Zeagle Express Tech Deluxe BCD Review

This is probably one of the most difficult bcd’s to categorize, it is a back inflate, soft backplate style, travel bcd. It is lightweight, customizable, and one size fits all, the only downside to this bcd is its minimal lift capacity. Zeagle is well known for their durable and reliable bcd’s that are used for both recreation and a favorite of the military. The most recognized bcd from eagle is the Ranger, and the least recognized is probably the Express Tech. This bcd can come in multiple forms depending on how many bells and whistles you want it to have. The most basic is the Express Tech and then you also have the complete package with the Express Tech Deluxe. Depending on what you are looking for in a bcd this may be the perfect fit.

The Basic stats of this BCD are as follows:

  • Dry weight is 6.5 lbs
  • Lift capacity 24 lbs
  • Rear Weight pockets (16lbs)
  • Soft back plate
  • Twin tank straps
  • Optional shoulder and back pads
  • Optional quick release pockets (2 options: Zip Touch 20 lb, and rip chord 30 lb)
  • 5 d-rings
  • One size fits all
  • Zeagle’s quick unscrew inflator hose (compatible with garden hose for flushing bladder)
  • Starting Price $394.95
  • Replaceable Bladder
  • Can be set up for twin tanks

What I like about this BCD:

In my mind this is almost a perfect BCD it has pretty much everything I want for an all around BCD and nothing I don’t. Especially for my personal style of diving. It is one size fits all using webbing that can be trimmed, and a stomach strap that is connected to the shoulders with slide so it easily adjust unlike some backplates where the shoulders are almost static. This means I can dive with this bcd in a 3mm suit for warm water or a Drysuit for cold water without having to make any major adjustments to the BCD. The optional quick release pockets and pads let the user decide if the extra comforts are worth the cost. And by far the cost of the BCD may be its most attractive coming in under $400 for a travel bcd is hard to find, and though it may be a tad heavier than others on the market 6 lbs is nothing to shake a stick at.

What I don’t like about this BCD:

There isn’t much that really is a deal breaker for this bcd in my opinion, the only things that I can understand might be undesirable would be the minimal lift capacity and the additional cost of add-ons. The lift only being 24 lbs really dose make this BCD best suited for warm water divers, I do find it silly that with only 24lbs of lift they give the option to accommodate 46 lbs of lead in the front and rear weight pockets. I it is probably possible to attach a larger bladder but have not looked into the difficulty of doing so, and of course the larger bladder would be sold separately. I would prefer the bladder to have a little more lift 30+ lbs would make me much happier than the 24 lbs but it wouldn’t deter me. The added cost of extras on this bcd i wouldn’t categorize as a bad thing obviously more features cost more but I think some will get the basic Express Tech and be put off that it doesn’t have quick release pockets on the front or padding for the shoulders or back. The price is very desirable for what you are getting $394.95 for the basic and the price jumps from there with the weight pockets and pads pushing the price over $500.

Overall if you are looking for a lightweight durable BCD, that you want to customize to fit you and your diving style the Express Tech may be the perfect fit. I have only dove this bcd a few times borrowing from a friend, I enjoyed the fit, it was easy to put on and take off with the stomach strap connected to the shoulders. Diving it with my drysuit the lift wasn’t an issue I usually only use the BCD at at the surface anyways. It will definitely be my next purchase and become my dedicated travel bcd because although my Stiletto is great shedding a few pounds for other gear can make a big difference.

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Tips for Finding the Perfect Fins

For diving fins are an integral part of how we move around underwater they are one of the most efficient ways to propel ourselves with all of our gear on. While there is no perfect science for finding fins this will cover some considerations in determining which fins will best suit your diving style. This will be more handy for divers looking for their first set of fins but could also be helpful for divers looking to replace an old pair of fins.

First consideration: full foot or open heel?

Full foot fins are generally regarded as snorkeling fins but are often used as diving fins for warm water. They are usually a bit smaller than traditional fins, use a full foot pocket with heel, and usually are a bit lighter and cheaper than open heel fins. These are a good option for someone who only plans on doing warm water diving, they will not keep your feet warm enough for cold water diving. The sizing for these fins usually is a range of shoe sizes (7-8, 9-10, 11-12 etc…) this will vary with each brand.

Open heel fins are just what they sound like they have a foot pocket with no heel and a strap to keep the foot secure. These fins are almost always used with booties. They are generally a little bit more robust in the blade and the foot pocket to accommodate the boot, and can cost a little more. The open heel fin is the ideal fin for diving because of its versatility, despite the extra weight can be used in warm or cold water by going to a thinner or thicker boot, feet are also something that we need to worry about overheating while diving so wearing a thick boot in warm water isn’t an issue, except for travel weight. Open heel fins can also have a variety of different straps for the heel ranging from rubber or silicone adjustable with clips for quick disconnect, to silicone, bungee, or spring straps that are usually at a set tension and used for easy removal. This can effect the cost of the fin but can also usually be changed so if you would like to upgrade to spring style straps that is possible. The sizes of the open heel fins is much more general usually ranging from XS to XL but with the adjustable strap or spring strap able to accommodate a wider variety of foot sizes.

Second Consideration: Comfort.

What you want to avoid when buying fins.

This is the most import step in finding the right fin, comfort should be your primary objective because if its not it will make the experience unbearable like going on a hike in dress shoes. Depending on which style of fin you decide to go with you will be next trying them on, if you are getting an open heel you will need to find a comfortable bootie first. For the full foot fins you want to make sure that when in the pocket your foot is secure and not shifting around, too much space could lead to rub spots that cause blisters. You also don’t want the foot pocket too tight because it may cause cramping in the foot. Consider trying out different brands if possible because their foot pockets and ranges of sizes will differ. For open heel fins it will be a very similar process you want to try on different sizes and make sure that the bootie fills the entire pocket you should not have any gaps when worn, gaps can cause the fin to move and shift on the foot and work less efficiently. For people with small feet make sure that the heel strap is not completely maxed out, sometimes this can still not be enough and the fin can fall off under heavy kicking. Check and make sure that the foot is not experiencing and squeezes or pressure points from the pockets these can become uncomfortable and possibly cause cramping, sometimes due to the heel strap being to tight. For both the full foot and the open heel make sure to extend the leg and kick with the toes pointed to replicate the position your foot will been in while diving this will be a more accurate portrayal of how the fin will feel. Consult with the sales person if you are having trouble determining if it is a good fit, but ultimately you will feel if it is comfortable or not.

Third Consideration: soft or stiff blade?

The softness or stiffness of the fin blade will differ from style to style and most brands will have a range to accommodate all styles of divers. Soft blades have a lot of flex to them and are much easier to kick but do not provide a great deal of power. With the soft blade it will not be as obvious that you are kicking a fin and will feel like a more fluid motion. Softer blades are most efficient with the flutter style kick. These are generally popular with newer divers, divers with injuries, or divers that may not have the best kicking form because they are more forgiving and require less strain. Stiff blades will provide more resistance when kicking and have increased power to the kicks, you will be aware that you are kicking. These fins can be a little heavier and sometimes shorter, becoming very popular in the technical diving space because of the ability to maneuver and push a diver with more equipment. These blades work best with some form of frog kick, but can be efficient when the flutter kick is used as well. This fin is best for divers that are used to kicking and have stronger legs and a good kicking form to maximize their efficiency. There are also a variety of fins in-between soft and stiff, like stated before focus on comfort first if you are a new diver whatever you start with will become your normal.

For divers replacing an old pair of fins, I generally suggest sticking with a fin that is roughly the same stiffness or softness as the last pair. If you have been diving that fin for a while it will be an awkward transition going from soft to stiff and vise versa. If you have not been diving in a while and don’t remember how soft or stiff your fins may have been it shouldn’t matter that much.

Split fins: these are fins that are just what they sound like split down the middle of the fin leaving two fins instead of a single blade per foot. The split fin is very efficient in how they work channeling the water straight back on both the up and down kick. A majority of the time the split fin is a very soft fin, ideal for divers that may have a injury that could affect their kick. While very popular for a while new fin designs have found ways to maximize efficiency of the fin with out the split, so they are becoming less common.

Fourth Consideration: Color.

Like all other dive equipment most fins will come in a variety of colors to allow divers to personalize their gear. The color of the fin will not affect its performance, so in reality it doesn’t matter but some divers will choose a particular set of fins over another because of the color option. I recommend agains this but if you need to match your gear have at it. Most fins will offer at least the basic 3 colors (black, blue, yellow) but with new styles more colors are becoming popular (teal, pink, purple etc…) Fins are a great way to identify other divers underwater and having a different color will make you more recognizable. Some more tech oriented fins will often only be offered in one color usually black, but many divers will write their names on them to make them identifiable.

Do’s and Don’t of Diving: Shop Edition

The dive shop is often the first interaction most people have on their journey to becoming divers. For new divers and old diver there are somethings that can drive the staff up the wall weather its a small shop or large shop you are likely to encounter one or multiple of these issues. The goal is to help guide any diver in what to avoid and how to properly act when in a dive shop.

Don’t try to haggle everything.

One of my biggest gripes from working in dive shops is the customer that tries to haggle the price. While I understand that some equipment can get expensive it is not the shop that sets the price a majority of the time. The manufactures of the products set the price and usually have whats known as MAP (minimum advertised price) for their products. This is the lowest we can advertise the price breaking MAP could result in the loss of that brand to the shop. The other thing to keep in mind is that MAP price often doesn’t leave that much room for profit for the shops this is especially true in small shops that can’t buy in volume to reduce their cost on items. Think of it this way when you go clothes shopping or grocery shopping do you ask for additional discounts when you check out.

Do ask if there are similar items that may be in your price range.

A good dive shop will do everything in their power to ensure that you get the best gear for your buck. Many shops and employees are aware of deals and packages that may save you money and allow you to get equipment that fits your budget. That is what the dive shop is for to help support divers, who support dive shops.

Don’t use shops to try on gear to purchase it online.

As sneaky as you think you may be trying on any piece of equipment employees are pretty good at figuring out when your just testing it out before you buy it online, if your taking notes its completely obvious. There is nothing more infuriating than assisting a customer with manny different types and sizes of equipment to have them just walk away never to be seen again. Sometimes this process can take over an hour just for basic gear, mask, booties, fins etc… that employee may have missed out on sales that where missed because they were helping you. While online is a great convenience and some of the larger retailers (Leisure pro, scuba.com, etc…) have great deals, some that your local shop can’t compete with your are just running your local shop out of business. One thing to keep in mind is that these online retailers aren’t going to help when you need your tanks filled or equipment serviced. Your local shop provides an expertise that they should be compensated for when assisting you find your equipment.

Do be upfront about your intentions, or ask if they price match.

While part of this response may come off as a little cold, I think that if you come into a shop and try on equipment to buy it online then the sales staff shouldn’t have to put any effort into helping you more than they have to. Some shops if the price online is reasonable will match the price. This may be more common in larger shops where they can make up for the discount in volume but small shops it may not be as common. If the difference in price is too great they may not be able to accommodate you. But once again this goes back to weather or not you want to support your local dive shop. If you buy equipment that needs to fit properly online you should have to deal with the repercussions of gambling on weather it is going to fit or not instead of wasting a dive shops time.

Don’t try to sell us your (your friends/family members) crusty old equipment.

A majority of the time equipment that has been sitting for many years in a garage or closet has very little value in general, and nearly no value to dive shops. It takes up space and most likely needs to be serviced especially tanks, bcd’s and regulators. While you may think that the new ones are expensive so yours should be worth a lot, it isn’t especially in the condition its in. One of my least favorite interactions is when someone brings in something they are trying to sell, I tell them we are not interested and they tell me they want to sell in on craigslit/ebay and want to know what a new one is worth so they can price theirs the same. You wouldn’t try to sell a old car for the same price as a brand new one would you, why would it work with dive equipment.

Do ask what options you have with your old equipment.

I understand that as divers we accumulate stuff and sometimes we need to clean house, this is were a shop may be able to help. Depending on what you want you usually have options depending on the condition of the equipment. If you just want to get rid of it the shop can take it as a donation and repurpose it or refurbish it. If you want money for it and its in good condition they may offer to sell it on consignment (not very common unless its in really good condtion). If you want money and its not in great condition take the shops advice on what it is worth and try craigslist or eBay. If you are looking to replace it with new gear ask if they have any trade in programs, some brands like Oceanic will take old and non functioning equipment and provide a discount on new equipment in their case it can only be for the same type of equipment BCD for BCD, computer for computer etc…

Don’t buy used gear online.

Despite offering this as a solution for getting rid of gear I am a strong advocate for not purchasing used equipment online especially for new divers. There are some exception for people that may be looking for a very specific piece of equipment that is no longer manufactured and they are very familiar with that piece of equipment. But as appealing as some prices on used gear is online its going to cost you way more in the long run. The people selling these items are trying to get rid of them most likely because they are old and outdated or not working properly. The service fees may cost you more than if you were to just purchase an new one. It is also worth knowing that some regulators are no longer serviceable (Dacor), so this great purchase you just found might as well be a paper weight. The other thing to consider is fit and durability for things like wetsuits and other neoprene items neoprene wares out and new suits use a much better quality neoprene than the old suits had access to.

Consult your Dive shop about used equipment.

Some dive shops sell their used rental gear that has most likely been maintained better than anything found on criagslist/ebay. So if you really need to save money on equipment ask if they have any used gear for sale, of if they sell their rentals (usually at the end of the season). If they don’t sell used gear or rentals, tell them about what you found ask their opinion on it they may help you avoid waiting money on something that seems too good to be true because it usually is.

In the end support your local dive shop, and they will always be there for you when you need them. As online retailers grow and take business from more and more small shops there will always be things that they can’t offer that your local shop can that is the expertise and knowledge that they share with you.

BCD Buyers Guide

The BCD (buoyancy compensator device) is usually one of the first big purchases that a diver will make when committing to owning all of their own gear. This will hopefully be a helpful guide into identifying features and making a decision on which BCD will best fit your needs as a diver. The first part will be understanding the differences between different styles of BCD’s, then we will focus on features. One thing we want to realize is that not all BCD’s are created equally and although almost all brands will produce bcd’s that function properly what they are being used for will greatly affect their usefulness.

Lets first get familiar with the different styles of BCD’s, I am going to break them down into 4 main categories that most shops will carry some assortment of. These four BCD styles are Jacket, Back Inflate, Travel, Backplate/ wing & harness. The two styles jacket and back inflate are what would be considered general or all around recreational BCD’s while the travel and Backplate are considered more specialized having a much narrower usage generally.

Jacket Style BCD:

The Jacket style is usually the first BCD that most divers encounter almost universally being used in rentals for dive shops. The get their name because they wrap around you like a jacket and the entirety of the bcd is a bladder. So air will fill the full bcd around the back and front. This is almost always the best budget option (which is why it is used for rentals) simple design and functioning in all environments. The downside to this style of BCD is when in flawed the Jacket tends to squeeze the user, which if adjusted to tightly or sized wrong can be very uncomfortable for the diver. The benefit of this style of BCD is when inflated at the surface it easily keeps the diver head up. This is a great option for divers on a budget or divers that will not be diving as often because they are generally not the most comfortable.

Back Inflate Style BCD:

The back inflate style BCD generally offers all of the same features of the jacket style bcd with a different style of bladder system. This one is exactly what it sounds like the bladder instead of being wrapped around the diver is attached to the back of the harness. This means that there is no squeeze when inflating the BCD. It also will give the diver better positioning in the water while diving because the bladder is oriented on the back around the heaviest object the tank. Divers that are new to the back inflate often complain that at the surface it tends to push you face down, this is true but can be easily remedied by leaning back on the bcd like a recliner. These tend to be more expensive than the jacket style BCD’s and in my opinion worth the money for the increased comfort and fit that is gained with the back inflate style.

Travel Style BCD:

The travel style BCD more often than not will closely resemble a back inflate style but with smaller features. These BCD’s are meant to be light weight for travel, so reduced weight and lift capacity. This is great for warm water destinations where the user is not wearing a thick wetsuit and does not need a great deal of weight. Most of these travel BCD’s will generally weigh from about 4-6 lbs while the standard jacket or back inflate will weigh from 7-10 lbs. So the Travel BCD’s are not well suited for cold water diving. If you are a diver that will only be doing diving while traveling these are great options. Much better quality and comfort than the BCD’s that you might rent while on a trip. They tend to be in-between the prices of a jacket and back inflate style bcd despite being far less material than either.

Backplate/wing & harness style BCD:

The Backplate style BCD is generally focused more towards technical diving but can obviously be used for recreational. They use either a steel or aluminum backplate with nylon webbing for a harness and some kind of rear mounted bladder attached. These types of BCD’s are very customizable usually set up very simply with few bells and whistles for the diver to add on later if they choose. They can be set up for single or double tanks (usually technical divers), with or without weight pockets and the size of the bladder can be exchanged for a larger or smaller one. The benefit of the backplate is the weight, most steel backplates weight about 5-6 lbs meaning divers can remove that much weight from their weight belt or pockets. If you are looking to get into technical diving this is definitely the best option.

Features: This is something that is hard to cover thoroughly because while most BCD’s will have all of these features each company will have their own take on them, the largest differentiators will be the Quick release weight system and the inflator. Beyond those two they are all fairly similar with a few outliers.

Quick Release Weight system: This in my opinion is one of the most important features to be aware of when purchasing a BCD with the exception of the backplate because they will be an optional add on. Almost all new BCD’s will have their own version of this feature and the reliability of these pockets are paramount. the difficult part of this is that the pockets need to be very secure when the diver is diving, the pockets should not come out unprompted, the locking mechanism holding the pockets in place should be secure (thank god they stopped using velcro it wore out so quickly). But the pockets should also not be so secure that they are impossible to release the weights in an emergency. It is a very fine line that I think few brands get right. In my years of diving I have found that there are a few brands that i find their pockets lost on the bottom much more frequently than others, while this could be user error I personally believe it is an inferior quick release mechanism.

Inflator: This is something all modern BCD’s will have and they all function the same there is a corrugated hose attached to the bladder and on the other end there is an inflator that the LP hose attaches to. There are two buttons one to inflate the BCD usually the one closest to the corrugated hose and a second button to release the air usually on or near the end. Each company will have their own little flair to the inflator with colored buttons or different shapes but for the most part they are interchangeable, you can even get generic ones that fit most corrugated hoses. For the most part this should not be a major factor in deciding which BCD to get each brand will have the same inflator on all of their BCD’s no matter the style. With the exception of Aqualung and their i3 system which integrates the inflator into the bcd and uses a switch on the left side to inflate and deflate, personally I am not a fan, to many moving parts to trust and not easily serviced but some divers do like them.

Tank Straps: These are what attach the Tank to the diver and usually use a standard cam buckle system with the exception of a few brands that have a metal pin latch system. BCD’s will usually have 1 or 2 tank straps depending on the brand, the ones with 2 straps generally secure the tank more efficiently preventing it from feeling like its swinging around. The BCD’s that have a single strap will usually have some sort of plastic backplate that the strap grips the tank to reduce this swinging feeling. Oftentimes with travel BCD’s to reduce weight they minimize this plastic plate with a single strap and add a second lightweight velcro strap to secure the tank slightly more. All of these are functional options that serve their purpose if the user secures the tank properly, which the sales staff should assist with if you are unsure.

Trim weight pockets: these are pockets usually on the back of the BCD located on or near the tank straps. They are not quick release pockets so only a small portion of weight should be placed in these to help adjust the divers trim while underwater. these are very popular for back in late BCD’s because all of the buoyancy is on the divers back. Personally I don’t find them useful, some can be removed if attached to the tank strap webbing which is what I generally do. But if you are a diver and you need to add more weight and have maxed out your quick release pockets and refuse to wear a weight belt this may help pack on those last few pounds. With that being said if you are diving maxing out all of your pockets with weights you should either dive a larger bcd with more lift or a weight belt/harness.

D-rings: these are attachment points for accessories they will vary from BCD to BCD and the number you may want or need could vary. The more technical style BCD’s will generally have more or the ability to add more while travel BCDs will be very minimal with only a few. Once again this is not a feature that i would choose a BCD on but to some divers like photographers it is handy to have more places to clip essential items.

The cumber bun: This is where you tend to see a divide between divers, the comber bun is a velcro strap that wraps the bcd around the waist of the user, there is usually a clip around the outside of the bcd as well that keeps the front pockets from dragging or swinging out when inflated (jacket style BCD’s) I personally find that the cumber bun secures the BCD comfortably to my body, while some divers find it unnecessary, it is a personal preference. Most Travel bcd’s and Backplates will not have a cumber bun, while most jackets and back inflates will.

Dump valves: There are multiple dumps on most BCD’s to release air from the bladder, in addition to the dump on the inflator there is also one at the top of the corrugated hose that is attached by a wire to the base and can be pulled on to use. Most non technical BCD’s will have rear dumps near the base of the bladder for when a diver is inverted needing to release air. Some will also have a dump on the right shoulder with a string to release air, if you are looking for option on where to release air depending on your body position pay attention to the dumps. Personally I find the inflator dumps the most useful and rarely use any other unless I am assisting a student that has not released sufficient amount of air.

I hope this has been helpful in guiding any diver to make an informed choice on their BCD.

Oceanic Jetpack BCD Review

The Oceanic Jetpack BCD is a bit of an anomaly, it is a one size fits all travel BCD that strives to slim down all of our favorite aspects of back inflate BCD’s into one convenient package.  The Jetpack BCD comes in two different packages one thats just the BCD and the complete package which includes a detachable backpack.  The gimmick of the Jetpack is that this BCD transforms from a bag able to fit all of your personal gear, to a light weight travel style bcd with a large amount of personal adjustment.

In terms of what this bcd is designed for it does function well, everything about it makes sense and performs the way it should.  With that being said i’m just not in love with this bcd.  I am a fan of all of the features, many of them are clever and makes sense in their purpose, but it just doesn’t feel the way I want a travel bcd to feel.  Lets start by covering the features of this bcd.  The Jetpack is designed as a travel bcd, but not the traditional travel bcd.  Instead of purely going for the most light weight and basic design to cut weight for checked baggage, the Jetpack does cut weight but doesn’t cut as much retaining some of the many comforts of a standard bcd.

The breakdown/set up

jetpack diagramThe jet pack is made as a one size fits all bcd that almost completely comes apart, removing the cumber bun weight pockets and storing them in the zip away rear panel that contains the bladder, inflator, tank straps, cumber bun and weight pockets when in the travel mode.  In this configuration there is a backpack that can attach to the broken down bcd and can be used as a carry on bag for airline travel.  This system does work pretty we’ll and the detachable backpack is very large and has a great amount of storage space.  The set up is fairly simple, the rear panel unzips and rolls up secured with a few pieces of velcro the bladder extends beyond the edges, the cumber bun, weight pockets are attached and the shoulder straps are unclipped from the base of the bag and attached to the weight pockets.  The most difficult part is threading the cumber bun through the hidden loops and adjusting the shoulder straps for personal comfort lengthening and shortening the nylon webbing.  The cumber bun does attach using velcro attaching to itself appears to be surprisingly secure but I can only assume that over time the velcro will give out.  But for the time being it appears to be working just fine.

What I like:

The truth is this BCD does really work well, the modular pieces feel secure when attached and provide an abundance of adjustability.  One feature that I am very happy to be included is the  cumber bun, most travel bcd’s this is the first feature to be eliminated in order to cut weight.  For me it provides an additional level of security and makes the bcd feel like it is wrapping around me more.  They also employ a different stomach strap jetpack bcd 2system from other Oceanic BCD’s instead of the traditional pull from the center out the straps are laced back and use a pul from the sides to center, This is a feature i have seen on many Aqualung bcd’s.  The back inflation style makes it a very comfortable dive and uses high quality durable materials that dry relatively quickly.  The materials never felt over saturated with water leaving me wondering if it had dried fully before packing.  The last thing I am very fond of is the backpack, this thing is great.  Weather it is attached or detached this thing has a ton of space, pocket for laptop, many interior mesh pockets for storage of small items, two exterior pockets, straps on the sides great for sandals or beach towels, and zips completely open which can be nice when you are unpacking or looking for something in the bag.

What I don’t like:

For the most part I am pretty happy with the Jetpack, it functions how a bcd should and has many features that I wish a traditional travel bcd would have, but it is not perfect at least not for me.  I am not a tall person and the length of this bcd is a little too much, I jetpack 3feel like no matter how much i play with the adjustments that I cannot get it to sit perfectly for me because I have a short torso.  I have also found that the placement of the deflator is just not right for me I find my self having to adjust my body positioning more while diving to deflate.  This could be because of the length of the bcd and how it fits my body or just that I am so used to my primary bcd I need more time to adjust.  Another small issue I have is the weight, for a travel bcd the jetpack is a little heavy, about 6.25 lbs which is lighter than a traditional bcd but also heavier than most lightweight travel bcd’s sitting somewhere in the middle.  The salvation for this issue is that it packs into a backpack and can be used as a carry on so weight is not as much as a factor in the long run.  My final issue is with the placement of the tank strap, I understand that for the length of the bcd it has been set low to prevent swing of the tank but I wouldn’t mind an additional strap a little higher for a more secure hold, it does have a valve strap that can aid in some stability but I personally prefer a double strap system.

In the end it is going to depend on what you are looking for in a travel bcd, if you are looking for something that is very adjustable, and can be used as a carry on this is a perfect option.  If you are looking to cut as much weight as possible then it may not be the best option.  It does function as a high quality bcd with durable materials and I experienced no technical issues.  The price is a little high for a travel bcd with the Jetpack Complete (includes backpack) coming in at $599 while most travel bcd’s are around the $450 price range.  The one size fits all feature may be a bit exaggerated not the most ideal for those who are on the shorter side but as a bcd that could be an extra for a friend not needing to worry if it fits is a very nice option.  Over all I do like the Jetpack, it functions well as a bcd and has many clever features but I am not in love with it.

Diving Masks Too Many To Choose From

The Scuba diving mask is the most integral park of diving equipment and usually one of dive mask 5the first pieces of equipment a diver buys.  There are no shortage of mask to choose from with a variety of options, from skirt color, number of lenses, lens colors and strap styles.  Despite all of these variations the most important feature of any mask is fit and comfort.  The fit and comfort of a mask is a personal decision but these other options for mask style can help narrow down which masks to start with when choosing a mask.

Skirt Color:

The first and most obvious variations of a mask is the skirt colors.  All mask intended for diving use high quality silicone that is made to be durable, soft and long lasting.  With clear silicone mask they allow a lot of light into the mask providing a wide open feeling, this is a very common option for starting divers.  Some diver may notice that allowing the light into the mask may cause a visible reflection inside the mask which may be distracting.  Black or solid colored mask prevent the excess of light through the skirt of the mask, this can cause a feeling of tunnel vision which may be detrimental for those that are susceptible to claustrophobia.  Free divers, spear fishermen, and photographers tend to prefer solid colored or black silicone mask because they block this light and allow for the eyes to adjust to lower light conditions much quicker.

Number of Lenses:

The lens is a very integral part of the diving mask and provides the template for which the shape of the mask is formed.  The two most common mask lenses are either a single lens design, a dual lens design and a panoramic design.  All are effective and functional as a mask lens and provide their own positive and negative aspects.  The single lens design provides an unobstructed field of vision, allowing for a wide open feeling for the user, it also usually brings the frame of the mask lower on the bridge of the nose that for some people can cause uncomfortable contact that could become very uncomfortable.  The dual lens design generally will allow more nose space because of the separation of the lenses that can be more comfortable for some, this separation of the lenses can cause a obstruction or blind spot that can be noticeable for some divers.  The panoramic design provide peripheral windows on the side of the mask and can be paired with single and dual lens mask.  This style of mask increase the field of view for divers while also increasing the air volume inside the mask.  Some divers prefer this more because of the open  field of view.

Framed or Frameless:

Frameless mask are growing in popularity, these mask remove the plastic frame from the design and have the silicone wrapped directly around the lens.  This design is popular because it reduces the volume of the mask and potential for parts that can break.  The downside of the frameless mask is in instances of prescription lenses there are only the option to have lenses bonded into the mask.  Traditional framed mask in some styles have replaceable lenses that can be installed to accommodate standard vision correction.   Some of these mask designs can be either very high volume or low volume in design covering a very wide assortment of styles.

High or Low Volume:

In diving the volume or air space in a mask is something that has evolved since its inception where mask originally had a very high volume with large windows for a greater viewing space.   As technology has evolved the mask and the rise of popularity in free diving the low volume mask has increased in popularity.  Low volume mask require a lower amount of air and effort to clear the mask when flooded and equalize the airspace, which is very important when free diving, but not so much when diving.  Because divers have a supply of air it is ok to use more air to equalize the air space or clear the mask when flooded.  Both are suitable options for divers, but those that might be looking for a dual purpose ideal for free diving might look for a mask with a lower volume.

Lens Color:

Lens colors are options traditionally taken on by spear fishermen, using colored lenses to help the eyes adjust to low light conditions, when looking under ledges and into crevices.  The most common lens colors are clear, amber/yellow, and HD lenses.  Clear lenses are the most common and virtually all mask come with this standard option.  The amber/yellow lenses are found in spear fishing/ free diving low volume mask, these mask like yellow lenses for snow skiing help the eyes adjust to low light conditions, ideal for searching for fish in holes, crevices and under ledges.  the HD lens is a pigmented lens that is used to restore color lost with depth.  These lenses often have a mirrored appearance from the front and generally have a red or rose pigment to the lens itself.  Lens color is a less common option for most mask designs and generally are specific to higher quality mask designs.

Mask Straps:

The silicone mask strap is the most widely offered standard for diving mask, some select mask offer neoprene mask straps.  The silicone mask strap commonly offers more easily adjustable straps for quick and fine adjustments, while the neoprene mask although nicer for longer hair can be adjusted but not as easily or on the fly.  With this being said any mask can be outfitted with a neoprene strap either by replacing the entire mask strap or a cover that slides onto the mask strap.

Conclusion:

With many different considerations in choosing a mask it is important to note that the fit and comfort of the mask are the most important factors.  These additional options of silicone color, number of lenses, frameless/framed, high/low volume, lens color, and type of strap these are secondary considerations when choosing a mask, there are many mask out there and a mask to fit each face.

Zeagle Stiletto BCD Review

Zeagle is a brand that is well known for its high end equipment, especially the BCD’s.  Up until recently Zeagle has been known for BCD’s being exclusively back inflate, recently Zeagle has released their first vest inflation bcd the Halo. Most of the time when divers hear the name Zeagle they think of the Ranger, and Zena a women’s specific bcd,  but this review looks to evaluate one of the lesser known classics from Zeagle the Stiletto.

The Zeagle Stiletto is a back inflation BCD that has the Zeagle patented rip chord weight system.  Most people are more familiar with Zeagle’s ranger BCD and the Stiletto is a slimmed down version of the standard ranger, with a less heavy duty bladder.  The general Specs for the Stiletto are as follows:

Dry Weight: 7.4 lbs
Lift: 35lbIMG_3637
Weight capacity:
24lb Ripcord System
16lb Rear weight pockets

Like many of the Zeagle BCD lines the stiletto has interchangeable and replaceable parts including cummerbund, shoulders and back pad.  The double tank straps are moveable to accommodate shorter tanks and the rear weight pockets can be removed and replaced if deemed necessary.  I found these adjustable options on the Stiletto to allow me to customize a standard bcd to fit my personal preferences.

There are Two key features that in my opinion put the Zeagle line of BCD’s above others.  The first is the iconic rip chord weight system that allows for the quick release of integrated weights with a single hand pull.  Many other bcd designs use a dual pocket release system requiring the user to have both hands free to release all integrated weights.  The other unique feature for Zeagle bcd’s are the quick screw inflator with standard hose attachment.  This feature allows for the user to unscrew the bcd inflator and attach a hose in order to flush salt and grime out of the bcd bladder more easily, and replace the bcd inflator when repairs are needed.

Pros:

  • Easily adjustable parts for custom fit
  • Adequate amounts of D-rings
  • Rip chord weight systems
  • Easily replaceable inflator
  • Inflator hose attachment
  • Double tank strap
  • Removable rear weight pouches
  • Custom color options (also available for Ranger and Zena)

Cons:

  • Smaller Lift Capacity (35 lbs) Adequate for warm water diving but might not be enough for some instances of cold water diving.
  • Mesh weight Pouches (sold separately from BCD)
  • Re-lacing the weight pocket system is not intuitive
    ZGLWP10.jpg

My larges problem comes down to the mesh weight pouches not being included with the BCD.  Although they are not absolutely necessary they do come in handy with using smaller increment weights mostly 1 lb weights, especially bullet weights because they can fall through the rip chord pockets without the mesh pouch.  the pouches do come in handy when carrying weights especially if you are using the same amount of weight and transporting them often.

The weight pocket system despite being very convenient and reliable, is not very intuitive when re-lacing the rip chord system.  There have been numerous encounters with divers that unfamiliar with the system laced the rip chord system improperly making the system ineffective and dangerous to use.  But because dropping ones weights is not a common occurrence so I do not see this as a big issue as long as proper instruction is given when the BCD is purchased.

Overall this is a great mid to high quality bcd compared to those on the current market.  Retail price starts around $630.

 

 

Tips for Finding the Perfect Mask

The mask is one of the most important pieces of equipment that any diver can have, without the mask diving would be pointless because we would not be able to enjoy all of the underwater scenery.

So here are some tips to help find the perfect mask.

  1. When picking a mask the first step it to ensure that you have options.  Find a dive shop with a large variety of masks, the more you have to choose from the better chance you have to find the right one.
  2. Don’t worry about the price.  I know many new divers are looking to save as much money because it does add up quickly, but don’t discard a mask because it it more expensive.  If you buy the right mask the first time it will be a long term investment.
  3. Fit is key.  Don’t worry about the strap when you are trying on mask, a good fitting mask should suction to your face without the use of the strap.  If it doesn’t stick to your face without the strap then its not going to keep the water out.
  4. Comfort.  Make sure the frame of the mask isn’t making contact on the bridge of the nose or forehead.  This can be more common with single lens masks.  If it is uncomfortable when you are warring it in the store its not going to be uncomfortable in the water, and will leave marks on your face.
  5. Test it out.  If the shop your are buying your mask at has a pool ask if you can test it out in the water.  Testing it out is the only way to know for sure if the mask seals on your face properly and is comfortable.  If the shop doesn’t have a pool ask if you can return the mask if it doesn’t fit properly.

Because every person is different, finding the right mask is not an exact science.  There are also many other secondary factors that affect choosing a mask because of the great variety of styles.

  • Black silicone vs. Clear silicone:  Many masks come in clear and black silicone versions but not all mask so be sure to ask your dive shop what available options there are for the masks that fit you best.  Black silicone mask are more favorable for spear fisherman, and photographers because it helps our eyes adjust to lower light faster, clear silicone masks are good for avoiding feelings of claustrophobia and give a open feeling letting in more light.
  • Single lens vs. Double lens:  Some of these options are mask specific, single and double lens mask provide different benefits, single lens mask provide a continuous view horizontally while double lens mask tend to provide more space for larger noses and avoid contact with the nose and forehead better.
  • Normal vs. Low volume:  Low volume mask are great for reducing effort to clear the mask and are popular for free divers and spear fisherman.
  • Clear lens vs. Amber lens vs. Mirrored lens:  Type of lens can be similar to ski goggles clear lenses are standard for most mask, some mask may have yellow or amber lenses that are optimal for blue water diving/ hunting, mirrored lenses are also primarily for hunting preventing the fish from seeing your hungry eyes.
  • Silicone strap vs. Neoprene Strap:  Straps can be changed on any mask, but each has its own benefits.  Silicone straps stay in place much better than neoprene straps, but neoprene straps don’t pull hair as much as silicone straps.  If you ware a hood while diving neoprene straps have a tendency to slide around more than silicone.
  • Color: Color is only a cosmetic change.

All of these option I believe are secondary.  I would focus on finding the correct fitting mask before worrying about any of these options. Some of these options can vary depending on the style and brand of mask.

IMG_0494Keep in mind that many of these features are secondary to finding a mask that fist well.

 

My Equipment

My Gear: SCUBA

BCD: Zeagle Stiletto

Cold water Suit: Bare Sentry Pro Dry Neoprene Drysuit

1st Stage: Oceanic FDXI

2nd Stage: Oceanic Omega 3

Alternate: Oceanic Omega 2

Computer: Oceanic ProPlus X & Suunto D6

Mask: Oceanic Shadow

Back Up Mask: Zeagle Scope Mono

Snorkel: Riffe Stable Snorkel

Cold water fins: Zeagle Recon

Gloves: Bare Ultrawarmth 3mm & Bare Ultra Warmth 5mm

Warm water suit: Bare 3/2 Anniversary edition

Warm Water BCD: Zeagle Express Tech

Warm water fins: Oceanic Mako fins

Pool BCD: Oceanic Ocean Pro

Pool 1st stage: Zeagle F8

Pool 2nd Stage: Zeagle F8

Pool Alternate: Sherwood Slimline

Pool Computer: None SPG only

Freediving Equipment

Wetsuit: Wettie 5mm Comercial / Wettie 7mm comercial

Socks: Wettie 7mm Socks

Fins: DiveR Carbon Fiber fins

Gloves: Bare Ultrawarmth 3mm

Mask: Seadive Seafire ultra HD mask

Snorkel: Oceanic Enzo J tube

Computer: Suunto D5

Speargun: JBL competitor/ Koah 34 reef roller

Float: XS Scuba UFO

Light: BigBlue AL1200NP