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How to Choose the Best BCD for Your Needs

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scuba buoyancy compensator

Most novice divers tend to rent their dive equipment until they get at least a few dives using differing kits under their belt. However, once you really go in for scuba diving and start building your personal gear preference, it makes a lot of sense to purchase your own equipment. Buying a BCD is one of the best investments you can make, as it will help you to become a more comfortable, confident and efficient diver. Learning such little details as where your pockets and D-rings are, how exactly your weight system works, etc. will add to your safety and the overall enjoyment during the dive.

When choosing a BCD you need to focus on where and how you are going to use it most and take a closer look at the models that fit those requirements best. In order to simplify the selection process and point out the features you need to pay attention to, we have composed this 5 step buyer’s guide.

1. Choose Based on Your Gender

While many BCD models are labeled as unisex, major scuba gear manufacturers more and more frequently present gender-specific buoyancy compensators. This approach allows accounting for anatomic differences between male and female divers. In particular, woman’s BCDs are usually shorter in the length of the torso and have narrower shoulder straps than similar men’s models. Some women’s BCDs also don’t have the chest straps to avoid compressing the bust. Therefore, many women divers, prefer to settle for a woman’s BCD.

2. Consider the Style

There are three common styles of buoyancy compensators for you to choose from - the jacket (vest), back inflation (wings) and hybrid. The type of style best suitable for you will depend on personal preference, your experience level and the kind of diving you plan to use it for.

Jacket (Vest) Style

This style is used by the majority of divers, as it offers a good all-around buoyancy when inflated. The bladder in jacket style models inflates on the sides, the front, and the back, making it easy for the diver to control him/herself underwater. Most BCDs of this kind are also equipped with pockets for storage or weight integration. The common disadvantage of Jacket style BCs is that they can be somewhat restrictive and, if not fitted properly, can cause chest squeeze when inflated.

Jacket style BCDs are usually the best option for recreational divers.

Back Inflation (Wings BCD)

As the name suggests, the back inflation BCDs have no inflatable bladders on the front or the sides and inflate only the back portion. This style of the BCD allows for more freedom of movement and is generally more comfortable to wear. It also makes it easier for the diver to maintain a horizontal position, which is a plus when you are underwater. However, some drivers complain about being turned face down on the surface. This can be fixed by adding weight to trim pockets on the tank band.

Back inflation style BCDs are mainly used by more experienced divers.

Hybrid BCD

Hybrid BCD is a combination of the jacket a style and back inflation. It inflates 3/4 of the back and 1/4 of the front, which contributes to both better buoyancy control and more comfort. The diver can easily maintain horizontal and vertical positions.

3. Think of the Kind of Diving You’ll Do

Cold water divers need to pay special attention to such features as lift capacity - a measurement of how much weight the BCD can hold on the surface when the bladder is fully inflated. Divers, using a thicker wetsuit, hood, boots, and gloves will need to wear more weight to counteract the higher buoyancy. Therefore, the BC should have enough lift capacity to keep the diver afloat at the surface.

Warm water diving requires much less lift capacity and having a BCD with too much lift for your setup can actually do more harm than good. The larger wing, for example, causes more drag.

Here is a guideline to help you figure out how much lift you will need:

  • Tropical Diving (little or no exposure protection) - 12-24 pounds
  • Recreational Diving (full wetsuit or drysuit) - 20-40 pounds
  • Technical Diving (diving under demanding conditions) - 40-80 pounds

4. Consider Whether You Plan to Travel a Lot or Do More Local Diving

Nowadays, as many divers prefer to visit different dive sites around the world, there are a variety of lightweight and compact travel-specific BCDs available. These buoyancy compensators have a low profile, and can often be folded in half. The benefit of purchasing a travel BC is that you will be able to easily store it in your suitcase or dive bag and stay within the airline’s weight restrictions if traveling by plane. The downside is that these BCs normally have less lift capacity and smaller weight pockets.

General-purpose BCDs are considerably heavier and may be difficult to pack into your luggage. However, they usually provide more lift and can have integrated weight systems. General-purpose BCs are best for cold water divers, who need to use thick wetsuits or drysuits.

Dual Purpose BCDs offer the benefits of both general-purpose and travel BCDs. They pack small for dive trips and can still provide enough buoyant lift to be worn with thicker wetsuits or a drysuit. This option is perfect for those divers, who plan to do an approximately equal number of travel and local dives.

5. Decide Whether You Want a Weight Integrated BCD or Not

Those divers, who don’t like wearing a weight belt can choose a weight-integrated system. It allows the diver to put their weights into designated pockets that all together can normally handle about 22 lbs (10 kg) of weight. All of these pockets should have an easy-release system for dumping weights in case of emergency. When choosing a weight integrated system, make sure that it is secure enough and you can operate it easily. You should also check if the BCD has trim pockets at the back, as they will help you to achieve better weight distribution.

If you are looking at saving money though, BCDs without weight integration are generally a bit cheaper. Although, before making a final decision, you would need to account for the cost of the weight belt and the weights that you could use for a weight-integrated BCD vs. those that you would buy for your weight belt.

Our Picks for Best BCD

Best Jacket Style BCDs

Cressi Start BCD by Cressi
Cressi Start BCD by Cressi
Cressi Start BCD - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Start BCD - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Start BCD - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Start BCD - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Start BCD - DIPNDIVE

Cressi Start BCD

Simple, reliable BCD for entry-level divers

$199.95

The Cressi Start Pro is a comfortable, practical and virtually bullet-proof jacket style buoyancy compensator. The BC is manufactured from 1000 and 500 denier cordura and includes external weight pockets as well as two large pockets with Velcro closure. Easy buoyancy control, adjustable shoulder, sternum and waist straps together with a very affordable price make this rugged and durable BCD perfect for beginner divers.

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Best Back Inflation BCDs

ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator by ScubaPro
ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator by ScubaPro
ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator - DIPNDIVE
ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator - DIPNDIVE
ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator - DIPNDIVE
ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator - DIPNDIVE

ScubaPro Hydros Pro Men's BCD with Balanced Inflator

Heavy-duty BCD with lots of innovative features

$1,099.00

The Hydros Pro is a true breakthrough in dive comfort and convenience. The moldable Monprene, adjustable fit and multi-attachment points combine to make this the most customizable and comfortable BCD ever. The Hydros Pro includes both Trav-Tek straps and an integrated weight system. So with a quick switch of clips, you can transform it from a harness travel BCD to a fully integrated weight BCD. So you only need one BCD for both local diving and travel! Its packable design actually includes a travel backpack with room for your entire dive kit, making the Hydros Pro perfect for any destination. 

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Best Hybrid BCD

Mares Hybrid AT With MRS Plus Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Mares Hybrid AT With MRS Plus Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE

Mares Hybrid AT With MRS Plus Buoyancy Compensator

A versatile and compact BCD with a modular weight integrated system

$694.95

The Hybrid AT is an innovative BCD that comes equipped with the Mares patented Airtrim technology. The system allows easy and precise buoyancy control in all positions and conditions. The control device is built into the left hand pocket, which contributes to convenient and intuitive usage. The BC combines pre-shaped and reinforced shoulder pads with an extremely comfortable lumbar suspension system. The Mechanical Release System ensures that integrated weights will stay securely in place. What’s more, this BCD is great to travel with, it folds up quite small and is pretty light. It’s a really versatile BCD that also comes with a modular weight integrated system. Mares Hybrid AT has already earned lots of positive reviews and is truly one of the best hybrid style BCDs on the market.

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Best BCD for Travel

Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator by Cressi
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator by Cressi
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator by Cressi
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE
Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator - DIPNDIVE

Cressi Travelight Buoyancy Compensator

A great addition to your dive travel packing list

$429.95

Cressi Travelight is a BCD that is designed specifically for traveling divers, yet incorporates all the features of a general-purpose compensator. It’s made of lightweight, rugged materials, in particular, 210 denier nylon and light-alloys for D-rings. Notably, the Travelight includes the Integrated Lock Aid Quick-Release Weight System that holds up to 20 lbs (9 kg) of weight. There are also two additional rear non-releasable trim weight pockets for easier positioning underwater. Plenty of D-rings and pockets allow to bring accessories along with you in the dive. Cressi Travelight also comes in a female-specific version. Comfort, high quality and thoughtful design touches make this a great BCD both for travel and local diving.

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