WHEN TEACHING DIVING in the days of the separate tank backpack/harness and the adjustable buoyancy life-jacket (ABLJ), I used to demonstrate to my lucky trainees how I could use an upturned plastic carrier-bag for buoyancy control.
That, after all, is what a BC is – simply a bag you can let gas into and out of, as you take care of the effects of compression of your wetsuit on your displacement, and therefore your buoyancy.
Of course, a BC has other functions. It’s usually used to fix your tank to your back, and designers have added other features such as pockets and D-rings, but its primary function remains the same.
So it always amazes me that some equipment manufacturers can make a simple bag in the form of a doughnut wing and harness and sell it for a high price. At the same time, other manufacturers seek to add features for added value perceived at the time of purchase. It’s what we call shop-counter appeal.
Italian manufacturer Mares has an R&D department that must spend all its time scratching its collective head and trying to think of ways to make a product a more attractive proposition than its rivals. The Hybrid Protec must be one of the most complicated “carrier bags” I’ve come across.

The Concept
Did you want a simple wing The Hybrid Protec is that. Did you want a BC fully loaded with features The Hybrid Protec can be that too.
It differs from the original Mares Hybrid in that it’s a back-flotation BC with a doughnut-shaped buoyancy cell coupled to a small foldable backpack, and can be used in conjunction with a vest that makes it look like and feel like a conventional BC, complete with an integrated-weight system.
The foldable nature of the backpack means that you can get it squeezed into a fairly compact bag if needs be.

The Wing
Used alone, the wing is a simple piece of kit designed for use with a single cylinder, and has a full complement of dump-valves.
One at the top left is operated by pulling on the corrugated hose, one on the right shoulder is operated by pulling on a toggle-ended cord threaded in part through some pipe-work, and one at the lower right back of the buoyancy cell faces downwards when the diver is horizontal, as is often the case with today’s wing-style BCs.
This does mean that the last vestiges of air are hard to be rid off when ascending in
a horizontal position while using this dump-valve. If, on the other hand, you’re coming up and looking where you’re going, the shoulder dumps work well.
The wing supplies a huge amount of buoyancy when fully inflated, with around 25kg of lift possible. It is restrained from full inflation only by a length of elastic cord threaded through the inner side between the buoyancy cell and the backpack.
It keeps the uninflated wing neat without exposing the wearer to much risk of getting hooked up on anything.
The wing is connected to the harness using some sliding clips, and this harness comes equipped with three big pre-bent stainless-steel D-rings on sliding H-clips so that you can tailor it to suit yourself.
The waistband is threaded through the lower part of the folding backpack, and this has an unusual sprung hip support, rather like a very posh Swiss rucksack.
The rucksack analogy continues, because the lower parts of the harness straps join the backpack at the rear to get positioned well back out of the way. They provide an effect originally introduced on Berghaus rucksacks, as well as an uncluttered chest area. In this way, most of the weight is carried on the wearer’s hips.
The idea behind this product is that the user packs only the wing and harness, with its folding backpack, when travelling, to get the advantage of a lower checked-in weight.

The Vest
The vest section carries the integrated-weight system. This includes the Mares Release System (MRS) for the main weight-pockets, each of which will hold up to 6kg, and two trim-weight pockets at the rear for up to 3kg each, held shut with pinch-clips. The main weight-pouches are nicely curved to fit comfortably around the body of the wearer.
The body of the vest is held in place by means of four red tabs threaded through slots in the backpack and retained by over-sized pins.
The cummerbund of the harness is threaded through large slotted loops attached to the vest.
The vest has a further five D-rings along its lower edge, including one at the back for use with a crotch-strap should you improvise one, or for dangling a rolled-up DSMB. There are also more D-rings, bringing the total to 10.
Two zipped pockets below the MRS weight installation are not overly capacious but big enough to carry a DSMB in each. One has a concealed drop-down section that will hold something larger.
It didn’t take me long to strip the vest from the wing , though I must say I hope Mares carries plenty of stock of the pins, which become loose when you do this.
People are bound to lose them and need replacements.

Travel
The whole concept of stripping down the Hybrid Protec for travel is flawed in my view. I find I need the comfort of integrated weights and the facility to carry things in pockets almost anywhere I dive.
I need a good surface marker when out in the middle of the Pacific just as much as I would need it in the English Channel.
At the same time, going back to weights on a belt, no matter how few I use I find them to be an imposition after getting used to a BC with integrated weights.
With weights on a separate belt, their downward force is countered by the air in the wing, with my body connecting the two and taking that strain. With integrated weights, the two forces, both upwards and downwards, are connected by the BC, not by me.
I can imagine divers who buy the Hybrid Protec stripping it down to the basic wing only as a last resort, when they find their bags are overweight while travelling with a mean-minded airline.
After all, how much weight does it save The whole thing weighs 4.7kg in size XL, and the removable vest with a few D-rings can’t weigh much more than a kilo.

Under Water
I used the Hybrid Protec in its full configuration first. It had all the features I wanted, but I admit to forgetting that it was a wing during the first fast head-down descents, and was left searching in the wrong place for the lower back dump-valve. It was on the wing wrapped around the tank at the time, rather than on the jacket where I was fumbling for it.
The pockets, on the other hand, were a dream to use, and the zips were always where I expected them to be.
At the surface, the enormous amount of buoyancy supplied, far more than would ever be needed with a single tank, unsurprisingly tended to tip me forward when the wing was fully inflated.
The integrated-weight pouches seemed very secure, but pulled away in a satisfying manner when I needed to hand them up to the driver of the pick-up inflatable.
Once I’d stripped out the jacket that included all the useful features, I was reduced to putting all my weights on a weightbelt. It’s only once you’re used to integrated weights that you appreciate how uncomfortable a weightbelt is.
I was then reduced to dangling my SMB and reel from a D-ring and stuffing the neoprene lens cap from my camera housing up inside my hood. If I owned a Hybrid Protec, I’d have no good reason to leave out the vest. To my mind the ability to remove it simply makes the set-up more complicated than it needs to be.

Comparable wing-style BCs to consider:
Hollis HD100, £454
Buddy Tekwing Light, £329
Cressi Air Travel, £288

SPECS
PRICE £449
MAXIMUM BUOYANCY 25kg
DRY WEIGHT 4.4kg (M-L)
INTEGRATED WEIGHTS Yes, with trim weights
POCKETS Zipped
SIZES XS-S, M-L, XL
CONTACT www.mares.com
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