Not everybody lives in an ideal dive location, that means they have to travel to the dive sites/shops. With the increased availability of affordable air travel more and more people are going further afield to dive the sites they want to do. However, airlines have become more restrictive with their baggage allowances.
Weight is the most important issue when travelling with your kit. So some people choose to either not travel with their kit, have lighter equipment that they take on their travels or to rent.
I have only recently started purchasing my own equipment so up until this year I have rented my kit. Renting is good up until point. I’ve been lucky in that the dive shops that I have used have included kit rental when I have been doing courses, or that equipment rental has been quite cheap. Though I have come across places that charge €30 for equipment hire (Divewise in Malta charges €15 per day just to give you an example). Paying €30 a day for equipment hire quickly racks up meaning that soon you will have paid the equivalent of what your kit could have cost.
I am not advocating that everyone goes out and buys all their kit straight from the start. It should be bought over a period of time. Though there are some things that you should definitely purchase a mask, snorkel (PADI requires you to have one if you are doing any of their recreational courses) and fins. A dive computer is optional but highly recommended as it allows you to monitor your diving with much greater ease than relying on tables.
Another problem with renting is that you might not get good kit. Yes it maybe workable and serviced regularly but it doesn’t mean that it is going to fit right or be the latest and greatest item. However it does mean that you don’t have to worry about servicing the kit, that is taken care of by the dive shop. You don’t have to worry about checking your baggage at the airport, or excess baggage fees. Diving equipment can be heavy. But it isn’t yours and after awhile you want to start setting up your kit in the way you want it. Attaching compasses and knives to the BCD, storing spools and DSMBs in the pockets or on the d-rings, having a wetsuit that no-one has peed in: these are things that you can do with a rented one but there is a good chance you may forget something.
So is it better to rent or buy?
The short answer, in my opinion, is to rent first and then purchase equipment when you feel it is the right time. At the end of the day, there is nothing quite like having your own kit.