The AP Diving Commando Escape Travel BCD - a lightweight, but robust and top quality jacket
As soon as I got my hands on this fine piece of kit I knew I was holding a high-quality product. Cornwall-based British manufacturer AP Diving has a reputation for building robust equipment and despite its light weight, the Commando Escape is no exception.
The material used in the construction of the single bladder – the first single-bladder BCD that AP has built since they discontinued their original Buddy ’horse collar’ in 1981 – is AP’s bespoke ‘OceanSeal 800’, sourced specifically for the purpose of providing a strong and leak-fast weld. Cordura 1000 was not used for the bladder as it cannot be welded, but as one of the toughest materials on the market today, it is used for most of the external features of the jacket.
As with many other divers, although travelling light is great, I personally prefer a rigid backplate, and AP’s approach has been to develop a blow-moulded plastic design which ensures complete rigidity but does not compromise on weight-saving. On the plus side you have a decent carry-handle, and it is sturdy enough support a twinset through a double cam-strap sold as an optional extra.
The only real downside – in terms of it being a ‘travel’ BCD – is that the rigid backplate means that it won’t fold up into the compact dimensions of some other BCDs on the market, and therefore takes up a little more room in your kit bag, but still not as much as a full-on jacket.
If there is one feature that might turn buyers away it is the lack of an integrated weight system. Personally, as a diver who prefers an old-school weight belt and the variable weight distribution it provides, this bothers me not even in the slightest, however as integrated weights have become more popular, some divers will look elsewhere. AP’s Travelwing with its integrated weight pockets may well be an option.
In the water, the Escape just felt good. It was comfortable, there were no restrictions, and nothing got in my way. The power inflator mechanism operated smoothly and consists of my preferred design with deflate on top and inflate on the side, making for easy finger-thumb operation.
The main pockets are voluminous and very easily accessible underwater, the extra side pockets are a bonus and strong enough to carry a couple of extra kilos if necessary. The four alloy D-rings are well-placed on the shoulders and waist for clipping convenience and there’s a couple of handy plastic rings at the top of the pockets.
If I had a niggle with the operation of the jacket, it’s the fact that the rear dump valve is located on the left-hand side of the jacket. I’d never worn an AP product before and I believe that this is the case with all their BCDs, but I habitually use the rear dump valve for easy (read, ‘lazy’) buoyancy control underwater, far more than I use the deflator mechanism.
This is very much a personal thing, but having worn a wide variety of jackets from most of the major manufacturer in the recreational diving world, who all have their rear dump valves on the right-hand side, years of muscle memory kept me reaching for something that wasn’t there.
It’s not really a major issue, but it is something that needs to be pointed out during a pre-dive safety check (which I hope people would be doing anyway), just in case the diver or their buddy needs to use it to assist during an uncontrolled ascent.
As a nice touch, however, the toggles that operate the dump valves are designed so that the right shoulder toggle is negatively buoyant and the rear toggle is positively buoyant, which makes them both very easy to get hold of.
The one small thing that I did not like about this BCD is the lack of a chest strap. There is a second small strap just above the cummerbund, stitched to the inside of the jacket sides, and serves to keep the very large side panels in place but there is nothing to keep the shoulder straps together.
I did not have any problems with this in terms of comfort and slip, but people whose build is rather more slender than my 44” chest may feel that there is something missing
Overall this is an excellent product and – for the price of £300 from – excellent value. At 3kg in weight, it’s perfect for travel, but the robust design also makes it perfect for general all-purpose diving, regardless of location.
Material / denier: OceanSeal 805 (bladder), Cordura 1000 (exterior)
Integrated weights: no
D-Rings: 4 large alloy, 2 small plastic
Max. lift: 11.2kg(S) – 27.5kg (XXL)
Dry Weight: 2.63kg (S) – 3.26kg (XXL)
RRP: £342 / Web price: £300