My Impression of the Back Inflate vs. Jacket Style vs. BP/Wings Debate
Welcome to ScubaBoard, an online scuba diving forum community where you can join over 205,000 divers diving from around the world. If the topic is related to scuba diving, this is the place to find divers talking about it. To gain full access to ScubaBoard (and make this large box go away) you must register for a free account. As a registered member you will be able to:
Participate in over 500 dive topic forums and browse from over 5,500,000 posts.
Communicate privately with other divers from around the world.
Post your own photos or view from well over 100,000 user submitted images.
Gain access to our free classifieds marketplace to buy, sell and trade gear, travel and services.
Use the calendar to organize your events and enroll in other members' events.
Find a dive buddy or communicate directly with scuba equipment manufacturers.
All this and much more is available to you absolutely free when you register for an account, so sign up today!
If you have any problems with the registration process or your account login, please contact the ScubaBoard Support Team.
My Impression of the Back Inflate vs. Jacket Style vs. BP/Wings Debate
Okay, I finally got the opportunity to play with some different bouyancy control devices in the water and even do a series of dives with a back inflate BC... And I've got some impressions to share with those of you who have questions about which BCD is right for you.
Firstly, even though people told me this blatantly, I must admit that I didn't realize how very specific the gear is for a certain dive. While I, as a new diver looking to purchase his first gear (I've got 17 dives in two months now), was looking to buy one setup that would get me started, people were telling me not to worry about it... That the further I progressed in the sport, the more gear I'd get for specific purposes. While I can't see that as being entirely true at this point, I must admit that there is a great deal of truth to the concept that I'm going to want different gear for different reasons at different times. My idea, though, in the meantime, was to get some good, all-around gear for now.
Up to last weekend, I'd only dived with borrowed gear (my instructor's; maybe three different BC's, and all jacket-style), so I was eager to find some alternatives to what I'd been diving; specifically, I was looking for a back inflate BC to see how different it really was.
Well, I finally found a shop who rented Zeagles, and I got fitted and took it to Blue Grotto and Devil's Den this past weekend for a total of four dives. Interestingly, I saw no one using a BP/Wings setup, even though BP/Wings setups are typically designed for cave diving, and both Blue Grotto and Devil's Den are caves in the middle of cave country. Of course, these are very mild by comparison of some of the other stuff down there, so maybe I'd have found more BP/Wing setups at some of the more technical spots.
I dove in 72 degree water with a 3/2 mil wetsuit, on a 95 degree day. I dove with a single AL80 tank, since they were readily available. I started with 2700-3500 psi on each dive. I used two redundant personal lights for the dive (PCa by Ikelight style) and dove with 10 lbs of weight in the integrated pockets of the BCs. I wore gloves and booties to protect myself from the rough walls and rocks of the underwater landscape. Other than that, I had only a dive slate for communication and my Mares Quattros (which I love.)
Immediately when I entered the water and turned to wait for my dive buddies, I noticed a difference between back inflate and jacket syle BC's. There is truth to the fact that back inflates tend to want to push you forward in the water. To counteract the force, I found myself floating in a sitting position rather than letting my legs hang straight down. The force was not impossible to counteract, but there was definitely a difference. To minimize the force, I deflated my BC a bit. Only when I was very low in the water was this force really a nonissue. (More on this "low tread depth" in a second.) I suppose that I could have placed my 10 lbs of weight around the tank or behind the BC to help counteract the force as well, but then it would not have been ditchable, which was not a good idea since some of the guys I was diving with were just earning their C-cards, and I did not want to set the bad example.
Underwater, the back inflate BC tended to make me float nearly horizontally, with my head slightly higher than my feet. This sounds like a positive thing, but I found the back inflate BC to be truly annoying; whenever I approached a wall, a rock, or other point of interest (at one point I wanted to basically stand on my head to enter a shallow hole in the floor) this thing fought me and tried to make me flatten back out. Additionally, where most jacket style BC's lay flat and close to my body, I found the rear placement of the bladder mildly irritating. I found that if I swam in any position other than flat and level, I could feel this bubble floating around back there behind the tank, sometimes shifting from one wing to the other, despite the Zeagle's bungee-style support system. Sometimes, the shift in the bubble was enough to affect my position in the water. Of course, making slight adjustments to my weights meant less air in the bladder at depth, and so I was able to tune some of this out. However, it was still present even with just four pounds of weight, which is too light to dive if there's a current.
That's when I saw a new dive buddy having some problems equalizing. Wanting to write something to her on my slate and attempt to give her a hand with equalization, I reached for the pocket that held my slate. Unfortunately, due to the manufacturer's attempt to place integrated weights (which I love) and pockets in the same back inflate BC, I could not reach my own pockets to retrieve my slate. Some other back inflates might be a little better at this than others, but to date I haven't seen a back inflate BC really address this problem to any real resolve.
Another of my buddies had been eyeing the back inflate BC the whole trip, so I asked hiim if he'd switch with me as a point of reference. I found his SeaQuest BC wonderfully neutral and giving of my attitude in the water. Where I placed my body is where I stayed. Where some people on this board have told me that back inflates keep you horizontal and jacket style BC's keep you vertical, I found them to be correct about the back inflates, but found the jacket style to be wonderfully unopinionated about which way I placed my body in the water. If I wanted to stand on my head and peer into a hole, I could. If I wanted to swim on my side to best take advantage of a wall, I could. If I wanted to be upside down, rightside up, or wherever, I could. I liked it much better than the opinionated back inflate.
At the surface, the jacket style allowed me to completely relax, as I allowed my legs to dangle in the water in an upright position. I could have slept there that way. No such luck with the back inflate.
The pockets on the jacket style were actually usable. Not so with the tiny and impossibly placed ones on the back inflate.
And the jacket style had a pull dump. I've heard things about how bad pull dumps are because of the fact that they give another point of possible failure, but in all of the instructors and divemasters that I've asked, not one has yet seen a pull dump pull out of the jacket, and none of them have seen any more of a failure rate of those valves than any other on the BC, which is rare. In the meantime, the pull dump was wonderfully conveinent, and I didn't get water in my BC like I usually do from holding the hose upright in the water.
There was also supposed to be a "streamlining" effect from the back inflate. I found this to not be correct. Instead, I found that the close-fitting jacket style BC stayed more streamlined than the floaty and "all over the place" wings on the back inflate.
So in short, I found the back inflate BC's to be opinionated and mildly irritating, and not allowing me to place my body where I wanted. I found the "lesser up front, so you feel more open in the water" argument to be a nonissue, since both were comfortable and fit well. Neither was restrictive in any way, but the jacket style BC got points for usable pockets for light sticks, a compass, a slate, a catch bag, or anything else that I wanted stowed away until I needed it.
Being more often an open water, salt water diver diving wrecks off the coast of South Carolina than a caver, I found the ability to float high in the water at the surface to be of vital importance. Frankly, deflating a back inflate BC such that I sit low in the water so that the "front push" of a back inflate is lessened would not serve me well in 4'-6' seas. No thank you, sir, I'd rather keep my head above water after the dive than get swamped on every wave.
I was surprised that I much preferred the jacket style BC's to the back inflates. I'd always had the impression that back inflates were more "technical" whereas the jacket style BC's were more "sport." But I'm telling you now, I would much more trust a jacket style BC in open water than a back inflate. I found that it worked more with me than against me, served me better with it's storage pockets, and made it easier to dump or load a balanced amount of bouyancy.
So I took off to the local dive shop to try some thngs out; they had a SeaQuest Black Diamond, a BP/Wings combination, and two jacket style BC's to try in their 15 foot pool.
I found the same to be true about the back inflates vs. the jacket style in their pool as I did in Florida. The BP/Wings setup felt just like a back inflate, but with a hard, exposed plate and webbing that relied on my wetsuit for padding. The BP/Wings setup might work well with a 7 mil suit or dry suit on, but with my tropical and subtropical diving, it seemed a bit hard. I can see, however, how, if you loaded up with deco bottles, twin tanks, and a bunch of gear you'd really enjoy the extra stability that a BP/Wings setup gave you. I also liked the fact that everything was modular; if I broke a strap or cut a bladder I could replace it easily. I could put on my own weight pouches, pockets, D rings, etc. wherever I wanted. I could also "dial in" my bouyancy by selecting different sized wings for different purposes. However, this was just like a back inflate on steroids, and frankly, I preferred the jacket style BC. The BP/Wings setup was also relatively featureless and was quite homemade-appearing. Where my favorite BC was like a marble fountain in fit and finish, the BP/Wings setup looked and felt more like the kitchen sink. Completely usable in it's right, but just not my preference.
Crotch straps: I did not get to use a crotch strap with any other system other than the BP/Wings. Who the heck invented this torture device? I hated it. It might work well for stabilizing lots of gear for a cave diver that pulls himself along by a rope underwater, but for those of us who have to kick fins to get everywhere, I'd prefer to leave this device at home and not in my ass crack. :upset: Besides, I found the hard backing of the back inflates and the arm holes of the jacket style BC's doing such a good job of using my lats to hold themselves stably on my body that I didn't feel like I needed a crotch strap. So I found that regular BC's didn't generally need the crotch strap, where a BP/Wings setup would probably not be able to get away without it.
I ended up deciding on two favorite BC's... The SeaQuest ProQD (I actually liked this year's 30th Anniversary Limited Edition and would spend the extra $50 to get the colors, design, and heavier duty fabric) and the ScubaPro Classic, the only true "jacket" in today's jacket-style BC entries. SeaQuest actually makes a ProQD Unlimited, but at nearly twice the price of the ProQD, I could not see the extra value in the few extra features.
Both of these favorites of mine were wonderfully easy to balance underwater, and both had integrated weights, a real nice comfort-oriented feature for long dives. Both BC's had hard plates in the back of the BC to hold the tank securely in place, and both BC's had attachment points for mounting twin tanks. Neither BC "argued" with me on my body placement like the back inflate Zeagle had.
The Scubapro had a DIR-style stainless steel belt mechanism over a cummerbund, a great looking and very effective method of securely attaching yourself to the BC. The SeaQuest used the standard plastic buckle type, which I thought was great until I tried on the Scubapro.
Both BC's had pull dumps for getting underwater quickly and easily, and both had a right pull dump too in case your other hand was busy doing something else. Use both simultaneously, and you could quickly lose all of your air to avoid getting hit by a numbskull in a fast boat, or for just getting underwater quickly. Both BC's had bottom dumps for dumping air while upside-down. A nod goes to the Scubapro for the strangely-designed pull tabs which are immediately identifiable by their strange shape and feel, even in zero visibility.
Both BC's had integrated weights. The SeaQuest's weights were the best funtioning, most ditchable weights I've seen. One simple movement, and they're out. The Scubapro's weights, on the other hand, were the most secure I've seen in a ditchable weight system; something that'd really come in handy in high currents or choppy waters. My preference leaned slightly toward the Scubapro's integrated weights, as I don't wear much weight often and I would not likely ditch weights unless there was an extreme emergency.
The two BC's had two very interesting schools of thought about the chest area of the BC. SeaQuest made their chest straps infinitely adjustable, a great feature for people hard to fit or with unusually long or short torsos. However, this meant that any pockets in the BC had to go on the sides of the BC, where the weights are. While the actual pockets are separate from the ditchable weights, they essentially share the same space, so more weight means less pocket space. The system I preferred was the Scubapro one: The Scubapro was not adjustable for torso length, a bad thing for many divers. Fortunately, however, their "set torso length system" fit me perfectly, and so to me, there were only advantages to their system. A simpler, flatter, less protruding chest attachment mechanism, the addition of two very handy and reachable pockets (perfect for a slate and a compass) and a place with enough space to allow the bladder to go in, effectively providing a place for air to move around so that the BC allowed you to place your body anywhere, anytime. It was a bit strange at the surface at first to have my chest straps blow up with my BC to hold me upright in the water. However, the BC's ability to float me in any position because of it was quite nice.
Both BC's had available BALANCED integrated octopuses, which apparently are unique in the business. I've heard horror stories about integrated octos' abilities to breathe underwater; however I found both units to breathe well and be unobtrusive in the meantime. Either would be a great replacement for a standard octopus, and both breathed well. I liked the Scubapro's integrated octo a little better because I wouldn't have to clip the reg hose into a special channel to get it to work like I did on the SeaQuest.
My favorite? The Scubapro Classic, a high quality, utilitarian and streamlined BC that stayed out of the way while I was active and supported me no matter what I wanted to do. And actually, this came as a surprise to me, as I thought I wanted something more "technical" or at least "technical looking." The Scubapro Classic is one of the plainest looing BC's on the market, yet probably the most tried and true design.
My point? Don't let the DIR**** tell you that "there's nothing better than a BP/Wings setup." Sure, maybe with twin steel tanks and dry suits, the extra rigidity can be appreciated. But for me, I much prefer the plain ol' Classic, updated with the latest "cool gear."
SeaJay once bubbled...
My point? Don't let the DIR **** tell you that "there's nothing better than a BP/Wings setup." Sure, maybe with twin steel tanks and dry suits, the extra rigidity can be appreciated. But for me, I much prefer the plain ol' Classic, updated with the latest "cool gear."
That's a little harsh
You obviously tried several different styles and that's a good thing. I'm not going to tell you that your opinions are wrong... that would be silly. You should dive what feels best for the type of diving that you do, no matter who's name is sewn on the equipment.
A couple things I didn't understand in your post.... on the surface you seemed to be fighting the back inflation... just kickback onto your back and ride it like a raft. You also had some trim issues... I've only dove my bp 2x.... but I can put myself into any position I wanted to with no effort. The pockets on the zeagle suck... but with a pocket on your suit, or hanging on the waist strap, that avoids that issue.
I'm glad you found something that works for you..... just wanted to point out some of my opinions.
Ditto on the harshness! Nominate a single DIR **** on this board. We don't even like those who use the word stroke, be it by a DIR advocate or not.
<end of rant>
It does sound like the crotch strap was far too tight on the BP/wings you tried out - if it's giving you a wedgy something is seriously out of adjustment. I moved from the SeaQuest Pro QD to a backplate - the crotch strap was one of the things that sold me on the backplate - I don't know if it's just my torso shape (pretty normal shape!) but jacket BCs always tend to float up around my shoulders - the crotch strap eliminates any of this. Plus the rear D-ring is a great spot to hang some stuff like a safety sausage and strobe if you don't have any pockets on your suit (like me). Disappointed to hear you felt a backplate wasn't suitable for you, but raxafarian is right, dive what is comfortable for you.
You mentioned the pockets on the back inflation BC as being unusable - try the pockets on the Pro QD with some weight in there before you buy one! They're almost unusable if you wear a heavier exposure suit and need to put more weight in the pouches. It's a regular complaint against the design, but apart from that, the Pro QD is one of the nicer jackets around.
Last edited by Scubaroo; August 1st, 2002 at 10:35 PM.
"Training wheels?" That's only marginally better than "DIR ****." I have been diving actively for over three decades. I know what I like. For caving, I use my FredT heavy and my Rec wings with steel doubles. For wrecking I (usually) use my Transpac II with travel wings and a single (no, I'm not doing the deep cold wrecks of the north). For instructing in the Gulf I use a Pro QD, which I also prefer for photography in cold water. For warm water recreational dives and photography with AL 80's (most tropical dive destinations where I'm using the dive center or boat's tanks) I use my SeaQuest Explorer. For muck (can you see your hand?) diving in the river I use my old Techni-Pro (jacket), not for it's excellent buoyancy characteristics, but because if I'm gonna tear something up on the junk in the river that's the one I can most easily stand to lose.
Training wheels indeed.
We live in Valparaiso, FL and dive out of Destin, FL
1,000 - 2,499
I suppose that I could have placed my 10 lbs of weight around the tank or behind the BC to help counteract the force as well, but then it would not have been ditchable, which was not a good idea since some of the guys I was diving with were just earning their C-cards, and I did not want to set the bad example.
Does the Zeagle have trim pockets in the back of the BC? If it does, they should be used help balance your weight. There is no rule that says all of your weight has to be ditchable.
A properly balanced back inflation BC will allow you to maintain any attitude under the water, and should not force your face into the water at the surface unless it is over-inflated.
Comparing an improperly configured back inflation BC with a jacket BC or BP & wing is not a valid test.
Yeah, that might have been a little harsh. And I wrote not long ago about "A Newbie's Initial Response to DIR" and compared it to Socialism, Communism, and even Nazism. I know, that was harsh too.
Still, the strong opinion of many of the DIR divers here on this board sometimes seems a little harsh as well, and I mean no insult. I'm simply offering another opinion equally strong.
For the record, my apologies to anyone who I've offended by the term, "DIR ****." Please take it in stride; I'm just pokin' fun. Feel free to call me the "DIW ****." (Doin' It Wrong.)
I agree with you on the trim thing. Something tells me that if I was using a steel tank or a pair of twins, that the "face forward syndrome" would have been less of an issue. Unfortunately, I didn't require that much weight in my light gear, and I wasn't about to set the example of setting all of my weight behind me for trim in non-ditchable pockets. Steel tanks were not available, as they aren't in many places, because they rust and need to be beaded every year here in South Carolina, especially if you dive salt water.
I don't know about the "fighting the back inflation" comment... I don't know that the word "fighting" is really applicable here. It didn't take much to offset the different way the BC floated. It was just that with a jacket style BC I didn't have to "kick into it and ride it like a raft" as you put it. The difference was effortless floatation vs. having to consciously keep myself ahead of the force.
Also, in thinking about it, my deepest dive for the weekend was ~100 feet. To be fair, these issues that I brought up about back inflates are there, but not impossible to overcome. However, at depth, I believe that these only-slight-issues are going to become even less so, due to the fact that you have less air in the bladder of the BC at depth to achieve neutral bouyancy than you do at say, 15 feet. Thus, I believe that these issues are even less problematic at depth than they are near the surface.
But I still preferred the jacket style Scubapro Classic over any of the others. Balance, swim attitude, and weight placement wasn't an issue at any depth with that BC, at least for me.
I'm not surprised by the fact that you can "put yourself into any position" with your BP/Wings setup. I was able to do that as well, but to me I found it irritating that I had to actively work to keep myself that way, because the back inflation and BP/Wings setups tended to right me horizontally in the water.
There are times when I dive some of the local rivers for fossils and megladon teeth. The tides in these rivers can sometimes rise and fall as much as ten feet twice a day here. Sure, we make it a point to dive during ebb tide, but invariably we're in the water long enough to feel a good current. For this reason, some of us dive with 30 lbs or more, even when we're wearing the same gear I wore in the example above. That way, you can deflate fully, and have a hope of "staying put" on the bottom in the strong current. In this scenario, anything other than "on the bottom" means that you'd have to have some air in your BC, and it'd have to be a lot of air to hold up the weight. Thus, the BC's tendency to affect your attitude in the water would be amplified, and for this reason I think that a back inflate or wing would be a true pain in the neck.
But I think that I'm pointing out something that you and I are agreeing on anyway, and something I mentioned above only in passing: That there are different types of gear for different purposes.
Someone once told me that back inflates and wings are great because they DO tend to float you horizontally, which is great in a cave so you tend to keep your fins off the bottom, helping to prevent siltouts. A jacket style BC, in this environment, would probably not do someone as well. It would have nothing helping to keep you horizontal, not to mention that you'd have much more gear, such as safety lines, twin tanks, deco bottles, etc., where I am sure that the extra stability from that backplate would be very appreciated.
As far as the "pocket on your suit" thing goes... That's an interesting point. Frankly, I love the utilitarian idea of sewing a pocket to my wetsuit. Hey, the more places to put things and put them away where they can't snag or get in the way, the better. And I understand that the DIR philosophy says that sewing pockets on your wetsuit is okay. But I've also heard from many DIR-ites that the idea is a "simpler, holistic style of diving," esentially getting away from the junk that manufacturers are pitching the average diver. I hear from DIR-ites that they are looking for simpler, more solid, more dependable, more streamlined, and more reliable systems. Yet, whenever I see a DIR diver, I see someone who has tons of stuff hanging from them: Deco bottles, lights, wires for their lights, 7 foot hoses wrapped around their neck, secondaries also hanging around their neck, and tons of stainless steel clips and all kinds of stuff. Their philosophies sound great... In fact, I also practice the philosophy of "simpler is better" and "make sure your equipment is reliable." I love the idea that diving should be a holistic activity, and that diving also means eating right, exercising regularly, and taking care of yourself and your buddy. However, every time I see a DIR diver, be it in person or in pictures, they do not seem to be practicing these ideals; while they may eat right and exercise, they are definitely not practicing simpler dive techniques, and their gear is not mimimized. Sure, everything's stainless, but it's a fact that integreated weights, pull dumps and air integrated, wireless dive computers are simpler and less task loading than weight belts, nonditchable trim weights, modified dive techniques so that you don't use a pull dump, and diving by using charts, graphs, mathematics, and a timer. My point is, isn't it simpler to just buy a BC with pockets that you can use rather than sew pockets into your wetsuit? What if you get a new wetsuit? What if you use a rented wetsuit? What if you dive in a dive skin because you're in Aruba and didn't think to bring your wetsuit?
Look, I've got nothing against DIR divers. Heck, they are divers, so that automatically makes them cool in my book. And I want to learn and understand their philosophies. Like I've said, I agree with those philosophies. The problem is that the execution of those philosophies is just something that I can't understand. To me, it seems that they preach one thing and practice another.
And so I offered a contradicting opinion on gear. Agreed; who can say someone else's opinion is wrong? Certainly not me. But I will tell you that for the other newbies reading this, don't go out and buy tons of stuff because it works best for someone else.
I found that the thing that everyone's trying to get away from has worked best for me. I dive with a dive computer, an air integrated octopus, and a jacket style BC... And it's not that I don't know any better.
That's simply what worked best for me.
Last edited by SeaJay; August 1st, 2002 at 11:32 PM.
"Training wheels?" That's only marginally better than "DIR ****."
Yeah, that's pretty much what I was thinking, and when asked to "Nominate a DIR ****" I immediately knew who was going to get my vote.
But I thought it was too inflammatory already, so I passed.
It's okay... I got the same heat from my buddies when I rode a Honda Blackbird instead of a Harley. Now they drool when I tell them what it's like at 200 mph. They gave me heat when I bought a BMW Z3 ("it's too small and wimpy") but now tell me that I'm spoiled and ask me to drive it.
I'm not saying that this'll happen here... Only that I've got a differing opinion on BC's... And offered it specifically to other newbies looking around like I was a week ago. All I'm saying is that not everyone prefers BP/Wing setups (or any back inflate for that matter) over a jacket style BC, and I offered my strong opinion to help offset those vocal about DIR.
I can handle the "Training Wheels" comment. Heck, I suppose I started this. And I knew that I'd catch heat. No biggie.
I DO want to start a club called, "DIW Divers" though. I think that's hilarious.
What'll these guys do when I decide I want to use stainless steel clips instead of plastic ones? I already use a black mask over a clear one... They'll think, "Looks DIR... Smells DIR... But he's not DIR! Run away!"
First DIR diver I meet from the board I'm buyin' a beer. And we'll probably argue about which brand to drink. :-D