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Welcome to Dive Gear Reviews, a comprehensive guide to scuba diving equipment. Scuba diving is an expensive pursuit, so looking up reviews for a particular article of equipment is a wise precaution before investing any hard-earned money in it. However, consumer reviews may or may not be written by an experienced diver, and magazine reviews could be suspect due to the advertising ties of the publication in question. Dive Gear Reviews provides cross-referenced reviews assembled by an expert, making it possible to see at a glance what multiple sources said about a particular piece of scuba equipment. If one magazine loved a scuba regulator or a dive computer, but the consumers hated it, that information will be found here.
22
April

BCDs

Written by Dive Gear Reviews Editor. Comments Off on BCDs Posted in:

The minimum sourcing for a review at Dive Gear Reviews is one review published by a credible magazine, a sampling of consumer commentary from both forums and online retailers, a sampling of pricing and insight from a diving expert. For an entry to appear on this buoyancy control device (BCD) reviews page, it must exceed that minimum. These reviews are therefore the most extensively cross-referenced reviews on the website. To see all reviews of BCDs, click here.

Cressi Travelight Scuba BCD Review

The Travelight from Cressi is designed as a super-serious travel BCD, and strongly oriented toward contributing towards a light, compact travel package for flying. The basic design was drawn from the Flex BCD, and Cressi chose to make the Travelight from 210 denier nylon, sacrificing durability for extreme lightness. This isn’t to say that the Travelight is flimsy, far from it. It just isn’t tough, but as a result is has a dry weight of only 6 lbs. (2.7 kg). The back is amply padded, and consumers almost universally found the Travelight had a comfortable fit.

The BCD uses a dual-strap system with a rubber back pad (for extra friction) to secure the air tank and provide extra stability. The BCD uses Cressi’s Lock Aid integrated weight system, and can store 20 lbs (9 kg) in the front pockets and a further 10 lbs (4.5 kg) in the non-ditchable back pockets. Cargo carrying comes in the form of two deep, zippered pockets, two big shoulder strap D-rings, two small waist D-rings and the usual D-rings on the ends of the various straps. With an eye on keeping the weight down, all of those D-rings are made from a lightweight allow. The air cell inflates away from the body, which increases drag, but avoids constricting the body. The Cressi Travelight has 13.5 lbs of lift (6 kg) in its smallest size and 36 lbs (16.3 kg) in its largest.

The Travelight is a proven BCD that delivers as promised. It is so light and compact it can be squeezed into a carry-on duffel bag if necessary, but doesn’t sacrifice any features to achieve this. That makes the Travelight an ideal choice for traveling, backpacking divemasters or anyone who does most of their diving at the end of a plane trip. Divernet gave the BCD eight stars, and Scuba Diving named it a Tester’s Choice and a Best Buy in 2009. The lift capacity of the Travelight is low and not a good match for cold water diving, but few travel BCDs are well-suited to chilly, high-lift environments. Even the most negative consumer review at LeisurePro said the Cressi Travelight “performed as advertised.” Cressi also produces the Travelight Lady for women divers.

Average Price: $350, and sometimes this BCD is available for much less.

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Mares Dragon AT Scuba BCD Review

The Mares Dragon AT has two stand-out features. The first and signature feature of the Mares Dragon is its winged air cell design, with the cells inflating around the tank in a fashion designed to reduce drag. Those air cells provide up to 56 lbs of lift in the biggest versions of this BCD. The “AT” part (not all Mares Dragons come with the AT feature) stands for “Air Trim inflator.” In a traditional corrugated hose inflator, compressed air is directed to the inflator before it is sent to the air cell, and the hose must be raised above the head to deflate under most circumstances. While many divers don’t mind this, others hate this traditional inflator design with a passion. The latter group of divers think the hose always floats into an awkward position, making it harder to find when it is needed and always placing it in the way. The Air Trim system sends air directly to the air cell and uses pneumatic deflation (air can be ejected from any position at any time), so the inflator control can be locked off to the BCD, where it never becomes a problematic “dangling hose.” Both Scuba Diving and Dive were enthralled with the AT feature.

The Mares Dragon uses the MRS-Plus integrated weight system, which earned high marks from reviewers for both security and ease-of-ditching. However, consumers sometimes complain that the MRS system is unreliable and often results in lost weight pouches, so this almost standard feature of Mares BCDs should be viewed with a skeptical eye. The system can store up to 26 lbs (12 kg) in the forward weight pockets, plus 10 lbs (4.5 kg) in the rear trim pockets. Rounding out the picture are all the features one might expect from a high-end scuba BCD. The Mares Dragon comes with a hard back plate, plenty of back padding, a comfy collar and a molded carrying handle. Cargo-carrying on the Mares Dragon takes the form of five major D-rings and two zippered pockets. The BCD is almost neutrally buoyant with less than 1 lb of inherent buoyancy, although it weighs in at a hefty and decidedly travel-unfriendly 9 lbs, 9 oz. (4.3 kg).

Note that the Mares Dragon AT is an upgrade of the standard Mares Dragon, not a replacement. If you want the Mares Dragon but don’t care about the sins of a corrugated inflator hose, you can save some bucks by not buying a Dragon with the AT feature. In this respect, the AT feature is an extra just like an alternate air source BCD inflator.

Average Price: $700 with AT feature, $600 without.

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Scubapro Go Scuba BCD Review

Just in case the name wasn’t enough of a hint, the Go is Scubapro’s latest travel BCD, offering some improvements over older models (such as the Litehawk). Like all travel BCDs, the Go is made with compactness and low weight in mind. The L size weighs only 6 lbs, and the package is collapsible enough to fit inside a handy, mid-sized plastic bag (which Scubapro thoughtfully provides).

So far, the Go is no different than so many other travel BCDs on the market, but it’s in the details where this Scubapro BCD becomes a winner. Unlike many travel BCDs, the Go has an integrated weight system, using the buckle-and-strap locking system common to Scubapro BCDs. Mesh pockets for cargo carrying lie over the top of the weight pockets, and the BCD has three aluminum D-rings (two on the bottom of the waist, one on the left shoulder strap) plus the plastic rings on the ends of the various straps. Grommets in the pockets allow for the attachment of dive knives, among other things. There are two tank straps, and the back padding is comfortably padding, while avoiding any stiff parts that would compromise the collapsability of the Go BCD. Finally, the BCD’s single air cell delivers good lifting power for a BCD, with a range of 10.2 to 19.4 kg (22.5 to 42.7 lbs), depending on the size.

However, like any travel BCD, the Go has its drawbacks. Thankfully, these are all very typical of this class of BCD, and therefore should be held against the Scubapro Go if you intend to buy something more oriented towards general use. First, to achieve its light weight, the Go BCD is made from 210 denier Nylon, a relatively flimsy grade. Scubapro makes solid gear, but don’t expect robust durability to be one of the Go’s main virtues. Second, the weight pocket/cargo pocket design used in the Go BCD puts both pockets inside the same given volume, so if you use the integrated weight system, there isn’t much leftover in the cargo pocket.

That said, the Go BCD is a solid piece of travel gear. It’s straightforward, does the job and has some nice frills. Sport Diver made it a 2012 Editor’s Pick, Divernet awarded it eight stars, and the consumer commentary has been strongly positive.

Average Price: $395

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Scubapro Knighthawk Scuba BCD Review

The Knighthawk BCD from Scubapro is a durable piece of dive gear meant for use by both recreational and tec divers. The integrated weights are stored in zippered pouches and then tucked into pockets on the front-sides of the BCD’s waist, and secured by a quick-release buckle system. Even if the weights fall out of the pockets of this BCD, they will remain buckled to the strap and attached to the BCD. The pouches can store up to 12 lbs (5 kg) of weights, depending on the shape of the weights in question. Two weight pockets carrying up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg) are also situated on the back of the Knighthawk, but these are meant to provide trim and are non-ditchable. Overall, the integrated weight arrangement makes this a very stable BCD. The Knighthawk is a back-flotation BCD and offers between 34 and 46 lbs of lift, depending on the size of the BCD. The air bladders were made with an eye on being tough and puncture-resistant, and it comes with three dump-vents.

The Knighthawk is also very generous with its gear- and cargo-storing arrangement. The BCD has four stainless steel D-rings for clipping things on, two on the harness straps and two on the waist. Two more plastic D-rings are found on the buckle strap for the integrated weights. Further cargo can be stored in two roll-out mesh pockets, one large and one small, located beneath the integrated weight pouches (note: Scuba Diving magazine got this wrong, stating the Knighthawk has only one such pocket). The tank is secured by a traditional strap with a cinch buckle, which is easy to use. The system is a classic, but you can’t adjust the strap’s grip on the tank without undoing it, so the tank had better be on tight and in the right position before hitting the water.

Scubapro Knighthawk BCD

Scubapro Knighthawk BCD

Another feature of the Knighthawk is how comfortable it is to wear and how handy it is to use. A molded handle is built into the inside of the BCD, just under the collar, which makes carrying the BCD with the tank and other dive gear easier. The Knighthawk has a hard back plate with plenty of padding, including around the collar, offering lots of support and comfort. An alternate regulator-inflator is available, but not standard.

The bottom line on the Scubapro Knighthawk is that it’s an outstanding BCD. Dive called it “tough and weighty,” and Scuba Diving praised how the Knighthawk made assembling a scuba kit easy. Once the weights are properly distributed, the stability and comfort of the BCD are such that it practically disappears from notice once the diver is underwater, becoming virtually an extension of the torso. The Knighthawk is also not going to fall apart with regular use, and its features give it growth potential into tec diving, making it a natural choice for divers who might want to move up the ladder into that field one day. The BCD only has two real negative points to it. First, it is bulky on land, which makes storing it for travel difficult. Also, the Knighthawk BCD is a bit on the pricey side. Therefore, divers who travel by air a lot or who are on a strict budget might be better off with another BCD, but for divers who want to maximize durability and performance, the Scubapro Knighthawk is the way to go.

Average Price: $500

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Scubapro Litehawk Scuba BCD Review

Scubapro Litehawk BCDThe Litehawk is Scubapro’s main travel BCD, and it has many features in common with Scubapro’s back-inflating BCDs. One way to look at it is as a stripped-down version of the Knighthawk. After all, the Litehawk has the same 1000-denier nylon construction as the Knighthawk and most of Scubapro’s other BCDs, making it much tougher than virtually any other travel BCD on the market. It also has the familiar trio of dump valves, and a padded backpack with an interior carrying handle. It also has the typical Scubapro set of compression straps for holding the bladder in a low-profile position while inflated, and the standard Scubapro cinch-buckle tank strap.

Where the Litehawk differs is in cargo-carrying capacity, and in this department the Litehawk is skimpy. There aren’t many D-rings and the BCD has only two small pockets, but at least these are designed to slide along the waist to wherever you need them. Also, the Litehawk has no integrated weight system, a feature which is not uncommon for travel BCDs these days. On the plus side, however, all sizes of Litehawk have a lift capacity of 56 lbs, which is simply staggering for a travel BCD. With a lift capacity like that, you could take this BCD on some cold water dives, whereas most travel BCDs are warm water-only affairs.

The Litehawk is a pretty simple piece of gear that weighs in at around 6 lbs (2.75 kg). It is a rugged, powerful and reasonably stable BCD, but one lacking in frills. Simply put, Scubapro traded in some of the wing-dings that other manufacturers put on their BCDs to create a muscular piece of gear that could take a real beating and withstand the test of time. Scuba Diving, Divernet and DiverWire all gave the BCD high marks, and it has been a real hit with consumers.

Average Price: $360