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

Scubapro Hydros BCD Review

hydros 4The Scubapro Hydros BCD is a step in a new direction in terms of what a BCD can be.  The scuba pro Hydros has been designed from the ground up using a new material to BCD’s Monoprene.  This monoprene material similar to rubber/silicone gives the bcd a grip and flexibility that is unheard of in any other BCD.  In addition to the new material the Hydros is made to be a versatile cold water and travel bcd, with removable weight pockets and a simple harness system for travel.  This is truly a unique approach to a bcd that will likely have copycats in the near future.

Features:

  • Monoprene Material
  • Travel harness
  • 12 lb quick release weight pockets X2
  • 5 lb trim pockets X2
  • Scubapro Air 2 integrated octo (BPI optional)
  • 40 lb lift bladder
  • Multiple color kits
  • Pocket accessory options
  • Carry backpack

The Material: Monoprene is a material that is not new to the diving industry, for a long time it has been used in diving fins as a durable rubber material, with plenty of flex.  This material is also very grippy, and being used in a bcd solves the problem of the shift.  The shift is a common problem divers have when at depth or at the surface when the material of the bcd does not grip to the user and shifts requiring the user to adjust and shimmy the bcd back into place.  With this new material the monoprene of the hydros sticks to the user and eliminates the possibility of the bcd shifting.  Another added benefit of the material is its lack of water retention, the only material on the bcd that may hold water is the webbing and the bladder, the bcd will usually dry out completely 15-20 min after exiting the water making it ideal for travel and packing up into a car after a dive.

All around BCD:  The hydros is a true chameleon of the bcd world made to be tough and rugged with plenty of lift and weight capacity, and capable of transforming into a lightweight bcd ideal for travel.  Now don’t get me wrong when this bcd has some weight to it, the monoprene material makes it one of the heavier bcd’s in my opinion coming in hydros 3at a almost 11 lbs with the pockets attached.  But if you are planning on traveling with the hydros it also comes with a harness system that quickly replaces the pockets with a little practice.  Now this harness system is very simple no pockets just webbing a couple D rings and clips, don’t forget you still have the trim pockets on the back of the bladder for weight integration, although it will not be quick release.  Despite that this is an easy way to cut significant weight from the bcd when traveling.  So for divers looking for a bcd that is ideal for cold water diving and travel the hydros bcd checks all the boxes.

The accessories: There are many additional features that come standard with the Hydros BCD, travel harness system, and a carry backpack large enough to fit the bcd, regulator, mask snorkel inside and a pair of the Scubapro Go fins on the outside of the bag.  While these are welcome additions to any standard bcd package i would like to discuss the additional accessory mounts for the Hydros.  The first and most notable accessory are the color kits: Blue, yellow, pink, orange, and purple  The men’s bcd comes standard with black and the women’s bcd comes standard with white.  These kits that replace the weight pocket coverings are a nice way to accessorize and personalize a bcd.  In addition

hydros accessories
Top: Color kits, Ninja Pocket, Thigh Pocket                   Bottom: Bungee mount, D-ring mount, Knife mount

to these color kits there are also attachable accessories for knife mount (specific to scubapro knifes), D-ring mount, bungee mount (large and small), ninja pocket, and thigh pocket.  I find most of these additions as cash grabs from Scubapro for not intentionally adding useful accessories.  While the look of the weight pockets are slick and clean looking there are only functional for carrying weights without additional accessories, no pockets for storage, necessary additional hardware to mount a knife, and D-ring mount is largely underwhelming.  There are 4 possible mounting locations on the weight pockets for these additional accessories, but there are no mounting options available for the travel harness for these or any accessory mounts.  My least favorite of these accessories are by far the pockets, I have never been a fan of a roll up pocket like the ninja pocket, to have something flapping by my leg when I need to store something away.  While the hidden pocket of the traditional bcd design is my least favorite pocket type, the thigh pocket has now taken the lead.  While it is secured and not flopping about to have to secure it around the leg and have it attach to the bcd using a clip makes me wonder why someone wouldn’t just have a pocket attached to their wetsuit instead.  But then again that is my personal opinion of this style of pocket.

Pros:

  • Quick drying Monoprene material
  • removable weight pockets & travel harness
  • Travel backpack
  • 40 lb lift capacity
  • Optional BPI or Air 2 alternate

Cons:

  • Accessories
  • Not to be worn without Wetsuit/ rash guard

For a bcd that starting price is $916 with standard BPI or $1049 with Air 2, it is a little frustrating that simple convenience accessories are add ons and not standard.  While personally i find many if not all of these accessories useless in my style of diving, I see where some divers could find use in them.  The knife mount I find annoying because it is only useful for proprietary use with their own brand of knife, which i understand, but also believe there should be a standard mount distance with all knife and bcd brands, but that is just a distant dream.  My other frustration comes from the pockets while the ninja pocket is not my personal ideal, it is the thigh pocket that I truly have distaste for.  To consider donning and doffing this bcd that is well known for its comfort and fit and hydros bcd 1taking an additional step to clip a pocket around my leg so it does not flap about during the dive for the sole purpose of having additional storage space seems ridiculous to me as a purchase and an optional accessory.

In conclusion the Hydros is still a high quality BCD, that with its new Monoprene material provides a comfortable, quick drying bcd that sticks to the user with no shifting, for a truly secure fit.  Although it sits at the higher end of the price spectrum for most BCD’s it proves its value with its versatility and quality.

 

Scubapro Knighthawk BC Review

PIC_0075The Scubapro Knighthawk has been my go to BCD many years, I purchased it before I started my IDC in 2011 and it has accompanied me for many dives.  The Knighthawk was the first back in flat ion BCD that I have owned, and it was responsible for a complete change in my perception of BCD’s.  The Knighthawk had many features that I think made it a very great BCD, but over time and with exposure to other brands I began to see some of its shortcomings.

The Good: One of the features that I really enjoyed about the Knighthawk was that all of the straps and fast tech buckles tightened from one side making it easy to synch down everything at the beginning of the dive. It also had a metal cam buckle for the tank strap that if you were consistently diving the same size tank made set up fast and easy.  The bladder on this BCD was huge, I had a medium and the lift capacity was 44 lbs.  It had a padded neck and plenty of D-rings for accessories.  I enjoyed this BC a lot and I found it suitable for cold water diving and warm water diving.

The Bad: There were a few things that I began to realize over time with this BCD that I wish could be a little different.  The quick release weight pockets felt overly secure and difficult to remove in knighthawk-300x300an emergency, (obviously I wanted them to be secure, but in training new students on how to remove weights I always had to cheat a bit and actually unclip the buckles instead of just pulling the pockets out).  Another issue I ran into was the deflator purge valve getting stuck open on giant stride entries, because it is a little switch that can be manipulated with the hand I could quickly fix it after i was aware of the situation, but not ideal.  The auxiliary shoulder dump would often get stuck under the shoulder strap and was rather uncomfortable when it did happen.  One of my last gripes with the Knighthawk was that the bladder while large was not well secured, it has elastic lashing around the edges to keep the air distribution even but it is a single piece of elastic for both sides so it also shifts and I found it prone to collecting air on one side.  The pockets at the base of the weight pockets are also worthless, hard to fit a pocket mask or anything for that matter and very inconvenient to access during a dive especially in gloves.

Things I’m not sure about: The Scubapro lifetime warranty.  When I bought this bcd in 2011 before I started my IDC program one of the selling points was that there was a lifetime warrantee.  Over the years with an abundance of use teaching in the pool and ocean the BCD had begun to deteriorate, despite regular washing and rinsing.  When one of the velcro pieces broke at the base of the base plate and the pad had begun to swing when I dove, I decided to take advantage of the lifetime warrantee.  I jumped through the hoops of finding my receipt 3 years later and sent it in for repair.  When the BCD had returned it came with a $25 dollar fee, not huge but shouldn’t the warrantee have covered that, or did I just miss understand the guidelines of a lifetime warrantee.

Overall this bcd served it purpose, but like any piece of equipment its hard to get every feature you want in one.  Would I buy another Knighthawk, maybe in the future when the design changes a little, but I believe there are better BCD’s out there at the moment. That are a little less expensive and have more features.

The Knighthawk bcd is to be discontinued, scubapro is currently in the process of phasing out the nighthawk and plans to replace it with the Seahawk bcd.  The Seahawk has many similar features of the nighthawk but also has larger pockets for storage.