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ScubaAroundTheWorld.com - Ultimate buying guide for the best BCD for scuba diving

A BCD is an important part of your scuba gear. Also known as a buoyancy control device, a buoyancy control compensator (BCC) or simply buoyancy compensator (BC), this vital piece of your diving equipment controls your descent and ascent. It also helps you to maintain your position in the water during your dive. But, what is the best BCD? This detailed guide has all the information you need to choose the best BCD for you

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There are many different types of BCDs available. To be as comfortable as possible during your dive, you have to choose the best BCD for you. This might or might not be the best BCD on the market today or the one with the most features. There’s a BCD for (almost) every size and every budget. I use a pretty basic Mares BCD myself. So far I’ve done 500+ dives with this BC and I’m still happy with it. So, please keep in mind that the best scuba gear is not necessarily the most expensive. It’s just what fits you and your budget best.

Best BCD comparison table

How to choose your BCD

There are so many options, how do you know which BCD to choose? My partner had the same question a while ago and did hours of online research. That’s why we decided to create this Best BCD Buying Guide. So you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about which BCD you want to buy. Scuba BC’s are available from all the best scuba gear brands. The best BCD for diving is different for everyone. What you’re looking for is the best buoyancy compensator for you. We’ll discuss the major BCD features you need to pay attention to, the best BCD brands and give you scuba BCD reviews of the best BCD for beginners, the best budget BCD, the best BCD for travel, the best BCD for women, the best tech BCD and many more.

Size of your BCD

Nothing is as uncomfortable as a BCD that doesn’t fit. You have to keep pushing it down, you can’t reach your dump valves or your weights when you have to dump them, or the straps slide off your shoulders even at their shortest. So, make sure to choose a buoyancy compensator that fits your body type. Regular BC’s are one size fits all and gender neutral, but nowadays there are also female fit BCD’s. The ‘female’ part about them is not that they are all pink or purple (although you can find those too if you want), but that they have a shorter back and narrower shoulder straps that curve away from the chest.

BCD Styles

Jacket style BCD

The scuba diving vest or scuba diving jacket BCD is the most used BCD style. It’s the preferred type of BCD for a lot of recreational divers, both beginners and advanced. The wrap around air bladder provides both great vertical surface stability as well as horizontal stability while diving, making it the obvious choice for teaching purposes. There are two types of BCD jackets, with or without integrated weights. Jacket style  BCD’s are available in a wide range of prices, from our best budget choice BCD, the Cressi Start to our much more advanced best jacket style BCD choice Aqua Lung Axiom i3.

Back inflate BCD / Wing BCD

When diving a good horizontal positioning in the water is important. The more horizontal, the more streamlined you are which minimizes workload and energy. A backplate and wing BCD has the air bladder positioned on the back, behind the diver. In a way the diver is suspended or hanging in the harness, secured by a velcro cummerbund. As opposed to a jacket BCD, which has air all around, the front of the wing style BCD is completely flat. This makes it less cluttered and allows for easier arm movements. Wing bcd diving takes a bit of practice. The back inflate vs jacket bcd difference is most noticeable on the surface. Because you have no air bladder on the front and sides, the bladder in the back pushes you face forward and makes it a bit more difficult to stay vertically upright. Our choices for the best wing BCD or best back inflate BCD are the Zeagle Ranger BCD and the Scubapro Knighthawk.

Travel BCD

Traveling light definitely has our preference. Anyone else hate hauling around heavy bags? Unfortunately diving equipment can be quite bulky. So it was only a matter of time before someone invented a travel BCD. Lightweight AquaLung Zuma (only 4.75 lbs or 2.2kg for size M/L) was one of the first bcd’s for travel a few years ago. But nowadays most scuba brands offer a lightweight travel BCD model. Basically, a travel BCD is not a BCD style in itself. It can be any of the above mentioned BCD types, jacket, wing, hybrid or tech BCD.

The main factors deciding if a BCD is suitable for travel are weight and packing size. The best travel BCD really depends on your travel style. Obviously you’ll want an extremely lightweight and small version when backpacking and just want a BCD that fits in your dive luggage when you’re going on a dedicated dive trip of live aboard. A BCD that’s limited in weight and dimensions simply has to compromise on comfort and durability. So when deciding on the best BCD for travel, make sure to pay close attention to the travel BCD reviews.

Hybrid BCD

If you want the horizontal stability that a wing BCD provides, without having to struggle to stay upright when kneeling down on the bottom or while on the surface, a hybrid BCD is for you. It combines the best of the jacket BCD and the wing BCD in one. Hybrid BCD reviews are very positive about this innovative design. It has the comfort of a jacket BCD with the energy efficiency of a back inflate BCD. The Mares Hybrid is our choice for the best hybrid BCD. It has great fit and can fold small enough to fit in a travel bag.

Backplate and wing BCD / Tech BCD

A technical diving BCD is also called a backplate and wing BCD. It’s used by divers who are into advanced diving, such as technical deep diving, cave diving or wreck penetration. Don’t confuse them with the back inflation or wing BCD mentioned above, they are vastly different. Backplate BCD’s for technical diving consist of 3 separate components: a backplate, a wing or air bladder and a harness. A tech dive BCD is modular and very versatile. An infinite number of combinations of backplate, wing, harness and harness hardware is possible. This makes it possible to adapt and assemble the BCD to meet your diving needs. So again, the best tech BCD is the usually a custom set up. A special sub style of the technical diving BCD is the sidemount BCD, which originates from cave diving, but is becoming more popular among tech divers. Some of the best tech diving BCD brands are Zeagle, Hollis, Apeks and Dive Rite.

Lift capacity of your BC

In general, the lift capacity of a BCD increases with its size and is enough to support a person of average weight with a single tank. If you’re quite large or heavy, or dive with multiple tanks, lift capacity is something to take into consideration when choosing a new scuba BCD. We have added this factor to our comparison table.

BCD weight integration

If you’re diving in tropical waters, in a shorty or even just a board short, you don’t need that many weights and it’s not much of an issue to wear a weight belt. But if you need more weights, having them all on your hips can be uncomfortable. Even more so if you have back problems. Integrated weights are a great invention. The strategically placed weight pockets are attached to your BCD, which helps you with positioning in the water. And it’s one less accessory you have to keep track of. The weight pockets have a quick release system, making it easy to dump them if necessary. Make sure to attach them properly, because they’re also easy to lose! Some BCD’s also offer trim pockets to secure additional weights at the back of the BCD or on the tank straps.

AIR or alternate air source BCD

The basic set up for scuba gear is a regulator set with a primary regulator (also called primary second stage) and an alternate air source (octopus), combined with a BCD to regulate buoyancy. The traditional BCD has an over the left shoulder inflator/deflator hose. An alternative to this is to use an AIR or alternate inflator regulator, such as the Scubapro Air2, the Oceanic Air XS2 or the Mares Air Control octopus inflator. With an AIR the alternate air source is integrated in the inflator hose, it’s a combined inflator with alternate regulator. In case of an emergency OOA (out of air) situation you give your primary regulator to your buddy and use the regulator that’s integrated in your inflator hose. So what are the Air2 pros and cons?

Air2 pros:

  • no octopus, so one less hose and less clutter
  • no issue with storing your octopus so it doesn’t drag
  • your alternate or breathable power inflator is always in the same place and close
  • less weight (one less hose and octopus), so travel-friendly

Air2 cons:

  • can’t easily switch to another BCD because your reg set has no octopus and your inflator connection doesn’t fit
  • can’t easily switch regulators, because the Air2 has a non-standard port for attaching your regulator hose
  • different OOA emergency procedure than most divers are used to
  • ascend with your buoyancy device in your mouth 
  • you need to remember to service it, just like any other octopus

Of course, whichever set up you choose, you always need to train to familiarise yourself with it. This is especially true in case of an integrated octopus inflator. This alternate air source BCD is becoming more popular and as with all innovations, there are always people who love it and people who hate it.

BCD pockets & D-rings

If you bring a lot of additional equipment while diving, you need to pay attention to the availability of pockets and D-rings on your new buoyancy device. A dive light, surface marker, clip for your octopus, underwater camera, slate, back up mask or straps… even if you don’t bring an excessive amount of tools and scuba accessories you quickly run out of rings and pockets to secure them. While you can add additional attachment points, it’s much easier if your BCD of choice has them out of the box. If you’re planning to carry heavy equipment make sure the D-rings are stainless steel and not plastic. Travel BCD’s will generally have plastic D-rings as they are lighter. As for pockets, I definitely prefer pockets with a zipper instead of a velcro closing.

BCD maintenance

As with all scuba equipment, a BCD can be quite an investment. But if you take good care of it, it will last a good few years. Rinse your BCD well with fresh water after each dive and use BCD cleaner & conditioner to keep your BCD in good condition.

2019 BCD reviews

It can be hard work to compare BCD’s, so we’ve made a selection of the best BCD’s on the market. For each of our categories, we’ve chosen the best option for you. Check below for the best travel BCD, the best budget BCD, the best jacket style BCD, the best tech BCD, the best back inflation BCD, the best hybrid BCD and the best women’s BCD.

Best travel BCD

Cressi Travelight BCD review

At 5 to 6.2lbs (2.3 to 2.8kg) this Cressi travel BCD is a travel BCD in the true sense of the word. It’s extremely lightweight but more importantly, it’s also very functional and durable as. The flexible backplate allows for this Cressi buoyancy compensator to be rolled up in a small package. Two tank straps secure the cylinder and make sure the back is sufficiently rigid.  A wide cummerbund, good back padding and adjustable shoulder, waist and chest straps ensure comfortable diving.

Click here to see the latest price for the Cressi Travelight and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

For this Cressi BCD a lot of research was done and the best lightweight materials were chosen. The 210 denier nylon is light, but very strong. The D rings are made of a lightweight but strong alloy, and with 10 of them there is plenty of space for your dive tools. The Cressi Travel Light has two large zippered pockets to store even more of your equipment. Providing from 13.5 to 36 lbs. (6.1 to 16.3 kg) of lift, depending on size, this lightweight travel BCD is perfect for tropical diving. It even comes with the integrated Lock Aid weight system. The Cressi Travelight is available in multiple colors. 

Best back inflate BCD

Scubapro Knighthawk review

The Scubapro Knighthawk BCD has been a stable part of the ScubaPro collection for a number of years. Where other models come and go, the sturdy and trusted Knighhawk BC has remained. Of course, it’s has seen a number of improvements over the years. Many serious recreational divers use this back inflate BCD and love it, as a huge number of raving Knighthawk BCD reviews prove.

The Knighthawk’s air bladder is positioned behind the diver, which eliminates clutter on the front and allows maximum freedom of movement. The retractable air cell minimizes the drag considerably. Four stainless steel D rings offer you plenty of space to store your gear. Quick release integrated weight pockets offer additional comfort and are counterbalanced by two rear trim pockets.

Click here to see the latest price for the ScubaPro Knighthawk and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

Made of rugged 1000 denier nylon with welded seams the Scubapro Knighthawk BC is a durable, quality BC that will last for years to come. It has a backpack style harness system with a comfortable padded backpad and a cushioned neck roll. Standard this back inflation BCD comes with a balanced power inflator, but the Knighthawk BCD with AIR 2 is also available. The Scubapro Knighthawk AIR 2 has a slightly higher price tag.

The Scuba Pro Knighthawk was designed specifically for men, with a low profile back harness. For women, ScubaPro has designed the ScubaPro Ladyhawk.

Best tech BCD for travel

Zeagle Express Tech Deluxe review

The Zeagle Express Tech Deluxe BCD is a modular tech BCD meant for travel. It weighs only 6.5lbs (2,95kg) and folds small enough to fit in a backpack or suitcase. The Express Tech Deluxe has a flexible and light polymer reinforced backplate and a compact 24lbs retractable bladder.

Click here to see the latest price for the Zeagle Express Tech and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

Because of its modular setup with separate backplate, bladder, and harness it can be configured and adapted to the diver’s needs, even as they evolve. Novice divers might fight the ‘tech’ feel of this BCD a bit intimidating, but it’s suitable for divers of all level and both for recreational and tech diving. The backplate allows for the attachment of twin tanks. Read our full review of the Zeagle Express Tech Deluxe BCD >>

Best hybrid BCD

Mares Hybrid BCD review

Mares says their Hybrid BCD ‘goes beyond innovation’ and claims ‘unparalleled comfort, fit, stability and lift’. That’s quite a bold claim, but practically all Mares Hybrid BCD reviews are very positive about the innovation of the design. Basically this Hybrid combines the best of a wing BCD and a jacket BCD. The energy efficiency of a back inflate BCD is combined with the comfort and stability of a jacket style BCD.

Click here to see the latest price for the Mares Hybrid and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

There are multiple versions of the Mares Hybrid BCD: Mares Hybrid original, Mares Hybrid AT (airtrim), Mares Hybrid She Dives ladies BCD, the Mares Hybrid Pure back inflate BCD and the Mares Hybrid Pro Tec BCD.

Mares Hybrid BCD features:

  • Foldable backplate, making it a great travel BCD
  • Combines features of the backmount and traditional bladder
  • High lift capacity
  • Aircell and harness can be detached
  • MRS plus modular integrated weight system
  • Light, but very sturdy and durable
  • Total weight: 3,9kg / 8.6lbs

The air cell is separate from the harness, allowing you a lot of freedom to move. The backplate is foldable, resulting in a BCD that’s small enough to pack for traveling. The Mares Hybrid is heavier than a real travel BCD such as the Cressi Travelight (8.6lbs vs 6.2lbs), but still very suitable for travel. And because it’s so durable and sturdy, you can use it both for your travels and ‘regular’ year round diving. In the Mares Hybrid Pro Tec BCD the bladder and harness can be separated and the outer vest can be removed completely to create a super lightweight travel BCD.

Best budget BCD

Cressi Start BCD review

Our choice for best budget BCD, the Cressi Start BCD is the best BCD for beginners in our opinion. A great addition for any beginner scuba gear, at an incredibly affordable price. Novice divers will love the simplicity of this basic no nonsense BC. After all, you already have enough to think of when you’re newly certified.

Click here to see the latest price for the Cressi Start and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

The Cressi Start is made of durable 1000 denier Cordura, which is tougher than nylon. It has a sturdy and well put together feel. The inflator has a double air filtration system, making it easy to rinse and clean. It has 4 technopolymer D-ring and 2 large pockets cargo pockets with Velcro closure. There were some complaints from intermediate divers about the lack of an integrated weight system, so Cressi introduced the Cressi Start Pro BCD. A great budget choice for a basic BCD with integrated weights. The Start Pro has integrated gravity type weight pockets with rugged quick-release buckles for easy ditching of weight in an emergency.

Best wing BCD

Zeagle Ranger review

The Zeagle Ranger BCD has topped the charts for best back inflate BCD for years now. This rugged, versatile BCD will grow with you as your diving grows. Transition seamlessly between diving in the tropics or cold water diving, and between single or twin cylinders. With optional bladder assemblies and easily mounted backplates it can also be used as backplate BCD for tech diving.

Click here to see the latest price for the Zeagle Ranger and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

With its sturdy construction made of heavily reinforced 1050 denier ballistic nylon, the Zeagle Ranger BC is extremely durable and will last for years. The standard Ballistic bladder has a lift capacity of 44lbs. The 30lb integrated ripcord weight system is coupled with an additional integrated 20lb trim weights in the back. It has 4 stainless steel D-rings on the shoulders and 2 stainless steel D-rings on the vest.

The Ranger BC has a Personal Fit System (PFS) which makes easy to adjust the fit. Standard it comes with the Zeagle BX Power Inflator, but it’s also available with Octo-Z. Overall Zeagle Ranger BCD reviews are extremely positive. The only negatives about the Zeagle Ranger buoyancy compensator are its weight (8.4lbs) and size. Most people find it too bulky to travel with.

Best travel BCD

Cressi Ultralight BCD review

The Cressi Ultralight BC is every traveler’s friend! At only 4.6lbs (2kg) it’s indeed ultra light weight and the soft back pad means you can fold and even roll it so it easily fits your backpack or travel bag. And all this while not being a bare bones BCD either. This back inflation BCD still has plenty of features, such as the Lock Aid flat version integrated weight system, easily adjusted fit with comfortable anatomical shoulder straps and 4 lightweight plastic D-rings. It also comes with a hideaway pocket to stow some additional accessories that you might want to bring.

Click here to see the latest price for the Cressi Ultralight and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

Despite being light, the Cressi Ultralight doesn’t compromise on durability and quality. The air cell is made from durable urethane laminated 420 denier nylon. The Lock Aid integrated weight pockets can hold up to 20lbs (9.1kg) of soft or hard block weights. Keep in mind that the BC itself is extremely light weight, so you might to add some extra weights. The Cressi Ultralight is equipped with Cressi’s streamline Commando Power Inflator. Depending on BCD size the Ultralight provides 20.2 lbs. to 31.7 lbs. (9.2 kg to 15.3 kg) of lift. This makes it the perfect travel BCD for all your awesome tropical dive holidays.

Best jacket BCD

Aqualung Axiom i3 review

In features the Aqua Lung Axiom i3 BCD and the Aqua Lung Soul i3 BCD are the same, but they’re specifically tailored to men (Axiom bcd) or women (Soul bcd). The Axiom BCD is a sturdy and well made high end jacket BCD, with a lot of features. It’s available both in the i3 version, with Aqua Lung’s patented i3 inflation system or a non-i3 version with a regular inflator.

Although the i3 Control System takes some getting used to, Axiom i3 reviews by owners are very positive. The i3 controls eliminate the need for an inflator hose minimising the clutter at your front. No more searching for that dangling hose, the inflation system is always in the same place. On the right shoulder, where your inflator hose normally sits, there’s a small oral inflator tube. Next to the i3 system the Axiom i3 BCD only has one other dump valve.

Click here to see the latest price for the Aqua Lung Axiom i3 and any discounts that may apply on Amazon >>

The Wrapture Harness System makes the Axiom jacket extremely comfortable, both below and above the water. An ultra-thin back plate combined with patented swivel shoulder buckles and the lack of a cummerbund provide ultimate comfort. The chest strap can be adjusted in hight, which is especially useful if you’re wearing a dry suit. Two integrated weight pockets are held in place with the SureLock II mechanical weight system and the Aqua Lung Axiom i3 also has two smaller non-ditchable weight pockets on the tank band. Although it may take some time to get used to it, the GripLock Tank Band makes attaching a cylinder to your BCD a breeze.



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