If you’re having trouble choosing a BCD, there are quite a few factors to consider:
The Jacket-Style BCD consists of a wearable sleeveless jacket into which an air bladder is integrated that wraps around and inflates in front, on the sides and behind the diver. Due to this feature, the Jacket-Style BCD offers the most lift of any BCD. The jacket-style BCD is very comfortable, provides ample pockets for storage, and is commonly found with pouches for weight integration which replaces the need for a independent weight belt. Jacket BCDs are extremely stable in all positions in the water. The only drawbacks to this style BCD are that, because it is donned like a "jacket", it can be unfortable to get in and out of. Also, it must be sized correctly because adjusting it to the wearer is somewhat limited.
Example of a Jacket-Style BCD: Scubapro Classic
The Front-Adjustable or Hybrid is perhaps the most common type of BCD among divers for the last 20 years. Sometimes (erroniously) called a "jacket" BCD, the types and configurations of this kind of BCD are numerous. The basic premise of this BCD is that the bladder wraps around and inflates on the sides and behind the diver, leaving straps in the front for fine adjustments. The Front-Adjustable/Hybrid is described as "the best of both worlds" in terms of recreational BCD design. The innovative hybrid air bladder design allows less front clutter than the Jacket-Style unit and the flat horizontal diving position you get from a back inflated BCD. However, the unique design allows you a more relaxed and comfortable vertical orientation when you find yourself in that position (kneeling on the bottom or on the surface). The Front-Adjustable/Hybrid is the most popular choice for recreational divers all over the world. The only drawback to this style of BCD is the loss of front inflation, resulting in less lift and a slight tilt forwards when floating on the surface.
Example of a Front-Adjustable/Hybrid BCD: Aqualung Axiom, Scubapro Glide
Back Inflate BCD
The back inflate BCD only has an air bladder on the back, leaving the diver’s chest area uncluttered. Back inflate BCD’s are known for how great they are at positioning the diver in the more flat horizontal position in the water. Most divers strive for good horizontal positioning (trim). Being in a nice horizontal position is very streamlined with the diver having less resistance moving in the water while swimming; this reduces workload and helps to prolong your air supply. Like the majority of modern BCD's today they are virtually all weight integrated, eliminating the need for a cumbersome weight belt. The drawback to this style of BCD is that the lack of inflation on the front and sides of the diver causes the air cell to push the diver forward when floating on the surface. While this may not be an issue for experienced divers, or those who spend little time on the surface, it can pose a significant problem and uncomfortable position for newer divers.
At American Divers International, we pride ourselves on making sure the life-support equipment you purchase fits your needs and is comfortable. As with any purchase, you are always welcome to jump in our heated pool and try out different equipment before you buy it!