ScubaLab Reviews 12 New BCDs
- Test results
- Best Buy for Back-Plate/Wing BCDs
- Testers Choice for Back-Plate/Wing BCDs
- Testers Choice for Women's BCDs
- Testers Choice for Jacket BCDs
How We Test
Testing was conducted in fresh water by test divers at Blue Grotto Dive Resort in Williston, Florida. Divers recorded their observations about each BC’s performance and assigned scores from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor) in each of the following categories:
SETUP Ease and security of tank and hose attachments.
LOADING WEIGHTS Ease of loading and security of integrated weight system.
COMFORT Both in and out of the water.
ADJUSTABILITY Ease of adjusting and range of adjustment.
ATTITUDE AND STABILITY In swim and vertical positions; overall sense of control of attitude and trim.
STREAMLINING Is drag noticeable at depth?
STOWAGE Usefulness and accessibility of cargo pockets, D-rings, etc., for securing accessories.
VALVE OPERATION Ability to control when inflating/deflating by power inflator; ergonomics of the controls.
ASCENT CONTROL Ability to maintain desired ascent rate and attitude.
SURFACE FLOATING POSITION Comfort, stability while inflated at the surface.
DITCHING WEIGHTS Ability to drop weights quickly.
The scoring is:
- 4=very good
We conducted three tests in a swimming pool to measure important performance and safety criteria.
We tested the ability of exhaust systems to prevent uncontrolled ascent in the event of a stuck power inflator. At 10 feet of depth, each BC, loaded with 20 percent of the claimed buoyant lift, was held upright while the power inflator and an upper exhaust were simultaneously active for 20 seconds. Industry standards require that at the conclusion a BC has not become positively buoyant.
BCs were fully inflated while mounted upright to a neutrally buoyant plastic bucket, which was then progressively weighted until the BC would not support another pound without sinking.
BCs were submerged, with all air removed, and weights added in half-pound increments until the BC became negatively buoyant.
Ask the ScubaLab Director
Q: Why dive a back-plate/wing BC?
A: Often, wing BCs use heavy-duty hardware, rugged materials and simplified designs to eliminate points of failure and provide long-term durability. Even if something does break, many components can easily be replaced, allowing these systems to be maintained almost indefinitely. They also tend to have a large range of adjustment and can be personalized with a number of different components. Divers can swap to a different capacity air cell or plate material, or add different components such as D-rings or weight pockets. The possibilities are practically endless.
ExoTec's cargo pocket
Many of the cargo pockets in this year’s test underwhelmed test divers. Because of this, those systems with superior storage solutions really stood out. The ExoTec uses drop-down cargo pockets to minimize bulk and maintain trim when not in use. Despite their fold-up design, the pockets’ shape is large enough for a variety of accessories and offers wide, easy access. The Avid makes use of large metal D-rings, and perhaps more importantly, places them prominently in easy-to-reach locations.
APEKS - ExoTec
This heavy-duty system uses a thin aluminum back plate with a front-adjustable harness and pivoting lumbar support. The waist and shoulders can be repositioned on the plate to further fine-tune fit. The BC scored excellent for ease of adjustment and overall comfort, and very good for setup. A durable G hook allows for simple one-handed operation of the sternum strap. SureLock II weight pockets are very easy to load and ditch. Even with two retainer bungees, the huge air cell feels very baggy in the water. It scored very good for attitude and stability. At the same time, however, many divers observed air movement within the big bladder. It also had a noticeably face-down position at the surface. Four responsive, easy-to-reach release valves help the BC score excellent for ascent control. Six large D-rings are easy to reach, but unlike a traditional continuous webbing harness, you can’t reposition them or add additional rings. Two drop-down cargo pockets are decently sized and easily accessible. Taking top scores in almost every category, and a favorite of test divers, the ExoTec is our Testers Choice.
CRESSI — Aquawing
MSRP $539.95, $624.95 (Aquawing Plus)
Lightweight and extremely comfy, this wing has a sleek design that scored very good for streamlining. “Forgot all about it,” one test diver said. The continuous webbing harness is secure, and slides easily through the aluminum plate for quick fine-tuning. Testers also liked the easy-adjust, two-piece crotch strap. The 30-pound bladder keeps a trim profile in the water, and scored very good for attitude and stability, earning tester praise such as “rock-solid stable in any attitude” and “this thing stays where you put it.” It also scored very good for surface floating position. The left shoulder exhaust didn’t pass our flow-rate test and was described by one diver as “almost painfully slow.” Because of this, the BC scored just fair for valve operation, and good for ascent control. Removable shoulder pads and back pad feature comfortable air-net padding. A “plus” model comes standard with integrated weight pockets. A favorite of test divers, the compact Aquawing is our Best Buy.
HIGHLAND — Travel System
Travel System's buoyancy
This system combines an aluminum dog-bone plate with a 20-pound bladder—we measured just 17 pounds of lift, but one relief valve on our sample seemed overly sensitive. Scoring excellent for streamlining, this wing impressed testers with its compact profile, which cuts through the water with ease and is hardly noticeable out of the water. “Zero drag and super streamlined,” one test diver noted. The simple continuous weave harness scored good for adjustment, but the crotch strap takes time to fine-tune and securing the two-piece tank bands can be a bit challenging without a tank leash. Neoprene shoulder pads and a well-cushioned back pad are very comfortable. “Very secure and stable underwater, and quite comfortable at depth,” one tester said. The modular design is compatible with several different options for stowing lead. Overall, this minimalist BC earned good and very good scores across the board. “Lightweight, easy diving,” is how one tester summed up the system.
OMS — Public Safety Harness
MSRP $739 (Public Safety Harness), $435 (Deep Ocean 2.0 Wing)
Public Safety Harness' buoyancy
Made for the extreme rigors of public-safety diving, this system uses an adjustable stainless-steel plate and a front-adjustable harness. It can be paired with any OMS air cell—ours used the high-capacity Deep Ocean 2.0 wing, which provides a ton of lift, but drags noticeably in the water. Three accessible pull-dumps make buoyancy and ascent easy to manage. The system provides good attitude and stability, especially in a head-down position. Heavy-duty panels and stainless hardware are complemented by cushioning at the waist and shoulders. “Material is stiff, but supportive and comfortable,” is how one tester described it. Rivets in the shoulder pads provide mounting points for D-rings or other hardware. Weighing almost 18 pounds, the system can be difficult to set up on a tank. Weight pockets feature internal compartments to prevent ballast from shifting and scored very good for security, loading and ditching.
SEAC — Modular
MSRP $529, $758.50 (with back plate)
This BC has many interchangeable parts, including a semi-rigid back pad that can be swapped for an aluminum plate (ours had a plate). It scored very good for attitude and stability. “Very secure,” one tester noted. The harness uses separate components for the waist and shoulders, which makes it very easy to snug the harness down quickly. The three-point crotch strap adjusts just as easily, but both leave a lot of strap dangling once tightened. The BC scored very good for overall comfort. An abrupt inflator and a conspicuous lack of shoulder exhausts scored just good for valve operation. Two big D-rings on the right shoulder provide good mounting points for accessories. Plastic D-rings on the waistband are smaller and harder to reach, especially with optional weight pockets installed (not pictured). “Lots of stuff sitting at waist makes it hard to find things,” one tester said. Ultimately, this BC pairs good performance with the flexibility for divers to tailor the system to their needs.
AQUALUNG — ProHD
Super stable underwater, this full-featured BC provides a natural position while swimming or resting. It scored very good for attitude and stability. Test diver comments include observations such as “natural attitude, with easy control” and “made it easy to stick exactly where I wanted to.” The BC scored excellent for ascent control due to its responsive inflator and pull-dumps. “Effortless neutral buoyancy,” one diver said. The wraparound air cell features a full backpack for additional security and support. Although very comfortable, the high-waisted design may provide a little too much coverage for some divers. The BC took top score for stowage. The inflator hose retainer is sewn into the shoulder strap. Testers didn’t love the design, but still scored the BC very good for setup.
SCUBAPRO — Level
MSRP $589 (BPI), $729 (with Air2 inflator)
This BC is lean on padding, but still scored very good for comfort. The wraparound air cell is very stable, with good attitude control, and doesn’t squeeze or restrict movement when inflated. The harness features a lot of adjustment and uses a full-size backpack for support. Integrated weights have external pinch buckles for maximum security and ease of operation. Cargo pockets are flat and narrow, but the BC also has mounting grommets, octo pockets and four metal D-rings. The BC scored very good for valve operation thanks to a precise, ergonomic power inflator and multiple easy-to-reach exhaust valves. A favorite among test divers, with great comfort and performance, the Level is our Testers Choice for jacket BCs.
SHERWOOD — Avid Phantom
Phantom Avid's buoyancy
This update to the Avid introduces a new “Phantom” color option and an octo pocket. In a test where stowage was in short supply, the octo pocket and the BC’s six large metal D-rings enamored it with testers. “Tons of D-rings in just the right spots,” one diver said. The wraparound harness and dual tank bands provide support and rigidity, helping the BC score good for attitude and stability. “Solid fit without squeezing you, with lots of back support,” one diver said. Scored good for comfort, the BC inspired tester comments such as “easy-chair comfort.” Multiple valve releases and a smooth inflator earned very good scores for valve operation and ascent control. CQR-3 weights are secure and easy to load and ditch. The Avid is a versatile jacket with good all-around performance.
CRESSI — Elettra
This BC’s large but streamlined bladder is more of a hybrid air cell. It provides a natural, balanced swim position, but can easily accommodate other orientations with little effort. “Super stable in all positions,” one tester said. Scoring very good for comfort, the BC harness is fully lined with thick air-net padding for increased support and comfort at the hips and lower back. It has an adjustable sternum strap and elastic, pivoting cummerbund. The single tank band scored excellent for ease of setup. Flat Lock weight pockets feature D-rings for leverage and use a slick material on the inside of the sleeve for easy loading. Flat, narrow pockets leave little room for cargo, and although there are six of them, the BC’s diminutive D-rings didn’t engender much enthusiasm from testers. The sluggish left-shoulder exhaust didn’t pass our flow-rate test, and scored just good for ascent control. Other exhausts scored very good for operation. Overall, this BC offers female divers quality performance and comfort.
SHERWOOD — Luna Magenta
Luna Magenta's buoyancy
Scoring excellent for comfort in and out of the water, the Luna inspired numerous comments such as “super comfy” and “like you aren’t wearing anything.” Dual tank straps and a semi-rigid backpack add stability and additional cushioning while allowing the BC to fold up for packing. Divers really appreciated how streamlined the system is, scoring it excellent. “Compact, trim and slides through the water” and “nice-sized footprint—feels tiny” were typical tester comments. Cargo pockets are deep, but narrow. Fortunately, large D-rings and built-in attachment points for the optional Pro-Kit provide alternative stowage options. The BC scored very good for attitude and stability, and offers excellent control of orientation and position in the water. “Like it’s glued there,” one tester said. The “really nice, smooth and responsive valves,” as one diver described them, were scored excellent. A favorite among test divers, with exceptional performance, the Luna is our Testers Choice.
While not fully tested, we did have a chance to dive with these BCs.
GENESIS — Odyssey
In a test full of heavy-duty wings and full-featured jackets, there wasn’t much to adequately compare this travel-oriented back-inflate BC against. Testers were still able to dive with the Odyssey, but it was in a category of one. Weighing about 6½ pounds, this BC is easy to travel with, and its lightweight, streamlined design is equally manageable in the water. “Free and easy, like not wearing anything at all,” is how one diver described it. The hard backpack features a convenient integrated carry handle and plenty of air-mesh padding. “Nice plushy harness; very comfortable,” one tester said. A single tank strap is used to accommodate boat divers. Pinch-release weight pockets are simple and secure. The 25-pound air cell is kept tight and streamlined with the assistance of an air-cell bungee cord. Some testers reported the BC had a noticeable face-up inclination, but most felt the BC provided good attitude control. The BC has two tiny, zippered pockets and several plastic D-rings.
SCUBAPRO — S-Tek Pro
MSRP $509 (S-Tek Pro Harness), $579 (30-pound, 40-pound and 60-pound S-Tek wings)
The S-Tek Pro harness is available with a stainless or aluminum back plate, and is compatible with three different-size bladders. Unfortunately, none of our sample bladders arrived in time for our objective testing. However, a few divers were able to dive with the completed system, and the results were very positive. Outfitted with a 40-pound wing, testers reported it offered great control and stability. “Attitude and stability are excellent. Tank is rock solid,” one tester said. Valves work well for controlling buoyancy and ascent, but testers missed having an upper exhaust. The plate is ergonomically shaped and has angled webbing slots and specially designed recessed wing nuts for increased comfort. Adjustable shoulders allow for easy fitting. Monprene padding (available in seven colors) improves grip and comfort without adding excess bulk or buoyancy. “Harness is a dream, in water and out,” one test diver commented.