|Scuba Lab 6 Travel Ready BCs Chart--(132K PDF)|
Changes in latitude require changes in attitude when it comes to diving equipment. The weightless feeling and freedom of movement is why you hoard vacation days, put a countdown timer on your web page and wait in long security lines just to get to that tropical paradise, where you can be in your element. You shed thick wetsuits and the lead that goes with them for thin, stretchy comfort. You trade in bulky booties and heavy-strap fins for flighty full-foots, which are extensions of your feet. Perhaps most important, you need a BC that's light, streamlined and lets you be the fish you always knew you were.
Buoyant Lift: All BCs tested provided buoyant lift equal to manufacturers' stated claims, an important point because travel BCs may offer less overall lift. You need to know you can count on what it does have.
Low Inherent Buoyancy: While extra padding is a feature on most travel BCs--and one you'll appreciate if you dive in thin exposure suits or just swimwear--all BCs in this review kept inherent buoyancy to less than 3 pounds, an acceptable amount. Less inherent buoyancy is always better, especially in tropical diving.
Low Dry Weight: All BCs tested, except one, weighed in at less than 8.5 pounds (the average weight of 20 all-around BCs sampled to provide a comparison for this review), and one was almost half the weight of a typical all-around BC.
How We Tested Them
Scuba Lab contacted all major manufacturers and rounded up six of the newest buoyancy compensators specifically designed for the traveling diver. We put them to the test in three phases following our standard BC protocols.
In phase one, the Scuba Lab staff checked each BC to ensure it was functioning correctly. In phase two, we took the BCs to our test pool to chart an array of objective performance measurements. We checked the actual buoyancy against manufacturers' claims to make sure you're getting the lift you need. We measured each BC for inherent buoyancy, an important factor in keeping the weight off. We also checked the flow rates of each dump valve to see if deflation could keep up with a stuck inflator button. The results of these tests are found in a chart starting on p. 106. Finally, the Scuba Lab staff dived each BC and rated them on nine different areas of performance. Important areas of interest included comfort and adjustment, ascent control, attitude and stability and, of course, ease of packing. The following reviews look at what makes each BC travel-friendly and what type of diver it is best designed to serve.
Defining Our Terms
A True-Travel BC is typically lighter and more compact than your average BC. It usually sports a plush lining and comfy collar--perfect for thinner suits--and packs well for traveling. It may offer less lift capacity and have smaller weight pockets because you don't need all that lead when diving in the tropics. Some even fold up for packing or come with handy storage bags. There is also a new crop of dual-purpose models--what we call Travel-Friendly BCs--that have all the comfort of tropical BCs, but maintain enough lift capacity and adjustment to go from the Great Lakes to the Great Barrier Reef. Then there are what we classify as Special-Purpose BCs, which work in warm water because manufacturers have trimmed down the bulk, but still offer all the features you might need for specific missions, like tech diving.
Dry weight: 4 pounds, 5 ounces
The Flex is a true-travel BC, offering unbeatable ease of packing and the lowest dry weight of all the models in this review, but it doesn't scrimp on features. At just over 4 pounds (size medium), it weighs about 40 percent less than most other jacket-style BCs, it's streamlined and folds up and packs away in its own transport bag. There are plenty of adjustments including quick-release shoulder straps and waist buckles, a Velcro cummerbund, eight metal D-rings and two clip-on hose holders. The shoulders are wide and though they're not heavily padded, they spread the load well. In the water, the BC is comfortable, secure and very stable for a soft-pack BC, thanks to a rubber gripping sleeve on the primary cam band and a wide stabilizing strap. The Flex also sports two large cargo pockets with zippered openings that reach all the way forward for easy access. Controls include a slim inflator with pull dump and two alternate valves, right shoulder and rear, with toggles routed to the front. In our test dives, both normal buoyancy adjustments and sudden ascents were easy to control. While it's not a weight-integrated BC, there are mesh sleeves inside the cargo pockets and two trim pockets located tank-side for balancing your ballast load--a nice touch.
How to pack it Fold it and stow it in its custom travel bag.
Bottom Line An excellent choice for a warm-water-only travel BC.
Price: $444. cressi.it
Dry weight: 7 pounds
The Islander 2 is also a True-Travel BC, but in this case it's a back-buoyancy-style and it comes with a basic integrated-weight system designed for light ballast loads. It's a lightweight BC with comfortable padding and multiple attachment points for accessories, but in a low-profile form that packs nicely in your gear bag. Assembly is easy with this BC, thanks to a molded handle and tank-positioning strap. The harness system features an adjustable depth-compensating cummerbund; contoured, padded shoulders; a rolled neoprene collar; and thick back padding. And for all these comfort features, the BC still offers an exceptionally low inherent buoyancy of just a half-pound. We also liked the large zippered cargo pockets. The integrated-weight pouches are set back slightly and come with small ballast bags that load via a zippered opening. They'll hold up to 7 pounds on each side. To ditch, just squeeze the quick-release buckles--gravity does the rest. It also comes with trim weight pouches on the tank band that can be removed if not needed. The ergonomically designed power inflator fits well in the hand and delivers good ascent/descent control.
How to pack it With this hard-pack the best way is to unbuckle the shoulders and lay it flat in the bottom of your bag. Put your other gear on top and then use the cummerbund for fold-over protection.
Bottom Line The Islander 2 is a great choice for a True-Travel BC if you prefer back buoyancy and an integrated-weight system. It's the second-lightest in weight and second-lowest in inherent buoyancy of those tested. It gives a comfortable ride with minimal bulk.
Price: $499.95. OceanicWorldwide.com
Dry weight: 7 pounds, 15 ounces
The Icon is a great example of the category we call Travel-Friendly BCs. It has all the comfort, lift, ballast capacity and adjustability you need for temperate-water diving, but thanks to the Mares Quick-Pac design, it also folds up into a compact, travel-ready form. The harness system offers a secure, adjustable fit without bulk. Pivoting shoulder straps are finished with plastic D-rings for an easy-tug adjustment, and the quick-release buckles have tabs for effortless loosening. In place of a cummerbund, there is a two-inch waist strap, and a multi-position chest strap adds a final touch of customized fit. Underwater, this configuration provided exceptional trim and balance without excess bulk. We also found it to be a very comfortable BC, thanks to the Mares BPS padding system, a plush lining and a rolled neoprene collar. The Icon also comes with the proven MRS-Plus integrated-weight system, which loads easily and ditches with a single movement. What makes this BC travel-friendly is the semi-hard pack design integrating a small plastic support at the main tank band and leaving the rest flexible for easy folding. A compact, ergonomically shaped power inflator with pull dump provides dependable buoyancy control, and there are two remote exhaust valves for control in any swimming position.
How to pack it Unclip the quick-release shoulder straps and trim weight pouches, fold in the weight pouches and roll them toward the center for a football-shaped package.
Bottom Line The Icon is our favorite Travel-Friendly model.
Price: $550. mares.com
Dry weight: 7 pounds, 7 ounces
The Pegasus is a simple, low-profile rig that could be the most stealthy and stable BC in this review. It's got the travel angle covered by weighing in under 8 pounds, and with its streamlined back-buoyancy air cell and efficient harness system, it's very comfortable--almost like you're not wearing a BC at all. A nice shoulder-strap design and dual-position sternum strap offers snug stability. The 2-inch waist strap with quick-release buckle and dual D-rings are simple and secure. Unique to the BCs in this review is a parachute-style crotch strap that fits around the thighs for added stability. It's removable if you like, but we found it worth having, especially in a head-down swimming position. It's also a full-featured BC with the MRS-Plus weight system and a bungee-retracted air cell with up to 45 pounds of lift. Ascents and descents were easy to control. The power inflator has an ergonomic shape that fits well in the hand and an efficient pull-dump exhaust. The alternate shoulder dump on the right side has a large toggle near the chest strap that's easy to find.
How to pack it It's a hard-pack design, so it travels best laid flat in your gear bag and does so without taking up very much room.
Bottom Line The Pegasus is a minimalist-style BC that's streamlined, comfortable and will work well at home and on vacation. It has the weight capacity and buoyant lift to handle virtually any temperate-water situation.
Price: $450. mares.com
Dry weight: 7 pounds, 13 ounces
The Escape is a minimalist Travel-Friendly BC especially well-suited for tropical dive travel by virtue of a low-profile, soft-pack design that packs easily and offers moderate lift and ballast-carrying capacity. Above and below the water, the Escape is a very comfortable BC, with contoured shoulders and a multi-position chest strap. A streamlined design with a bungee system keeps the air-cell close, and double bands keep tank wobble to a minimum. The cargo pockets have good zipper closures and offer decent volume, but are set back toward the bladder, making them a bit hard to reach. The weight system uses mechanical buckles backed up by Velcro, and they sit right up front where you can easily reach them. They ditch and load very easily, even when wearing the BC. It's also the only BC we tested with ditchable trim pockets mounted on the lower tank band. The power inflator is a traditional style with a new twist. The exhaust hose can be disconnected via a threaded fitting that, coincidentally, is the same size as a garden hose, allowing you to flush the bladder after a dive. It also accommodates Zeagle's new Octo-Z alternate air source/inflator unit.
How to pack it Because it's a soft-pack BC, we tried it both ways, folded and flat. Flat won with less bulkiness.
Bottom Line The Escape is the perfect Travel-Friendly BC for those who like to dive on vacation more than at home.
Price: $495. zeagle.com
Dry weight: 9 pounds, 9 ounces
The Hollis ATS represents a new concept in BCs that we classify as Special-Purpose. It provides the traveling tech diver everything he or she wants in a BC, just trimmed down for warmer water. At 9 pounds, 9 ounces dry weight, the ATS is heavier than most standard BCs, and with a hard-pack design it's no more bag-friendly than most--but compared to a typical technical-diving rig, it's far more streamlined. The harness is contoured, the hard pack is compact and there's minimal bulk in front of the BC. The two-inch crotch strap is a bit wide (one-inch would have been fine), but it does its job, making the BC more stable. The ATS features an optional cummerbund and a traditional waist strap with a nice stainless steel buckle. The back-buoyancy design is very stable and provides a good swimming attitude. The integrated-weight system, which combines Velcro and a mechanical buckle, is very secure, and once you figure out how to insert the pockets without catching the Velcro, it's easy to load. A pull of the handle releases the buckle, pulls free the Velcro and the pouches come out in one smooth motion. For ascent/descent control, there's a traditional power inflator, but no pull dump at the top of the exhaust hose. There is, however, an alternate pull dump on the top right side of the air cell activated by a well-routed front toggle. It's a very well-made BC, with zero inherent buoyancy and lots of stainless steel D-rings located right where you want them.
How to pack it Unbuckle the shoulders and lay the ATS flat. Load in the rest of your gear, and use the cummerbund as an internal compression strap for a tight fit.
Bottom Line Overall, a solid BC with all the right stuff for a tech diver on vacation.
Price: $499.50. hollisgear.com
|Scuba Lab 6 Travel Ready BCs Chart--(132K PDF)|
The goal of every Scuba Lab gear review is to help you be an informed dive gear consumer. Our reviews are impartial and rooted in both objective measurements of raw performance and the feedback of human test divers. On the following charts, you'll find the results of both types of testing.
Inherent buoyancy. This test measures how much lift the BC has when all air is dumped from the air cell. Less inherent buoyancy is always better. We consider three pounds of inherent buoyancy acceptable; between 1 and 2 pounds average; less than 1 pound exceptionally good.
Deflate Valve Function. The full details of this test are outlined in the chart below.
Our ergonomic tests are designed to tell you how dive gear functions in everyday use. Test divers use a 1 to 5 rating system to score each area of performance.
Ascent Control. An evaluation of how easily the BC can be used to control a normal ascent.
Attitude and Stability. Evaluated while swimming underwater to determine if the BC will keep the diver in the proper swimming position without wobbling.
Weight Ditching. An evaluation of how easy or difficult it is to ditch weights in a simulated emergency situation.
Valve Operation. Evaluated by the ease with which a diver can find and use the oral and power inflators, the oral deflate held overhead, the pull dump and the remote exhaust valve(s).
Comfort and Adjustment. Checked both in and out of the water with the BC strapped to a tank.
Assembly. Performed on deck without instructions.
Weight Loading. An evaluation of how easy or difficult it is for a diver to load weights and secure the system while wearing the BC.
Pockets. Tested in and out of the water, this is an evaluation of how easy or difficult it is to access and use the BC's pockets.
We test flow rates to determine whether a BC's deflation valves will stay ahead of the inflation valve to avoid an out-of-control ascent in the event the inflation valve sticks open. In a heads-up ascent position, starting out with the BC totally empty and loaded with ballast equaling 20 percent of its manufacturer-stated buoyant lift, the inflation valve was simultaneously activated for 20 seconds with each of the deflation valves. Each time, the BC was checked to see if it was able to remain negatively buoyant. Industry standards require that one method of deflation must keep up with inflation.
|Oceanic Islander 2||No||Yes||N/A|