Aqua Lung Axiom I3Aqua Lung Axiom I3
Sure, there might be other dive gear deemed more important to basic survival (a reg) or your general well-being (a dive computer) than a BC. But when it comes to being able to comfortably acclimate to being underwater — to the point where you feel like a resident rather than a clumsy topside tourist — the BC is the most important component of your kit. And nothing does a better job of providing comfort, security and near-effortless stability than a jacket-style BC.
6 GENERAL-PURPOSE JACKET-STYLE BCs
General-purpose BCs, as their name implies, can be used in virtually any diving scenario. However, due to their abundant lift capacity, high-load integrated-weight systems, generous pockets, D-rings and grommets for attaching additional gear, they tend to be used primarily for temperate- or cold-water diving.
1. CRESSI AQUARIDE ELITE
FEATURES Fully redesigned for 2012, the Aquaride Elite’s standout new feature is the Lock Aid integrated-weight system. It also offers thick padding in the shoulder, back and lumbar areas; a rigid back plate with carry handle; a new low- profile power inflator; and two cargo pockets with expandable baffles.
PERFORMANCE The Aquaride Elite was the only BC in this test group to earn solid Very Good scores in all performance categories. The Lock Aid rivals the best integrated-weight systems in the business. The BC fit all our testers like a glove, thanks to a good size range and efficient adjustments (especially in the shoulders). And it proved to be super stable at depth. Test divers had one gripe: The six stainless-steel D-rings, while numerous and well placed, were too small, limiting usefulness.
BOTTOM LINE This year’s undisputed favorite among test divers, the Aquaride Elite is well built with virtually no inherent buoyancy. In the final countdown for Testers’ Choice, it earned almost twice as many Fave points as its closest competitor.
2. AQUA LUNG AXIOM I3
FEATURES The Axiom i3 has replaced the recently retired Pro QD as Aqua Lung’s first-string jacket-style BC. With the addition of the i3 inflation/deflation system, the Wrapture harness system and the Grip-Lock tank band, it offers Aqua Lung’s best technology.
PERFORMANCE Test divers found the Axiom i3 to be extremely stable at depth, and one of the most comfortable in the test group. The intergrated-weight system is just about as good as it gets. However, not all testers were sold on the i3, which affected the BC’s scores for valve operation and ascent control — although nobody scored the system less than Good. (While definitely not to all tastes, repeated ScubaLab tests and observations have shown that the more divers use the i3, the more they like it.)
BOTTOM LINE Divers who like the i3 interface love this BC. Even divers who hate the i3 love this BC: With a traditional valve system, it would have been a strong contender for a Testers’ Choice. It fits very well, is incredibly stable underwater and has more convenience features than we can list here.
3. IST SPORTS HOPE
FEATURES The Hope is a traditional BC for divers who like to keep it simple. Built to last, the BC is made from 1,000-denier Cordura, and its old-school power inflator has a track record for dependability. Somewhat light on features, it doesn’t come with a weight system or D-rings, but it does offer a full- size cummerbund with overstrap, a double-pull sternum strap and large cargo pockets.
PERFORMANCE IST Sports sent only one size for testing, which narrowed its in-water evaluation to our female test divers. However, those who could fit into the Hope found it to be comfortable, and a decent at-depth performer with good stability. The one universal complaint was difficulty in accessing the cargo pockets. The Velcro closures did too good a job securing the openings; divers found it very hard to get at the ample cargo space.
BOTTOM LINE The Hope is a fairly standard BC that doesn’t offer a lot of features. On the plus side, it does come in a nice range of sizes with enough buoyant lift in the larger sizes to satisfy a diver in virtually any situation.
4. SHERWOOD AVID CGR3
FEATURES Updated for 2012 with Sherwood’s new CGR3 integrated-weight system, the Avid is constructed of 1,000-denier urethane-backed nylon and uses a compact MiniPac backpack with double tank straps. A 3-D air cell and suspension strap system provides stability and security at depth while eliminating body squeeze when the BC is fully inflated on the surface.
PERFORMANCE Sherwood sent only one size BC for testing, which limited data collecting for the men, and not all of them were able to achieve an ideal fit (which we know is possible based on the Avid’s expansive size range). However, those who were able to dive it found it very stable at depth, and comfortable too. Ascent control and valve action were both rated above average. In fact, the Avid was the model that performed the best in our flow-rate tests.
BOTTOM LINE The Avid doesn’t skimp on performance or features. In fact, even with our limited test group, it was able to earn a spot on our Top 3 Favorites list.
5. TILOS MISSION
FEATURES The Mission is a traditional BC that eschews a lot of features in favor of economy. Made of 420-denier nylon, it employs a rigid backpack with a single tank band and a molded lift handle. There are two large pockets and six stainless-steel D-rings, but it’s the only BC in this group that doesn’t offer a right-shoulder exhaust valve.
PERFORMANCE The manufacturer sent only one size, which immediately cut our female testers out of the picture, and handicapped a couple of our male divers. Due to the size limitations, the test Mission suffered a bit in comfort (too big) and in stability at depth (again, too big). The pockets, while big, were hard to access due to their too-efficient Velcro closures. But when it came to basic BC functions like valve operation and ascent control, the Mission turned in a good performance, although the lack of a right-shoulder exhaust was considered a real shortcoming by all test divers.
BOTTOM LINE The Mission is a very basic BC harkening back to the old days. Our guess is that it’s designed primarily for the rental market, where it ought to fare well.
6. TUSA BCJ-4000 SOVERIN
FEATURES Made of 500-denier Cordura, the Soverin is loaded with padding in the shoulder, back and lumbar areas. The Ultimate Stabilizing Harness uses strategically placed rails to hold the tank in place. The Independent Harness System isolates harness from air cell for better comfort and stability at depth. And the Waist Support System integrates the shoulder harness with the rear stabilizing plate and cummerbund to reduce the load on the hips.
PERFORMANCE The Soverin turned in above-average marks in virtually all test categories. It proved to be an extremely comfortable BC; the ample padding really does its job, yet the BC carries zero inherent buoyancy. The exclusive Tusa harness system was a hit among female divers, who felt the design really accommodated shorter torsos. Testers found the weight- system functions to spec, but they were overly complicated.
BOTTOM LINE The Soverin turned in some of the best scores in comfort, stability and valve operation, earning a spot on the Top 3 Favorites list.
3 TRAVEL-ORIENTED JACKET-STYLE BCs
Travel BCs tend to be lighter and less bulky, and they’re often foldable for easy packing. Because they’re designed for warm-water diving, they usually have less lift capacity than a general-purpose BC, and tend to be more streamlined, with low-profile air cells, compact backpacks and smaller weight pouches.
1. MARES F-LIGHT
FEATURES The F-Light is lightweight and easy to pack. Its soft backpack is complemented with a main tank band supported by a small lower strap to help control the load. There is no integrated-weight system, but there are two nonditchable trim pouches. Also included are four large prebent aluminum D-rings, as well as two smaller ones.
PERFORMANCE Testers liked its low weight and first-rate exhaust valve system (the right-shoulder exhaust is especially effective). Having the bladder slide on the waist strap virtually eliminates body squeeze.
BOTTOM LINE Constructed from lighweight, durable materials and featuring smart design cues, the F-Light is a capable travel companion.
2. CRESSI FLEX IN THE SEA
FEATURES Made of feather-light 210-denier nylon, the Flex in the Sea is the lightest in the travel category. The soft backpack is designed to be folded and stowed in its own compact carry bag. Also included are rear trim pouches, an ergo-friendly power inflator and six alloy D-rings.
PERFORMANCE Test divers reported a comfortable surface floating position without a bit of squeeze because the bladder slides on the waist strap, allowing it to expand away from the body. However, this design created what felt like a sloppy fit and difficulty accessing cargo pockets. While the backup tank strap helps to steady the tank, testers still experienced a bit more wobble than preferred. They liked the mesh weight pouches inside the cargo pockets, which allowed them to carry some ballast without the need of a belt.
BOTTOM LINE For jacket-style BC fans, the Flex in the Sea is an acceptable BC for traveling. Lightweight and highly packable, it offers a number of cool extras for the price.
3. SCUBAPRO GO
FEATURES Although lightweight, the GO is a full-featured BC with a super-secure integrated-weight system and huge cargo pockets. Constructed of 210-denier nylon layered in polyurethane, its soft backpack can be folded into a storage bag, while its double tank bands increase stability.
PERFORMANCE Only one large-size GO was submitted for testing, so data collecting was incomplete. However, all male divers were able to test. It earned the highest scores in the Travel BC category, especially for ascent control and stability at depth. Some testers had concerns about the integrated-weight sys- tem. While it is technically possible to ditch the pouches in a single fluid move, it’s not intuitive. Those who tried the system for the first time initially couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to work. After it was explained, they still felt it was too complicated.
BOTTOM LINE The GO packs easily, is comfortable in the water, and offers plenty of buoyant lift to handle double-duty for divers who want a single BC for both at-home and vacation diving.