|CAN YOU be spoilt for choice? Well, it doesn't get any easier to be sure that you are buying exactly the right piece of kit for your diving needs. On the other hand, the more choice you have, the better your chances of finding exactly what you want. The problem, of course, is to decide what your needs are before you go looking.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself exactly what kind of diving you are likely to be doing in the next two or three years. Don't look too far ahead - new stuff could come along, your domestic situation could change, you could find your diving time restricted by outside factors such as work or family.
If you really prefer to take a diving holiday or two each year to warm climes, then your needs are far from those of the rampant wreckie. Perhaps the most difficult part of deciding what to buy is deciding what sort of diver you are.
It is gratifying to report that there is not nearly so much rubbish around these days as there used to be. But that is no reason for complacency. Although the risk of ending up with a duff buy is far smaller, it is still there.
Care is called for in making your selection, and plenty of help is at hand. Friends and colleagues will be quick to warn you about problems they have experienced with certain products, but make sure that they are up to date. A number of companies that were unremarkable in the past have got their act together in recent years.
Ask your friendly local dive shop for their advice and benefit from their experience. Find out which products never come back for warranty repair, and those that do. No dealer wants you coming back with a complaint, so he really is likely to steer you toward the more reliable and proven product.
Worried about being branded a "wannabe" if you buy a black dry-suit ? Don't be. The tekkie movement, with its extreme concern about equipment functionality and reliability, has moved manufacturers to take some of the biggest leaps forward in years. Everybody benefits.
Higher performance is available because there is a group of users out there prepared to pay for it, but it is now available to all.
Almost every item of diving equipment spans an amazing price range, which is the result of the wide choice offered and the recognition that needs vary. Deciding where the best value lies in the range will once again come back to defining your needs first.
If you have a self-imposed depth limit of 30m and prefer warm water, you don't need a 400 regulator. But then you probably didn't need that Jaguar XJ you just bought either!
Two things to bear in mind: the comments column in the table contains what manufacturers and distributors consider to be a particular selling point on their product, and prices given are their own guide prices.
Bags have been omitted from this year's guide, because Diver will carry a more detailed survey in the June issue.
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