When it comes to dive gear, you want to make sure you are comfortable on a dive. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes and not all BCDS are created equal and fit the same. You should probably get your own BCD if you don’t fit into the standard ones a shop rents out.
Not all dive shops have every size, let alone BCDs made for women, so to make sure you have the perfect dive, just bring your own and make life easier. The other issue is when you are diving with a new dive operator/ shop, you won’t know how good or bad the quality of the equipment is.
I’ve done dives where the BCD didn’t fit well, the weight pockets fell out easily, dump valve cords were missing, inflators didn’t work, and everything outside and in between that. It can really ruin the dive and also can be a safety issue if a key part of the BCD isn’t working properly.
That’s what this guide is for. There are a lot of dive BCDs out there, and this guide is meant to make it easy to find your best possible match, based on budget, skill level, preference, and more.
If you are afraid of traveling with such a big and bulky bag, don’t worry, I can help alleviate those fears. On this list, there are a few great options for travel BCDs. There are some that are super lightweight and foldable, that you will love. If you can’t find something perfect for you here, I don’t know where else you will.
- Highly customizable
- Super comfortable
- Great for beginners
- Dump valves can be sensitive to body position
The Mares Prime is a jacket-style BCD that provides excellent lift with 30.8 lbs to 52.9 lbs (14.2 to 24 kg) of buoyancy while only weighing just over 6 lbs (2.8 kg). It also has great stowage for your regulators and gauges. The pockets have great zippers and 5 D-rings for storage and attaching things to you for easy access.
The Prime BCD has quick releases on the shoulder straps, chest straps, and waist straps. That with the adjustable cummerbund provides a comfortable fit. This also will allow you to get in and out of the Prime BCD with ease in any situation.
It is an excellent side-inflate BCD that is enjoyed by people small to tall. There is a wide range of sizes so that it will fit young people to adults as well. The lower price for a new BCD makes it also a good one for your first.
- Style of BCD: Jacket
- Product Material: Cordura Nylon
- Light Weight Capacity: 31.3 lbs. to 52.9 lb
- Weights: Integrated
- BCD Weight: 6.2lbs/2.8 kg
- # of Pockets: Two Large Pockets
- # of D-Rings: 5
- Perfect for travel
- High level of comfort
- Plenty of D-rings
- Limited size weight pockets (around 10-12lbs total)
Hollis is one of our favorite brands for tech diving and advanced recreational gear. These guys focus on that and are king.
The Hollis L.T.S (Lite Travel System) is a weight-integrated back inflation design that’s awesome for travel as it only weighs 5 lbs (2.27 kg) and with 30 lbs (13.6 kg) of lift capacity, this is the BCD you want to travel with.
Some other things to note are that it uses bungee cords to hold the bladder to a low profile, this allows helps to speed up deflation if need be.
It has a back pad that is comfortable but you cannot attach a back plate.
It is great for all single-tank recreational situations and the design is well thought out. While it will accommodate extra gear well while keeping a very low profile in the water is that the weight pockets are not designed to accommodate any more than about 6 lbs (2.4 kg) on each side. So if you are diving in warmer water this is fine but if you may be larger and/ or diving in cold water you will need to wear a weight belt as well.
- Style of BCD: Back-inflate
- Product Material: Denier nylon
- Light Weight Capacity: 30 lbs/13.6 kg
- Weight System: Integrated weights
- BCD Weight: 5lbs
- # of Pockets: Two Large Pockets (weights inside)
- # of D-Rings: 4
xDeep NX Zen
- Comfortable crotch strap
- Excellent back plate design
- Practical D-Rings
- Excellent weight distribution
- No Pockets
The NX ZEN Deluxe truly is a one-of-a-kind BCD. The stainless steel backplate wing is highly customizable and super comfortable. The ergonomic design has been made to feature both style and practicality, as well as create a highly robust, and durable BCD.
XDEEP has changed up the classic backplate design most divers are used to and redesigned it. They took into account the anatomy and ergonomics of the human body and it really shows. It has a wider upper section which removes the amount of load by improving the weight distribution during your dive. The lower part of the backplate helps spread the weight as well and allows the attachment of your other gear and weight pockets.
The harness is made of high-quality and super strong materials that are able to take the toughest of conditions. The webbing is also very stiff which will loosen a bit over time but take some getting used to. These all do add up to getting it off and on easier. The harness comes with 5 d-rings made of 6mm stainless steel. and I can’t honestly imagine anything that would break or deform them during a dive.
It has a v-shaped crotch strap which distributes the weight when at the surface, this means you can sit on it comfortably. It has 2 attachment points on the backplate to stop the system from slipping while the above is the deluxe version there is a standard one as well.
We could go on for this BCD as it is truly one of a kind and so is the price.
- Style of BCD: Wing
- Product Material: 3D Mesh
- Light Weight Capacity: 41.88lbs/19kg
- Weight System: Integrated
- BCD Weight: 6.6lbs
- # of Pockets: Two
- # of D-Rings: 2
Scubapro Hydros Pro
- Instant dry material
- Body grip gel
- Auto adjust Torso Flex Zone
- TPE Gel conforms to shape of body
ScubaPro is an awesome company and makes many BCDs, but the Scubapro Hydros Pro one is one of my favorites of the year.
It has tons of features and comforts and is good for all levels. There is also a woman’s version.
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 allows 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 jacket’s buckles, can be replaced without messing around with stitching.
- Style of BCD: Back Inflate
- Product Material: Monoprene Gel
- Light Weight Capacity: 36 lbs-40.5 lbs
- Weight System: Integrated
- BCD Weight: 8.6lbs-11lbs
- # of Pockets: Two
- # of D-Rings: 4
Cressi Patrol BCD
- Ultralight rigid backplate
- High Lift
- Only one pocket
The Cressi Patrol is probably the best BCD on offer from Cressi, and it’s a good one. This lightweight, rear inflation BC is built for comfort, and any diver would be happy with it as their daily diver.
The Patrol is a lightweight BCD that still offers a lift capacity from 29 to 50 lbs (13.3 to 22.9kg) and still has 20 lbs (9kg) weight releasable capacity. The air cell compression strap gives you quick deflation for volume control as well.
It has a rigid back plate to be able to give stability. The Patrol also has Cressi’s flat-lock-aid integrated weight system which streamlines the BCD better and gives you the fast release of the weights in an emergency.
Though it only has a 1-roll-up cargo pocket it is quite large and holds almost everything you need. It also features plastic D-rings to help reduce weight and distribute it around the body. A feature that is quite handy is an optional tank band trim weight pockets that we also recommend getting.
- Style of BCD: Back-inflate
- Product Material: Denier Nylon
- Light Weight Capacity: 29.2 to 50.6 lbs
- Weight System: Integrated
- BCD Weight: 6.7lbs-7.5lbs
- # of Pockets: 2
- # of D-Rings: 4
Basic Parts of a BCD
Here is a list of all the parts of a BCD in case you are new to diving or just need a quick review.
Air Bladders – Where the air goes when the BCD is inflated.
Adjustable Tank Band – It is located at the back of the BCD, this straps and holds the SCUBA tank in place and allows divers to change their tanks with ease.
Air Inlet– On the power inflator and is the connector to the low-pressure hose of the regulator.
Backplate- Used on certain types of BCDs and is adjustable to fit the diver.
Cummerbund/ Waistband– Usually velcro and adjustable for a more comfortable fit.
Dump/Quick Valves– Located on the top and bottoms of BCDS to quickly release air from the bladder no matter what position you’re in case you cannot hold the deflator mechanism upward.
D-Rings – Used to attach gear, bag, tapper, flashlight, etc.
Deflator – This button is used to deflate or release air from the air bladders.
Inflator – Used to inflate the BCD by pressing the power buttons and delivering air from the tank via the regulator to the power inflator. Located close to the air inlet.
Integrated weight pockets – On either side of the BCD and can be dumped in emergencies. Not all BCDs have these but are a nice feature.
Oral Inflator – Hold the button and blow into the mouthpiece to manually inflate the bladder on the surface to save air or in the event of a malfunction on the power inflator.
Straps/ Buckles – Used to adjustable for a better fitting BCD.
Pockets – Some BCDs do not have these butt most will have pockets on each side of the jacket for divers to carry accessories and even weights.
How to Choose the Perfect BCD
If you are still not sure which one to go with here are a few factors to consider when choosing the perfect BCD for you. After that, I will just give my recommendations and all-time favorites, that you can’t go wrong with.
First of all, you should think about your budget, check the prices in the links above and go from there. Since there are many options around the same prices, there will be more factors to consider. Please do think about this as an investment, if taken care of the BCD can last years and will save you money in the long. Also, this is a device that you will use for your safety so even if you are looking for a cheaper one make sure that it is a quality one.
There is a difference between men’s and women’s BCDs. While you can use the other sexes’ BCD it is helpful to have one that matches your body. Men’s BCDs will have longer torsos and woman’s BCDs have shorter ones. Women’s BCDs are designed and made to fit the short backs of women compared to men and some of them don’t even have chest straps for women that are larger in that area.
Frequency of Diving
How often will you dive? If you are diving frequently, or are a Divemaster/ Instructor, you are going to want a good BCD that will last, is very durable, as well as one that matches your skill level. If you are diving a few times a year, you won’t need the most top-of-the-line BCD.
Type of Diving
What type of diving will you do? Are you muck diving, deep diving, or solo diving? Depending on what you are doing can also influence your BCD choice. If I was to go deep or solo diving a lot I would want a more sturdy BCD with more pockets for extra gear.
If I was just muck diving I would want something light and easy to get around in. If you are a recreational diver/ instructor then the jacket style is good. You want the same BCD to show the students. Also, using the jacket-style BCD can give more comfort on the surface since it inflates all around.
Most of you reading this will be recreational divers and do not need something very technical. Remember that if you get one with a side inflator, you need to do a couple of practice dives with it.
It can be dangerous if you are not familiar with where your inflator/deflators are located in the event of an emergency. But once you get used to it, you’ll love it. If you are an instructor, you need a regular inflator hose, as you will be demonstrating it to students.
Try it On
It is not necessary to wear a wetsuit when trying on the BCD. The important part is that there is enough space to allow you to move around in it as it will inflate. If you can manually blow up the BCD to see how it fits inflated and depending on if you own a regulator have that as well to make sure its hoses and accessories are compatible with the BCD.
Dive With It
If you can try it on and take it out for a dive. This will give you the best feel for it. A lot of dive shops have rentals so you can try to rent and use it first to see if it fits right in the water.
What Are Jacket BCDs?
The jacket BCD may also feature a zippered or have velcro pockets on each side for storing accessories such as SMBs and flashlights. It is very stable in the water as the air goes in the front, the back, and the lower part of the ribs but the air placement can make it a bit hard to maintain a horizontal position.
The benefits of jacket BCDs:
- Comfort- Many people feel comfortable diving in them, as this is what they learned.
- Storage- They also tend to have large pockets for storing gear.
- Resale- The other benefit of these is that since they are so common it is easier to resell them and you can upgrade from there.
- Ease of use- Easy to put on and take off because of the quick release on the shoulder straps and above the pockets.
They do have some downsides:
- Customization- They aren’t very customizable.
- Lift- They give lift in places that don’t benefit trim.
- Fix- It can be hard to replace parts.
- Sizes- They usually only come in a handful of sizes.
What Are Back Inflated BCDs?
This type of BCD is gaining popularity, even with the recreational diver, the hybrid or back-inflate BCD is a BCD that has an air bladder that distributes the air along the diver’s back. This will make keeping a horizontal position in the water much easier and a lot of people find them more comfortable than jackets because the air cell doesn’t squeeze as much when inflated.
This type of BCD usually still has pockets for storage and an integrated weight system, but not all of them. On the other hand, it takes a bit more practice and skill to maintain a vertical position at the surface.
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 fairly common and popular among more experienced divers.
What are Backplate and Wing BCDs?
The backplate and wing BCD is the most streamlined of the three types of BCDs. This BCD rarely if ever does not contain, weight pockets, pockets, or harnesses in the front. It just consists of a metal backplate made of high-strength aluminum or steel. It has a continuous harness with a waist belt and a crotch strap that is looped through notches.
A huge downfall of this BCD is is the lack of pockets for dive accessories and weight integration pockets. But on the positive side, there are infinite combinations when choosing which back-plate and wing combination you want. The backplate and wing BCD is the best choice for divers who are planning more advanced and technical diving. This goes for those that want to deep dive, wreck dive, or explore caves.
What is a Travel BCD?
I know I have had issues getting my BCD into my bag, it frustrated me. If this has happened to you you may want a travel BCD. Here is an overview of what features a travel BCD should have:
- Back inflation air bladder
- Small and can roll it up compact
- Convenient adjustment attachment points
- The dump vales lay flat for better streamlining
- The harness should fit snug around your waist
- Integrated weights
- Around 6 pounds (2.5kilo)
What is Surface Lift and How Much Surface Lift do I Need?
Surface life is the amount of negative weight that the BCD can float at. For how much you need, there is no exact answer to this but here are some guidelines and ideas on how much surface life you should have when diving.
You will need enough lift to compensate for the weight you will lose due to air consumption, your gear, your actual weight, the lead you are wearing, and possibly the compression for your wetsuit. You should choose a BCD with at least 10 pounds more lift than the total weight.
This is another factor to consider when choosing a BCD. When you are reading about the BCD it will usually list their lift capacity. BCDs for the recreational diver usually only have space for a 12 or 15-liter tank. So you can guess the weight from there as most people use aluminum tanks vs steel tanks. You can use our weight calculator for how much lead to wear to get a better idea of how much surface lift you need. Here are three common scenarios with an estimated surface lift needed to help you to get a better idea.
- Recreational diver in warm water (84F 30C) in a rash guard- 16 to 28 lbs (7 to 13kg) is good for surface lift.
- Recreational diver in a 3mm wetsuit or drysuit- 20 to 45 lbs (9 to 21kg) is good for surface lift.
- Technical diver diving in a drysuit- 42 to 90 lb (19 to 21kg) should be good for surface lift.
Frequently Asked Questions
We recommend that scuba diving BCDs are serviced annually.
If you use your BCD on a regular basis it may be worth getting it serviced a little more often, especially if you dive in salt water frequently.
Depends on how well you look after it!
Regular servicing and proper cleaning techniques paired with diving skills such as perfect buoyancy, will lengthen the lifetime of your BCD
BCD stands for buoyancy control device.
Different dives call for different accessories!
Going on a night dive? Well then I would highly suggest taking a dive light!
An SMB is also a dive accessory you should consider for every dive!
Dive knives can be attached to most BCDs, and are an important piece of kit for wreck dives, and dives where entanglement can be an issue
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.
If you’d like to learn some buoyancy control tips, we’ve got you covered there as well.
What is your favorite BCD?
Let us know in the comments below!