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.

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’ts of Diving: Training Edition

Wether you are a brand new diver or a seasoned diver learning a new specialty there are somethings you might do that secretly drive your instructor up the wall. Some of these things may occur before instruction begins, during or after, but at some point these will all happen eventually. Here are some things you might do as a student getting certified that your instructor hates, and how you can avoid or fix these problems.

Don’t show up to class with the generic Costco mask, snorkel & fins set.

Costco Special

Diving isn’t the cheapest sport to get into, but like many other sports there are very very cheap alternatives that just don’t cut the mustard. The mask in those sets are made with cheap materials that will not hold up over time, the silicone is actually silicone & some sort of PVC which will harden relatively quickly. These are also very generic so its very common for them not to fit well or be very uncomfortable. The fins are the worst of the package, they are meant for snorkeling, so they are way to small to efficiently push a diver with gear through the water, and they are made for bare feet so if you are planning on diving with boots in cold water they won’t fit. The straps and clips are also cheap and very prone to breaking. I want to bang my head into a wall ever time I see one of these sets show up to a class, it tells me that this person is either to cheap to commit to diving or they just don’t care about getting certified. I see this a lot with parents getting kids certified or significant others getting their partner certified, they don’t know if they will like it so they don’t want to invest in good gear, but if you don’t have gear that is comfortable and appropriate its more likely they won’t enjoy diving. Obviously this is more of an issue with Open water students than continuing education.

Do get your gear from a dive shop.

Appropriate diving equipment

Firstly preferably get your gear from the shop you are getting your instruction at its just a show of good faith and support, but secondly they will ensure that you have equipment that is appropriate for the type of diving that you are training for. Proper fit and suitability of personal equipment will greatly improve the quality of the experience and make diving way more enjoyable. If you compare diving to something like snow skiing or snowboarding if you show up to a lesson and you don’t have appropriate attire genes and a sweatshirt and its storming out you are going to be miserable and not enjoy the experience despite paying for a lift ticket, lesson and rentals unless you purchased a plastic version of the snowboard or skis at Costco and that won’t work very well either. So make sure that you have the appropriate equipment for diving and that it fits you properly, your dive shop will be happy to help you with this.

Don’t be Late.

This is one of my personal pet peeves, as a very punctual person I hate it when people are excessively late. Classroom, pool and ocean dives are usually set in advance so if you sign up for a class make sure that you can make it to all of the meetings on time. Most of the time there will be other students also waiting for you to arrive so the class can get started. Scuba training is often open ended in terms of time so your being late could drag the class on much longer than people want. Its a sign of respect and commitment to show up on time, and being late affects everyone in the class.

Do call in advance if you are going to be late.

Its a simple courtesy to everyone in the class and instructor if you can let them know you are running late. Depending on how late you might be they may wait or start the class without you so you can make it up later (likely for an additional fee). Sometimes the meeting time might not be during shop hours so it is a good idea if you are starting a class to ask if you can get the instructors contact just in case this will also help if you are having trouble finding a meeting location. Your instructor should have your contact from when you signed up and will likely call you to find out if you are running late or not coming to class. The most important aspect is to make sure that being late to class is not a common occurrence.

Don’t be unprepared for class.

This is something that often contributes to being late to class, maybe you show up on time or a little early but you still need to get all of your equipment for class, this can take anywhere from 30min to an hour and now the class is waiting for you. Some students might also show up and not have read any of the material, or gotten important forms like the medical questionnaire signed by a doctor (if necessary). These are all things that delay the class, and some instructors may ask that you sign up for a different class so you can complete the required material or have time to see your doctor and get medically cleared. This is all information that you are given when signing up on how to be prepared for the first day and it is up to the student to take responsibility.

Do prepare for class in advance.

It sounds simple but many neglect this opportunity, often times scuba classes are signed up for well in advance and the student has plenty of time to get their personal equipment, read the materials and get medically cleared (if necessary). So take the process seriously and your instructor will greatly appreciate it, it will make the class much easier for everyone involved. There is nothing more disappointing than having to reschedule a student because they didn’t take the time to prepare so avoid the situation all together and make sure you are ready for the class well in advance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for additional attention or help.

The purpose of the instructor is to train and assist you in learning to scuba dive, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional help. If there is a skill that you are struggling with and everyone else in the group is getting it the instructor or their assistant will either take you aside to work with you one on one or have you move on to circle back to the skill at the end to keep the flow of the class moving. Its ok to have trouble with the skill especially in the pool it is all new and very unnatural, so if you are having some difficulty let the instructor know and they might have an alternate way to perform the skill that might be easier for you. If you are completing a skill but not feeling comfortable with it, it could cause problems when performing them in the ocean which can be dangerous, so make sure that you are 100% comfortable with all the skills. If you need to arrange additional pool time for practice or a private session with the instructor to make sure you are ready.

Do consider tipping.

This is of course subjective, but if you had a really great instructor that went above and beyond in your training a little something extra is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be cash it might be a 6 pack of beer, or bottle of wine, a thank you card or even signing up for another class like advanced or a specialty . These things mean a lot to instructors to know that their work is appreciated, surprisingly instructors don’t make that much off the classes, after the shop taking their cut, pool fees, paying assistants your instructor is teaching primarily for for joy of teaching and sharing scuba diving with you. So let them know that you enjoyed the experience leave a positive review, call the shop and let the owner know what a good job they did. Of course if they didn’t don’t but if they did do an amazing job make the effort.

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.

Zeagle F8 Regulator Review

Zeagle is not a name in diving that is synonymous with regulators while they are betterRegulatorF8GREYCutoutDIN1 copy known for their BCD’s they do produce a small line of rugged hard working regulators.  These regulators range in price from $329.95 for the Envoy 2 at their entry level, $484.95 for the Onyx 2 for the middle ground, and $629.95 for the F8 as their high end regulator.  This is going to focus on the F8 regulator from Zeagle and my experience with this lesser known regulator.

The F8 regulator is made to be rugged and able to withstand the harshest conditions. The F8 colorssimple classic design takes advantage of the classic look of regulators and the simplistic no extra bells and whistles of the first stage.  Zeagle does like to set their regulators apart by having 5 low pressure and 2 high pressure ports on their first stages, 4 of the low pressure ports are traditionally placed with the fifth facing directly forward I assume for more tech/sidemount applications.  Zeagle like other companies has adopted the usage of color kits to personalize the regulator with an assortment of colors from standard blue, and pink to purple and red.  These kits are in my opinion a little over priced but will make the regulator stand out replacing the purge cover, adjustment knob and exhaust cover.

First Stage Features:F8 first stage

  • Balanced diaphragm design and the environmentally sealed ambient chamber ensure top performance in any condition.
  • Redesigned environmental seal cap and yoke knob enhance ergonomics & design aesthetics.
  • Percision machined neoflon seat harder more reliable material, keeping you diving longer.
First Stage Materials:
Body: Brass
O-rings: Nitrile
Seat: Neoflon (PCTFE)
HP Valve: Stainless Steel

Second Stage Features:F8 second stage

  • New inhalation diaphragm provides superior tear strength and improved response time to breathing (super soft silicone molded over a low friction disk).
  • Improved exhaust valve ensures dryness and a lower exhalation effort.
  • Seat-saving orifice, compliments of Atomic Aquatics, retracts when not in use – extending the life of the breathing tube seat.
  • Seat comprised of soft silicone molded over a metal insert to deliver the firmness required for an airtight seal while maintaining the necessary elasticity to prevent leaking.
  • Redesigned front cover and inhalation effort control knob use co-molded components that provide the necessary grip, soft touch and ease of use. Available in several color kits
  • Zirconium-plated inlet tube and heat sink for superior corrosion resistance.
  • Redesigned heat sink dramatically increases surface area, aiding in the heat exchange necessary to avoid freeze-up.
  • Co-molded silicone mouthpiece for better fit and less jaw fatigue
Second Stage Materials:
Cover: TPU
Case: Nylon 12
Poppet Seat: 316 SS insert with silicone overmold
O-rings: Nitrile
Diaphragm: Elastomeric Polymer
Exhaust Valve: Silicone

My experience with the F8:
This is a very well performing regulator that I would easily put in the same running as other high end regulators.  It has a clean simple look, breaths well, and venturi switch and air flow adjustment are easy to use even when wearing heavy gloves for cold water. It is surprisingly light for the size of the second stage, I did add a swivel to my second stage for added comfort which is a strong recomendation for anyone who experiences jaw fatigue while diving.  The only issue this has presented is the lp hose for the second stage is very long much longer than I am used to for standard regulators and the addition of a swivel added an extra 2 inches to this making it at times seem a bit excessive.  Another issue that I have experienced is use of the regulator inverted can cause water to get into the second stage, by inverted i mean head down feet above the head, not lying on the back.  This being a very uncommon position only affected me while playing with students while teaching in the pool.

Over all this is a good regulator that should be considered if you are looking to upgrade, it is very hardy and reliable.  At a price of $629.95 this is one reg that should be thrown into the mix with other high end regulators like the Oceanic Zeo, Hollis 200LX, Aqualung Legend, and Scubapro MK25/S600. Zeagle may not be the brand you think of when regulators come to mind but they are a sleeper in this category with tough regs that are inexpensive to service, and can easily last a lifetime.

I hope this was helpful and feel free to share your own experience with the Zeagle F8 in the comments.

 

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

What Does it Cost to Get Scuba Certified?

Taking the plunge and getting certified for many people is scary not only because it is a new experience but also because of the cost, So what does it cost to get certified?  This is one of the greatest questions in the diving industry, and most commonly asked in any dive shop.  No matter which agency you get certified through Padi, SSI, Naui, to name a few, all of them are providing the same fundamental training and skills.  The differences will be in the format that these skills and how the information is taught.  Since it is safe to say that all open water certifications no matter the agency are equivalent lets break down the what the general expected cost of an Open Water certification would be.

There are many ways to break down these cost and different shops and different agencies will vary in their prices but this is a guide to provide a general idea of how much it should cost to get scuba certified.  These cost will be broken down into training (Classroom, Pool, and Open Water dives), Materials, Rental, and Personal gear.  Now with all of these they will vary from shop to shop for training, rentals and personal equipment and agency to agency for materials, so i will be providing a general estimate for each of these because it may differ at your local dive shop.

scuba trainingTraining is the most important part of the certification and will be what truly molds the experience of getting certified.  It is the personal touch that the instructor provides that will shape your experience and path as a diver.  The ability to provide clear instruction and knowledge for the students will leave a huge impact on new divers.  This is where the true value of shopping around for your certification will matter.  Finding a shop and instructor that are devoted to providing you the student with the best experience possible.  As for the price this is the portion of the cost that the instructors themselves are paid from.  Some shops will split the cost of classroom/ pool and open water dives, and others will provide an all in pricing.  For the aspect of training expect anywhere from $200 to $350 to cover the cost of training (classroom/pool/open water dives).

Materials are completely determined by the certification agency and can vary depending padi materialson what format of program you are taking, accelerated programs will be more costly and allow students to complete a majority of classroom portion of the program at home.  The three largest and most recognizable agencies Padi, SSI, and Naui materials will range from $75-$189.  With these materials they are at this point in time offered as printed books to study or online digital material, SSI provides only digital material, while Padi and Naui offer printed material or digital e-learning.

rental gearRentals are something that are absolutely necessary for open water dives unless the new diver has decided to purchase their own BCD, regulator, tanks, weights, and wetsuit.  These items to purchases would quickly reach a couple thousand dollars, most new divers will rent these items for their certification, once again rentals will depend on the shop and what kind of gear is needed for the dive, wetsuits will depend on the temperature of the water, the other items will be necessary regardless.  Normal expected rental cost for this equipment should be expected around $60-$150.  Some shops may provide rental packages that include other gear like mask snorkel, fins that may affect this price.

Most dive shops will request or require new students to purchase their own personal gear, Mask, Snorkel, Booties, Fins, and Gloves.  This is because these items are a personal personal gearfit gear that will drastically affect your diving experience if they do not fit properly.  Once again these items will vary drastically in price and some shops will offer student discounts to help promote the purchase.  In general expect at minimum $150 for all of your personal gear and price can go up to as high as $500.  Keep in mind this is equipment necessary for scuba, made to a very high quality and made to last when taken care of properly.

In the end the price is hard to give an exact number, and when you ask a dive shop employee that is why they will hesitate to answer because there are many factors that can affect the total cost. The lowest to expect when getting certified not including personal equipment would be somewhere around $400 and the highest could be somewhere around $700 with a majority of them somewhere in between.  With this being said average price all in to get certified will be somewhere in the range of $600.  Personal equipment is where the larges variance in price will be in terms of personal choice, the Training, rental, and materials will be pre determined by the shop.  The most important thing to consider will be what will work best for you, dive shops and dive professionals will provide advice for what the best route to take is for the goals you wish to meet.

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.