Diving South East Asia with Only A Backpack

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

Scuba diving is not known for being a gear-light sport, but what if we told you it’s possible to hit the road for an extended trip with a full set of gear and only a backpack? We bring you a report from the field by someone who did just that. Marlee, a former Ocean First employee, and her partner, Nick, hit the hostel trails of Thailand and Indonesia with the goal to travel light and dive as much as possible. Here’s her take:

Hoisting my large mesh bag of scuba equipment onto the floor as a part of my practice packing, I had to ask myself for the umpteenth time: will this all actually fit into my backpack? WITH my other travel essentials? It did – I’m just as surprised as you are.

In the recent past backpacking with a full set of scuba equipment would have been nearly impossible. However, with new innovations in the industry it is totally doable if you are willing to make some small sacrifices.

For most adventure travelers who want to fit a day or two of diving into their itinerary, rental equipment is the default choice. What they won’t tell you is that rental dive equipment, especially in remote locations, is often ill-fitting and comes with questionable maintenance history.

The benefits of bringing your own gear are the same whether you are backpacking or checking multiple suitcases. Your BCD and regulator are your life support underwater; when you bring your own gear, you know how it works and you know how it’s been maintained, so you can trust it in an emergency situation.

For a day or two of diving, I understand weighing the costs and risks and choosing to rent. For me, I knew this trip was going to be centered around diving, so I wanted to make sure I had a system I could rely on. Also, by foregoing the dive operator’s rental gear, we were able to secure discounts at most of the dive shops along the way.

I’ll offer an anecdote from a day of diving in Nusa Lembongan, near Bali. I was heading out on a day trip and one of the Open Water students noted to his instructor that his regulator was leaking air. After fiddling with the regulator, the instructor handed it back to his student, still audibly releasing air, with the assurance that it would be okay – “The air that is leaking is just going to leak into your mouth, where you would already be breathing from. It’ll be fine.” I made a mental note to thank everyone who told me to bring my own regulator.

Sometimes gear that you have come to rely on simply isn’t available. On a weeklong budget live aboard in the Similan Islands off the coast of Thailand, I watched the dive guides allow their clients to dive alongside them without their own individual computers, instead relying on the guide’s computer to keep the group safe. If you know anything about safe dive profiles, you know that’s not a foolproof system in the slightest.

We were certainly the exception to the norm within our traveling demographic – reactions from fellow divers were mixed between jealousy and bafflement, and it was common for the ferry staff or taxi drivers to give us a shocked expression upon lifting our heavy packs. Packing for a multi-month trip is a very personal journey that comes with a lot of learning along the way.

Curious about what I brought with me? Stay tuned! As a teaser, I can tell you that it all fit in a 65L pack.