Our ScubaLab test team put eight new jacket-style BCs and five new back-inflation BCs through their paces.
Atomic Aquatics BC1
Price: $1,399.95 | Contact: atomicaquatics.com
Atomic says it “rethought every material and component” when designing its first BC, and it shows: ratcheting tank-band lock, self-sealing zippers, a rugged waterproof fabric that dries almost before you get it off, integrated-weight latches that look like they were sourced from the space program. The compulsive attention to detail — the corrugated inflator hose is secured not with zip ties but by tiny clamps with stainless hardware — and, frankly, the price, seemed to verge on overkill. But test divers gave it top scores in nearly every category and overwhelmingly selected it as their favorite of the test, not because of titanium-coated stainless D-rings and the like, but because the BC1 excels in the qualities a BC needs: stability, comfort, control, convenience and durability. Some shorter scuba divers found that the side panels extended a little too high, and some found it hefty topside (just over 10 pounds, but neutral in the water). That its design spared no cost shows in its price. But what impressed was its level of performance. The BC1 is our Testers Choice for jacket BCs.
Cressi Start Pro 2.0
Price: $329.95 | Contact: cressiusa.com
A popular rental BC, the Start received some upgrades this year, including an ergonomic inflator and streamlined harness. The weight system has bifold pockets attached to the BC that secure with a buckle. Cinching down hard on the adjustable strap limits weights shifting in the pocket when your attitude changes, and while weights are secure, they drop cleanly when you release the buckles. One downside is it’s not really practical to pull weights at the boat ladder and hand them up; but it’s also impossible to lose the pockets, a plus for new scuba divers. The Start Pro was rated very good for comfort, adjustability, attitude and stability, valve operation, ascent control, and surface floating position. Stoutly made, it has decent cargo pockets, octo pockets (but no trim pockets) and a half-dozen plastic D-rings. The least expensive BC in our test, it nevertheless made its way onto the top three list of more than half our test divers.
Dacor Nautica XVI
Price: $369 | Contact: westmarine.com
As the price suggests, this new jacket-style BC from Dacor is a no-frills design, but in the water the Nautica turned out to be a real gem, with very good scores for comfort and stability and one of the highest scores for surface floating position. It has excellent trim pockets placed just right, and the integrated weights load securely and ditch reliably with a pinch of the buckles. It has just 1½ pounds of inherent buoyancy despite the cushioned back pad that works well with the rest of the harness to create a secure, comfortable fit. The zippered cargo pockets are big enough to be useful and you can access them without double-jointed elbows, and the octo pockets are well-placed. Test divers would have liked a right shoulder exhaust, more and better D-rings, and a less abrupt inflator. But they praised the Nautica’s stable comfort, and several picked it as one of their favorites of the test.
Price: $499 | Contact: scubapro.com
One of the things we liked best about the new Equalizer was the inflator system, which helped it earn very good scores for valve operation and ascent control. The distinctly shaped and colored control buttons let you add and release air with precision, and — unlike most BCs — the inflator hose swings freely, while at the connection to the bladder there’s a self-locking ring that prevents it from working loose. Divers also liked the large, easily identifiable exhaust-valve pulls. The pinch-to-release integrated weights were rated very good for loading and ditching, but some divers didn’t like the D-rings on the weight-pouch straps, which they thought a scuba diver might be tempted to clip an octo or SPG to. Some divers also wished there were rear trim pockets. While this didn’t figure in our scoring, divers also liked the cool look of the Equalizer, with the contrast of textured and smooth, coated fabric and the silvery highlights.
Price: $489 | Contact: seacusa.com
The Seac Trip is aimed at traveling scuba divers who want a full-featured jacket-style BC. On the feature side are weight integration, a depth-compensating cummerbund, big zippered cargo pockets, right shoulder exhaust, six well-placed D-rings, and a two-position sternum strap. As for travel, it weighs about 6½ pounds in size medium and folds surprisingly fl at, thanks to a short back plate and flexible bladder. The integrated weights use fixed pockets that load from the top and ditch by unclipping the buckle and pulling the hook-and-loop on the bottom flap; an internal divider keeps the weights from shifting. The design saves the bulk and weight of separate pockets and was rated very good for loading, but some divers found the multistep release cumbersome. Its compact design proved quite cozy, with divers rating the Trip very good for comfort and for attitude and stability, and giving it the highest score for adjustability.
Tusa BC0102 Soverin-Alpha
Price: $499 | Contact: tusa.com
In a test where the comfort of all the entries was notable, the Tusa Soverin-Alpha managed to capture by a hair the highest score for comfort. That’s partly due to the cushioned back plate and lumbar support, but credit also goes to the clever harness. The bottoms of the shoulder straps form an inverted Y, and the lower straps’ forward ends, which connect to loops holding the cummerbund, are adjustable, allowing you to line up the straps so they’re just right. The comfort didn’t carry a performance penalty; despite the cushioning, the BC was dead neutral in our objective testing. The new integrated-weight system also was rated very good, loading easily and ditching smoothly. The large cargo pockets get a little snug when inflated, and some scuba divers thought the zippered rear trim pockets should be located a bit higher, but the BC ended up on most divers’ top three list, earning the Soverin-Alpha our Best Buy.
XS Scuba Triton
Price: $330 | Contact: xsscuba.com
The Triton was the only jacket-style BC in our test not equipped with integrated weights, which sometimes makes us wonder what other amenities we’ll be giving up. But while it’s not long on frills (there are just three plastic D-rings), the Triton delivered performance above its pay grade. The rigid, thickly cushioned back plate provides good support, and the harness has a wide range of adjustability, including cummerbund straps that can be shifted a couple of inches. There are extras: a right shoulder dump, octo/gauge pockets, and a pair of sizable cargo pockets. While we’ve sometimes griped about pockets with too little hook-and-loop fastening, the Triton’s were the opposite: The 8-by-1½-inch fasteners are so grabby, they’re hard to open with one hand. In the water, the Triton was rated good for attitude and stability, adjustability and comfort (although some divers wished the shoulder straps had a bit more padding).
Price: $399.95 | Contact: zeagle.com
Ruggedly made and rich with features, the Zeagle Resort looks like it should cost more than it does. It took very good scores for comfort, adjustability, attitude and stability, and ascent control. The highly adjustable harness, with two-position sternum strap and double-adjustable cummerbund, allowed divers to dial in the fit (although some found it sized slightly large, opting for a smaller size than usual). The trim pockets are perfectly placed, and the integrated weights are secure but can be ditched in an instant. However, some divers found the weights tricky to load while wearing the BC. With a half-dozen stainless D-rings and roomy zippered cargo pockets, the Resort took the high score for gear stowage. It was rated very good for valve operation, although some divers didn’t like the hard mouthpiece on the otherwise ergonomic inflator. More than half of test divers ranked the Resort among their top three of the test.
Aqua Lung Outlaw
Price: $389 ($459 as tested) | Contact: aqualung.com
Taking minimalism to the max, the Aqua Lung Outlaw has only the essentials — enough air to float and a harness to keep it on your back. The modular design lets you swap air cell (12- or 25-pound), straps and soft back plate for 27 different size configurations. The parts attach with rugged plastic connectors that release by inserting a tool (in our case, a car key), defying all our efforts to make them pop off when they shouldn’t. The harness — which took top score for comfort — hugs your body, but the BC is so minimal, you almost feel as if you’re not wearing one. “Love the freedom,” was a typical tester comment. We tested with optional integrated weights, which scuba divers rated great for ditching but so-so for loading due to the upside-down mounting. The Outlaw has zero inherent buoyancy — also zero D-rings, but web loops galore (20 on a size medium) and a plastic carabiner. The Outlaw might not be for the novice, nor those who insist on cargo pockets or a right-shoulder exhaust. It does only the things you really need from a BC, but it does them exceptionally well. The Aqua Lung Outlaw is our Testers Choice.
Price: $469 | Contact: cressiusa.com
With its large waist straps, the Cressi Ace looks almost like a jacket, and indeed it took top scores in areas where jackets typically do better than back-inflates: gear stowage and surface floating position. The first is explained by eight aluminum D-rings and two 8-by-7-inch cargo pockets that have long zippers and — unlike pockets on most jackets — stay the same size no matter how much air is in the BC. Its surface stability is due to a harness that’s snug without limiting movement and an air cell that’s well-controlled by bungees despite lots of buoyant lift. Testers described the Ace as “comfortable” and “stable,” and it took high score for attitude and stability (though some divers wished it had less inherent buoyancy). Travel-friendly, it weighs just over 7 pounds (size medium) despite features like a right-shoulder exhaust and rear trim weight pockets. It has all the things we like in a back-inflation without some things we’re not so fond of; the Ace was a close competitor for Testers Choice in its category.
Mares Bolt SLS
Price: $410 | Contact: mares.com
With loads of lift, plenty of features, and the capability to handle single or double tanks while still being compact enough to pack easily for travel, the Mares Bolt is an ambitious design. What’s impressive is that it does it all quite well. The harness, with both full back plate and cummerbund, has great lumbar support, and the swiveling shoulder buckles’ single-position sternum strap provides a solid fit without being restrictive. The “SLS” stands for Slide & Lock System: new integrated weights that display a green indicator when latched. To load, slide the pocket in and press the red tab on the end of the handle. Most divers found it easy once they got the hang of it, but a few thought it a bit fussy. It has a roll-down, zippered cargo pocket that test divers rated as handy as any folding pocket (which is to say, not so handy), but there are also six well-positioned stainless D-rings and left-side mounting grommets. Capable, comfortable and versatile — and with the lowest as-tested price in its category — the Bolt SLS is our Best Buy for back-inflation BCs.
Scubapro Hydros Pro
Price: $839 | Contact: scubapro.com
The Hydros Pro has a harness made not of fabric but a supple, gel version of Monprene — the stuff used in Scubapro’s Seawing Nova fins. It’s tough, dries instantly, is neutrally buoyant and is even available in the same colors as the fins. The Hydros Pro has a fully modular design that lets you quickly add or subtract accessories, and you can strip off a couple of pounds for travel by swapping the weight pockets for the included basic waist strap (it even comes with a backpack it fits into). The harness took top score for adjustability and was rated very good for comfort (helped by gender-specific sizing that features curved shoulder straps, a shorter inflator and a smaller air cell for women). The BC also took top scores for valve operation and loading weights, and it was rated very good for comfort. Some divers noted hearing a little air shifting in the rear of the air cell when rolling from side to side, but it didn’t upset stability. A favorite among multiple test divers, the Hydros Pro was a neck-and-neck contender for Testers Choice.
xDeep NY Zen
Price: $629 | Contact: tecdivegear.com
A single-tank system with enough float for cold-water use, the Zen has the essential elements of a back-plate/ single-strap harness but with noteworthy departures. The inflator hose attaches directly to the top center of the bladder without the usual angled fitting; the V-shaped crotch strap attaches to the lower corners of the alloy back plate for more-comfortable support; and the waist straps sit quite high, putting the meaty part of the buoyancy low on the back. While the optional integrated weights were well-placed, ditching required pulling them out after releasing the buckles. And divers didn’t like the limited exhaust options, which required being upright to use the top or head-down to use the forward-facing lower dump. While the Zen has a large range of adjustability, as with any single-strap harness, it’s finicky to adjust, and that put it at a disadvantage in a test with a dozen scuba divers swapping it out. Suffice it to say, divers with the time and inclination to dial it in liked it best, with some naming the Zen on their list of favorites.
Two Tests, Two Winners
Here’s a twist: The winner of the jacket BC test was the Atomic Aquatics BC1, perhaps the most feature- rich scuba diving BC we’ve tested (as well as the most expensive). For back-inflation BCs it’s the Aqua Lung Outlaw, a stripped down model with the lowest base price in its category.
How could two BCs so different be the winners of consecutive tests?
The answer is, while categories matter in our head-to-head testing, what’s most important is how well a BC does what it does. It’s true that different styles of BC have different strengths. It’s easier to make a jacket float well at the surface, and it’s easier to make a back-inflation that doesn’t restrict movement.
But a BC’s key performance attributes – like stability and comfort – count more than category, style and price.
Go Behind The Scenes Learn more about how ScubaLab puts gear to the test with this behind-the-scenes look at the ScubaLab 2107 BC test.