Which Scuba Brand Makes the Best Equipment?

This may be one of the difficult answers to truly answer in the dive industry because it is subjective and always going to to be driven by personal opinion.  Each dive shop will likely claim that the brand they carry has the most reliable, highest quality equipment that puts others to shame, and they will say this to sell the equipment.  Some dive shops are unfortunately just like used car lots saying whatever they can to up sell you to the next item.  Now most dive shops are not massive and it is impossible for any one shop to carry every brand, so most pick one, two or even three primary brands.  The other dilemma is the actual number of brands I am going to focus on a few of the largest names including, Scubapro, Aqualung, Mares, and Huish Outdoors (Oceanic, Zeagle, Suunto, Atomic, Hollis).  You should be able to find at least one of these brands at any dive shop that you may visit, there are others like Sherwood, Seac, and Tusa but are probably not going to be the primary brand especially for BCD’s, regulators, and Computers.  Here is a brief overview of what to expect from each brand.

imagesScubaPro

Scubapro is probably one of the most recognizable names in the industry right now and has some equipment that stands out.  The first thing to know about Scubapro is that it is most likely going to be the most expensive option.  They make a very high quality product but they have little to offer in terms of middle of the road pricing.  Scubapro equipment is either the more expensive low end, or the most expensive high end.  Now they do produce a very high quality product that is rigorously tested and reliable but you will pay a premium.  Now in terms of equipment BCD’s are really where Scubapro shines in my opinion they have many options with multiple styles and prices ranging from about $450 on the low end to over $1000 on their high end bcd. Bcd’s are also were there is going to be the largest variation between these brands. While Scubapro does make a quality computer and regulator I feel you only have two choices for each very high end or low end no middle ground, and while this is true for the bcd’s there are enough options to minimize that gap.

imagesAqualung

Aqualung is a company that has been around since the beginning and may be one of the most recognizable brands.  In terms of over all pricing Aqualung is a little more spread evenly with very budget friendly options especially with regulators and computers, and high end regs that don’t knock the wind out of you when you hear the price.  In terms of their BCD’s they have the I3 inflator system that I am not personally sold on but have met  a number of people that are very happy with it.  The regulators are what really stand out for me, the dive computers are actually almost identical to oceanic dive computers because they purchase from the same company oceanic does.  The regulators provide a large variety of options for divers on a budget and divers looking for a high quality versatile regulator.

maresMares

Mares is a very large brand that most don’t realize is as big as it is.  Owned by the Head company and this partnership also owns SSI the training agency.  Now this is where i find it hard to hide my opinion because in terms of dive equipment I am not overly impressed with anything from Mares.  I am not a fan of the quick disconnect pockets on their bcd’s, their regulators are underwhelming, they function but I would  prefer another brand first, and their computers are functional. I would have to say that of everything Mares I would  have one of their low budget computers as a starter or backup.  Mares in general is a great starter equipment company but I have not seen the value in their equipment beyond that.  Its not that I think that they make bad gear I just believe that these other brands make better gear.

huish outdoorsHuish Outdoors (Oceanic, Suunto, Zeagle, Atomic, Hollis)

Huish Outdoors is a Unique situation and in a dive shop you are not going to see the Huish logo most likely but they do own all of these brands, (at least an exclusive distributor for Suunto).  One of the reasons I wanted to include Huish is because I like the fact that they have accumulated brands that specialize.  Now for the most part each of these brands has a primary focus, most of them do dabble in other areas but are known for one primary thing.  Zeagle is known for BCD’s, Suunto for Computers, Hollis for Regulators, Atomic for Regulators, and Oceanic dabbles evenly in all three but has been known as an innovator for computers for many years.  Unlike the other three brands above that are distributing R&D among all aspects of equipment Huish has brands that they have acquired that have a particular focus.  Most of their equipment is reasonably priced With the exception of Atomic they make very high end regulators on par with Scubapro.  If you get something from one of these brands especially in their wheelhouse you know it will be very high quality for the cost.

In the end it is a personal choice which brand is best it may be situational, when picking a brand it is important to consider the long term, how easily can I service this equipment, is there a shop that I can take this equipment to if I have an issue.  I this equipment going to fit the style of diving that I intend to do and fit my personal budget.  The key to all of this is to determine your needs, figure out what features you want and then talk to your local dive shop professional because in all honesty no matter which brand you ultimately decide on you will have quality gear.  You just want to make sure you are comfortable in that equipment and are how to properly use and care for the equipment.

So in order to avoid giving a BS answer that there is no best equipment I am going to break it down into tiers High, middle, and low, in terms of price and among those name brands for my preferred for BCD, Regulator, and computer.  Now keep in mind that all of these brands make quality equipment and the ultimate choice comes down to personal preference in features and access, talk with your local dive shop cause they will likely be the ones servicing your equipment.

High:
BCD: Scubapro
Reg: Atomic
Computer: Suunto/Scubapro (the G2 is a pretty amazing computer)

Middle:
BCD: Zeagle
Reg: Aqualung/Oceanic
Computer: Oceanic/Aqualung

Low:
BCD: Oceanic/Mares
Reg: Oceanic/Aqualung
Computer: Mares/Aqualung/Oceanic

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.

Oceanic Pro Plus X Review

With the drastic strides in technology of dive computers and the growing efforts by every major brand to put out the latest and greatest Oceanic has managed for at least the moment to edge out the competition.  For years the iconic Pro Plus line has been a staple of the Oceanic brand there is no surprise that they have managed to put out a dive pro plus x 1computer that is the complete package.  The Pro Plus series has always been a favorite of many divers despite brand devotion because of the large easy to read display popular with aging divers looking to ease the stress of the traditional tiny displays of most computers.

Like many of the other newest computers on the market the Pro Plus X has all of the standard features of an air integrated console, air and nitrox compatibility, water activation mode, alarm settings for safety stop, deep stop, gas time remaining, and many more.  Standard to the Oceanic line of computers it uses a dual algorithm that can be changed between DSAT & Pelagic Z+.  For Full Specs on the Pro Plus X visit Oceanic’s website with this Link.

What Makes the Pro Plus X Special?

The Pro Plus X was one the first computer to use TFT (Thin Film Transistor) to allow for apro plus x menu vibrant full color display that is readable in direct sunlight and glare.  It is one of the first computers from oceanic to use a Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries.  Bluetooth capable and able to download directly to the diver log app with no chords.   Finally in my opinion one of the easiest and intuitive menus with 4 button navigation for complete control.  Now at this point in time it is standard for high end dive computers with full color screens to have TFT, rechargeable batteries and bluetooth capability.  In terms of air integrated console computers the Oceanic Pro Plus X is clearly a trend setter, and the beginning of a new wave of high quality dive computers for divers that want bright easy to read dive computers.

Pros:

  • Large easy to read display
  • TFT (thin film transistor) screen
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Bluetooth capability
  • 4 button navigation
  • Intuitive menue system
  • Quick disconnect on hose
  • Digital Compass

Cons:

  • Price $1449.95
  • Console design

With the current movement of the dive industry the price is not totally uncalled for it does provide a high quality product that is very easy to use and progresses the brand of pro plus x 4the Pro Plus computer.  While it is launching oceanic into the high quality dive computer the Pro Plus X is priced a little high compared to comparable computers on the current market, it would be a much better selling computer if it were priced around $1000 dollars and would be an absolutely worth while purchase at that price especially as an upgrade for the Pro Plus 3.

As technology continues to advance more and more divers are adopting a more simplified regulator and total diving system ideal for travel and cutting weight and reducing hoses when applicable.  Because this is a console mounted computer it is being left in the dust by computers like the Scubapro G2 a wireless air integrated wrist computer.  I believe if the Pro Plus X were adapted to a wireless air integrated wrist computer it would be a the computer to have.

In conclusion if you are looking for a bright bold console computer the Oceanic Pro Plus X hits the nail on the head.  Everything functions just the way it should, the menus are simple and easy to navigate, the screen is bright and legible even in direct sunlight (i keep mine at 10% brightness)  and underwater is a dream to use and get all the information I need at a quick glance.  This computer may not be for everyone largely because of the price but is still a very high quality computer worth considering if your looking to upgrade.

Oceanic Omega 3 Review

OceanicOmega3
Oceanic Omega 3 2nd stage, & FDXi 1st stage

The Oceanic Omega 3 regulator paired with the new FDXi first stage is a bit of the black sheep in the current market.  The first thing many people will notice is that it is a side exhaust regulator, but it is so much more than that.  The Omega 3 is the 3rd generation of the Omega family, earlier generations the 1 and 2 are still coveted by divers and their simple design makes for easy upkeep and an assortment of customizable options.  My first experience with the omega line was a few years ago after my scuba pro second stage fell apart during a dive, in dire need of a replacement and low on funds I found an old Omega 1 at the shop I was working at.  The side exhaust was a breath of fresh air, no more bubbles all over my face when I am looking around.  The metal servo valve also allowed contestation to build which eliminated dry mouth.  So when I heard that Oceanic was preparing to release the new Omega three I began to save up.

With the Omega 3’s sleek design that brings the classic Omega shape into the 21st century.  Along with the new design Oceanic also added a pre-dive switch, and pivot to the second stage, reducing free flow that omegas were notorious for, and improving comfort for the user.

Oceanic Omega 3 2nd stage
Oceanic Omega 3

The Pros:  With the design of this regulator and the use of a servo valve instead of the standard on demand valve, the effort needed to breath is almost non-existent.  the side exhaust design reduces the sound underwater because bubbles are no longer rushing past both ears, only one ear.   This can take a little getting use to but overall it is a quick transition.  The metal servo valve allows for condensation to build inside the housing reducing dry mouth, and the issue of being a wet breather found in the 1st and 2nd generations of the Omega’s has been solved.  The pivot on the second stage makes for comfortable position of the regulator, no longer being pulled or torqued  when looking around.  The pre dive switch is a happy addition to deal with the finicky free flow of the previous generations, a quick twist of the base and you are ready to dive, easy to use wearing even the thickest gloves.  The FDXi first stage provides the simplicity and sturdiness of the FDX10 but in a smaller sleeker design.  In terms of upkeep, the simplicity of both the first and second stage make for quick turn around times during services, and require minimal parts specific to Omega 3 and FDXi.

FDXi
Oceanic FDXi

The Cons: Even though this regulator is a very easy breather, there is still a bit of adjustment that is needed to make perfect for each individual diver.  There is an adjustment port at the center of the exhaust that with a screwdriver can be adjusted to increase or decrease the inhalation effort, this can take a little bit of time to get it to your own personal setting for comfort but once it is set you don’t have to worry about it.  My only real issue with the regulator is the first stage, it works very well but the ports are placed a little to close together so in order to remove one hose you might have to remove them all.  If you use a transmitter for your computer it is very difficult to fit a crescent wrench in to secure.  My last issue with the FDXi first stage is the yoke frame, it is very broad and makes it so the first stage does not fit all tank valves which can be a little inconvenient.

Me:Omega 3
Diving in Cozumel with the Omega 3 and FDXi

Overall this is an amazing regulator, it breaths well, it is very comfortable to use and the side exhaust makes for in my opinion a much more enjoyable dive.  The Oceanic Omega 3 may not be for everyone but  I do Strongly encourage every diver to give this side exhaust regulator a chance because it may just change the way you dive.

Unfortunately through industry connections I have been informed that the Omega 3 has been discontinued, because of diver complaints of it being a wet breather and finicky.  These characteristics that divers complained about were staples of the Omega design and what made it so unique.  Although this may not be ideal for all divers for some these qualities can be seen as an advantage along with its ambidextrous nature, and welcome the out of the box innovation that the Omega and all generations have incurred.  As a diver I will sorely miss this marvel of design and am sorry that other divers misunderstanding of this piece of equipment will call for its discontinuation of production.

Oceanic Omega 3 video review.

Oceanic VTX Review

IMG_0149I have recently purchased the Oceanic VTX with the transmitter in order to upgrade my current wrist computer a SubGear XP-10.  Although the SubGear XP-10 as a computer worked fine it was an entry level computer and it was time to upgrade and take advantage of the many features of a high end computer.  I have only managed to use the VTX for about 10 dives but as a computer it works great.  The OLED screen is easy to read even during night dives with no need to press a button to get the back light to turn on, I have been keeping the brightness at 40% and it was still easy to read during a night dive.  The menus are easy to navigate and a very simple learning curve for operating the computer.

Features:

  • Air integrated
  • OLED Color Screen
  • Digital Compass
  • Bluetooth integration
  • Dual algorithm
  • Nitrox compatible
  • 3 button navigation
  • Automatic altitude compensation

There are many more features, including multiple deep stop settings, and alarms, safety stop countdown timer.

This is the first air integrated computer that I have used, it appears to work very well but compared to my SPG it reads a slightly lower pressure.  I would be interested to find out if there is a way to calibrate it.  Overall this computer works beautifully, the screen is easy to read, the navigation is simple and it is a great choice for an upgrade if you are looking to switch to a high end computer.

Pros:

  • Easy to read screen
  • Simple navigation
  • Bright screen great for night dives
  • 3 axis digital compass
  • Air integrated
  • Bluetooth compatible

Cons:

  • Downloading to computer can be a little difficult
  • Battery life, depending on settings
  • strap a little short if you are warring a dry-suit

Overall if you are looking for a bright colorful wrist computer with the air integration option the VTX is a great option that i suggest everyone checks out.

Check out the new video review.

My Equipment

My Gear:

BCD: Zeagle Stiletto

1st Stage: Oceanic FDXI

2nd Stage: Oceanic Omega 3

Alternate: Oceanic Omega 3

Computer: Oceanic VEO 3.0 Console & Oceanic VTX w/transmitter

Mask: Oceanic Shadow

Snorkel: Oceanic Response

Gloves: Oceanic Mako 3mm

Warm water suit: Oceanic

Cold water Suit: Pinnacle Black Ice Dry Suit

Warm water fins: Tusa Solla full foot

Cold water fins: ScubaPro Twin Jet