Every year a new batch of BC’s hits the market and this year was no different. By our count there were at least 15 new models of various styles and types. We thought we would narrow it down and focus on a few that stood out. We know that just because something is new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. With that in mind we decided to bring you four new BC’s that had a little something extra. Something that made us want to take a closer look. We selected what we thought were some of the best in their respective categories: Jacket, Back Buoyancy, Hybrid, and Travel.
Aqualung Axiom i3 (jacket)
The new Axiom i3 is the blending of all the latest research and technology that Aqualung has developed over the past few years. If you want one BC that features all of their innovations then the Axiom i3 is it; it’s got it all. To start it has the i3 inflation system that puts buoyancy control at your fingertips. Then they took some inspiration from their Dimension i3 and included the “Wrapture” harness system. This incorporates a customized back plate bottom half and a soft pack top half providing comfort and stability. Low profile exhaust valves and signature swivel shoulder buckles were included too. A new GripLock tank band and buckle system replaces the ubiquitous cam buckle. It has a familiar look but a different size and feel. It features a height adjustable chest strap and a wide quick release waist buckle with double pull D-rings for an easy fit. The Axiom i3 is also equipped with the latest generation of the SureLock weight system and offers creative options for carrying accessories with pockets and D-rings.
Simply put, it works. Setting up the system is slick as the valve retention strap sets the perfect tank height and holds the Axiom i3 in position while you lock down the new GripLock buckle. The band length can be set to your cylinder’s diameter once and then forgotten. A pre-closed position of the buckle allows you to secure the band and then move your fingers out of the way for the final push to lock down the buckle. Testers who have used a similar buckle liked the fresh take on this familiar design. On the surface the Wrapture harness secures the load on your hips and the weight is taken off your shoulders. While this may be more important on the surface, the snug fit continued under water for a comfortable and stable ride. The i3 inflation system took less time to tame than most of our test divers expected. Ascent control scored high as venting air in either a head up or head down position was very easy as both shoulder and rear valves open when the i3 lever is pressed. The Axiom is also available with a standard inflator for those who want more traditional controls.
We didn’t think the SureLock weight system could get any better but we were pleasantly surprised. The SureLock II has more ergonomic handles, and an even better rail system that guides the weight pouches home without even looking at them. Two rear trim weight pouches are secured on either side of the tank band for a combined weight capacity of 30-pounds. In the test tank we measured just 1.25-pounds of inherent buoyancy, which is considered very good for the ample padding. There are plenty of attachment points and pockets for all your goodies. The left side has a small zippered pocket and knife attachment grommets. The right side has a cool double pocket that has a small top section with a zip closure and a huge drop down pocket underneath. Since this pocket is outside of the weight pouch its volume is unaffected and offers large cargo capacity. There are also plenty of D-rings well positioned to hang other gear and a special octopus pocket to secure your backup breather.
About the best compliment we could give the Axiom i3 is that it doesn’t feel like a Jacket BC. It has the streamlined, low profile feel of a back buoyancy BC but with the added stability on the surface that a little air under the arms provides. If you are tired of big bulky jacket style BC’s but not sure you want to make the switch to back buoyancy then the Axiom or Axiom i3 may be the proverbial best fit.
Cressi Back Jac (back buoyancy)
The Back Jac is a bit of a shape shifter. It presents a very low profile air cell but can expand to provide 50-pounds of lift (size L) if needed. The edges of the air cell are trimmed with elastic cord that pulls the bag in close to the harness. Inflation expands the air cell and reveals a large pleated lower section. The Back Jac has a rigid back plate with built in carry handle, a tank-positioning strap and single tank band. The backpack padding and air cell are integrated with the harness system and extend over the shoulders creating a location for an alternate pull dump. This is an uncommon feature with back buoyancy designs and offers additional ascent control. The Back Jac actually has four methods of deflation including a lower rear pull dump. The shoulder straps are wide and padded with a height adjustable chest strap and double pull buckles. The shoulders have 2-inch wide quick-release buckles and webbing with plastic D-rings for a snug fit. The waist is secured with an adjustable depth compensating cummerbund and a 2-inch webbing belt with quick-release buckles. The Back Jac comes fitted with the new Lock-Aid weight System (L.A.S.) The weight pouches are guided and then locked into position with a mechanical buckle. Each side holds 10-pounds of weight plus two rear trim-pouches mounted on the back of the harness offer 5-pounds of non-droppable weight for a total of 30-pounds. Outside of the weight pouches are medium sized zippered cargo pockets. There are six stainless D-rings found at the chest, waist, and hips to offer sufficient attachment points for extra gear.
The Back Jac has a nice light feel with a clean, uncluttered fit up front. The soft padding makes this a comfortable option when diving in warm water without a thick wetsuit. In the test tank the padding added about 1.75 pounds of inherent buoyancy. Rigging was simple with the single cam buckle, assisted by the tank-positioning strap. The solid pack handle made lifting and loading the system easier. The shoulder straps conformed nicely and we moved the chest strap to the low position for better stability and comfort. The plastic D-rings on the chest and shoulder straps made adjustment easy and the extended tabs on the shoulder buckles made for quick loosening.
Loading the new L.A.S weight pouches was a snap. A reassuring loud click lets you know the pockets are engaged. A large plastic D-ring in front of each weight pocket gives you a little extra control when inserting the weights. Pulling the D-ring forward while pushing the weight pouch into its pocket made it much easier. The handles on the weight pouches extended far enough forward for good touch recognition. At depth the Back Jac felt stable and the solid backpack minimized tank wobble. The cargo pockets on each side were a bit small but that’s the trade off for its trim profile. We were able to carry a small light, or signal tube and other small accessories. The zipper closes toward the rear making it a little harder to reach than if the pull-tab was forward when closed. Ascent control was easy with more options than most back buoyancy BC’s. The inflator/deflator was efficient and fit nicely in the hand. Body squeeze was not an issue, as the amount of air in the cell does not affect the fit of the harness. On the surface divers found the most comfortable position when the air cell was not completely filled.
The Cressi Back Jac is so compact and streamlined you would never know that it offers 50-pounds of buoyant lift, unless you need it. The air cell stays hidden behind you, reducing drag as you swim but is always there and ready. It has a nice uncluttered feel in front and large straps and adjustments for a secure and steady connection.
Oceanic Probe HLC (hybrid)
The Probe HLC is a hybrid BC that offers the characteristics of both a Jacket and Back Buoyancy design. It’s also a hybrid of sorts by combining some Tech diving features with the comfort of a Sport diving BC. The hybrid design lends itself well to high lift capacity (HLC) and the Probe offers about 50-pounds of buoyancy (size L). The Probe has been a favorite BC for years and the latest upgrade has added a pleated bladder behind the diver while maintaining the jacket style up front. The Probe also adds the new QLR3 integrated weight system, which can carry 10-pounds on each side plus twin trim pouches on the tank band that hold 5-pounds each for a total weight capacity of 30-pounds. The Probe has a full backpack with molded carry handle and back pad. The shoulders are padded and internally reinforced for added support. Elastic BioFlex material lines the inside for a soft feel and reduced bulk when deflated. A stretchy depth compensating cummerbund and quick-release buckle secures the waist. Shoulder adjustments are made through two quick-release shoulder buckles and an adjustable chest strap with two anchor positions. There are two pull dumps plus the deflation button to vent air during ascents. There are two deep zippered cargo pockets and six stainless D-rings for carrying your extra gear and gadgets. There are also mounting grommets for an optional BC knife and retractors.
The Probe HLC has the hybrid design sought after by sport divers for its stability but also the heavy-duty build and high lift capacity needed by technical divers. While it is not a full tilt tech monster, divers who occasionally need to clip on an extra tank might find the Probe HLC a good all-rounder. At a glance the Probe looks pretty tough. It has rugged Ballistic Nylon shielding the sides for greater durability. Attachment to the tank was quick and easy with the built-in lifting handle and tank-positioning strap. Getting in and out of the jacket was easy with extended tabs on the buckles for loosening. The adjustment straps on the waist and shoulder buckles have plastic D-rings for an easy cinch and a double pull adjustment on the chest strap buckle, which also has a built in signaling whistle. The new QLR3 weight system was scored high by test divers for its’ ease of loading and unloading. Rails on the pouches help guide the buckle into place. A solid click lets you know they are secure.
The weight pouch handles extend forward making them easy to find and they fit the hand nicely for a secure grip when removing them. On the surface the Probe felt stable and snug. The padding in the shoulders and back pad are sufficient but not too buoyant, adding only about half a pound of inherent buoyancy. Under water the air added to become neutral moved into the rear section making it ride like a back buoyancy BC, and felt stable side to side. The side cargo pockets were easy to access with extended tabs on the zippers. The pockets were spacious and didn’t loose much volume with the weight pouches inserted. The stainless D-rings are mounted with heavy webbing. The bottom rings are slightly larger and angled to allow easier attachment. Ascent control scored well with both the inflator pull dump and the alternate shoulder pull dump. In head down positions the lower rear pull dump was easy to reach and efficient. Back on the surface the hybrid design offered a comfortable resting position.
The Probe HLC is the perfect BC for those who want the features of a jacket and back buoyancy BC. The Probe HLC gives you both. On the surface you get the stability and comfort of a jacket while underwater you have the freedom of a back buoyancy BC. Add to that a little extra durability and you have yourself a pretty nice all-around performer.
Scubapro Go (travel)
The new Scubapro Go is a true travel BC. It’s light, weighing less than six pounds (size L) and can pack small in its own travel sack. The Go is a completely soft pack design that allows for flat or folded packing. It has an integrated weight system with 20-pounds of combined weight capacity. Two large zippered cargo pockets and six aluminum D-rings offer plenty of payload and attachment options, plus knife attachment grommets. The double tank band design provides a solid connection and the tank-positioning strap helps with set-up. Quick-release, swivel shoulder buckles have D-ring pulls for a fast fit and extended tabs for a quick egress. The cummerbund and waist strap with QR buckles and the chest strap complete the adjustment features.
The Go is so thin and light that it not only feels like nothing in your luggage it feels like nothing when you are wearing it. On the surface the built-in back pad did an excellent job insulating us from the tank. We were surprised to find the padding added less than a pound of buoyancy when tested. Set up was easy as the tank positioning strap holds the correct height while you clamp down the buckle. The main band uses a cam buckle for a secure grip and the second band uses Velcro for fast and easy adjustability and added stability. Underwater we noticed the absence of the usual jacket style bulkiness. The integrated weight system holds more than enough for most tropical divers.
A simple squeeze releases the buckle and large D-rings on the weight pouch offered good hand holds when removing. The weight pouches took up some of the cargo pocket’s volume but there was still plenty of room for small lights and accessories. The pockets had easy access with extended zipper pulls that came all the way to the front of the BC. The wide shoulders and swivel buckles conformed to our testers of all shapes. The fit and feel underwater was secure, snug and stable, and the soft pack was comfortable. Ascent control scored high with the inflator and both shoulder dump valves. The alternate shoulder dump and the lower rear dump both had large toggles for easy gripping and operating. On the surface the jacket was supportive and provided a relaxed resting position, and was most comfortable when not over inflated.
The Go is ready when you are. It’s the perfect stripped down version of a favorite BC. It has all the buoyancy, cargo payload and weight capacity that you’ll ever need in the tropics without the bulk or weight of a standard BC.
I’ve been a diving addict since my 14th birthday when my parents took me to the Bahamas and had my first scuba diving experience. I’ve been an active diver ever since but in the last few years my focus shifted on sharing my thoughts and experience on diving gear, writing product reviews and gave up on organizing dive tours.