What is the Best BCD
Buying a BCD is a big step in your diving adventure and one you don’t want to get wrong. During training or when hiring you likely had little choice of what you used but once you decide to buy one, you could be overwhelmed by what is available to you. Do take some time to think about the styles of BCD you have already dived with and the features that you liked. Have a look at other divers kit too; divers always love to talk about theirs, and you can learn a lot. Below we have outlined the styles and features available to help you consider what you need from your BCD.
Cressi Start BCD
A great value BCD with large velcro pockets and a standard inflator unit but no weight integration. The rigid backplate is padded, and there is a gauge holder built into the design too. The d-rings are plastic, and the shoulder clips don’t swivel, but it does have three dump valves. This jacket is often chosen by dive operators for rental kit which should give you an idea of its durability.
Pro:- Great value
Con:- Not weight integrated, plastic d-rings and standard shoulder buckles
Cressi Aquapro 5
The Cressi Aquapro is a step up from the Cressi Start. It has a gravity weight integration system; pinch the clip and gravity takes over allowing your weights to slip out. This system means you can release your weights without dropping your pocket. D-rings are metal, and the storage pockets have a zip fastening.
Pro:- Well designed weight integration system
Scuba Pro Go BCD (Travel)
This BCD is both lightweight and ergonomic and features swivel shoulder clips for extra comfort. This BCD still has 3 air dumps along with weight integration and storage pockets. It comes in at under 3 kg. To reduce your overall travel weight further you can purchase this BCD with the alternate air source integrated into the low pressure inflator.
Con:- Soft backplate
Aqua Lung Axiom
The Aqua Lung Axiom has a comfortably padded rigid back plate, and the shoulder straps have swivel clips and a secure chest strap. The harness system has been designed for comfort and ensures the tank is secured in the optimum position. It features weight integration along with pockets that have an easy to handle zipper. All d-rings are bent and made of metal, and there’s a knife attachment point too.
Pro:- Great comfort, fit and durability.
Cressi Ultralight Travel BCD
The medium size of the BCD weighs in at just two kilos yet for that you still get integrated weight pockets and expandable storage pockets. This BCD is a wing style inflation, and the back is padded, but there is no rigid plastic part, so it packs very neatly. As you might expect, d-rings are plastic, and you don’t get that rear bottom dump. Cressi also makes a female version of this product.
Pro:- Super light and very packable
Con:- No rear bottom dump or rigidity of design.
Aqualung Pearl BCD (Female)
This BCD features back inflation but with the snugness of a wrap-around jacket which means that this jacket comfortably offers great lift. The cut ensures comfort on the hips, and the jacket is cut to ensure comfort in the chest and around the neck. The harness holds the tank in a comfortable position moving the weight to the hips. D-rings are both metal and plastic; there’s integrated weights as well as storage pockets and a knife attachment.
Pro:- Good female fit
BCDs provide buoyancy through inflation of a bladder, and the bladder can surround you in the jacket or be situated at the back similar to how a wing attached to a backplate works. Hence this is referred to as wing style. A wing style inflation does give you more freedom of movement as there is less bulk around you, but it does orientate you in a face-down position. A horizontal position is great for underwater but can be difficult to manage on the surface particularly for newer divers. A wing style will have a simple harness and is unlikely to have any pockets.
Female fit BCDs are cut to offer better comfort for the female shape. These BCDs will have a shorter back so that the tank fits in a more comfortable position plus the cut and features around the chest means less constriction. Other nice features include smaller inflator units which are easier for smaller hands to operate. Do note that non-female BCDs are unisex and not male BCDs, so female divers do not need to restrict their choice to only those products marketed to women.
Travel versions of BCDs have been created using lighter materials and incorporate the essentials in a slimmed down design. They are durable for tropical locations but not so suitable for the wear that you could expect rip or shore diving in choppy conditions. If the majority of your diving is on vacation, mostly from boats in effortless conditions and you like to take your gear, then you should look at the options here. A travel BCD will save both space and weight.
On the whole, you are going to find that the size of the BCD and the lift it offers is going to be suitable for the person diving in it and the weight they require when diving with a single tank.
Most divers are taught using the standard over the shoulder inflator unit. You can incorporate your alternate air source into your inflator hose so that you reduce the number of hoses required. In an out of air situation, if you are the donor, you switch to breathe from the mouthpiece integrated into your low-pressure hose and donate your primary. This set up is also lighter and something you can consider for a travel set up.
There is a second option for your inflator valve which also offers better streamlining. The valve is built into the BCD on the left-hand side and closer to the hip. This area is a more natural position for your hands, and unlike the standard set up it never moves so it’s a lot easier to locate.
You can find up to three of these on your BCD. Over your right shoulder and on your back close to you bum are valves from which you can dump air depending on your position and orientation. You do this by pulling a toggle, consider its shape and positioning and how easy it is to find. They act as overpressure release valves too.
Some BCDs have an emergency dump that is built into the inflator hose. Tugging down on the corrugated hose will allow you to vent air quickly should you need to.
Many BCDs come with weight integration which means you can place weights in specially designed quick release pockets in your BCD instead of on a belt around your waist. Many divers find integrated weights more comfortable and more convenient. Some BCDs have what are called trim pockets; these are small weight pockets on the back of the BCD or sometimes on the BCD’s tanks band. These help you distribute the weight that you carry which allows for a more balanced and horizontal position.
Your BCD holds your tank in place behind you via a strap on the back of the jacket. Two different mechanisms are available to secure this strap, one is a metal clip, and one is a plastic lever style buckle. Both work well but the metal clip, while it’s the least complicated to set up initially, is perhaps the least comfortable to use with cold, wet hands.
The back of the BCD is what protects you from the tank. In travel or lightweight BCDs, this will be a soft cushioned pad that packs and folds easily. Non-travel formats will have a rigid plastic plate as well as the cushioned pad and while this does offer the most protection and greatest comfort they are bulkier than their travel counterparts. Consider where you do most of your diving.
Some manufacturers have devised a suspension type system within their BCDs which moves the weight from your shoulders and onto your hips. These systems make your kit more comfortable particularly when out of the water and are worth considering if you do spend a lot of time kitted up out of the water while shore diving for example.
Clips, Straps, D-rings, and Pockets.
It’s always the little things in life that make the most difference, and you don’t get many better demonstrations of this than on a BCD.
BCD shoulder strap fasteners come in two styles, one is a straight pinch release clip, and the other is a push release that allows the fastening to swivel which means greater comfort of movement. The former is most likely square whereas the latter will be curved or circular to allow for the rotation. Some BCDs feature a chest strap that connects the two shoulder straps of a BCD to hold them securely in place.
If you like to dive with a spare mask, SMB, slate and other accessories stowed in your pockets, then you need to make sure that they are large enough for the purpose and easy enough for you to access. Velcro closing pockets can be easier to use, but they can also be less secure. Zip pockets can sometimes cause problems if you wear gloves so do look at how easy they are to operate. Zip pockets that open from the back to the front are supposed to limit the chance of you losing things out of your pockets if the zip hasn’t been fastened properly, but some divers find these harder to reach.
D-rings are hooks that you can clip accessories to, and BCDs have varying amounts. Divers use them to secure cameras, torches, SPGs and many other things. They are either made of plastic or metal. Metal is more durable, but plastic is lighter so travel BCDs will all have plastic d-rings. D-rings can also be flat or bent. The bottom half of bent d-rings stick out at a slight angle which makes it easier for you to clip accessories on.
Some manufacturers have designed their BCDs to include eyelets to attach knives to and also include gauge storage pockets. These are nice to have but shouldn’t be your first thought when selecting what you need.
There is no one BCD which is the best; it’s just to decide what is best for you. Ladies, look at the female cut styles because they are more comfortable for your form but don’t discount products like the Axiom which are designed for supreme comfort regardless.
Also, do consider where you do most of your diving and if a plane journey precedes diving, then a travel BCD will mean space in your bag for a few extras on the way there or on the way back.