their topside needs trimmed down to just a notch or two above the essentials. This is all designed to enable them to pack tight, travel light and still be comfy when they reach their tropical dive destination.
A Typical Travel Gear Inventory for the Frequent Flyer
- Dive Gear: Foldable rear-inflation travel-style BC with an alternate air source; full-foot fins; compact, lightweight travel reg; wristwatch-style dive computer with air integration; 2mm shorty wetsuit; primary mask in hard case; snorkel; pocket day-use dive light; pistol-grip night-use dive light; portable digital camera in housing; folding dive knife; microfiber pack towel; portable spare parts/tool box.
- Topside Gear: 4 shirts; 3 shorts; 2 swimsuits; 1 sandals; 1 hat; 1 toiletry kit.
Tusa’s RB-8 – A Dive Bag for the Frequent Flyer
Compared to most checked bags, the RB-8 is on the small side, which plays right into the Frequent Flyer’s modus operandi. All the same, it offers a pretty good-sized main compartment with a three-sided zippered lid that hinges at the bottom of the bag, allowing it to be folded completely out of the way for easy loading. The compartment has two zippered inside pockets for storing small items, and a pair of compression straps to keep gear from shifting when you’re on the move. An internal semi-rigid frame and some light padding support the sides of the compartment and provide some added protection for what’s packed inside. Additional storage space can be found on the lid itself; a relatively large zippered compartment on the outside, and a mesh compartment on the inside.
Over-molded carry handles are located on top and on one side of the bag, and a small rigid hand grip is integrated into the base. A retractable pull handle offers a choice of two towing positions. The four external compression straps are handy because they can do double-duty: they will either take the strain off the main zipper if you happen to overload the bag, or they will allow you to cinch down any loose bag material when traveling with a partial load.
How it Packs
You might not believe it by looking at it, but the little RB-8 is rated to carry 66 pounds of gear. It comes as no surprise, then, that it handled our Frequent Flyer’s travel inventory without breaking a sweat. A pair of full-foot fins fit up against the contoured inside edges like they were made for it. The rolled-up BC and reg wrapped in the shorty wetsuit laid in between the fins and the rest of the dive gear went in on top of that, securing neatly beneath the internal compression straps. With the exception of a pair of sandals and a toiletry kit, which went into the main compartment, all the topside clothing fit easily into the lid, divided equally between the inside mesh sleeve and the outside compartment. So loaded, the bag zipped up easily, and by cinching down on the four external compression straps we had ourselves a compact traveler.
On the Move
bagstusa2The handles on the top and the base, combined with the bag’s relatively compact size, allow you to heft the RB-8 off a packing table and muscle it around with ease. Fully loaded, the bag stands solidly on end, thanks to its wide base. It also has a pretty wide wheelbase (18 inches), and it’s built low to the ground, so when you start moving the RB-8 proves itself a stable roller. Tight turns and quick maneuvers don’t seem to bother this bag. Try as we might, we weren’t able to knock it off its wheels. Since the handle locks in both tow positions, you’re able to both push as well as pull the bag, a nice feature for maneuvering in tight spaces.
The RB-8 is a nice-sized gear hauler with a simple compartment scheme that will easily handle a travel-specific gear inventory. We could find nothing to complain about with this bag. It makes a perfect traveling companion for one person who likes to travel light, but is not a total minimalist.
Travel Type #2: The Occasional Traveler
This type of diver tries to escape the temperate or cold waters of his home turf once a year, or at least every-other year. Since he doesn’t travel that often, he can’t really justify investing in a separate dive rig for the tropics. So except for a thinner wetsuit, when this diver travels he takes his regular dive gear with him–including a general-purpose BC and open-heel fins–which of course tends to be bigger and bulkier than travel-specific gear. Plus, since this diver type is not as accustomed to traveling as the Frequent Flyer, he will tend to pack more topside gear. All of which requires a bigger dive bag.
A Typical Travel Gear Inventory for the Occasional Traveler
- Dive Gear: Jacket-style general-purpose BC with hard backpack; full-sized open-heel fins; 3mm boots; general-purpose regulator system with computer console and octo; Spare Air w/travel kit; 3mm full suit; primary mask in hard case; extra mask in hard case; snorkel; pocket day-use dive light; pistol-grip night-use dive light; portable digital camera in housing; dive slate/compass; dive knife; microfiber pack towel; portable spare parts/tool box.
- Topside Gear: 5 shirts; 5 shorts; 2 swimsuits; casual jeans; light jacket; sandals; hat; toiletry kit.
Scubapro’s Caravan – A Dive Bag for the Occasional Traveler
The Caravan is a mid-sized roller bag that’s simple in design, which makes it an easy bag to pack. It offers a big main compartment with a small zippered pocket along one side, a small zippered external pouch up by the tow handle, and a pair of external fin pockets. Although this is a soft bag, side battens and rigid inserts in each end enable the Caravan to maintain its shape for easy loading. The three-sided lid opens with double-pull sliders and hinges along the length of the bag.
An over-molded handle on top and a webbing handle on bottom are provided for lifting the bag on to and off of inspection tables, and double-duffel straps allow for hand-carrying. But the Caravan is designed for rolling on its smooth skater-style wheels. A two-position locking tow handle makes it all the easier. Bonus: two heavy-duty skid rails on the back of the bag provide additional stiffness and protection.
How it Packs
While the Caravan proved fully capable of taking on a full complement of the Occasional Traveler’s gear inventory, it still required a packing strategy. Of course, fins stow on each side of the bag in the external fin pockets. For test purposes, we picked the longest open-heel fins in RDG’s toy box, measuring 27 inches overall. While we were able to get one of these long fins into each of the Caravan’s fin pockets, it took some effort. The pocket length is there, but the zippered opening, rather than being on the end of the pocket, is a few inches down from the end, so you need to do some fin-bending to make it all work. Of course, since we’re talking about one of the longest open-heel fins around, anything shorter wouldn’t present a problem. Case in point: we tried a more standard pair of open-heels that measured 22 inches overall, and they fit without a hitch.
To load the main compartment, we laid our general-purpose BC in first, wrapped our full reg system in the wetsuit and laid that in, then tucked the rest of the dive gear in, on and around that. Topside clothes laid on top of the dive gear. The external pocket on the top end of the bag is pretty small, so we ignored it for this packing phase, figuring a traveler would save it for small stuff that needs to be easily accessible while en route to the dive destination.
The Caravan took this Occasional Traveler gear inventory as though it was made for it. Once loaded, there wasn’t really much room for anything else, but the bag zipped up easily with no sense that we were putting a strain on the system. The internal criss-cross compression straps did a great job of locking in the load.
On the Move
Fully loaded, the Caravan sits on its semi-rigid base pretty solidly. The telescoping handle locks into two tow positions so you can push and pull this bag with ease. Rolling down a relatively straight-line course the bag is manageable, but it has a relatively narrow wheelbase (10.5 inches) so it can get a little jiggy in the turns if you’re not careful. The skid rails on the back of the bag are substantial, and do an excellent job of keeping the bag off the ground (and out of puddles) when it’s laying on its back.
For the Occasional Travel who brings at-home dive gear on world-wide dive trips, the Caravan provides plenty of packing space, plus allows enough room to overpack a little. For divers who travel infrequently this can be a good thing. Just don’t try to be in too much of a hurry with this bag, because it will turn turtle if you get too aggressive with your rolling maneuvers.
Travel Type #3: The Cute Couple
You’ve seen them, both avid divers, arm in arm on dive boats, helping each other through the surf on beach dives, holding hands under water. And this is pretty much how they travel too. They can’t stand to be apart, and neither can their dive gear. So they pack it all together in one big travel bag, leaving their topside clothes for their carry-ons.
A Typical Travel Gear Inventory for the Cute Couple
- Dive Gear Only: 2 jacket-style general-purpose BCs with hard backpacks; 2 full-sized open-heel fins; 2 3mm boots; 2 general-purpose regulator systems with computer consoles and octos; 2 Spare Airs w/travel kits; 2 3mm full suits; 2 primary masks in hard cases; 2 extra masks in hard cases; 2 snorkels; 2 pocket day-use dive lights; 2 pistol-grip night-use dive lights; 2 dive slates/compasses; 2 dive knives; microfiber pack towel; portable spare parts/tool box.
Subgear’s Ecco Roller – A Dive Bag for the Cute Couple
The Ecco is built big. Its mission is to carry two complete sets of dive gear, with room to spare. Based on the design theory of a traditional dive bag, the Ecco offers five packing compartments, and they’re all humongous. The two external side pockets are each designed to hold not a single fin but a pair of fins; the lower external compartment on the lid is sized to hold a standard reg bag, and the upper external lid compartment is only slightly smaller and capable of holding a pile of small gear. The three-sided front lid hinges at the base of the bag, and opens onto a cavernous main compartment. There are mesh pockets on each side of this compartment, and criss-cross compression straps to control the load.
As big as this bag is, it weighs less than 10 pounds. This is partly due to the fact that there is no hardware for a telescoping tow handle; rather, there’s an over-molded handle on the top of the bag to grab onto when pulling the bag through airports. For lifting and carrying there is a handle on the base, double-duffel straps on one side, and a pair of backpack straps hidden in a zippered pocket in back. The soft construction makes this an easy bag to collapse and stow when not in use.
How it Packs
Since the Ecco is designed to fit two complete sets of dive gear, the best place to start is with the fins. Each side pocket holds one pair (our biggest open-heels fit with no problem). The regulator compartment the lid is not padded, but plenty big enough to stow a bag filled with two complete reg setups. The main compartment swallowed the rest of the Cute Couple inventory, including two all-purpose BCs. And yet there was still room to pack some sandals, a couple hats, a towel and a heavy mesh hotel-to-boat bag. And we didn’t even begin to load the upper lid compartment.
On the Move
Its semi-rigid base is kind of narrow relative to its overall size, so the fully-loaded Ecco has a tendency to fall forward when you let go of it. Careful packing and keeping the weight low can minimize this, but in spite of repeatedly shifting our test load around, we were never able to completely eliminate it. However, for such a jumbo bag the Ecco handles quite well when on the move. Its all-terrain wheels and 14.5-inch wheelbase give it a lot of stability when rolling. Because you use the over-molded lift handle for towing, the bag tends to roll closer to your heels than you might be used to. The soft handle also means you can’t torque the bag around quite as easily. That said, for a roller bag with a soft tow handle, the Ecco performed better than other bags we’ve tried with similar towing systems.
If you do a lot of traveling with a spouse and he/she also dives, the Ecco is a great solution for consolidating all the dive gear you’re traveling with into one roller bag. This is also a great bag for local dive outings; it’s plenty big enough to handle the thicker wetsuits or additional gear required for drysuit diving, plus its soft construction allows it to be compressed and stowed easier than many bags that are much smaller and carry less cargo.
Aqualung Explorer II Light Carry On Package
When out globe-trotting to exotic dive destinations, how do you roll? Do you prefer to pack everything you need in a single carry-on bag, which guarantees you’ll reach your destination with all your stuff, but means you have to travel light, plus personally babysit your bag during every step of your journey. Or, are you the type of traveler who likes to carry lots of gear in one big bag that gets checked at the ticket counter, and all you have to do is hope it arrives at your destination the same time you do.
For those who like to travel light, Aqua Lung’s complete Travel Light Package is about as good as it gets when talking about a complete carry-on system. However, if bare-bones trekking is not your cup of tea, Akona’s brand new AKB221 Roller Duffel is both lightweight and roomy, allowing you to travel with as much gear as you’d like and still sneak in under the checked bag weight limits. Read on and you’ll see what we mean.
Some veteran dive travelers just can’t stomach handing their dive gear over to airline checked baggage systems. And who can blame them? After laying down a couple grand on plane tickets, hotel accommodations and primo dive packages, nobody wants to spend their week in paradise sluffing around in too-tight gift shop tee-shirts and dealing with rental gear because their luggage never showed up.
Of course, saying screw-you to the checked bag system means hauling virtually everything you’ll need for your dive vacation in a carry-on bag, a pretty tall order under normal circumstances, and near impossible when traveling with dive gear—unless, of course, the gear you’re traveling with is designed specifically for the road.
A couple years ago a few dive equipment companies offered carry-on travel gear ensembles made up of gear selected from their existing product lines that, overall, performed pretty darn good. Oceanic’s AtPak 4, Aeris’s Nomad and, to a lesser degree, Zeagle’s Ultralight Travel System come to mind. But apparently these travel packages didn’t catch on, because they’re no longer listed on their company’s websites or in product catalogs.
But don’t despair. Aqua Lung has recently giant-strided into this niche market with what we consider to be the best carry-on travel system yet. Called the Travel Light Package, it’s a collection of top-notch gear designed specifically for traveling that performs as well as it packs.
Our entire travel inventory fit into the Departure bag, but it took some finesse.
It Starts with the Bag
Called the Departure, this is a no-nonsense wheeled carry-on made of 600D nylon and sized (22”x14”x9”) to meet the most common airline carry-on requirements. The Departure offers one humongous main packing compartment with reinforced sides that maintain their shape even when the bag is empty. The base and back of the bag are rigid. The lid, which has some light padding, has a full-sized nylon reinforced mesh sleeve with full-length zipper on its underside, as well as two outside zippered sleeves. The lid hinges at the bottom of the bag so it can be folded out of the way for easy packing. A pair of double-pull #10 zipper sliders have short leashes and eyes for securing with a small padlock.
For hefting and handling, the Departure offers padded handles on top and on one side, along with a rigid plastic handle on the base. The bag’s lower corners are reinforced, and skid plates on the base curve up the back a ways for added protection.
Next Comes the Gear
As a stand-alone carry-on the Departure is a solid piece of luggage. But a bag alone does not make a travel package. Aqua Lung had to design gear that was down-sized enough for easy packing, but that still delivered full-sized performance in the water. Because BCs and fins are the biggest packing challenges due to their inherent bulk and overall length, this is where Aqua Lung aimed their sharpest design spears, creating the low-profile Zuma BC and the super-short Hotsho . For a regulator Aqua Lung offers a choice of either an Apeks Flight (designed specifically for this travel set) or a Mikron (a compact, Aqua Lung-branded breather designed for travel). To round out the set they added a low-volume Micromask and an Impulse 3 snorkel.
The compact Mikron, rigged here with a Sherwood Wisdom 2· dive computer, stows easily for traveling yet moves gas like the big boys.
To this dive gear inventory we then added our favorite traveling wetsuit (a 2mm shorty) plus a couple swimsuits, a couple pairs of shorts, three t-shirts, a pair of sandals, a hat and a toiletry kit, which pretty much covers our necessities for a week’s dive outing in the tropics.
Packing for the Road
Delivering stellar kicking performance, the only thing the Hotshot lacks is sizes.The above-mentioned gear and clothing all fit into the Departure bag, but it took some finesse. We placed each fin against the inner side of the main compartment, and laid the Zuma between them. From there it was a matter of coiling and tucking the rest of the gear. Most of the clothing went into the mesh sleeve on the inside lid, saving the large zippered sleeve on the outside for magazines and travel documents, and the small felt-lined sleeve for an ipod and a pair of sunglasses.
So loaded, the Departure weighed in at only 26 pounds. The aluminum tow handle, which extends 24 inches above the top of the bag, proved to be a good length for towing, and the locking mechanism allowed us to push the bag as well as pull it, a handy option when negotiating crowded airport terminals. The bag is stable on its wheels; our road test included a series of squirrely maneuvers designed to knock the bag off balance, but we lost that battle. Clearly, it will take a more obnoxious traveler than our road tester to make this bag turn turtle.
The low-volume Micromask teamed with the large-bore Impulse snorkel creates a killer combination for in-water fun.
Traveling with everything you’re going to need for your dive adventure stowed safely in the overhead, plus knowing upon landing you won’t have to do the bump-and-grind with your fellow passengers at the luggage carousel, all lends some serious weight to this minimalist approach to dive travel. And the real beauty is, you can pull this off without sacrificing gear performance. Everything in the Travel Package is top-notch equipment; all are proven performers. The Zuma is comfortable, more stable in the water than most full-sized hard-back systems we’ve used, and it comes with arguably the best integrated weight ditch system in the business. The Hotshot fin, while only 21 inches long, can out-perform many full-sized fins with its two-speed power band system. These fins are jack-rabbit fast and highly maneuverable. Our only complaint is that they’re available in only three sizes (Aqua Lung believes that these three sizes are sufficient, and that their testers have consistently given the fin high marks for comfort.–Ed) . Both the Flight and the Mikron regs are compact breathers that can move gas like the big boys. Finally, the low-volume Micromask offers above-average field of vision and packs easily, and the third generation Impulse 3 is a first-rate large-bore snorkel.
All of this five-star gear with no checked baggage charges, no lost luggage, and no headaches? That we can live with.
What’s A Travel Light Package Cost?
These gear items are designed to be used in Travel Light Package, but they’re sold separately.
- Zuma BC: $469.00
- Mikron Regulator: $528.99
- Hotshot Fins: $99.95
- Micromask (black): $95.00
- Impulse 3 Snorkel: $49.99
- Departure Bag: $45.00
- Total Package: $1287.93
Akona’s AKB221 Roller Duffel
Some travelers don’t like being dogged by a carry-on bag. It’s like having to constantly hand-hold a child while negotiating airport restaurants, restroom stalls and those long lines at the Starbucks kiosk. And God-forbid you leave it standing alone, even for a second, unless you want to end up in some back room defending your life to a team of grim-faced TSA officials. Nah, for some travelers life is too short; it’s easier to just check the bag and be done with it.
The Akona AKB221 is designed for divers who subscribe to the “just check it” philosophy. Made of PVC laminated 600D Ramie (according to Wikipedia Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibers around–take that, airport baggage gorillas!), the AKB221 is a big no-frills bag purpose-built for hauling lots of gear. It has a rigid back and base with soft sides and a soft lid that hinges along its length. The dual zipper slider pulls have eyes for locking with a small luggage lock. A pair of two-inch compression straps wrap around the body of the bag to help control the load.
Reinforcements around the wheels, a base skid plate and a pair of skid rails on back protect the bag from the rigors of life on the move.To transport the AKB221 you have a removable two-inch web shoulder strap with a contoured shoulder pad. Web handles on top and bottom allow for easy hefting onto inspection tables. In tow mode the bag rolls on a pair of all-terrain-style wheels with a 10.5-inch wheelbase. Reinforcements around the wheels and on the lower corners, along with a pair of skid rails, protect the bag both when on the move and when lying on its back. A telescoping tow handle locks in two positions (eight and 16 inches, measured from the top of the bag). When not in use the tow handle stows in a zippered pouch
No Shortage of Stowage Space
There’s nothing complicated about packing this bag. It offers one gigantic compartment big enough to handle virtually everything you could possibly want to take on a dive vacation. Although it has soft sides, the large rigid base enables the bag to maintain its shape for easy packing.
One advantage to traveling with a checked bag is that you don’t need to bring scaled-down gear. The AKB221 is long enough to handle virtually any full-foot or open-heel fin. For example, the longest open-heel fin in the RDC fin box is a pair of Atomic Aquatics that measure just over 27 inches long. They fit into the AKB221 as if Akona had designed the bag for them. When packed with blades pointed down toward the base, they slide in next to the soft sides as if in a groove, leaving a big packing space between them while providing additional support and shape to the bag.
Our entire travel inventory of full-sized dive gear and street clothes packed with room to spare, plus weighed in well under airline checked-bag limits. With fins laid in, packing the rest of the gear comes easy. We started with the BC, layered in the rest of the dive gear, and placed our clothes and miscellaneous items on top. The bag offers plenty of space, so we got our entire inventory (see below) in without any cramming whatsoever. The soft lid zipped up without strain and the two-inch compression straps allowed us to cinch the load down to a manageable size. These straps use big squeeze buckles and have elastic keepers so the strap ends can be secured without flopping around.
So loaded, our test bag weighed in at 44 pounds, well within the 50-pound airline luggage weight limits. The handles on the top and base made easy work of lifting the bag off the packing table and onto its wheels, where it stood solidly on its base.
This bag behaves well in tow mode. It maintained good balance and stability in spite of the sharp turns and jerky maneuvers we subjected it to on our road test. The telescoping handle locks in two positions to suit both short and tall divers, plus allows you to push the bag as well as pull it through airport crowds. Actually, the bag is tall enough that there are times when you won’t need the telescoping tow handle; we found the top web handle worked surprisingly well in controlling the bag for short-distance pulls.Compression straps prevent the load from shifting plus present a cinched-down bag that’s easy to control when negotiating crowded airport terminals
While not really designed for it, we see the AKB221 as an efficient local dive bag too. Just for fun we removed all of our travel inventory, replaced the 3mm fullsuit with a 7mm semi-dry, switched the 3mm booties for a pair of 5mm thick-soled boots, tossed in a pair of 3mm gloves, a swimsuit, big beach towel and a boat coat—an average load for one of our typical SoCal dive days. The bag took it all in easily. The only downside we can see to using this bag for local boat diving is that it might not fit under the staging benches on some dive decks—although the same could be said for most dive bags these days.
We like both the size and the simplicity of the AKB221. Of course, we’ve always been big fans of having fewer and larger stowage compartments over numerous smaller compartments—it’s just too hard to figure out what to put in all those little pockets. The way we see it, big space eliminates the need for strategic packing; just pile it all in. We also really like the external compression straps that enable you to always travel with a neat, cinched-down bag, even if it’s only half-full. Finally, the bag’s got lots of good protection on its back and base, especially around the wheels. Only time will tell if the material will stand up to the rigors of the road, but so far this big travel bag looks like a winner.
Our Checked Bag Packing Inventory
- Atomic Aquatics open-heel fins
- Atomic Aquatics reg with Sherwood console computer
- Aeris 5 Oceans dual-purpose BC
- O’Neill 3mm fullsuit
- Henderson 3mm dive boots
- Diveskin 2mm beanie hood
- Mares primary mask
- XS Scuba backup mask
- Aqua Lung Impulse 2 snorkel
- Pelican pocket day dive light
- UK 8-cell night dive light
- XS Scuba hotel to boat gear bag
- 6 T-shirts
- 3 prs., Shorts
- 2 Swimsuits
- 1 Soft-brim hat
- 1 pr., Sandals
- 1 Toiletry kit
I’ve been a diving addict since my 14th birthday when my parents took me to the Bahamas and had my first scuba diving experience. I’ve been an active diver ever since but in the last few years my focus shifted on sharing my thoughts and experience on diving gear, writing product reviews and gave up on organizing dive tours.