Best BCs for Women | Scuba Diving

Best BCs for Women

April 2003

By John Brumm

BCs Reviewed in This Article

DACOR ELITE DEEP OUTDOORS SERENITY DEEP OUTDOORS TRANQUILITY DUI AURORA CLASSIC DUI AURORA EXPLORER GENESIS ATHENA INTL. DIVERS LADIES ADVANTAGE MARES DRAGONFLY ARIEL OCEANIC ISLA QLR OMERSUB TECHNO PRO ELLE SCUBAPRO LADYHAWK SEAQUEST DIVA LX SEAQUEST DIVA QD SEAQUEST LIBRA SHERWOOD LUNA TRIPLE-L ISIS ZEAGLE ZENA

| As evaluators of scuba equipment, women are tough customers. They won't put up with design shortcomings that men often shrug off, especially when it comes to fit and comfort. And you really can't blame them. Women wear a much larger percentage of their body weight in gear than men do, while having less body strength. As a result, a design deficiency that might be a mere annoyance to a man could end up creating a difficult diving situation for a woman.

For the past half-dozen years, BC manufacturers have been designing special models with women's needs in mind. Scuba Lab recently collected 17 of these BCs and put them to the test.

For ergonomic tests, BCs were turned over to two test teams made up of 17 experienced female divers armed with slates and waterproof checklists. The boat divers on Team 1 splashed into the cool waters of Southern California's Catalina Island, sharing the thermocline with a gang of sea lions. Team 2 descended into the chilly waters of the Oregon Coast Aquarium's gigantic display tank while spectators gawked from the other side of the glass.

Following a rigid test protocol, divers pushed buttons, pulled hoses and reached for remote valves. They evaluated comfort, ease of maintaining stability and controlling an ascent. Wearing gloves, they accessed pockets and tugged on weight ditch handles. They recorded scores and noted comments. After some strenuous diving and serious scoring, testers came up with six clear favorites.

| DACOR ELITE

PRICE: $425.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: High performance and low price--the new Dacor Elite offers the best of both worlds. An unusual "over-molded" backpack design provides surprising interior comfort while tough Duroskin cordura nylon resists exterior bumps and scrapes. Stability and control are excellent with the Elite. Fine-tuning buoyancy is a breeze using a slick power inflator that's just the right size for a woman's hand.

The Pocket Lock weight-ditch system uses a squeeze buckle backed up by Velcro. The system can be activated in a one-step motion, but unclipping the buckles and then pulling the handles is much less awkward.

| MARES DRAGONFLY ARIEL

PRICE: $499.
STYLE: Jacket with back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Test divers loved the comfort and fit afforded by the new Dragonfly Ariel's lumbar padding and special shoulder swivel buckles, which vastly improve strap routing. Its hybrid design--traditional jacket with an expandable rear bladder--contributes to a stable ride both on the surface and at depth. The responsive power inflator is ergonomically designed to fit in a woman's hand, with buttons positioned so you can find them when you need them.

The only downside here is the complexity of the integrated weight release. Mares' Mechanical Release System (MRS) requires you to push a button, pull the handles out and away to clear the locking nub, then extract the weight pouches. Whew.

| GENESIS ATHENA

PRICE: $480.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Hard backpack or soft backpack? With Athena's "Mini-Pac" semi-rigid system, you get the benefits of both. Light as a feather, the Athena is well-padded and loaded with adjustments for a snug fit and stability at depth. Ascent control is a snap thanks to a power inflator that's as responsive as it is easy to operate.

Loading weight pouches solo when wearing the BC isn't so easy, but the CQR mechanical ditch system is as simple as it gets--a tug on the handles is all it takes. Storage pockets open easily but are difficult to access due to the weight system. Set up for the optional Akona Quick Clips and Pro Kit.

| DUI AURORA CLASSIC

PRICE: $478, $538 with weight system.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED No.
COMMENTS: One classy new BC, with generous velvet-finish padding, especially in the back/lumbar region, a neoprene neck roll and finished edges throughout. There are two built-in stainless-steel retractors and enough space behind the pockets to sock away a safe second and an instrument console.

With the Aurora Classic, you bring your own weight belt, or use DUI's highly touted Weight & Trim 2 for your ballast needs. You can maintain good ascent control but first you have to get used to the power inflator. The bulky inflator can be hard to grasp, especially with small hands.

| SHERWOOD LUNA

PRICE: $450.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Climb into Sherwood's Luna, with its air cell and cummerbund cut to conform to female curves. Check out the "Half-Pac" backpack offering soft pack comfort with hard pack stability. Nestle into the plush nylon lining with its pinch of padding, and you'll think you've gone to heaven, when actually you're just as comfy as can be cruising the water column.

A nicely shaped power inflator with responsive buttons makes for hassle-free ascent control. Luna's CQR mechanical weight ditch system lets you deploy weight pouches with a simple pull on the handles--though loading takes a little help from your friends. Ready for the optional Akona Pro Kit and Quick Clips.

| OCEANIC ISLA QLR

PRICE: $495.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: The Oceanic Isla just feels good. With high-cut hips and well-padded shoulder straps that can be specially adjusted to fit the individual diver, the Isla is comfortable at depth and extremely stable. Even the streamlined power inflator feels right, fitting perfectly in smaller hands. And the inflator's intuitively positioned buttons make minor buoyancy adjustments and ascent control a snap.

As with most women's integrated weight systems, the Isla's can be tough to load by yourself while wearing the BC. But when it's time to ditch the weights, Oceanic's Quick Lock and Release system is one of the easiest mechanical weight release systems going--just grab the handle and pull.

DEEP OUTDOORS SERENITY

PRICE: $499.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED No.
COMMENTS: New. Minimalist BC, yet well-padded. Favored by longer-torsoed women. Web strap with stainless-steel buckle replaces cummerbund. Power inflator a bit awkward, but good valve system. Optional rear trim pockets a favorite.

DEEP OUTDOORS TRANQUILITY

PRICE: $599.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: New. Rugged BC favored by longer-torsoed women, with double web straps and a stainless-steel buckle instead of a cummerbund. Good padding and wide, comfortable shoulder straps. Power inflator a bit awkward. Good air flow rates. Lots of buoyant lift. Ideal BC for cold-water diving. Pockets optional.

DUI AURORA EXPLORER

PRICE: $478, $538 with weight system.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED No.
COMMENTS: New. Nicely finished. With plush padding and a comfortable neck roll. Power inflator is efficient but can be awkward to hold. No pockets to speak of. Designed for use with DUI's Weight & Trim 2 weight system.

INTERNATIONAL DIVERS LADIES ADVANTAGE

PRICE: $545.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: A mishmash of straps and adjustments, but comfortable. Limited sizes affect fit, which affects stability. Awkward power inflator. Pull dump is slow. Overly "grabby" Velcro weight ditch system. Good padding. Tank bands adjust up and down.

OMERSUB USA TECHNO PRO ELLE

PRICE: $450.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED No.
COMMENTS: Nicely padded, but cut long in the torso, which can interfere with a weight belt. Well-positioned power inflator buttons increase valve control. Pockets large but hard to reach.

SCUBAPRO LADYHAWK

PRICE: $508 w/ balanced inflator; $606 w/ Air2.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Nicely padded, with an efficient power inflator and a good exhaust valve system. Stable at depth. Weight-system buckles are difficult to use.

SEAQUEST DIVA LX*

PRICE: $620.
STYLE: Jacket with back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes. were mixed regarding the power inflator, a stiff pull dump received poor marks across the board.
* Now available with the SureLock mechanical weight release system.

SEAQUEST DIVA QD

PRICE: $495.
STYLE: Jacket.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Lightweight. Very efficient weight load/ditch system. Good padding, but overly elastic chest panels make it difficult to snug down. While feelings were mixed regarding the power inflator, a stiff pull dump received poor marks across the board.

SEAQUEST LIBRA*

PRICE: $510.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Swivel buckles improve shoulder strap routing to maximize fit. Lightweight. Good padding but no cummerbund. Excellent weight system. Great fold-down pocket. A stiff pull dump received poor marks across the board.
* Now available with the SureLock mechanical weight release system.

TRIPLE-L ISIS

PRICE: $349.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: New. Straps in the wrong places offer minimal adjustment. Restrictive cross-straps cause cummerbund to ride up. Pockets are set back too far. Nicely shaped power inflator. Good padding.

ZEAGLE ZENA

PRICE: $499.
STYLE: Back-buoyancy.
WEIGHT-INTEGRATED Yes.
COMMENTS: Comfortable elastic corset, but vertical straps on test models are not proportioned to match the fit. Inefficient pull dump. Awkwardly positioned remote exhaust valve. Weights ditch easily, but testers didn't like the lacing system. Interchangeable component system allows for many sizing options.

Changes We'd Like To See

If our test divers were designing women's BCs, there'd be:

  • More available sizes. Size is critical to the safe use of a BC. We've got to do better than small, medium and large.

  • Adequate adjustments. Seems women's BCs are made for either long torsos or short torsos. There must be a way to design shoulder straps so they can provide a good fit for both body shapes.

  • No breast straps. They're either too high and chafe the neck or too low and squeeze the breasts.

  • Hand-sized power inflators. Women need power inflators shaped and sized for a smaller hand to easily grip the valve and operate the buttons.

  • Less difficult deflators. Many pull dumps are so stiff it's nearly impossible for some women divers to activate them without using both hands.

  • No elusive remote exhaust valves. Some remote valves are hard to find and activate. Others use pull cords so long they float out of easy grasp.

  • Cooperative weight-ditch systems. Many women divers find it difficult to get the leverage to ditch weights.

  • Carry handles and tank-positioning straps. A carry handle can make the difference between a woman handling a rig by herself and having to ask for help.

  • Better positioning and length of the primary tank strap. The upper tank strap on some dual-strap BCs is often positioned too high. Also, the straps on some women's BCs are too long to accommodate smaller tanks.

  • Lots of padding. Good padding on the back and in the lumbar region goes far to maximize comfort and minimize the strain of carrying a heavy tank around on your back.

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