Kit Review: Scubapro's Customisable Hydros Pro
When I first read the Hydros Pro Press Release from Scubapro, I have to admit that I was initially quite sceptical of the merits of this back-inflate style BCD. Given the opportunity to try one out during a recent trip, however, this is no longer the case.
The most instant first impression is that of the material used in construction. Scubapro has used an 'injection moulded Monprene thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) gel', rather than nylon-based products traditionally used in BCD manufacture. Underneath the technobabble is a material which to the layperson feels a bit rubbery but also has a cushioning effect while at the same time providing extra grip, and increased UV and abrasion protection. It's also the same material that Scubapro's Seawing Nova fins are made from.
Practically speaking, what this means for the diver is that the shoulder straps – as marketed by Scubapro – should ‘mould to the diver’s body’ and ‘prevent the BC from shifting’, and indeed they do. If anything, they were so ‘grippy’ that I had to adjust my method of donning and doffing my dive gear to compensate for the fact that the straps did not slide over my shoulders as readily as every other BCD I’ve worn – but this didn't mean it was any less easy to get in and out of, and the straps hold themselves open – as advertised – which helps. The backplate is made from the same material and likewise minimises slip from both the tank and the wearer's body.
There is plenty of adjustment in the straps, and the M-sized BCD that Scubapro sent me was an excellent fit. Most of the BCDs I’ve ever worn were size M or L (it varies between manufacturer), but a certain portliness gathered around my midriff has ended up with me tending towards size L. Wearing a 7mm wetsuit, the Hydros Pro left plenty of adjustment, and the articulated shoulder clips, which I’ve found to be uncomfortable on other models of BCD, were useful and welcome.
There are both men’s and ladies’ versions, with the ladies’ model having differently curved shoulder straps, shorter inflator hose and smaller bladder.
I am not a big fan of integrated weight systems in general, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hydros Pro. From the photographs, the removable and interchangeable coloured monprene covers look a little flimsy, however, they are anything but, and they are fixed in place with five Allen-headed bolts.
They are, undoubtedly, a gimmick, and with a RRP of £47 for a replacement set, a fairly pricey fashion statement, but – like go faster stripes on a car – some people will enjoy being able to add a little colour to their dive gear.
The pockets themselves will take 8kg quite happily and are secured with a pinch-clip which is easy to release. They're set back a little further than integrated weight pockets in jacket style BCDs but this is not unusual for the back-inflate design and just required an extra moment of fiddling to get them into place when wearing the BCD. There was no obstacle to their quick removal.
More importantly, the system felt – to my personal preference at least – almost like I was wearing a weight belt. I don’t like the way weights sometimes shift in integrated pockets, and I often feel they are a little too far from my centre of gravity, but this was not the case with the Hydros Pro because the weight pouches are fixed directly to the belly-strap. Trim pockets on the rear will hold another 2kg each should the diver need it, and extra pouches are available as accessories.
In the water
Jumping in the water, the lift provided by the tri-bungeed wing was immediately evident and very stable. Personal BMI issues aside, a 15l steel tank and 6kgs of lead were very well supported, and, importantly, in an upright position. The wing is slightly broader at the bottom than the top, and hence even fully inflated, there was no tendency towards face-planting, as is often the case with divers who are not accustomed to the wing design.
Underwater, it felt very comfortable indeed. The monprene gel straps and backplate really do mould themselves to the body and there was no hint of any part of the BCD digging into my flesh. The Hydros Pro is almost perfectly neutrally buoyant which meant I ended up slightly overweighted on the first dive, and I can’t claim to have found the perfect trim as we only had five dives and not much time for experimentation, but it certainly kept me stable in the water.
Having said that, I tend to be fairly mobile underwater. If I wanted to remain perfectly horizontal at all times then I would just stay in bed (cue the collective sound of spitting tea and bacon butties). I love the 3-dimensional aspect of diving, and the wing design did not compromise my desire to do so. It gave me horizontal poise as necessary to swim through the passageways of the small wreck we dived, and it let me roll around to my heart’s content.
The bungees kept the bladder together without even a hint of unnecessary flapping and the air stayed where it’s supposed to. There are no storage pockets as standard, but the 4 D-rings were sufficient and well enough placed to carry what I needed (reel and SMB, torch and camera). A range of accessories including pockets, knife mount, mini d-ring set and bungees are available as optional extras.
At just over 4kg it’s not as lightweight as most of the dedicated travel BCDs available on the market, but neither is it excessively heavy. It’s fairly compact and the integrated weight system (which weighs 1kg) can be removed and packed elsewhere, or ditched entirely and substituted with the harness (included) and crotch strap (extra) to convert the Hydros Pro into a lightweight, 3kg travel wing.
Scubapro include a handy backpack for transportation. I didn’t have cause to use it but it’s roomy enough to carry booties, mask, accessories and possibly a thin shorty. If you were diving somewhere hot and sunny then you may be able to fit all your dive gear in the backpack, bar the fins.
One important point to note is that the monprene used in the Hydros Pro’s construction means that there is no absorbent fabric anywhere on the BCD, and it really does dry almost instantaneously. After giving it a thorough soaking on my return to the UK, it was completely dry in less than an hour, despite the weedy available sunlight on an overcast, late September morning.
From a recreational, utilitarian perspective, I found it difficult to find any negatives with the Hydros Pro, and those that I did are entirely personal. The inflator/deflator mechanism works perfectly, but I prefer a different arrangement of buttons. The rear kidney dump is on the left which might be the preferred location for technical divers, but I’m not a techie, and I prefer it on the right. Neither of these things is a real negative, just personal preference.
From a technical perspective, the weight system can be ditched and replaced with a harness and crotch-strap, and available accessories should provide enough mounting points for extra gear and slinging tanks. There is no option to accommodate a twinset, which puts it amongst other single-tank (up to 18l) ‘tech-rec travel wings’, but dedicated technical divers will look elsewhere.
The major sticking point for me is the price. The RRP of £570 no doubt reflects the unique material design, and Scubapro market the Hydros Pro as a ‘BC-4-life’, in that should it be damaged, most individual components can be replaced quite easily and without the need for stitching, or replacing the entire rig. The idea is that the TCO – total cost of ownership – over a long and regular diving career should, therefore, be reduced.
Only time will tell if this is the case, but it is an expensive product and the claim of ‘modular’ might be accurate in terms of swapping things around and replacing broken components, but will not sit well with devotees of backplate/wing configurations where almost everything is interchangeable
I liked it, I liked it a lot. The non-slip comfort and practicality of diving with it were excellent, the compact design and quick-dry features very useful, and as a multi-purpose recreational-with-a-bit-of-tech for people who dive on a regular basis, there’s very little to complain about. Apart from the price.
Sizes: S, M, L, XL/XXL (men), XS/S, M, L (women)
Colours: standard black (M), white (F), optional extras: blue, yellow, pink, orange
Max. lift: 16.3kg (XS - S), 18.3kg (L - XXL)
Integrated weights: Yes (removable), up to 8kg
Trim weights: Yes, up to 4kg
Dry weight: 3.9kg - 4.1kg (with weight pockets) / 2.9kg - 3.1kg (without weight pockets)