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- What are Jacket BCDs?
- Popular Jacket BCDs
- What are Back Inflated
- Popular Back Inflated
- What are BPWs?
- Popular BPWs
- Frequently Asked
We get it…
You’ve scuba dived a few times now, and are tired of using rental buoyancy control devices.
You want your own.
After researching several options for buoyancy control devices, you’re left stumped.
This is where Scubaotter comes in.
If you’re a beginner to scuba diving, look no further than the Aqualung Pro HD.
A widely recommended higher-end option would be the Scubapro Hydros Pro.
Want something a bit more custom suited to your needs?
Below, we will compare, contrast, and review all of the best and most popular options out there.
What are Jacket BCDs?
Jacket BCDs are incredibly common with rental gear and are what most people began learning diving with.
They consist of an air cell that wraps from the back under the armpits and waist, with usually a few D rings or pocket weight integration.
For more info about getting your weight right, check out our weight buoyancy calculator.
The benefits to jacket BCDs are that many people feel comfortable diving in them, as this is what they learned in.
They do have some downsides:
- They aren’t very customizable
- They give lift in places that don’t benefit trim
- They can be hard to replace parts on
- They usually only come in a handful of sizes
Regardless of the downsides, they are very popular beginner BCDs, so we will recommend some popular models below.
Popular Jacket BCDs
First up, is the Aqualung Pro HD.
A favorite of many rental fleets around the world, this simple BCD has lots of features that are useful to any diver.
The device comes with integrated weights with quick release functionality for hard soft or hard weights.
A hard molded handle is mounted to allow for easy carrying or lifting of the jack.
There are also metal D rings on the hips, above the waist, and on the shoulders to allow for unbreakable attachments of other items. There’s also knife mounting grommets on the left side.
The clips on the shoulders allow for the unit to be very easily taken on and off. Double zips on the storage pockets mean that it can be opened from either side.
This allows for easy storage keeping the outside of the BCD streamlined.
- Widely used
- High Tech Material
- 5 D Rings
- Hard backplate
- Doesn’t pack well
The Mares Prestige MRS+ is a decently rugged back inflate BCD with integrated weight pockets, a zippered pocket for storage, and several attachment points.
Weight integration allows you to use soft and hard weights instead of a weight belt for quick ditching.
The metal shoulder D rings are sturdy and easy to find with your hands, and the zippered pockets allow space for you to store spools, cutting devices, flashlights, and more.
The shoulder clips make donning and doffing simple and quick, while a chest clip makes sure it stays snug around your shoulders. Includes a solid built-in carrying handle for easy transport.
- Lower budget option
- High-quality pockets
- Fairly stylish
- Weight pocket can fall
- Sizes can be off
- Knife hard to reach
What are Back Inflated BCDs?
The next type of BCD we will discuss in this guide is a back inflated BCD.
These look very similar to jacket BCDs but provide lift in better positions on the back instead of around the waist like jackets.
This makes it easier to be in trim, although it is entirely possible in jacket BCDs. Many people find them more comfortable than jackets because the air cell doesn’t squeeze as much when inflated.
Unfortunately, they suffer from many of the same issues as jacket BCDs:
- They are hard to customize.
- Hard to replace parts on them.
- They usually only come in a handful of sizes.
Back Inflated BCDs are almost fairly common, so here are some versions we recommend.
Popular Back Inflated BCDs
A decently rugged back inflate BCD with integrated weight pockets, a zippered pocket for storage, and several attachment points.
Coupled with swiveling shoulder clips, you’ll experience much greater freedom of movement and a more comfortable fit.
Comes with Mares SLS weight integration system allowing you to use soft and hard weights wherever you go. Metal shoulder D rings and some on top of the pockets ensure longevity and are easy to use.
No need for bulky cummerbund systems, there’s only a single strap here to pull tight, and the stainless steel buckle will survive any abuse thrown at it.
This takes clutter away from the waist as well, freeing up movement even more. There is a pocket that is unfoldable which allows you to store items when needed, and stay streamlined when you don’t.
This BCD is very streamlined which is key to any good BCD. The jacket comes in 5 sizes with each costing a different amount ranging between $399-$420.
- Streamlined position helps with trim
- Less cluttered setup
- Simple buckles
- Rugged build
- Quick-release integrated weight system
- No womens fit available
A rugged but comfortable BCD that has lots of convenient features. The ScubaPro Hydros comes in 9 different colors meaning there’s a BCD for everyone!
The harness is made from injection-molded monoprene gel and along with swiveling shoulder clips allows it to conform to the shape of your body, resulting in supreme comfort.
The material of the harness and wing allow the entire setup to dry very quickly, so you don’t have to worry when packing.
You can select and even change the colors of the BCD, and you can also get smaller accessories for mounting items to it such as flashlights and cutting tools.
The weight integrated pouches allow the use of hard and soft weights.
Metal D rings on the shoulder will not break and are easy to use. It provides lift exactly where you need it to stay in trim and is an excellent all-around option.
A rugged but comfortable BCD with integrated weights, many components are replaceable without rebuying the whole BCD.
While style isn’t the most important thing when picking a BCD, its certainly a factor.
What’s great about this BCD in specific, is that almost every part, including the jackets buckles, can be replaced without messing around with stitching.
- Incredibly comfortable & streamlined
- Modular design
- Different colors available
- Integrated weight system
- Durable & long-lasting design
- Womens fit available
- Quite expensive
What are BPWs?
The last type of BCD that we will discuss in this guide is called a backplate and wing BCD (often abbreviated as BPW).
In general, BPWs consists of:
- Solid Backplate
An easy way to think of BPWs is like a Lego version of a BCD. You build your own depending on what parts you want and where you want them.
Here are some of the most popular BPWs:
This might just be the most highly recommended starter BCD out there.
This BPW is a cheap way (350$) to begin into the world of BPWs. It includes all the main parts that you will need, and you are able to customize things on top of it.
The device comes with a plate of your choice, cam bands, harness, crotch strap, D rings, and buckle. If you want certain weight pouches, zippered pockets, extra D rings, or anything else for your BPW, you can always add them.
I recommend a small piece of bungee or shock cord to hold the inflator to the harness.
The DGX custom accommodates any typical aluminum AL-80, LP-85, HP-80 or HP-100 cylinders. The device is surprisingly durable, constructed out of 1000 Denier Nylon, and enhanced with urethane-coated 200 Denier nylon.
Several others git only slightly more, and they range all the way to Halcyon BPWs in the high hundreds or low thousands.
- Modular design
- Custom set up to suit you & your diving needs
- Ultra streamlined for excellent trim & positioning in the water
- Not suitable for beginners
Similar to the above package comes with everything you need but a different wing with size choices (27lb and 32lb lift), tons of color options, and free trauma shears or a dive knife as well.
Overall, this is a great option for just 399$.
Backplate and Wing Options
So what are some options to look for in Backplates and Wings? There seem to be a lot of different types. Wing size, plate material, tank attachment, and additions are 4 major things to keep in mind.
For wing size, more lift may sound like a good idea but it can actually taco around the tank to trap gas and add drag. While you are able to calculate (roughly) how much lift is needed, that is outside the scope of this article.
Measured in Lbs/Kg most often, if you are doing ONLY single aluminum tank wetsuit diving in warm water, 20lbs may be enough.
For people who dive thicker suits, steel tanks, cold water, etc, 30-32lbs may be more appropriate. I would not go over 35lbs or so if you feel you need more you may want to look at your weighting first.
Wing lift for double tanks is also outside the scope of this article. Try to avoid using a wing too large for your purposes or ones that use a bungee to keep excess material in.
For plate material, there are 3 major types to consider. Aluminum, steel, and composite/Kydex. Steel is the heaviest (generally 4-6lbs) and is best for cold water diving where weight is needed for thick exposure suits.
Aluminum is a middleweight (usually 1.5-3lbs) that is good all around, often for warmer waters though.
Kydex or composite plates are usually super lightweights for travel weight restrictions. These are not hard rules, I use an aluminum plate in ice water because it makes me perfectly weighted in my doubles.
There are also fringe cases like super heavy steel plates. Find what works for you and use it!
For tank attachments, you have 2 major options, cam bands only or an STA. An STA is a single tank adaptor, a metal bar that you attach the cam bands too, with screws attaching the bar to the plate through the wing.
Some people prefer the extra weight of the STA, as well as how it positions the tank away from you a bit. The other option you have to make sure your wing will allow it, which is threading your cam bands directly through the plate and wing to attach the tank to.
You must make sure the wing you choose has slots to accept this type of attachment, but I prefer how it holds the tank closer.
For additions, these can include nearly anything you can think of from where you want D rings placed, to weight pouches to storage pockets, and more. This is where it is entirely up to you with how you want to set it up.
BPW Piece Guide
If you’d prefer, you can always buy without a package and grab each individual piece to put together. Below are some more pieces we recommend:
|Dive Rite Aircell EXP||View Reviews|
|OMS Performance Mono Wings||View Reviews|
|Palantic Xtreme Tech||View Reviews|
|DGX Backplate – Aluminum – Black||View Reviews|
|DGX Backplate – Stainless Steel||View Reviews|
|Hollis Backplate||View Reviews|
|Country Brook Scuba Webbing||View Reviews|
|DGX Flat Nylon Webbing||View Reviews|
|DGX Scuba Tank Strap||View Reviews|
|Palantic Trim Counter Weight Pocket Pouch||View Reviews|
|DGX Trim Weight Pocket||View Reviews|
|DGX Gears Horizontal Expandable Zipper Pocket||View Reviews|
|Dive Rite DC Bellows Pocket||View Reviews|
Common BPW Misconceptions
These types of BCDs are less common with a lot of divers and so there is a lot of misinformation and myths surrounding them. I’d like to address some of them here and of course, you can contact us for more questions.
BPW Myth #1
BPWs are only for tech divers or experienced divers.
This is completely untrue, as BPWs work wonderfully for all recreational diving, and even divers without a lot of experience.
I have actually taught many open water classes in BPWs and things ran perfectly.
BPWs are sometimes thought of as only for tech divers because they are required for manifolded doubles and rebreathers which a large number of tech divers use.
That’s part of the beauty of BPWs, that you can use them for ALL types of diving with just a few changes or modifications for each.
For example, going from single to double tanks, you simply change the wing out, without the need for an entirely new system or harness.
BPW Myth #2
BPWs will float you face down in the water
When referring to under the surface, BPWs does help you stay in horizontal trim more than other BCDs, though they don’t do it for you.
You still have to distribute weight correctly. For on the surface, the BPW will only float you face down if you overinflate it or if you are heavily overweighted in the wrong places.
You don’t need your entire shoulders out of the water when floating on the surface, just your head, so some people overinflate them and find they get pushed a bit.
If you have the correct amount of air in the wing, you can float easily and effortlessly. I have dozed off a few times in the water while waiting on the surface in my BPW!
Some people also believe that BPWs are highly expensive, and why would they buy one when they can get a jacket BCD for half the price? Well same as jacket BCDs, there are cheap and expensive options.
It’s as cheap or as expensive as you make it, similar to other systems where jackets can cost anywhere from 250$. I’ve seen some Atomic jacket BCDs over 1300$.
BPW Myth #3
You can’t have weight integrated pockets or zip pockets.
You’re actually able to get all of these things and more. It’s purely customizable and you’re able to put any weight pockets that thread on to 2-inch webbing, zip or Velcro pockets, and stainless steel D rings.
It can all be moved and changed for absolutely any style personally fits you.
BPWs can be custom fit to any person because you decide how much webbing is in each place and cut it to your exact length. They even sell short and long plates for people who are of different heights.
I do advise a single piece of Hogarthian harness, like what comes with the DGX package, but that is more personal preference, as it makes things easier and more comfortable.
A lot of brands offer “Deluxe” harnesses with clips and things that just complicate things and add bulk, or have plastic clips that can break.
A great benefit of BPWs is that all of the parts are incredibly durable (Hard to break steel D rings, webbing harness, and a metal plate) but if any parts are damaged in any way, you ONLY have to replace that part.
This is much cheaper than replacing an entire BCD if the bladder gets punctured, or a clip breaks.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Best BCD For Travel?
A good rule of thumb for travel BCDs is: the smaller the better. Remember, you’re trying to bring this travel buoyancy control device on vacation with you. Do you really want to lug a bulky BCD around? For more information on travel buoyancy control devices, check out our guide.
What’s the Best Back Inflated BCD?
Depending on several factors, certain back inflated bcds are better than others. For more information on back inflated buoyancy control devices, check out our guide.
What’s the Best BCD For Women?
I hope this article helps in picking the right BCD gear for you. Always remember that one of the most significant factors in selecting gear is the price. Most BCDs have similar features, so it is advisable to stay in a price range that works for you while still using a good BCD that provides safety and quality.
Here is a quick video demonstrating buoyancy control with a BCD.