BCs Reviewed in This Article
| DACOR RAV
MARES VECTOR ORIGIN
SCUBAPRO GLIDE 500
DUI INTREPID CLASSIC
| H2ODYSSEY SPORTPAK
INTERNATIONAL DIVERS PARAGON
Take BCs, for example. There's still a huge demand among divers for traditional, non-weight-integrated, jacket-style BCs. With these BCs, no assembly is required, and you don't have complicated weight systems to contend with. What you do get is solid in-water performance, lots of buoyancy control, loads of usable pocket space, deep sleeves for stashing safe seconds and consoles (if you're not into retractors)--and all of this at a bargain price.
Scuba Lab rounded up 13 traditional BCs from 11 manufacturers. We reviewed their owner's manuals, tested their valves and scrutinized everything from D-rings to pockets to padding. Then we took them into the water and evaluated their comfort and stability, their ability to easily maintain a proper swimming attitude and to maintain a controlled ascent using the BCs' valve systems.
Tests show that, as a category, traditional BCs tend to perform better than other types of BCs, thanks primarily to their simplicity. Unencumbered by integrated weight systems that can affect stability, eat up pocket space and make for a heavier system, traditional BCs are free to provide buoyancy control without any downside. In fact, we didn't find a bad BC in the bunch--any of the 13 models tested would serve you well. But after repeated dives, testers came up with four clear favorites.
Will Your BC Float You Face-up?
Whether or not a BC floats a diver face-up on the surface is dependent on many variables not related to the BC itself, including:
- Your starting position, whether it be under water, on the surface, or on your side, back or front.
- The type of exposure suit you're wearing.
- Your individual size and shape and the state of your personal body buoyancy.
- Surface water conditions.
- The size and type of tank you're using and the amount of air in it.
- The distribution of ballast weight. This is by far the most critical factor. Loading the majority of your ballast weight in back will float you face-up with almost any BC. Of course, it will also cause you to be unstable at depth, reducing your efficiency, comfort and safety. And then when all is said and done, it still will not guarantee that you'll float face-up with your mouth out of the water if you happen to surface unconscious.
Bottom line: A BC is not designed to be a life jacket. So don't count on it to act like one.
Balancing Your Buoyancy
What do you really need?
On the surface: When inflated halfway (allowing for a reserve for rough conditions or emergencies), your BC should provide enough lift to float you with your head comfortably out of the water while wearing a full complement of gear, including tanks and ballast weight, without requiring fin kicks or hand movements to maintain this position.
Under water: Your BC's available buoyant lift should surpass the maximum weight you use plus the at-depth weight of your full tank, while again allowing a reserve for emergencies and to compensate for the loss of buoyancy due to wetsuit compression.
In your dive store: Select a BC with enough lift to allow you to control your buoyancy in the above situations. Example: If you use 20 pounds of ballast weight and a full tank that weighs six pounds in the water, then your BC should have a buoyant lift in excess of 26 pounds (to avoid having to inflate your BC fully during normal use, which can be uncomfortable).
Correct buoyant lift is as important as correct fit. Less may not provide enough reserve for emergencies, and more may not only be a waste but could prevent efficient operation of the BC.
COMMENTS: The sporty new economy Rav from Dacor combines penthouse performance with a bargain-basement price, earning the BC a Best Buy designation. Providing lots of strap adjustment, the Rav also offers a unique "over-molded" backpack design that is deceptively comfortable and contributes to above-average stability at depth. An abrasion-resistant Duroskin exterior protects the BC from diving's hard knocks. The smallish power inflator provides efficient buoyancy control, backed up by two very efficient remote exhaust valves. Cranking on the air produces no body squeeze, even on the surface. The Rav is super simple to strap to a tank. There's only one pocket, but it's got a lot of volume and is easy to access.
COMMENTS: Simplicity is the secret to the Mares Vector Origin's success. This lightweight BC offers few frills, but what it does offer performs exceptionally well, like two remote exhaust valves and an excellent power inflator. One of the best of the bunch, the Vector Origin's inflator makes ascent control and fine-tuning buoyancy a breeze. The BC has minimal padding but no body squeeze, because the bladder inflates away from the body.
Comfortable and stable at depth, the Vector Origin has a large overstrap and two big pockets, although the small opening on one makes it hard to insert a hand. Roomy sleeves behind the pockets provide places to stash a safe second or a console.
COMMENTS: The little touches are what stand out on the Glide 500. Although this is Scubapro's most basic BC, it has a comfortable felt lining throughout, nice wide shoulders with lots of adjustment and curved lumbar support. Sternum strap ends are threaded so they don't hang in the way. Huge pockets are easy to access. Both well-placed remote exhausts are fitted with distinctive pull knobs. There's even a handy molded carry handle.
Under water, the Glide 500 lives up to its name. It's extremely stable, making it effortless to maintain the proper swimming attitude. A streamlined power inflator provides very good ascent control, but it's a bit difficult to grasp, especially when wearing gloves.
COMMENTS: The best-fitting BC of them all, SeaQuest's Pro offers good padding in the back and lumbar regions as well as on the shoulders. It comes with excellent swivel buckles to optimize shoulder strap routing, a particularly nice feature for dry suit divers. The BC inflates away from the body, eliminating squeeze. Pockets are good-sized, but the zippers can be hard to find.
There's a contour backpack on the larger sizes to help stabilize the tank, although the test BC's standard backpack provided excellent stability. Ascent control is very good, and the shape of the power inflator makes it comfortable in the hand, although the valve system produced only fair overall air flow performance. The two remote exhausts dump air efficiently.
PRICE: $478, $538 with weight system.
COMMENTS: Nicely finished with excellent padding, a neck roll and two built-in retractors. Stable at depth. Good ascent control. The power inflator is efficient, but awkward in the hand. Designed to be used with DUI's Weight & Trim 2 system.
COMMENTS: Good basic BC. Lightweight, with no padding except on the cummerbund. Nice big pockets. Good flow rates. Power inflator very comfortable in the hand. Bladder inflates away from the body.
COMMENTS: Comfortable. Good padding. No body squeeze. Two nonreleasing trim weight pockets. Stable at depth. Efficient flow rates allow for very good ascent control. Ergonomic power inflator. Roomy pockets.
COMMENTS: Lots of padding. No body squeeze, but depth-compensating cummerbund has too much elastic. Power inflator fits comfortably in hand. Very good ascent control. Pockets are accessible but shallow. Two nonditch trim weight pouches.
COMMENTS: Huge pockets. Nicely padded in back and lumbar regions. Good buoyant lift, even in small sizes. Respectable flow rates, but power inflator is awkward to handle. Stable at depth. Very good ascent control.
COMMENTS: Minimal padding, but still comfortable. An efficient power inflator is shaped to fit nicely in a hand and contributes to good ascent control. Stable at depth. No body squeeze. Pockets are roomy, but hard to open--too much Velcro.
COMMENTS: Fits great. Good padding. A semi-hard backpack offers both stability and comfort. No body squeeze. Two nonditchable trim weight pouches. An ergonomic power inflator and very good air flow rates provide above-average ascent control. Good pocket volume.
COMMENTS: Bare-bones BC. Lightweight, with virtually no padding. No body squeeze either. Very good flow rates. An efficient power inflator fits nicely in the hand. Huge, accessible pockets. Optional sternum strap is a must.
COMMENTS: Nicely finished. Comfortable, although chest strap is too high. Low-profile inflator fits nicely in hand and big buttons are easy to use, but overall air flow performance is only fair. Stable at depth. Very good ascent control is helped by two remote exhausts. Great price.