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The Best Travel BCDs


A lightweight travel BCD makes the perfect choice for warm-water recreational diving. Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell looks at the options - a mix of traditional jacket-style BCDs and some wings-style version, all around 3kg in weight



Commando Escape

AP Diving Commando Escape  

DIVERobust build and plenty of functionality

AP Diving is a cutting-edge, independent British manufacturer based in Cornwall. Everything is built and tested in the company’s own workshop, and the quality of its products shines through. The Commando Escape is a traditional jacket-style BCD bordering on the 3kg weight limit and demonstrates AP Diving’s no-compromise approach to design. Using a bespoke material for the single-bladder construction that is welded rather than stitched, the Escape has four pockets, four anodized aluminium D-rings and a rigid, blow-moulded lightweight backplate, resulting in a complete BCD in terms of functionality and durability, but light enough to travel easily. There is no integrated weight system, but twin-cylinder and pony bottle cam bands are available as optional extras.


Dry weight: 2.63kg (S) – 3.26kg (XXL)

Maximum lift: 11.2kg(S) – 27.5kg (XXL)

Material/denier: bespoke OceanSeal 805 (bladder), Cordura 1000 (exterior)

Backplate: rigid

Integrated weights: no


 AP Valves 1

AP Diving Travelwing

Built with a combination of the same 1,000-denier Cordura and the bespoke OceanSeal material as the Escape, the TravelWing is a back-inflation-style jacket that comes with an integrated weight system as standard, although the pockets can be extended and used for storage if the diver prefers to use a weight belt or harness. The padded cummerbund is adjustable at both the front and rear, and the soft backplate is padded for extra comfort, although it does mean that the twin cylinder cam upgrade is not available. D-rings are plentiful, with a total of seven on the outside and one in each pocket.


Dry weight: 2.7kg(S/M) – 2.9kg(L/XL)
Maximum lift: 14.5kg
Material/denier: bespoke OceanSeal 805 (bladder), Cordura 1,000 (exterior)
Backplate: soft
Integrated weights: yes


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 ZumaX 1

Aqua Lung Zuma

DIVEBeautifully lightweight- great for travelling

Aqua Lung’s Zuma is a back-inflation-style BCD which comes in at just 2.2kg in the M/L sizes, and removing the integrated weight pockets allows for further weight savings. The fully flexible backpack can be rolled up to save on packing space, but to compensate for the lack of rigidity, the Zuma’s tank band has been lowered to integrate with the waist strap, placing the weight of the tank on the hips rather than the shoulders. Although the product is unisex, the chest strap can be re-positioned (or removed) according to the wearer’s preferences. The ‘wing’ design allows for only a single storage pocket, but four plastic D-rings and Aqualung’s knife grommets provide backup for accessories. Tank-mounted trim weight pockets are available as an optional extra.


Dry weight: 2.2kg(M/L)
Maximum lift: 10kg (XXS) – 15.5kg(XXL)
Material/denier: nylon 420
Backplate: fully flexible
Integrated weights: yes


Cressi 3

Cressi Travelight and Travelight Lady

Cressi also produces the lightweight back-inflate ‘Air Travel’ and ‘Ultralight’ models but its most popular travel BCD is the jacket-style Travelight. The 210-denier nylon from which it is constructed means that some overall durability is sacrificed to make up for the light weight, but Cressi is keen to point out that the lighter material does not make the BCD any more ‘flimsy’ than others. The fully-flexible backplate comes with extra padding and two cambands for tank security, integrated weights are standard and two trim pockets at the rear are part of the design. Large zippered pockets and four alloy D-rings allow for plenty of carrying capacity, and the rear dump valve control is mounted at the front of the jacket. The Travelight Lady has differently-routed shoulder straps and fastenings to cater for the female form.


Dry weight: 2.3kg(XS) – 2.8kg (XL)
Maximum lift: 6.1kg (XS) – 16.3kg(XL)
Material/denier: nylon 210
Backplate: fully flexible
Integrated weights: yes



Hollis LTS Wing

Technical diving specialist Hollis has produced a slimmed-down version of its all-purpose HD200 tech/rec crossover, with the 2.27kg Lightweight Travel System featuring the classic ‘donut’ wing bladder with drag-reducing bungee cords in a lightweight harness. It is constructed from a 420-denier rated bladder with a 1,000-denier nylon external covering. Although it’s not strictly speaking a technical diving product, the location of chest and hip D-rings and 13.6kg lift capacity allows for the slinging of a second tank for those who wish to do so. The design is an all-in-one piece rather than an interchangeable modular system, and like most technical rigs there are no storage pockets and no integrated weight system as such. However, side pockets allow for 2.27kg of ditchable trim-weights according to the diver’s needs.


Dry weight: 2.27kg (S/M - XL)
Max. lift: 13.6kg (all sizes)
Material/denier: nylon 420 (bladder), 1000 (exterior)
Backplate: partially flexible
Integrated weights: trim only



Mares Pure SLS

At 3.8kg dry weight, the Pure SLS is the heaviest of the travel BCDs featured here, with Mares opting to retain a rigid backplate capable of holding a twinset, seven steel D-rings and an integrated weight system, all mounted in a 420-denier Cordura rear-inflation jacket with an 18kg lift capacity. Trim-weight pockets are built into the rear of the jacket, a roll-out pocket is located on the left-hand side for storage, and a zippered pouch is available as an optional extra. Although it doesn’t meet the sub-3kg category, Mares has produced an all-round multi-purpose BCD that is good for travelling, rather than a specific piece of travel equipment.


Dry weight: 3.6kg (S) – 3.8kg (XL)
Maximum lift: 18.1kg (all sizes)
Material/denier: nylon 420
Backplate: rigid
Integrated weights: yes.


Oceanic Biolite

Promoted by Oceanic as ‘minimalistic’, the open- harness, rear-inflation Biolite certainly meets that description. The bladder is constructed from Oceanic’s patented Bioflex material, which is claimed to be up to 30 per cent more flexible than other materials, therefore allowing the BCD to be built with a smaller air cell to minimise the amount of material used and to reduce the overall dimensions of the jacket. The exterior is constructed of 1,000-denier Cordura and, in keeping with the minimalist design, the integrated ‘quick drop’ weight system carries up to 6.4kg, with two non-ditchable trim pockets attached to the tank strap fitted as standard. Plastic D-rings, an adjustable shoulder carabiner retainer and small, zippered side pockets provide enough storage space for small accessories.


Dry weight: 2.5kg (L)
Maximum lift: 11.4kg (S/M) – 13.2kg (L/XL/XXL)
Material/denier: bespoke BioFlex (bladder), 1,000-denier Cordura (exterior)
Backplate: fully flexible
Integrated weights: trim only



Scubapro Go

A mainstay of the recreational dive industry, Scubapro is renowned for its high-quality, staple products – the Go is no exception. Although the base material is 210-denier nylon, a polyurethane coating helps to reduce the damage associated with abrasion, while keeping the weight down to just 2.5kg. The fully-flexible backpack allows the Go to be folded into dimensions small enough to fit into cabin baggage, with its single-bladder wraparound construction built for the comfort of a standard BCD. A robust second strap, in addition to the cam buckle, helps to keep the tank stable, and voluminous zippered pockets, plus six aluminium D-rings and attachment grommets allow for plenty of storage. An integrated weight system is added as standard but can be removed to save further weight if needed. Trim weight pockets are available as an optional extra.


Dry weight: 2.4kg (XS) – 2.7kg (XL)
Maximum lift: 10.2kg (XS) – 19.4kg (XL)
Material/denier: polyurethane-coated, 210-denier nylon
Backplate: fully flexible
Integrated weights: yes



Italian scuba and freediving specialists SEAC is not as well known in the UK as other popular brands, but its products come with excellent recommendations. The Trip is SEAC’s version of a lightweight but fully functional BCD. The inner and outer bladders are constructed from 420-denier nylon, and the integrated weight pockets from highly abrasion-resistant 1000D Cordura. The backplate is semi-rigid, meaning that the jacket can be folded for packing, while retaining the sturdiness of a fully-rigid backplate for use with the single tank strap. Seac’s Semi-Frame-To-Back system anchors the shoulder straps directly to the backplate, a useful feature to relieve tension on the material and cater to different body types. Smaller, zippered pockets and octopus/gauge holders are located on each side, with four large and two smaller alloy D-rings increasing the carrying capacity.


Dry weight: 3kg (L)
Maximum lift: 11.2kg (S) – 18.3kg (XL)
Material/denier: polyurethane-coated nylon 420 (bladder), 1000D Cordura (weight pockets)
Backplate: partial (half rigid, half flexible)
Integrated weights: yes


Equiliser 2
Scubapro Equalizer

The Equalizer is similar in design to the Go model and might be considered an option for use in a range of different environments by those divers who do not want to sacrifice a rigid backplate in order to save on weight and packing space. The single-bladder, jacket-style design is constructed from 420-denier nylon with integrated weight, Velcro-fastening pockets and four aluminium D-rings. Although the rigid backplate means the BCD will not pack as small as the Go, the Equalizer still weighs only 2.9kg in a large size.


Dry weight: 2.8kg (XS) – 3.1kg (XL)
Maximum lift: 10.2kg (XS) – 17.3kg (XL)
Material/denier: nylon 420
Backplate: rigid
Integrated weights: yes


X Deep
XDeep NX Ghost

As the price tag clearly indicates, this is a high-end product geared towards the recreational diver who prefers the wing and harness configuration. The unique ‘skeleton’ backplate is made from aircraft-grade aluminium alloy and the tank adapter at the rear can be relocated to suit the diver’s requirements. Acknowledging that many recreational divers don’t like the position a wing can put them in at the surface, the Ghost’s bladder, constructed from 1,100-denier Cordura, is smaller at the top than at the bottom, therefore reducing the tendency to push a diver forward at the surface. Weighing in at just 2.2kg for the backplate, bladder and harness, complete with steel D-rings, the system is one of the lightest on the market. Ditchable weight pockets, as with most wing systems, are sold as modular extras but add little to the overall weight. A deluxe model is available which includes a quick-release harness and extra shoulder padding.


Dry weight: 2.2kg (standard), 2.4kg (deluxe)
Maximum lift: 17kg
Material/denier: polyurethane-coated nylon 420 (bladder), 1,100-denier Cordura (weight pockets)
Backplate: rigid
Integrated weights: no



Zeagle Express Tech Travel Wing

US manufacturer Zeagle’s technical expertise carries over to its Express Tech travel wing, with a robust harness and semi-rigid backplate providing a utilitarian, lightweight, one-size-fits-all design. Dual tank straps allow for extra-secure tank positioning, and although the travel wing is recommended for single-tank use only, the 1000-denier polyurethane-coated bladder provides up to 19kg of lift, thereby allowing divers to swap to a steel backplate suitable for twinsets as necessary. D-rings, weight pockets and shoulder padding are not provided as standard but are available as modular extras, while plenty of grommets allow for the attachment of tools and accessories. The uniquely designed power inflator mechanism can be removed and is threaded to fit a standard garden hose, allowing for a thorough flushing of the bladder after use.


Dry weight: 2.3kg
Maximum lift: 19kg
Material/denier: polyurethane-coated nylon 1,000-denier
Backplate: semi-rigid
Integrated weights: no


Before you buy…

With airline baggage charges these days occupying a shadowy borderline between ‘additional fees’ and ‘not far off blackmail’, travellers can find themselves handing over cash for even the slightest packing oversight. Depending on your destination and carrier, the allowable weight limit per checked bag can vary between 15kg and 32kg, for which there may or may not be a charge, and excess baggage fees can vary from £3 per additional kilo to upwards of £50 – per kilo!

A full set of dive gear can take up your entire baggage allowance all by itself and airlines are inconsistent as to whether or not they will accept dive gear as ‘sporting goods’. If you have to take multiple carriers to reach your destination, then it’s entirely possible you will find yourself held to ransom halfway through your journey. Short-haul package holidays do not require much attention to the weight of your baggage – for a week’s diving in the Red Sea, flying from the UK, you would not need much more than your dive gear, swimming costume, shorts, T-shirt, flip-flops and a change of underwear for the return journey. For longer journeys with multiple destinations, however, regular travellers know that shaving as much weight from your baggage as possible is worth the effort. In addition to inconsistent airline fees, you’ve got to lug it all around with you.

For this reason, manufacturers have been rolling out lightweight travel BCDs for some years now. There are some compromises regarding their use and durability, but for the typical tropical diver these are offset by the savings in baggage fees and ease of transport. Some manufacturers have produced BCDs that are so light and flexible they can be packed into cabin bags. There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to what the weight limit of a travel BCD should be, but the unofficial target set by the manufacturers is 3kg. That’s why we’ve aimed for a range of products that come in at 3kg or under.

One obvious solution to the problem of excess baggage is not to carry any equipment at all, and to simply rent your kit from the dive centre. This is a personal choice, but most people who dive regularly prefer to buy their own gear. You know its history and how well it’s been looked after and – barring a change in your physique – it will be a perfect fit. If you only dive once per year on holiday, renting equipment is less expensive overall, but since hiring a full set of gear can cost between €5 and €50 per day, regular divers will find that purchasing their own equipment will lead to long-term savings.

The first rule when buying equipment is: if you’re not certain, stick with what you know. Many divers will learn to dive in a jacket-style BCD, and if you know a product that fits you well and is known to be comfortable, then that’s your best starting point.

lamorna leap2

Fit is especially important for BCDs, and sizing can vary between manufacturers and their design philosophy. Trying them out in person is highly recommended, and don’t forget that you might have to leave enough room for adjustment depending on the thickness of exposure suit you might be using. Consider what functionality you might require in terms of pockets and D-rings based on what you’re likely to carry during a dive. Too much storage space is probably not a bad thing, but not enough places to carry required tools and accessories can be inconvenient. Although some manufacturers make BCDs that are tailored to the female form, most travel BCDs are unisex.

Jacket, wing or hybrid?

The jacket is the most common style of BCD and the one in which most people learn to dive. The bladder inflates at both the rear and the sides and this style is probably the best choice for inexperienced divers as a jacket gives you more vertical stability at the surface. Wings are favoured by technical divers as they allow for more flexible configurations, provide excellent horizontal stability and have more room under the arms for carrying extra tanks or performing complicated tasks. They are increasingly popular among recreational divers, but you do need to learn to compensate for the position into which they can push you at the surface. Wings have an inherent advantage when it comes to packing, as they are less bulky than a traditional jacket-style BCD, but don’t let this be a determining factor unless you’re sure a wing is right for you. A hybrid is a cross between a jacket and a wing, with back inflation to help maintain horizontal trim, but retaining the pockets and integrated weight systems that many divers love. 


The basic material used in the construction of BCDs is nylon, or a variation thereof. Cordura® often crops up in BCD specs, this being the brand name of a company that specialises in tough fabrics made from, among other things, nylon. Some manufacturers may highlight their extra polyurethane (PU) coating, which aids resistance to abrasion, and others use bespoke materials. 

'Denier’ is a term which may be more familiar to readers as something found on a packet of ladies’ tights. It is a measure of how densely the fibres of a particular fabric are woven, with the lower end of the scale being less dense – and therefore lighter, but less durable – than the higher. This does not mean that a BCD with a low-denier rating is in any way sub-standard, but it does mean that they are less resistant to abrasion. For a lot of recreational, tropical diving this is not a problem, but if there’s a chance you might have to clamber over rocks or swim through caves or wrecks, then you might want to consider opting for a higher rating.

The backplate is the part of the BCD to which the tank affixes and is most commonly made from hardened plastic, aluminium or steel, and classed as ‘rigid’. Travel BCDs may have rigid, partially rigid or soft, flexible backplates, which will determine how easily they can be folded and how compactly they can be packed. Manufacturers take into account the difference in backplate design through the addition of extra padding or tank straps as necessary, but some care should be taken when handling topside kit with a flexible backplate when it is set up on a tank.

Integrated weights, pockets and D-rings

Integrated weight pouches are a commonplace feature on BCDs. However, if present in a travel BCD, they may be a smaller than on a standard jacket, meaning you will be able to carry less ditchable weight within them, and you may need to carry extra weight via a weight belt. Some designs have additional ‘trim’ pockets or pouches as standard, usually at the rear of the BCD or affixed to the tank strap. Wings in general are not sold with weight pockets as standard, but are available as separate pieces.

The side pockets on a travel BCD are generally going to be smaller than on a standard jacket in order to save on material weight. Some travel BCDs have only one pocket, and some have none at all. As for the all-important D-rings, they are more likely to be made from plastic or aluminium rather than stainless steel, so if you habitually carry heavier equipment such as a professional-level camera with housing and strobes, you may need to take this into consideration. The decision, of course, is based on what you need to take with you during your dives, but between the D-rings and the pockets there should be enough room for the carriage of accessories such as small torches, SMBs, reels and to clip alternative air sources to the jacket, but you might need to invest in some extra clips. 


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