1. Don't buy any equipment until you decide on a course and find out if rentals are included in your fees - then decide if you'd rather rent than buy.

2. The mask: It's important that the lens should is made of tempered safety glass because it won't splinter when broken. The mask strap should be easily adjustable and have locking buckles for quick changes if needed. We suggest a plastic strap split in back rather than the neoprene wide straps. If you can put your hair in a ponytail -- do it. The plastic skirt of your mask should form a comfortable seal with your face when you are underwater.

3. The snorkel: Things on top of the basic snorkel are bells and whistles, but they may add to the comfort and fit. Make sure the mouthpiece fits well and does not cut in to the corners of your mouth (Note: it really smarts when you combine an open cut and salt water for long periods of time). Typically, silicone mouthpieces will be most flexible and comfortable, but will cost more. You get what you pay for.

4. The fins and booties: Full-foot fins are used in warm water, typically when you dive from a boat (they also tend to cost less). When diving in cold water or from a rocky shore, you should use neoprene booties and open-heel fins that strap on (this type allows more of a customized fit). In general, the longer the fin and the stiffer the blade, the more the fin empowers your kick.

5. A first time diver should rent the rest: A buoyancy compensation device (B.C.), a regulator, console, a wet suit, and air tanks.

6. Rodale's SCUBA Diving magazine is the Consumer Reports of diving equipment. Make sure you do research on scuba gear before you dive into the investment by checking out all items in Rodale's.

7. Ask for recommendations from your teacher or fellow students on what type of products to buy and where to buy them.

8. There are many options available these days besides dive shops, including diving newsletters, chat rooms, your local classifieds (for used equipment), scuba equipment web sites, mail order firms, and water sports stores.

9. Make sure you check return policies and that you are buying from a reputable company, and keep your receipt. If you end up hating scuba diving, you'll hate it even more when you go into your garage and see all of the equipment staring at you

SoYouWanna know more? Check out our full-length article SYW buy a backpack?