If you’re on the fence about which type of buoyancy compensator you want to get, then perhaps we can give you a push in the right direction. Whether you’ve just finished your PADI Open Water course or have over a hundred dives under your belt, we think you should get a Backplate and Wing (BPW) buoyancy compensator. The BCD is a critical part of your overall scuba rig, and you want to own the best in order to stay safe and enjoy your scuba activities.
- Why Buy a Backplate and Wing BCD?
- Best Backplate and Wing BCD Packages
- Wings (Air Bladder/Cell)
- Tank Straps and Adapters
- Additional Components
- Backplate and Wing BCD Buying Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Best Backplate and Wing BCD: Parting Words
Why Buy a Backplate and Wing BCD?
Why get a BPW BCD instead of the usual jacket or back-inflate style? This question is what I wished I asked myself when I originally purchased my scuba equipment. Everywhere you go, you are bombarded with ads for fancy jacket BCDs that promise the world. You’ll read it in magazines and find dive shops filled with them. You might even think those are the only types of BCDs available (they aren’t).
But every technical diver I know, myself included, prefers using a BPW. There are many reasons, such as its durability, ease of use, and cost. The greatest factor, though, is how customizable it is. You can literally mix and match different components to suit your diving style. If you want to switch from a single tank to a double tank setup, just swap the wing (air bladder). Or if a pocket breaks, just replace only the pocket, not the entire thing.
There are many BPWs on the market so it can be difficult to find the right one for you. In the next section, we review the best backplate and wing BCDs currently on the market so that you can start diving as quickly as possible.
Best Backplate and Wing BCD Packages
We will start off by recommending BPW packages which are essentially all the components of a BPW from a single manufacturer so that you know each piece is compatible. In the next section, we provide our recommendations of individual components so you can mix and match yourself.
The DGX Custom is a very popular and reliable starter backplate and wing BCD for good reason. Not only is it affordable, but it comes with all of the main components that you need to get started and you can replace or add more components on top of it.
This system includes a backplate of your chase, as well as a harness, cam bands, a crotch strap, buckles, and D-rings. If you want more amenities, like zippered pockets, weight pouches, more D-rings or anything else, then the option is always available for you to add them. This isn’t strictly necessary but we recommend getting a shock cord to hold the inflator to the harness.
You can use the DGX custom with various aluminum cylinders such as AL-80, LP-85, HP-80 or Hp-100 cylinders. The components are highly durable seeing as they are constructed from 1000-Denier nylon and reinforced with urethane-coated 200-Denier nylon.
For the price, the DGX Custom has nearly unbeatable value for what it provides. If you are shopping for your first ever backplate and wing BCD, then this is a great starting point.
Similar to the DGX Custom, the Dive Gear Express provides much of the same but where it differs is its wing size choices (27 – 32 lbs of lift). It also has many color options to choose from and you can get a bonus dive knife or trauma shear as well, which is useful if you get tangled up in a tricky situation underwater. Once again, this is another great starter package at an affordable price if you don’t want to go through the hassle of mixing and matching parts.
Zeagle Backplate Combo Pack
Wings (Air Bladder/Cell)
How many pounds does the air bladder have to lift? For your standard single-tank open-circuit diving then a wing with a 30-40 lb lift capacity should be enough. Don’t purchase the biggest wing you can get unless you actually need it because the large size will cause drag.
Some divers have had their wing “hotdog” around a tank, trapping gas, adding drag and destabilizing their center of gravity.
Scubapro X-Tek Donut Wing Single Tank
Dive Rite Aircell EXP
Palantic Xtreme Tech
Should you get a Hogarthian or a Deluxe? A Hogarthian harness is the most basic, standard harness. A Deluxe harness adds extra straps and plastic buckles to a Hogarthian harness.
Dive Rite Harness, Deluxe
Scubapro X-Tek Form Harness System
The most common types are steel, aluminum, and composite/Kydex. Which one you get is a question of how heavy you want your BC to be. Steel plates are heavier, often weighing 6 pounds, making it much heavier than an aluminum one. If you need plenty of weight (e.g. to dive in cold waters with a thick suit) then a heavier plate will reduce the amount of weight your weight belt needs to carry and shift some of the burden to the backplate, which will feel more comfortable.
On the other hand, if you are dive traveling then a lighter aluminum plate (1.5 – 3 lbs) or Kydex/composite plates (similar or lighter than aluminum) are ideal. You may end up having to carry it by hand and a 4-5 pound weight difference is very noticeable. You can also take a look at our review of the top BCDs for travel here if you do a lot of dive traveling.
Scuba Choice Scuba Tech Diving Aluminum Black Backplate
Tank Straps and Adapters
When it comes to tank attachments, there are really only two options: an STA or cam bands. STAs are a single tank adapter. It is a metal bar that you screw to the plate through the wing, and a place you can attach the cam bands to.
Some divers prefer how the STA positions the tank away from them as well as the extra weight which reduces the amount of lead weight they need to use. The other option is to use the cam bands only by threading them directly through the plate and wing to secure the tank. If you go for this option, you need to make sure your wing has slots to accept this type of attachment.
Scubapro X-Tek Single Diving Tank Adapter
Palantic Tech Diving Backplate Adapter
We’ve covered the four major components of a BPW rig above. You can add even more components if you wish, such as D-rings, weight pouches, storage pockets, and more. It is entirely up to you where you want to place them and how you want your rig set up.
Palantic Trim Counter Weight Pouch
Dive Rite DC Bellows Pocket
Backplate and Wing BCD Buying Guide
What is a backplate and wing BCD?
A backplate & wing (BPW) style is a back-inflation style BCD features a flat rectangular metal plate that is held onto your back with a harness. Buoyancy is provided by the doughnut-shaped bladder (the “wing”) that goes between the metal backplate and your back. When everything is connected together, the BPW looks somewhat like a parachute harness. If this does not appeal to you, however you still want to get a back-inflation style BCD, then we recommend you read this review of the best ones.
Where and How to Buy a Backplate & Wing BCD
If this is your first time shopping for a BPW BCD, it can be overwhelming since there are so many (bad) options that it can feel like you are navigating a minefield. The purpose of this section is to help you understand what to look for in a BPW so that you can take the first step in the right direction.
You could also just go to your local dive shop and ask them to explain some things to you, however you should still know the basics so that you can ask better questions. It can also help you determine whether or not the person you’re speaking to is just trying to sell you the latest and most expensive product instead of giving you genuinely good advice.
You can also reach out to a past instructor or Divemaster and ask them if they have any advice. If you choose to go to a dive shop, see if there are any BPW buoyancy compensators you can try on and have a go at adjusting the harness.
One unique difference between a backplate and wing style BCD and other types of buoyancy compensators is how modular it is. Theoretically, you can mix and match components from different manufacturers and literally make your own custom rig. This is where a lot of the confusion comes from, and you can easily end up with a Frankenstein monstrosity. First-time buyers should just stick with purchasing a complete kit from one manufacturer.
If you are sick and tired of your current BCD sliding around or riding up during a dive, then you will love how well a backplate and wing style BCD fits. The harness on a BPW BCD is designed to be tight. When adjusted properly, there should only be enough space between your suit and harness straps to stick a couple of fingers under. With that said, this takes some testing to get perfectly; expect to do a trial run before you get it right.
Once the harness is adjusted properly, it will feel like the scuba rig has become an extension of your body rather than something that is loosely clinging onto your back. If you tilt your head downwards to examine a coral head, your BCD should stay in place and not shift forwards and smack you one behind the head (that may or may not have happened to me).
When you look sideways, the rig ought to remain secure on your back instead of sliding side to side like a hula-hoop. Once you have a well-fitting rig, you will hardly even notice it’s there. Conversely, a poorly-fitting one will always be on the back of your mind and distract you from enjoying your dive. A backplate and wing rig will make it easier for you to get a nice fit.
As we explained earlier, a backplate and wing style BCD consists of literally four components: the backplate, the bladder (wing), the harness, and the tank attachment. What could be simpler? BCDs with too many components just complicates things and brings up more points of failure. With a BPW, the components are near-indestructible and any repairs can be done with parts from a hardware store. The setup is so straightforward that it is a strength.
When you are underwater and something goes wrong, you don’t have time to think; you must act. With a simple setup like in a BPW rig, it is much easier to perform the right actions even without vision. The mask obstructs the view to your body, so there isn’t much to guide your hands to. If you are wearing a thick wetsuit or thick gloves, you lose the sense of feel and dexterity to feel your way through a piece of equipment or complex attachment.
That is why a BPW rig excels in emergency situations because with only four components, it is so simple to reach each component that it’s difficult to mess up.
A beginner or intermediate level diver might not need such a durable BCD. After all, it’s not like they are going to dive with two-hundred pounds of lead weight and steel double tanks. However, maybe one day they will and the option is there.
A standard plate and harness on a BPW rig can easily withstand heavy use. The plate is generally made from aluminum or steel. The harness is constructed from 2-inch wide nylon, and perhaps reinforced with resin. Any attachment points or buckles are made from stainless steel. In other words, they are built like a tank so that you can use them in any diving condition.
The popular jacket style BCs on the other hand are made from less durable materials: thin nylon fabric with velcro attachments will tear or drop your expensive scuba equipment when you least expect it, like when you are getting out of the water or swimming around debris.
Technical divers will find an even greater list of reasons as to why they prefer a BPW to a jacket BC. For instance, the standardization of equipment means that dive partners on a team all know their buddies’ equipment just like their own for even greater safety.
A BPW is similar in price to a jacket BC but may also be cheaper. You can purchase each component separately (backplate, harness, wing, and we recommend getting a tank strap as well).
If you are buying components from different manufacturers, make sure they are compatible with each other. Not all manufacturers play nice like that, so if you aren’t sure then you can buy entire kits from the same manufacturer.
The cost of all the pieces adds up to roughly equal the price of a jacket BC. Buying individual pieces may seem complicated but it’s actually quite straightforward. Furthermore, this level of customization means you can get a better, more comfortable and durable fit than any other style of BCD.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are backplate and wing BCDs beginner-friendly?
Yes! BPWs work well for divers of all skill ranges, and for all types of diving, whether you are a beginner or recreational diver, or an experienced technical diver.
There is a common misconception that BPWs are only for advanced divers because they are necessary for rebreathers and manifolded doubles which mostly only tech divers use. That’s the beauty of BPWs: you tweak the components to suit whatever type of diving you want.
For instance, if you want to swap from single to double tanks, just change the wing to one that can accommodate double tanks, and you can leave the rest of the components alone.
Do BPWs force you forward at the surface?
While underwater, BPWs can help you maintain horizontal trim more than other buoyancy compensators but you will have to distribute the weight evenly to do so. At the surface, it only forces you forward if you are heavily weighted in the wrong places or if you’ve overinflated the wing.
Sometimes beginner divers will over-inflate their BCD and find that their face gets pushed down. A sign that you are overinflated is when your shoulders are sticking out of the water at the surface when only the head is enough. With the right amount of inflation, one should float easily without any effort. If you spend a long time waiting for boats by the surface, then this could be a dealbreaker.
With that said, with some trial and error, you can determine the perfect level of inflation that will keep you afloat and position your body comfortably at the surface.
Do BPWs have D-rings, zip pockets, and integrated weight systems?
They can have all of them or none of them. It’s entirely up to you since a BPW is completely customizable. You can attach any weight pockets, zip or Velcro pockets, and D-rings as long as they can thread onto 2-inch webbing. Their locations can also be changed to fit your style and body shape.
It is up to you to decide to decide how much webbing is at each place on the backplate and you can cut it to your desired length. There are even long and short plates to accommodate for the varying heights of divers. We recommend using a standard Hogarthian harness, since “Deluxe” harnesses are often not worth the cost and just complicate things.
Another advantage of the modularity of a BPW is that any damaged components can be easily replaced. You do not have to get yourself a new BCD, just swap out only the damaged component for a new one. This is obviously much cheaper and more convenient than replacing the entire thing when a clip breaks or a bladder gets punctured.
Some divers may find the pocket attachments to be inadequate, so here are some possible alternatives. First, you can wear a drysuit with pockets built into them for cold water divers. In more tropical waters you can wear tech shorts for additional storage space if needed.
Can women use a backplate and wing style buoyancy compensator?
Yes! The key here is to find a comfortable harness and to make sure that the backplate is not too long. This is one area where the infinite customization options of the a BPW BCD comes in handy; just swap back and forth between different components and you can fit any gender or body shape. We understand that purchasing a BCD for women can be difficult, so we have written a guide on how to find the right one.
Best Backplate and Wing BCD: Parting Words
To sum it all up, the backplate and wing BCD is a modular, highly customizable and versatile BCD. There are virtually unlimited combinations available in backplate, wing, harness and strap options. You can truly make a custom BCD or just buy an entire kit from a manufacturer if you are worried about compatibility issues.
Since each part is replaceable, it means that you can easily swap out parts if you’d like to change up your diving style or if a component is broken. The wing got punctured? No problem, just swap out the wing for a new one and keep the rest of the components. It’s hassle-free and much cheaper to maintain.
Most of the time, BPW BCDs are used by technical divers on a team. They will meet up to discuss their specific needs and then purchase the same components. The advantage of this is that each diver will know their teammates’ gear as well as their own in case anything goes wrong. A beginner can ask their mentor or instructor for advice on which pieces to get.
The BPW system is a solid option for recreational or intermediate divers who are looking to move into more advanced diving such as wreck or cave diving and technical deep diving. So if you want to experience all that ocean has to offer, then you should dive with a backplate and wing BCD.