Travel

How to Pack for a Backpacking Scuba Trip

By OceanFirst on 10/17/20

Ocean First colleague, Marlee, and her partner, Nick recently returned from a backpacking trip around South East Asia, where their only goals were to travel light and dive as much of the Coral Triangle as possible. Curious how they did it? Read on for their ultimate packing list.

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While backpacking with scuba gear seems fraught with challenges, with strategic gear purchases and some minor sacrifices, it is one of the best ways to travel for those looking for the nomadic diver experience. The extra weight during travel days was a small inconvenience compared to the relief of having an arsenal of comfortable and reliable scuba gear. 

Without further ado, here’s my ultimate scuba equipment packing list for backpacking, plus some bonus travel items I have to give a shout out to at the bottom. 

Mask and snorkel, duh. While we missed them dearly, fins and booties didn’t make the cut. Basic rental fins led to some blisters, but that’s a small price to pay when considering the weight and bulk we saved. Most shops were happy to provide open heel fins and booties at no cost, and I brought neoprene socks to use with ill-fitting closed-heel fins. 

Computer: Without a doubt, our computers are the most precious pieces of our system. I use the Suunto D5 and Nick has the Suunto Eon Core. In addition to being amazing all-around computers, when paired with the Tank PODs, we are able to get all of the info we need without any bulk. Plus, we got compliments galore from fellow divers. For those who like to have an extra layer of safety, I would recommend adding a basic air gauge to the system - when we were still learning our computers, Nick thought he had run out of air when in fact he misread the information on his computer, leading to a slight panic underwater. 

BCD and Regulator: I purchased my Zuma BCD back in 2015 when it stood alone as the most travel-friendly option. It has a slim profile and no rigid backplate, so I am able to manipulate it well with my other items. Nick lucked out - when it came time for him to buy his BCD, the Rogue had just hit the market. With all of the pieces disassembled, he is able to fit his entire BCD into a Sea to Summit medium packing cube. Both of us have the Airsource 3 installed, which takes the place of an inflator hose and an octopus. As far as regulators go, I have the Mikron and he uses the Legend.

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Layers: I was encouraged to bring a Bare ExoWear jacket and Fourth Element OceanPositive Hydro leggings, and while I was initially skeptical about how useful they would be, I am now a total convert. These are way more foldable than neoprene, quick-drying, machine washable (goodbye funky stank!), and are a perfect layer for tropical water temps and to wear on the boat after a dive. Gross rental wetsuits that somehow always have holes in the crotch area (?!) are now only used in case of a really cold dive, layered on top of the thermoprene.

Camera Setup: The GoPro Hero8 and Light & Motion’s GoBe 800 Action Kit are a dream pair. If you want to take photos that are worthy of your insta feed without investing the space and money into an upper-tier setup, this is for you. While the photos are not going to make the front cover of NatGeo, I enjoyed learning how to set up and capture footage that reflects what I actually see underwater. The GoBes also work well on their own for night dives. Nick has more backpack space, so this stuff travels with him. This was more of an extravagant addition, but I cherish the photos and videos I collected. 

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The Packs: My bag is the REI Co-op Ruckpack 65 Travel Pack and Nick’s is the Osprey Aether 70L - a bit larger than the average backpacks we saw in hostel lockers, but not by a lot. I love that mine has the U-opening, which made the constant re-packing much easier than Nick’s top-loading pack. One thing we did sacrifice by bringing our dive gear was the ability to carry our backpacks onto the plane, so we had to pay extra to check them.

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partiallypacked-copy.jpgFitting it all in: In addition to the gear, I have one medium and two small packing cubes for clothes, plus the SeatoSummit hanging toiletry bag and some miscellaneous travel accessories. After trial and error, my favorite packing strategy is to put my thermoprene layers on top of the BCD, detach the Airsource 3, roll everything together into a tight cylinder and secure it with two SeatoSummit hook release straps. It takes up roughly half of my backpack space, so I fit my other various cubes and accessories next to and on top of it. 

Bonus Favorites: As a gear head who spent more time thinking about what to bring than was reasonable, I have scoured innumerable packing lists for every style of travel. I believe that most of what you choose to bring is a highly personal decision - only you can decide how long you want to go between laundry days. Without giving you my comprehensive packing list, I want to give a special shoutout to the following MVP travel accessories: 

  • Cocoon Coolmax Travel Sheet: a lightweight cocoon to protect you from questionable hostel sheets - it's the closest I got to the comfort of being in my own bed on the road. 
  • Sea to Summit Travel Wallet (Medium): This is an extremely well thought out wallet to carry with you on travel days - it fits your passport, travel docs, tickets, cards, and a pen in a perfectly compact case.
  • Bags, bags, bags: The right bags can make or break your organization. I couldn’t have lived without my Ocean First 2.5L dry bag (it makes for a great ad hoc purse on adventure days), Ocean First’s zippered seat bag (it holds all of my electronics and plane sleeping supplies), the Patagonia' 6L Black Hole cube (half full with meds and first aid supplies, and half with random little accessories that would otherwise be lost into the ether), and a very basic mesh laundry bag (good for both laundry and schlepping dive gear to the boat). Little bags, big potential. 
  • Basic power strip: while not for the ultralight traveler, two people plus tons of electronics takes its toll on the single outlet in your budget hotel room – this accessory helped us avoid gadget triage. 
  • Reef saver: A noise-maker, a pointer, an eco-friendly accessory, and more. See our blog post for more info.

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Our backpacking trip started in Japan for a ski trip (where we had to explain to the airport security what a first stage is), onward to the sun kissed islands of southern Thailand, through the chaotic streets of Bangkok, into the new-age hippie haven of Bali, and over to Nusa Penida and Lembongan where our trip was tragically cut short due to COVID. Our itinerary was just filling up with everywhere we wanted to explore in Indonesia, and when the time comes you can be sure we’ll be back - with packing and travel lessons under our belt!

Note: Almost all of items I listed can be purchased at Ocean First – support your local dive shop and receive an incredibly personal and worry-free shopping experience.

The travel and dive industries are constantly coming up with innovative products that can slim down your pack and add to your enjoyment on the road. The costs of buying them all at once can seem daunting, so as you build your gear bag, consider your priorities and don’t be afraid to bring in your backpack or suitcase and ask the Ocean First staff to help you practice pack with a variety of gear. 

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