In the past, back inflate BCDs were used almost exclusively in technical diving. They require less air pressure to fill making them highly air efficient, they allow better trim, and they allow for greater freedom of movement while diving. The cherry on top is that manufacturers have started making them more versatile to accommodate various diving situations, and their popularity is increasing rapidly as a result.
Whether you want to use them for technical diving or recreational diving, there is a back-inflate BCD for you. The problem is that nowadays, with so many models on the market, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is why we have written this buying guide which covers the most important considerations to keep in mind, and have also picked out the best back inflate BCDs available.
- Best Back Inflate BCD Review
- Best Back Inflate BCD Buying Guide
- Pros and Cons of Back-Inflate BCDs
- Best Back Inflate BCD Review: Parting Words
Best Back Inflate BCD Review
- Dry Weight: 8.25 lbs (3.75 kg)
- Lift Capacity: 30 lbs (13.6 kg)
- Integrated Weights: Yes
The Oceanic Jetpack is a BCD designed for traveling. It is a back-inflate BCD with a twist: it can transform into a dry bag that can carry the rest of your scuba gear. In other words, you can bring one less backpack, because this BCD can become its own backpack. The Jetpack’s purpose is twofold: to not only help you dive, but to lighten your travel burdens.
Of course, there is more to this lightweight BCD than just its travel-friendly functionality. First, its air bladder is held down by elastic bungee straps which keeps the bladder low-profile and helps with rapid deflation.
The Jetpack has a one-size-fits-all design to fit as many body shapes as possible. Usually when this is touted, it is still geared mainly towards men, so keep that in mind. However, perhaps with its adjustable harness and straps, it may be suitable for women as well. The adjustable weight pockets also lets you reposition them for better trim.
Next, thanks to Oceanic’s power inflator which comes with an internal pull dump cable, the buoyancy control and trim is precise and easy to manage. Overall, the Oceanic Jetpack is a solid choice for a back-inflated travel BCD.
- It’s not just a BCD, it’s also a dry bag.
- Fantastic buoyancy control.
- Lacking D-rings, only has a daisy chain loop for attaching accessories.
- Heavier than other BCDs because of its dry bag component.
- Not much storage space.
If you are interested in more travel BCDs, you can check out our review here.
- Dry Weight: 8.4 lbs (3.8 kg)
- Lift Capacity: 44 lbs (20 kg)
- Integrated Weights: Yes
You can’t go wrong with the Zeagle Ranger. It can be used in a wide variety of diving activities from tropical travel diving, cold water diving in dry or wet suits, single or twin cylinders, and mounted bak plates for technical diving. This is possible because of the Ranger’s compatibility with numerous bladders, pockets, and other components.
The Ranger has plenty of room for storage including twin-zippered utility pockets, 4 stainless steel D-rings on the shoulders, an additional two D-rings on the vest, and mounting grommets for a twin-cylinder setup.
Zeagle have designed the Ranger with adjustability in mind, and their “Personal Fit System” meaning it comes with an adjustable dual position sternum strap, waist straps with adjustable cummerbund, and adjustable shoulder straps. These straps are all equipped with quick-release squeeze style buckles for rapid donning and doffing.
Since the Ranger can be used for cold water diving, you can bet that it is very durable and has a high lift capacity. It is constructed with 1050-denier ballistic nylon, has an integrated weight system, with rear flotation for better trim. The amount of adjustability provided by the Ranger makes it one of the most versatile back-inflate BCDs on the market.
Unfortunately, the downside of any “heavy-duty” devices is often in their weight and price. The Ranger weighs 8.4 lbs (3.8 kg) dry and this can make it difficult to travel with. However, if you plan on using it in rougher water conditions, then you will be glad it is as durable and heavy-duty as it is.
- Modular: can repair and replace individual components, as well as swap pieces around for various scuba diving activities.
- Can be used for tropical diving, cold water diving, and anything in between.
- Personal Fit System means straps can be adjusted for greater comfort.
- Made from 1050-denier ballistic nylon, very durable.
- On the expensive side.
Apeks Black Ice
- Dry Weight: 9.7 lbs (4.4 kg)
- Lift Capacity: 53 lbs (24 kg)
- Integrated Weights: Yes
The Apeks Black Ice is a hybrid back-inflating system that is designed with advanced divers and cold water diving in mind. It features a unique “Wrapture” harness that lets divers select components from three different sizes to ensure the harness is the correct size for their needs. Its wraparound strap design makes it easy to don and doff, even if you have thick gloves on.
Next, the Black Ice is twin-tank compatible if you purchase the optional twin-cylinder kit. The bladder is made from 840-denier nylon and provides a massive 53 lbs (24 kg) of lift. This BCD features a retraction system so that the bladder can stay relatively compact and has four dump valves.
You will have no shortage of storage space thanks to the five large stainless steel rings, various knife mounting points, a zip pocket, and a large folding pocket for accessory storage. The Black Ice has a weight integrated system that can hold a maximum of 32 lbs (14.5 kg) of lead, with rear trim pockets that can hold up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg) more.
Since the Black Ice is designed for cold water diving, it is one of the bulkiest buoyancy compensators in its class. It also isn’t the most stylish device, but that isn’t much of a concern as long as it is comfortable and can withstand the rigors of cold water diving. Since it is so well padded, you will not have any plastic or metal pieces digging into you.
- Designed for cold water diving.
- Extra padding, very comfortable.
- Large pockets, lots of storage space.
- Customizable harness for a better fit.
- Massive lift capacity.
- One of the heavier hybrid BCDs.
ScubaPro Hydros Pro
- Dry Weight: 11.4 pounds (5.17 kg)
- Lift Capacity: 36 lbs (16.4 kg)
- Integrated Weights: Yes
The ScubaPro Hydros is a stylish, durable, and lightweight hybrid back-inflating system. What makes it stand out is that each and every component of this system can be removed or replaced on your own. So despite the initial price being quite expensive, if you will be using it for a long time, then the amount that you save in repairs will even out in the end. But that’s not all it has to offer.
The Hydros Pro features an ergonomic, highly comfortable design that conforms to any body shape without any pressure points. On top of that, it efficiently distributes the load to provide unparalleled maneuverability, buoyancy control, and freedom of movement.
Next, this BCD boasts a durable design thanks to its harness constructed from fabric-free Monoprene. This material is scratch/tear resistant and quick-drying. The harness attaches to the air bladder using lightweight injection molded components. You can also attach a crotch strap to prevent the harness from riding up no matter how rough the conditions are.
Additionally, the Hydros Pros has many color options and is available in both a men’s and women’s cut for a better fit. It comes with 4 D-rings, 2 pockets, mounting points for a dive knife, torch, SMB, and more.. Even though the Hydros Pro is expensive, if you have the budget, it is hard to find a BCD that provides as much value as this one.
- Both men’s and women’s fit are available.
- Modular design allows you to remove and replace parts on your own.
- Very comfortable.
- Flexible backplate.
- Customizable harness for a better fit.
- Despite its modular design, it is a little heavy for dive traveling.
Hollis HD 200
- Dry Weight: 9.4 lbs (4.3 kg)
- Lift Capacity: 35 – 45 lbs (15.9 – 20.4 kg)
- Integrated Weights: Yes
The Hollis HD 200 is a contender for the title of toughest BCD on the market. It is constructed with 1000-denier cordura and reinforced with a polyurethane laminated outer shell. It also has a durable 15mm urethane internal bladder. What’s more, despite its ruggedness, the HD 200 manages to be lightweight and comfortable.
It has a contoured pad and backplate, extra lumbar support, and a rolled neoprene neck to ensure that you are diving in comfort. Additionally, the crotch strap keeps the device from riding up and promotes good trim.
Next, the HD 200 can fit nearly any body shape and size thanks to its adjustable harness. Literally every strap is adjustable: chest, shoulder, sternum, crotch, and torso straps can be configured to ensure a snug, custom fit that’s easy to don and doff.
Furthermore, storage and attachment won’t be an issue with its abundance of stainless steel D-rings (8 to be exact), 2 large zippered pockets, and 2 mounted grommets. By combining the best of both tec/rec diving BCDs, this hybrid BCD from Hollis is a great choice for intermediate to advanced divers looking for an affordable, long-lasting back-inflation BCD.
- Great value, highly affordable.
- Heavy-duty construction for unparalleled durability.
- Plenty of storage and attachment space.
- Adjustable harness ensures a snug, comfortable fit.
- Bulky and too heavy for traveling.
- The emergency pull dump valve is located on the right shoulder strap which can make dumping air a bit tricky.
Best Back Inflate BCD Buying Guide
When it comes to purchasing scuba equipment where size is important, if you are able to try out any equipment before buying, then that would be ideal. See if a local dive shop rents out BCDs so you can get a feel for how they fit you. Otherwise, follow the tips below to help you make an informed decision to purchase one online.
There are two types of back-inflate BCDs: hybrid and wing. Beginners who aren’t comfortable using a back-inflate BCD should stick with jacket BCDs, or pick one from our recommended list of beginner BCDs here.
Hybrid BCDs are similar to jacket style BCDs in terms of fit and they are the most popular of the back inflating designs. Like a jacket, you can don and doff them easily by sliding them over the shoulders. Hybrid BCDs combine the best elements of jacket and wing systems.
To start, the shape and distribution of the bladders means they feel more stable at the surface compared to a wing model because they will not be constantly pushing your face toward the water. Most hybrid buoyancy compensators include an integrated weight system and pockets.
Older hybrid BCDs have a partial wing at the rear and jacket bladders at the front. This provided a lot of lift; too much, in fact, and it was very bulky to boot. This caused it to fall out of favor and BCDs with a smaller profile became the norm.
Backplate and wing style BCDs, or simply wing BCDs, look and function completely differently than their hybrid counterparts. Wing BCDs were mostly used for technical diving, particularly for exploring overhead environments like wrecks and caves. Wing BCDs are modular: they consist of a donut/horseshoe shaped bladder (the wing), a harness, and a backplate.
You can also add additional components like pockets and D-rings. They are lightweight and easier to travel with. Underwater, they are more streamlined and provide unparalleled range of motion because nothing is obstructing the chest and side areas.
The wing BCD promotes horizontal trim which is great while underwater, but a nuisance at the surface. Since wing BCDs are modular, they do not typically include weight integration or pockets unless they come as part of a kit or you purchase and install them yourself.
We recommend you read our backplate and wing BCD buying guide to learn more about them.
Jacket BCDs are the most popular type because of how familiar people already are with a jacket design. They are intuitive, easy to don and doff, and keep the diver’s head and shoulders above water at the surface. We write extensively about how a jacket BCD compares to a back-inflate BCD in this article.
Just like shopping for clothes, you have to select the ideal size for your height, weight, and body shape. The sizing measurements will differ between manufacturers and products. Also, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone who normally wears XL T-shirts to only need a medium-sized BCD. What’s important is that you look at what size corresponds with what measurements, and this should be listed on the product page or the manufacturer’s website.
You will also have to consider the thickness of your suit. If you do the majority of your diving in warm water with a thin suit, or you do a lot of cold water diving in a heavy dry suit, factor in these thicknesses to decide if you should go a size up or not.
If you are satisfied with only using your back-inflate BCD for recreational diving, then the only considerations for which model you purchase might only be its price and style. If you plan on pushing the limits of your diving ability, then you should consider investing in one that can support a twin-tank configuration with a high lift capacity.
After determining which size BCD you should wear, you need to consider the fit. A fit shouldn’t be “close enough”, it should be perfect or otherwise the little discomforts will drive you crazy when you are 30m underwater. A BCD should fit snug around your waist and chest without pinching or squeezing when the bladder is fully inflated. When empty, it should not slide much, if at all. We recommend female divers get a BCD designed specifically for women instead of getting a unisex one.
Consider also the kind of environments you plan on exploring. Make sure that your BCD’s buckles and straps are highly adjustable if you plan on doing cold water diving with a thick dry suit.
Compared to the jacket style, back-inflate BCDs should fit more snugly. This ensures that your dive equipment remains in place, particularly if you aren’t using a crotch strap. Backplate and wing setups use a continuous piece of webbing that you can cut to fit around your body. It offers the most customization, meaning you can get the best fit if you put in the effort.
Type of Diving
You can use a back-inflate BCD to do anything from recreational to technical diving.
The term “technical diving” is a very broad term to describe a wide range of diving activities. Tech diving doesn’t necessarily mean deep diving, for instance; it could mean extending the bottom time at a particular depth so that one can enjoy the experience of a pleasant reef for longer. In that particular scenario, a back-inflate BCD will be adequate, and models with a twin-tank configuration and a higher lift capacity would be ideal.
If you actually want to do more advanced technical diving, such as cave and wreck diving or deep diving, then the average back-inflate BCD may not be enough. Only BCDs with high-capacity bladders and specifically designed for such activities should be used.
Many back-inflate BCDs on the market have a sort of “half-and-half” design where it is intended for divers that want to take the next step up from recreational diving, but have no plans to do advanced technical dives. This design takes the best aspects from both worlds, letting divers enjoy something that is more than recreational diving but not quite reaching the limits of technical diving.
Lift means how much positive buoyancy your BCD’s air bladder can provide when you’re underwater. If you will be diving in cold water where lots of lead weights will be used, then you need a model with a high lift capacity.
BCDs with insufficient lift will not be able to keep your head above the water at the surface, particularly when you are using a back-inflate BCD. It will cause further problems below when it needs to offset a large amount of weight. If you are unsure of how much lift you need, then buy one that provides the highest lift capacity just in case.
Back inflate buoyancy compensators generally weigh more than the jacket style. In other words, they aren’t the greatest choice for dive traveling. Wing and harness setups are perhaps the exception, but even then they will probably weigh over 5 lbs (2.2 kg) which is acceptable but not the lightest option.
The BCDs dry weight is important because it affects how easy it is to bring while traveling, and also how much lead weight you need to reach neutral buoyancy underwater. A heavy BCD might feel cumbersome, but the weight is distributed more evenly in your rig and you need less lead weights.
Since back-inflate BCDs are often used for cold water diver, they often include features like metal zippers, thick padding, and steel D-rings which drastically increase the BCD’s weight.
Some BCDs have integrated weight pockets, others don’t. Typically, entry-level BCDs will not have an integrated weight system; divers will have to wear a weight belt instead. This is not necessarily a bad thing depending on one’s preferences. Some divers actually prefer wearing a weight belt because of how it affects their center of gravity.
Some BCDs may include trim weight pockets at the back. They are small and located near the tanks. Each pocket is designed to hold a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of lead.
Speaking of pockets, some BCDs have numerous pockets for extra storage space. They are usually zippered and will keep your accessories from falling out. Once again, having many pockets or having no pockets depends on one’s preferences. Some divers prefer to keep their BCD streamlined and clear of any large pockets.
On the other hand, if you have lots of scuba accessories, then large pockets are an excellent place to store your spare mask, dive knife, torch, SMB, and other essentials. If your BCD doesn’t have pockets, then you will need to clip your extras onto the D-rings. Some divers don’t like having too many floating pieces on their rig, and others don’t mind them.
As we mentioned above, the backplate and wing back-inflate system is completely modular. The strength of this is that it is easier to repair broken components, or upgrade to new parts if you feel like it is time for a change. This can save on costs in the long run since you only need to purchase a replacement for the broken part, not an entirely new BCD. Modular designs make it easier to get a better fit as well.
The downside to a modular design is the research you need to do to make the components are compatible with each other. However, the benefits you get by creating a 100% custom fit BCD that is perfectly tailored to your needs is massive.
Sometimes a single tank setup just isn’t enough for tech diving. Even though sidemount is becoming more popular nowadays, having a BCD that is twin-tank compatible gives you more options. With a wing BCD, one simply needs to replace the wing in order to swap between a single-tank or twin-tank setup.
Similarly, in a wing and harness BCD, you can swap out the bladder for a larger one with extra lift. This is also useful when packing for dive traveling because the disassembled components are quite compact and easy to store.
Easy Wash Interior
Properly maintaining your gear is how you can extend its life so that you can use them for years. Unfortunately, a BCD is difficult to clean and maintain which is why it is doubly crucial to get one that has an easy clean interior. When regularly diving in salt water, salt crystals and other debris can form if you do not rinse them off. The crystals can eventually puncture the bladder and deteriorate the other components. An easy wash interior allows you to attach the bladder directly to a hose or faucet to wash the insides and prevent this from happening.
Crotch straps are an extra piece of webbing that goes between your legs and connects the waistband or cummerbund to the BCD’s backplate. This prevents your BCD from riding up and ensures it stays secured on your back. This feature might feel uncomfortable at first, since it may feel reminiscent of a wedgie. However, divers find that keeping their gear in place and having proper trim underwater outweigh any minor discomforts a crotch strap might cause.
Pros and Cons of Back-Inflate BCDs
Virtually everyone starts off with a jacket BCD, unsurprisingly, since it is the most popular type of buoyancy compensator. The reason is that back inflate BCDs are a little bit more complicated, and thus some diving experience is necessary beforehand.
With that said, back inflate BCDs provide numerous advantages like better trim, more air efficiency, and greater range of motion. But how exactly do they provide this? In this section, we will be discussing what specs and considerations you should be looking for so you can get the best back inflate BCD for you.
Why should you get a back-inflate BCD over a jacket BCD? To start, one advantage of a back-inflate device is its superior horizontal positioning while underwater. Since the air bladder is located at the back (hence the name), the air is distributed more evenly.
Unfortunately, this does not mean a perfect trim is guaranteed. Unbalanced weight distribution will still pull a diver out of position regardless of which type of BCD they are wearing. With that said, a back-inflate BCD gives divers a more level starting point.
Back-inflate BCDs also provide greater range of movement because they have less bulk around the chest and side area. Having a more streamlined design also reduces drag and makes swimming a little easier. In addition to feeling more comfortable, this also has the benefit of reduced air consumption.
With a fully inflated jacket style BCD, many divers experience discomfort because of how bulky and tight the fit is. Many divers feel that the harness of a back-inflate BCD is much more comfortable and they rarely need to adjust the buckles to reduce discomfort. A harness that is too loose will pose a big risk when the air bladder is deflated. Back-inflate BCDs strike a perfect balance of maintaining a secure fit without feeling tight.
The advantage of maintaining a horizontal position underwater becomes an issue at the surface. Back-inflate BCDs will constantly be pushing a diver’s face forward which can be annoying, particularly for beginner divers. In other words, back-inflate BCDs are better suited for divers with some experience. With that said, one can quickly learn to avoid face-planting the water with some practice.
Additionally, back-inflate BCDs will not have as many pockets or storage spaces compared to a jacket BCD. Some might view this as a big problem, but the true issue is not the lack of pockets, but rather how difficult it is to reach the items. Back-inflate BCDs come with D-rings, and accessories like dive lights, reels, knives and so on can be mounted on them. Accessory pockets are also available for purchase.
Best Back Inflate BCD Review: Parting Words
If you want a more comfortable, streamlined rig that can help you improve your air consumption, then you need a back-inflation BCD. Since the bladder is located in the rear, it helps you maintain horizontal trim so that you are always in the optimal diving position. At the surface, a back-inflate BCD will always be pushing your face towards the water which can be frustrating for a beginner but easily dealt with with some practice.
Another benefit of having the air bladder located at the back is more range of motion in the torso. You can swim freely and comfortably without any obstructions unlike in a jacket style BCD.
Back-inflate BCDs also have a modular design known as the backplate and wing which lets you make a truly custom BCD. The benefit of this is that you can swap out components depending on the kind of diving you plan on doing. Need more lift or want to switch to a twin-cylinder setup? Just swap the bladder and off you go. The same concept can be applied to damaged components or if you want to make any upgrades.
Seriously, what’s not to like about a back-inflate BCD? In this review, we have covered a small sample of what we believe are the best back-inflate BCDs currently on the market. From modular designs, to heavy-duty ones, to affordable lightweight travel BCDs, there is a BCD for everyone. If you want more scuba BCD reviews, check out this guide.