So we assembled a group of test divers consisting entirely of the fairer sex, mostly dive masters and dive instructors so they had a lot of in-water experience, plus they had a history of working with female dive students so they were already familiar with the difficulties women sometimes face finding BCs that fit right and that are stable and easy to control in the water.
Years of testing dive equipment has shown that, as a general rule, female divers tend to be a lot more critical about dive gear than male divers. And when you think about it, this makes sense. If a piece of gear doesn’t fit or perform to perfection, men, due to the advantages of size and strength, will often simply muscle through any shortcomings.
But women, being physically smaller, don’t always have this luxury, so for them it’s a lot more important that a woman's scuba diving gear works right. For example, a BC without something as simple as a usable lift/carry handle may be no big deal to a big guy, but to a small gal it can make a huge difference in her ability to muscle around a 60-pound dive rig. Or a BC that slides around on the back or suffers from tank wobble can have a diver expending all her underwater energy just trying to maintain stability and a comfortable swimming attitude. Anyone, male or female, who has ever had to contend with that knows that sort of diving is no fun at all.
So our team of test divers approached this project with a level of seriousness that told the SGR staff that we should stay out of the way and just let them work. But before we turned our test BCs over to the ladies, staffers collected some objective data on them. We measured their inherent buoyancy and buoyant lift, and we tested to see how each BC’s valve system stood up to some rigorous flow rate tests (click here for Objective Test Results).
Once this lab-coat stuff was behind us, we divided the ergo portion of our tests into two phases with two dive teams: the first team put the BCs throughtheir paces in a large salt-water test pool; the second team hit the water off SoCal's Anacapa Island.
In each phase BCs were rated in 23 performance categories, from ease of assembly to stability at depth to valve performance to the efficiency of the weight ditch system. Scoring was done on a 1 to 10 scale—1 being the worst, 10 being the best, with 5 being a solid “Good." All scores were supported by diver comments (click here for Ergo Test Results).
While testers rigged their BCs, did their water work, recorded their scores and made their comments, SGR’s support staff stood at the ready to organize sizes, reload slates with underwater score sheets, and offer cold drinks. The following are the results of the test team’s efforts.
The Libra is the female version of Aqua Lung’s Balance. It comes with a shorter torso and a smaller backpack, two rather than three pre-bent stainless-steel D-rings, a removable sternum strap, and a choice of black/pink or black/charcoal color schemes. First introduced in 1998, the Libra underwent a recent make-over. Its integrated weight system has been replaced with Aqua Lung’s premiere weight system, the Surelock II, old-school exhaust valves are now low-profile flat valves, and the original plastic harness tri-loaders are now stainless-steel. The new Libra also has what Aqua Lung calls a “Self-Adjusting Lumbar Support” system, which is a half-round flex pad about three inches wide that’s positioned between the backpack and backpad. As the weight of the tank settles against your back, a portion of the flex pad flattens beneath the tank while the rest of it puffs out to fill the hollow in your back. This provides more tank support plus ramps up the comfort factor.
Performance: The Libra’s soft over-molded carry handle doubles as a tank positioning strap, making easy work of rigging the Libra on a tank. Shoulder swivel buckles allow straps to find the best route under your arms. The BC offers a really user-friendly waist-strap setup. Each strap end runs through slides on the front lobes of the harness, then feeds back toward centerline. This way, when cinching down the straps, rather than having to pull back and away from centerline, you push the strap ends forward, away from you. This provides a much better angle of attack, allowing for an easier, more efficient cinch-down.
During in-water tests, the Libra earned above-average scores for comfort at depth as well as stability. The standard Aqua Lung Powerline power inflator and low-profile flat valves provided testers with pinpoint buoyancy control; button action was responsive, and the pull dump didn’t require excessive tugging. The power inflator itself is compact and was deemed well-shaped for smaller hands. The SureLock II weight system outshined a pretty impressive array of integrated weight systems. Testers loved being able to easily load weights while wearing the BC, and ditching weights and controlling the ballast pouches was a breeze.
The Libra’s cargo pocket is a two-tier design. To stow small items there’s the zippered main compartment. If more space is needed, a tug on the tab expands the lower portion of the pocket, virtually doubling cargo carrying capacity.
Test divers did have a couple of nitpicks. The knobs at the ends of the remote exhaust valves were considered small and a bit difficult to grab for test divers wearing gloves. Also, while the quick-release shoulder swivel buckles made strap routing much more efficient, some test divers, again those wearing gloves, had a problem activating the quick-release buttons. All test divers felt having only two D-rings wasn’t quite enough.
Bottom Line: For divers who like rear inflation BCs but don’t want to sacrifice comfort or performance features, the Libra is hard to beat. For years it’s been a favorite among women divers; this newer version with its many upgrades is just that much better.
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