Picking out the perfect set of dive gear can be a daunting task for any diver, whether new to the underwater world or experienced. Buoyancy Control Devices or BCD’s are no different. With all of the new styles and configurations flooding the market, the prudent diver needs to do his or her own research in order to find the best solution for their personal diving needs. To aid in that research, the team at DRIS makes it our top priority to keep up with industry trends and new product releases. Given that, we have pooled our resources to come up with this comprehensive buyer’s guide to help with your research. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into some of the popular SCUBA BCD styles, shall we?
First, let’s discuss the most widely seen SCUBA BCD out there…the jacket style. There’s a reason you see these type of BCD’s in rental fleets at just about any dive operation out there, and that reason is simplicity. Simple in the sense that you can strap on a single tank, hook up the inflator, tug on a few adjustment straps and dive! Jacket BCD’s can be inexpensive, although some models can be higher end. Also, they come with both weight integrated and nonweight integrated options. This could be a deciding factor depending on if you’re a fan of wearing a weight belt or not. So with that in mind, they are often the logical choice for the new diver. However, the weaknesses of jacket style BCD’s lie in the fact that they cannot grow with your diving as they are only designed to accept a single tank and usually don’t possess any modular characteristics.
Back Inflate BCD’s
The BCD that many divers see as a good “middle ground” is the back inflate BCD. While many are simple like a jacket style BCD with a bladder that inflates behind you, many are modular and can be adjusted and altered to grow with your diving. Some of these consist of units manufactured by Dive Rite and Hollis. These units feature the ability to change bladders to adjust lift for larger and multiple cylinder uses, as well as bolt on accessories like butt plates to add the ability to carry accessories needed for technical and specialty diving. While back inflate BCD’s can be a great option, there are some who are looking for these features in a more streamlined package.
Backplate and Wing BCD’s
For the longest time, newer divers most often opted for the jacket BCD as a viable entry level solution to their diving needs. Why not? Jacket BCD’s are simple, easy to operate, widely found worldwide, and more often than not an inexpensive option. In recent years, there has been an uptick in new diver interest in a BCD solution often reserved for most experienced technical divers. This solution is often referred to as the Backplate and Wing or BP/W. Nowadays, a simple skim of diving related forums are ripe with technical and detailed questions about choosing and diving a BP/W. While it can get confusing, BP/W systems are rather simple and minimalist in nature and constructed with only a few components. In an attempt to simplify BP/W selection, let’s break down the rather elementary components involved.
First off, you have the backplate which is the foundation of any BP/W system. These come in 3 basic options, aluminum, stainless steel, and plastic/composite. The aluminum backplate is often a great solution for divers who travel regularly and dive in more temperate waters. With it’s lightweight, baggage weight limits are less of a concern. Of course with its lightweight comes with the downside of not adding additional ballast. Stainless Steel backplates are a viable solution for divers who dive in cold water and need additional ballast along with those who simply want to take 4-7 lbs off of their weight belt. Finally, plastic/Kydex plates offer an inexpensive option with characteristics similar to aluminum.
The next main component is the air cell that provides diver lift and neutral buoyancy. The key to selecting the right air cell or wing is figuring out how much lift you need to safely dive. Smaller wings in the 20-30 lb lift range are excellent options for a single tank, warm water diving while higher lift capacities are reserved for colder waters where more weight is required as well as multiple tank technical diving. Beyond the lift capacity, the diver should focus on features such as shape, single or double/redundant bladders, location and number of relief valves, and material.
Lastly, let’s discuss harnesses which will pull the rig together and make it into a working unit. While many opt for the simple and minimalistic single piece webbing harness that works well, inexpensive, and long-lasting there is also another option. Deluxe harnesses like the Dive Rite Transplate and the Hollis Elite 2 offer features like comfort padded shoulder straps, quick release buckles, and adjustable sternum straps are becoming the new choice for divers who want that little bit of added comfort and adjustability.
We often get customer questions regarding what the best travel BCD is. While on the surface, it seems like a simple question…but what constitutes a “travel bcd”? While many have differing definitions, simply put it’s a BCD that’s easy to travel with. What’s that mean? Well, there are three generally accepted criteria that make a BCD a “travel” style. These three criteria are:
- Lower Lift Capacity-In general, most destinations are warm water where aluminum cylinders are the rule. With this travel BCD’s usually carry less than 30lbs of lift.
- Low Inherent Buoyancy-To make a SCUBA BCD more compact and packable they are a bit more stripped down than a normal “full sized” BCD. Generally, travel BCD’s require 2-3 lbs less weight to sink due to the lack of padding and other features that would make a full sized BCD more buoyant.
- Low Weight Out Of Water-Travel BCD’s generally has a dry weight of fewer than 8.5 lbs, making them more friendly to airline baggage weight restrictions. Many of the later model travel BCD’s are in the 5-6 lb range and can easily fit into a carry-on bag.
So what’s out there for the intrepid traveler who has a long bucket list of dive spots around the world? Well, we have a few ideas for you:
Developed by our good friends in High Springs, Florida the Halcyon Traveler is a compact and streamlined BCD that features 30 lbs of lift, it designed for use with a single cylinder. as described by Halcyon themselves: “The new Halcyon Traveler™ merges the simplicity and lightweight appeal of small jacket systems with the performance of back-mounted BC systems. The Traveler’s unique PA6 Nylon backplate has an integrated single-tank carrier and Cinch quick-adjust system, providing a secure, lightweight, and easily adjustable BC system. This integrated system is specifically designed for singletank diving, eliminating the single-tank adaptor and keeping the tank close to the diver’s back. These unique benefits are combined with a number of other weight-reducing features, allowing the Halcyon Traveler™ to weigh in at less than 6 pounds (3 kg).” Weighing in at just under 6 lbs it’s a lightweight contender that’s sure to make your carry-on bag happy.
The L.T.S. travel BCD system is the latest solution from the good folks at Hollis for those divers who travel, or dive warm water exclusively. Featuring 30 lbs of lift and an integrated weight system that can hold up to 10 pounds of weight, the L.T.S. weighs in at a slim 5 lbs. With that, this travel BCD is friendly to just about every carry-on bag out there.
Weighing in at just under 4 pounds, the Zeagle Covert BCD is one of the lightest travel SCUBA BCD’s on the market today. Featuring 32lbs of lift and 10 pounds of weight capacity it is suited for most warm water dive conditions out there. Heck, as light as it is you can bring it along as a second back up BCD!
Let’s first take a look at the class of smaller, or minimalist side mount rigs. This type of rig is great for those who want to do single tank side mount, warm water with aluminum 80’s, or small steel tanks with a dry suit. In this category, we have the Nomad LTZ by Dive Rite, the SMS 50 Sport by Hollis. The Nomad LTZ’s exceptional design creates the first side mount rig of its kind that is simple to setup and configures with an all-in-one webbing harness and wing combination. Pivot points at the chest provide comfort for women and large-chested divers and stainless steel slides at the waist provide a customizable fit. The SMS 50 Built for side mount only, this kit can be used in any environment from open water to overhead. Includes an adjustable, one size fits most harness based on a minimalist design; ideal for traveling side mounters. First of its kind harness, wing and plate all in one. Like all Hollis SMS harnesses, ready to dive out of the box. The Nomad LTZ is a great out of the box solution for warm water, single tank, or aluminum tank side mount. With this system, you can also easily add weight pockets for those situations where you find yourself in cooler waters where a wetsuit is needed.
As you can see, these rigs are great for traveling to warm water destinations as well as use at your home dive site for a single tank or multiple aluminum tanks. These systems all feature an amazing streamlined profile, simple adjustment and use as well as an entry price point that won’t break the bank. Just, remember that side mount is an ever changing and dynamic style so these units reflect the ones we carry as of this article.
In the previous section, we discussed the various types of side mount systems geared towards the recreational, warm water crowd. If this is your type of diving “cup of tea” then the systems we discussed are for you! All are amazing, well built, streamlined units, but they do have limitations. What if you want to venture into the world of side mount diving but don’t live in a tropical climate or particularly enjoy using aluminum tanks? Do you have the desire to explore caves or into the deeper, technical realm? Well, there’s some amazing side mount systems just waiting for you to pick up and get wet! Without further ado, let’s take a look at a few good ones!
First off, the good folks down in Northern Florida at Dive Rite have been hard at work developing some awesome units for side mount exploration. A couple of awesome systems are the tried and true Nomad XT system for those who fancy dives that require an arsenal of cylinders, as well as the newly released LTZ system. The Nomad XT is built with the ultimate streamlining in mind. A properly balanced side mount rig should not require additional weight on the shoulders. Divers who wear heavy tanks or those just getting started with side mount will often opt this solution to resolve trim issues. Just recently released by Dive Rite is the Nomad LTZ, a solid workhorse mid ground unit that will satisfy most diver’s fancy for side mount diving! Providing superior performance, the Nomad LTZ takes side mount diving to the next level. The durable exterior SuperFabric material is resistant to the elements of diving, whether diving on a quiet reef, pushing deep into a cave system, or scooting through a deck opening on a wreck dive.
Next, we have some epic side mount systems developed by the hard working folks at Hollis. For the hardcore cave and technical folks out there, we have the bulletproof SMS 100 system. The SMS100 Sidemount system was designed not just with the side mount cave divers in mind, but any diver. Whether you are a beginner, advanced or technical diver, this kit was designed for you. Suitable for side mounting twin or single cylinders, but also for use with rebreathers or rear mounted singles. This system can be used in any environment from open water to the overhead. For the side mount diver who values streamlining as much as capacity, we have the tough built SMS 75 system. The SMS75 is an evolution from years of side mount development, which started with the SMS100. While SMS100 caters more to hardcore cave divers, SMS75 was created to handle all environments. Proper trim is key and the wing is designed to promote horizontal diving with increased lift towards the hips where it’s needed most, and without modification.
As you can see, there are a number of BCD types to choose from. In shopping for the perfect BCD for you, there are a few basic questions you should ask yourself. First, will I ever grow into technical diving or any other type of diving that I’m not already doing? Secondly, What lift capacity should I go with? Finally, do I want something weight integrated or am I ok with wearing a weight belt? While these questions aren’t the only ones out there, they will set you on the right path to choosing the right BCD for you. Of course, the DRIS team is always here to help, so feel free to call, email, or live chat with us!