The Best Scuba Diving BCD: Recreation, Travel, Tec…It’s On Our List

It is important for divers to find the best scuba BCD for their needs because a buoyancy compensator is one of the most expensive investments you can make into your scuba diving gear aside from a dive computer. Your scuba BCD will also be one of the most important pieces of gear and can be the largest contributor to an improved diving experience. When you are familiar with your scuba BCD, you will be more comfortable underwater and know exactly where to access other equipment you have attached to it.

Owning your own buoyancy compensator will allow you to get familiar with all of its intricacies. You will have an easier time trimming underwater, finding neutral buoyancy quickly, and accessing dive tools like your dive knife or under water flashlight.

With all of the models out there to choose from, the search can get tiring, but I will keep it simple and help you find a good scuba diving BCD to suit your needs. I have including a simple guide and the choices on my list range from the best beginner scuba BCD to the best travel BCD and everything in between.

Let’s jump right in to our list of best scuba BCDs and quick guide to find right buoyancy compensator for you!


 

Guide: How To Find The Best Buoyancy Compensator

If you have been searching for a scuba diving buoyancy compensator you may be overwhelm with the choices and styles. Luckily, between myself and my local dive group we have tried many of the best (and worst) buoyancy compensators on the market. With that experience you begin to understand the features that are great, some that are gimmicky, and some that really improve the performance of a buoyancy compensator.

Like most dive equipment, think of the types of diving you do and this short scuba diving BCD guide will help you narrow down the list to the dive BDC that is best for you. You will learn all of the different styles and features of popular models, and then you can use the handy table to sort on the features that are important to your needs. Below the table you will find a short review of the best scuba BCDs and their features.

TYPES OF BUOYANCY COMPENSATORS

There are few different styles to look out for when searching for a dive BC. For beginners it is usually best to go with a jacket BCD as it will offer the easiest solution for inexperienced divers.

The JACKET BCD is the most common style of dive bc and great for those just entering the sport. The air bladder on a jacket style BCD typically wraps the torso and around the back and when inflated, provides equal support in lift around the diver. This is great for beginners as it is extremely stable in all positions on the surface and underwater, as well as being easier to control underwater.

The BACK INFLATION/WING BCD places the air bladder behind the diver which provides a more comfortable diving experience. This allows for easier arm movement and less clutter in front of the diver. Back inflation also helps divers maintain perfect horizontal trim underwater. The main complaint of the back inflation is divers transitioning from jacket BCDs is the tendency to push divers face forward on the surface. This can be easily remedied with the use of trim weights positioned on the tank or rear of diver.

The HYBRID BCD incorporates the best of both the jacket style and back inflation style in terms of recreational use. The Hybrid BCD air bladder is designed to provide less front clutter than the traditional jacket style and a comfortable horizontal diving position that the wing BCD usually provides. The unique design still allows for a comfortable upright position for the diver as well.

The TRAVEL BCD can be full featured or not, jacket style, or back inflation style. The main difference in travel BCDs is their ability to pack down and fold into a very small footprint to be packed into a suitcase. They are also made to be lighter than a regular dive BC and usually by limiting the features you might usually have.

The BACKPLATE & WING BCD (not to be confused with wing style above) is widely considered the most versatile setup and is the most common among tech divers. You can achieve virtually every combination of setup with this dive BC style by purchasing individual components to be assembled to the design of your choice. There is almost unlimited combinations in backplates, wing design/size, and harness design & hardware when putting together the backplate and wing system. This system, however is usually reserved for the experienced diver who is usually conducting more advanced dives such as technical deep dives, cave diving, and wreck penetration. Putting together a good system requires great knowledge and experience.

LIFT CAPACITY

Lift capacity is the measurement of weight the buoyancy compensator hold in positive buoyancy (keeping the diver above water) when fully inflated. If you carry a lot of gear or extra weight to counter the positive buoyancy of a thicker wetsuit in cold water diving, you should keep this measurement in mind. If your dive BC doesn’t have enough lift capacity you might struggle to stay afloat on the surface.

In general you can follow this lift capacity guide to figure out how much lift you may need.

  • Tropical Diving (little to no wetsuit protection) – 12 to 24 lbs
  • Recreational Diving (full wetsuit or dry suit) – 20 to 40 lbs
  • Technical Diving (loaded with equipment, multiple tanks, etc) – 40 to 80 lbs

ATTACHMENT POINT AND STORAGE

Storage and attachment is important to consider if you dive with a lot of scuba accessories and dive tools. You will need to either attach your gear to D-rings or loops for a carabiner or stow you dive tools in pockets. Pockets are great for a backup scuba mask or small dive knives and rings are great for dive torches.

Pockets will either have Velcro or zippers to secure them closed and zippers being the most secure. D-rings are typically stainless steel but and are strongest but they can also be durable plastic or aluminum. For advanced diving you should look for a dive BCD with at least 4 D-rings om which you can attach surface markers, whistles, or anything else you see fit.

BCD SIZE

Size is very important to get right. Without a proper fit the scuba BCD may ride up or just might not give you a comfortable fit which will affect your dive experience. Keep in mind the type of exposure protection you will be diving with when getting fitted and choosing a size. If you are diving with both dry suits and thin wetsuits you will need a suit that can adjust for that.

WEIGHT INTEGRATION

Integrated weight is a great feature on most scuba BCDs that allow you to put weights directly into special pockets on the BCD. Just as they are convenient, they are useful with adjusting your trim by strategically place weight pockets on the dive BC. You will not need to wear a weight belt which are not that comfortable and it is one less accessory to keep track of.

A great feature of some integrated weight systems is the quick release mechanism. If you are in an emergency situation and need to ditch your weight, a quick pull on a special string or tab will instantly drop your weight and allow you to ascend. You will need to carefully inspect and attached these special pouches so you do not accidentally lose them due to improper attachment.

BCD FOR WOMEN

I already emphasized the importance of fit above and it is no question men and women would need a different fit in a dive BC. While some women may not be bothered by the fit of a BCD proportioned for men, others may not be comfortable with the fit they provide.

Good news is every major manufacturer has a scuba BCD design for a woman’s body shape and they provide a more comfortable and secure fit. The major differences will be a shorter torso length on a woman’s scuba BCD which improves the position of the cylinder on the back making it less strenuous. The other difference being the wider placement of the chest strap as well as the width and placement of the shoulder straps.

It is certainly possible to get a great fit with a unisex BCD but I recommend trying it out and seeing if it will make your investment into a scuba BCD even more worth your while.


Now that you have all of the information you need to choose the best scuba BCD for your needs, you can take a look at the table and sort on the options to compare the best buoyancy compensator!


 

Top 10 Best Scuba BCD – Comparison Guide

ImageScuba BCDStyleLift CapcityD-RingsPocketsPrice Range
Zeagle Ranger best scuba bcdZeagle RangerWing44 lbs (20 kg)62$$$$
ScubaPro KnightHawk best buoyancy compensatorScubaPro KnightHawkWing44lbs (20kg)**42$$$
Cressi Travelight BCD best travel bcdCressi Travelight BCDJacket36lbs (16kg)**42$$
Mares Hybrid Pure BCD best travel bcdMares Hybrid Pure BCDHybrid33.7lbs (15.3kg)21$
Zeagle Stiletto best scuba bcdZeagle StilettoWing35lbs (15.9kg)52$$$
ScubaPro Bella best buoyancy compensatorScubaPro BellaJacket42lbs (19kg)**62$$$
Oceanic BioLite Travel BCD best travel bcdOceanic BioLite Travel BCDWing38lbs (17kg)**20$$$
Cressi Aquaride best scuba bcdCressi AquarideJacket42lbs (19kg)**62$$$
Sherwood Avid CQR3 best buoyancy compensatorSherwood Avid CQR3Jacket36lbs (16kg)**63$$$
TUSA Conquest II best scuba bcdTUSA Conquest IIHybrid49lbs (22kg)**54$$
Bonus Pick: Zeagle Scout best travel bcdBonus Pick: Zeagle ScoutWing24lbs (11kg)42$$
Bonus Pick: Zeagle Zena best buoyancy compensatorBonus Pick: Zeagle ZenaWing31lbs (13.6kg)14$$$

**Note: Lift capacity will vary with size.


The Best Scuba BCD – Top 10 Reviews

 

Zeagle Ranger Review

zeagle ranger best scuba bcd

“Best Rear Wing Scuba BCD Featuring Modular Capabilities”

The Zeagle Ranger may be the priciest diving BCD on the list but this is the most rugged and adaptable scuba BCD I have encountered. Zeagle’s modular design allows the Ranger to transition from a tropical travel BCD to a cold water diving BCD that can accommodate wet or dry suits with minor modification.

Zeagle was the first to introduce a diving BCD that was heavy duty, weight integrated, and featured rear flotation. It is so versatile you can use it with twin cylinders, an optional bladder assembly providing up to 2 x 85 lbs lift, and even easily mounted back-plates for technical diving. This makes it one of the best BCD options on the list for technical diving as well.

All of these features easily make it the best scuba BCD for divers who anticipate a wide variety of dive conditions, as well as those needing a capable travel BCD. If you are looking for a buoyancy compensator made in the USA, Zeagle is a great option.


 

ScubaPro KnightHawk Review

ScubaPro KnightHawk best buoyancy compensator

“Durable and Quality High Lift Rear Wing Scuba BCD”

ScubaPro’s Knighthawk is another high end option that is a very robust yet comfortable rear wing scuba BCD. The integrated weight system allows you to put weight in trim pockets to easily adjust your pitch and the streamline design allows for more effortless control underwater.

You will find plenty of options for storage and attachments as well with the two pockets and the four D-rings on the Knighthawk. ScubaPro also has a travel BCD version called the Litehawk that has a lot of same great feature in a light weight form great for travel. There is also a version designed for women called the Ladyhawk which is another top rate buoyancy compensator!

The ScubaPro KnightHawk is a excellent rear wing bcd with high lift for those carrying a lot of gear or diving in cold water. A more affordable option than the Zeagle Ranger with a lot of the same great features.


 

Cressi Travelight BCD Review

Cressi Travelight BCD best travel bcd

“Best Travel BCD For 2018”

The Cressi Travelight is one of the best travel BCDs on the market as it is full featured yet light weight, compact, and very affordable. The jacket style BCD has all of the same features as a regular buoyancy compensator but it is designed to fold down to a compact form making it great for dive travel. Being full featured and having a jacket style makes it great for beginners and seasoned divers alike.

Since it is a full featured dive BCD you don’t have to worry about maintaining two buoyancy compensators either, as the Travelight can function just as well as a main scuba diving BC. Be sure and check the Travelight out if you need a full function travel BCD.

Check our article that compares the Travelight vs Biolite as the two best travel BCD options.


 

Mares Hybrid Pure BCD Review

Mares Hybrid Pure best hybrid scuba bcd

“Best Cheap Scuba BCD With Full Features”

Mares Hybrid Pure is the most affordable scuba diving BCD on my list. It is a minimalist design wing BCD that is easy to balance and comfortable to wear. The minimal design also makes this great if you need a travel BCD as it will fold down quite well and is very light.

If you are looking for your first scuba diving BCD or even your first wing BCD, the Hybrid Pure is an attractive option at its price point. It will get you in the water at an affordable price and provide the necessary feature you need in a buoyancy compensator. A great all around BC that is stable, comfortable, and affordable that can easily be customized to add features.


 

Zeagle Stiletto Review

Zeagle Stiletto best lightweight dive bcd

“High-end Lightweight Scuba BCD cold Water Capable”

If you need a more rugged and versatile travel BCD the Zeagle Stiletto is another great option albeit pricier. The Stiletto is a full featured buoyancy compensator that is light weight and capable in both warm and cold water diving conditions.

If you are wondering how it differs for the Ranger, it has 1 less D-ring, slightly less lift capacity, and is not modular but this trade off comes at a reduced price compared to the Ranger. If you don’t need the extra lift or modular capabilities, the Stiletto is a very capable high end wing BCD.


 

ScubaPro Bella Review

ScubaPro Bella best womens buoyancy compensator

“Best Womens Scuba BCD 2018”

If you prefer the jacket style BCD, the Bella is cut just for women and has a spine pad and many adjustment points so you can achieve a perfect and comfortable fit. With its custom fitting combined with ScubaPro’s quality and comfort, The Bella is at the top of the list for the best scuba BCD for women!

My Dive Master friend usually recommends this to women looking for a recreational scuba BCD that is cut for their body. It also has plenty of D-rings and pockets for stashing and attaching all of your gear. If you don’t like a wing BCD like the Ladyhawk definitely give the Bella a try.


 

Oceanic BioLite Travel BCD Review

Oceanic BioLite Travel BCD best lightweight bcd

“Best Lightweight Travel BCD”

Oceanic has really delivered a quality dive bc in the Biolite. Only slightly more expensive that the Cressi Travelight, the Biolite is my pick for the best lightweight travel BCD that utilizes a wing style rear inflation. It provides extremely great lift at up to 38 lbs in such a compact and lightweight package.

The simple and clean design provides a comfortable buoyancy compensator that can be easily folded down a packed for travel. The minimal design that provides high lift makes this a great choice for those that frequent both tropical conditions and cold water conditions in which you are carry lots of gear. The lack of pockets is the only negative but there are plenty of options for hooking your scuba gear to the BCD harness.

For anyone searching for a high lift travel bcd, this lightweight option will give you an uncluttered dive experience no matter wear you chose to dive.

Check our article that compares the Travelight vs Biolite as the two best travel BCD options.


 

Cressi Aquaride Review

Cressi Aquaride best scuba bcd

“Best All Around Jacket Style Scuba BCD”

The Cressi Aquaride is one of the most comfortable jacket style buoyancy compensators I have tried. Full featured with weight integrations, 6 D-rings, and 2 pockets, you will have no trouble with lift when you are loaded down with gear as the Aquaride provides up 42.7 lbs of lift for the largest size.

A fantastic all around dive BC and one of the best jacket BCD options on the list. If you need an affordable full featured diving jacket that is capable in both tropical and cold water dive conditions the Aquaride is a rugged and dependable scuba BCD.


 

Sherwood Avid CQR3 Review

Sherwood Avid CQR3 best buoyancy compensator

Sherwood’s Avid is another quality jacket style buoyancy compensator that is comparable to the Aquaride. It provides slightly less lift than the Aquaride but features all of the other great options plus an additional pocket so storage is definitely not lacking with the Avid. The new CQR-3 weight system is even more convenient and easy to remove and install than previous versions.


 

TUSA Conquest II Review

TUSA Conquest II best scuba bcd for beginners

“Best BCD For Beginners”

The price point and the fact that the Conquest II is a full featured hybrid scuba BCD makes this an excellent choice for those just starting out and wanting their own gear. The Tusa Conquest is the most affordable jacket style BCD on the list and my pick for both the best hybrid BCD and the best scuba bcd for beginners.

Tusa has upgraded the padding on the back-plate on the Conquest II making it even more comfortable. The Conquest II also has very high lift capacity as the largest size provides up to 49.5 lbs of lift. There are so many options for storage with this scuba BC as well as it has 5 D-rings and a whopping 4 pockets. For the price, you can’t beat the Conquest II as your first scuba BCD that is both durable and feature.


 

Bonus Pick: Zeagle Scout Review

Bonus Pick: Zeagle Scout best travel bcd

Zeagle’s Scout scuba BCD earns a bonus pick spot for getting the Zeagle quality at an affordable price. The Scout doesn’t have the lift as some of the others and isn’t as feature rich but the minimal design provides you with a great quality option for travel or tropical diving as the scuba BCD packs down nicely.


 

Bonus Pick: Zeagle Zena Review

Bonus Pick: Zeagle Zena best buoyancy compensator

The Zeagle Zena is my bonus pick for those looking for the best wing style scuba BCD for women. It is very light and comfortable! Since it utilizes rear inflation and features several adjustment points, you can achieve the perfect fit and perfect trim while diving.