WEIGHT IS AN EMOTIVE SUBJECT. As most of us need to strap on some lead weights to achieve neutral buoyancy, especially in the sea, there is normally little point in using lightweight equipment, because we will only have to make up the difference on the weightbelt.
But when it comes to packing a bag for a flight, everything changes. Once the puny free checked-baggage allowances and the punitive excess-baggage charges are taken into consideration, the weight of kit becomes of prime importance.
You probably won't need to carry weights and tanks, so what are the heaviest bits of your kit?
Regulators made of chromed brass can be weighty, but you can always get a lightweight unit made from modern materials such as techno-polymers and titanium.
Lamps are getting much smaller and lighter, thanks to modern lithium battery technology.
Knives are often frowned on at tropical diving destinations, and if you're still using heavy-duty rubber fins, perhaps it's time to get some lighter ones – there are plenty from whichto choose.
Your suit may be heavy, but that must depend on your body size and the amount of insulation you need.
The item that not only takes up the most space but, too often, the most weight is the BC, typically checking in at 4-5kg.
Manufacturers are gradually cottoning on that, while the stainless-steel backplate and wing might be popular among diving Internet forum posters, the great majority of divers use single tanks, and rarely dive beyond 30m.
Some makers have addressed the problem of BC weight by offering a lightweight product for travelling divers.
Cressi was first, with its very light Flex. Even AP?Valves, the British manufacturer known for the robust nature of its Buddy products, has decided that weight might be an

WHETHER YOU'VE PAID excess-baggage charges to get your BC to its destination or not, you still want it to work as efficiently and safely as any other. So we looked at a dozen lightweight offerings, and judged their efficiency just as we would a standard, heavier version.
You're most likely to be using a BC with an aluminium tank in faraway destinations, especially in the tropics. It is only the weight of the gas inside that makes it negatively buoyant, so at the end of the dive it can impart an uncomfortable floaty feeling.
To compensate, some makers supply trim-weight pockets.
With a few kilos of lead at the back, the tank rides comfortably at all times. Lightweight BCs such as these dispense with a hard backpack, so stability of the tank on your back is very important.

WAITING AT THE SURFACE, you'll want to be supported clear of the waves. Tropical seas are rarely swimming-pool smooth.
We measured the height of our test diver's mouth above the surface, though our figures should be used only for comparison between the different BCs we tested. They are described here as the "ride height".
We also checked the maximum buoyancy available. As a rule of thumb, you should not need more lift than there is weight on your belt.
We checked how easy it was to evacuate the air during an ascent, using the dump-valves provided.
Finally, we judged how each BC felt. Nigel Wade, a regular member of the DIVER test team, ably assisted in this project.
Of the BCs that we were able to try side-by-side (11 of the 12), all proved exceptionally comfortable while under water, with the buoyancy in just the right place for a perfect horizontal / slightly head-up attitude.
All of them offered more than one way to dump air on ascent, not including the oral inflation valve of the corrugated hose.
None of them gave us any problem with air getting trapped and not releasing cleanly.
The dry weight was measured independently by us. The BCs are set out on the following pages by dry weight, in descending order.


MARES ICON £400 3.5kg

Maximum Lift: 15kg
Comparative Ride Height: 13cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: One plus stabilising strap
Sizes: XS - XL
The Icon is a wing-style back-flotation BC that we considered exceedingly comfortable to use, especially in a skimpy wetsuit.
The heaviest of the BCs reviewed here, its extra weight is reflected in the superb build quality of the product. We thought on balance it was probably worth paying a little extra in excess-baggage charges for the beautiful attention to detail in its manufacture.
The tank is held firmly by a combination of camband and stabilising strap, so that the BC really does become part of you once you've adjusted the straps to fit.
The buoyancy cell is constrained by elastic straps when not inflated fully, and at the surface we achieved a sensible amount of ride-height, although there was a slight sensation of being pushed forward. This is something commonly encountered with most wings.
The Icon comes with a single drop-down pocket, should you need to carry something extra, though this rather spoils the simple uncluttered line of the BC.


BEUCHAT MASTERLIFT X AIR LIGHT 2 £196 3.3kg

Maximum Lift: 20kg
Comparative Ride Height: 14cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: Two
Sizes: XS - XL
This conventional-looking, feature-packed, jacket-style BC could be improved with some wider padding between the tank and the wearer's back. In fact it uses a back-flotation buoyancy cell.
Two cambands render the tank very secure, and they have a novel hook mechanism to enable the BC to be removed from a tank easily while still in the rack.
The right-hand shoulder dump was dramatic in the way it released air so quickly, and we liked the way this feature assisted in a quick descent after resting at the surface before a dive.
The integrated-weight system is aided by trim-weight pockets to counter the buoyancy of an aluminium tank.
Sensible weight planning gave us a very upright stance at the surface, although we thought that the trim-weight pockets were a little weird in the way they were attached, which was to the buoyancy cell rather than to the tank camband.


OCEANIC ISLANDER £379 3kg

Maximum Lift: 11kg
Comparative Ride Height: 13cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: One
Sizes: SM, MD, LG, XL, XXL
A little back-flotation, wing-style BC, the Oceanic Islander is substantially made, and this is reflected in its all-up weight, although the buoyancy-cell is quite small, with a limited amount of maximum lift.
We thought the Islander was good looking all round, but we encountered a problem fitting the tank camband tightly until the ultra-stiff webbing had been well soaked in water.
The trim-weight pockets are separate from the BC, and are attached to this camband.
The main integrated weights are released by undoing pinch-clips positioned well to the back. Their position doesn't stop the diver tending to be pitched forward once the BC isfully inflated at the surface, though it does reduce the effect.
Despite the modest maximum lift figure, we found that the ride height was adequate.
A nice touch were the two locking karabiner-clips supplied with the BC. The zipped pockets are a little on the small side, but are useful nevertheless.


CRESSI LIGHT JAC £291 2.85kg

Maximum Lift: 20kg
Comparative Ride Height: 14cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: Two
Sizes: XS – XL
Still lightweight compared to some BCs, this comfortable back-flotation, wing-style BC offers massive amounts of maximum buoyancy, although a lot of the buoyancy cell is out of the water when it's fully inflated at the surface. We still achieved a marvellous amount of ride height.
Integrated weights put all the ballast to the front, and this could cause you to pitch forward more than you'd like. Without trim-weight pockets, the only option is to thread a block of lead or two onto the camband at the back to counter this, especially with a long aluminium cylinder.
We're not sure how this would compromise the security of the tank. For this reason, the Light Jac may not suit those with shorter legs.
Under water, we discovered that this BC was perfect in every way for single-cylinder diving, and it looks to be very strongly made.
A single drop-down pocket is provided for whenever you might need it.


BUDDY ESCAPE SUB THREE ZERO circa £300 2.8kg

Maximum Lift: 22kg
Comparative Ride Height: 13cm
Integrated Weights: No
Trim Weights: No
Cambands: One
Sizes: XS – XL
What a privilege it was to be supplied with a pre-production prototype BC from Buddy! It is so new that it was still in development even as we were using it.
For example, the new lightweight direct-feed control arrived between the time we made the studio product shot and when we got to get it in the water. With no model name confirmed, the badges had yet to be designed.
It's interesting that AP Valves has finally realised that bullet-proof BCs are less relevant to travelling divers than the weight that results from the traditional double-bag construction.
This welded single-bag design is a new departure. As you'd expect, it has massive zipped pockets – four of them – and it can be used with optional twinning bands, too.
There is a pull-dump at the top of the corrugated hose, to add to the other two provided.
It's all very straightforward. Nigel suggested that it was like revisiting his old granny!
After swimming around with the prototype, he surfaced and announced: "It's a Buddy!"


TUSA PASSAGE £298 2.8kg

Maximum Lift: 13kg
Comparative Ride Height: 10cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: No
Cambands: One plus stabilising strap below
Sizes: XS, S, M, L-XL
This is a conventional-looking BC without trim-weight pockets, but with an extremely effective integrated-weight release system that proved very secure. It has two huge zipped pockets, too.
The tank is attached by a camband located high up, and the stabilising strap, which is so important when there is no hard backpack, is positioned well below it.
It gave a good position while under water, with a comfortable horizontal attitude, slightly head-up.
However, at the surface we encountered quite noticeable torso squeeze when the Passage was fully inflated, yet at the same time there was only 13kg of maximum lift available.
We found the ride-height a little low, leaving our heads unacceptably close to the surface.
We usually accuse the Japanese of always getting it right, but with the squeeze and lack of lift and ride height we were a little disappointed in the case of this BC.


CRESSI TRAVEL LIGHT £333 2.5kg

Maximum Lift: 12.5kg
Comparative Ride Height: 11cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: One plus stabilising strap
Sizes: XS – XL
My own personal favourite for a long-haul trip, this conventional jacket-style BC may not offer a huge amount of maximum buoyancy, and only a limited ride-height when fully inflated at the surface, but enough is enough.
For the diver waiting to be picked up at the surface the Travel Light provides armchair-like support, and the combination of integrated weights and trim weights makes this BC easy to rig so that your attitude while under water is perfect.
The Travel Light uses a single camband combined with a stabilising strap for the tank, so the whole thing really becomes part of you when you're diving.
This is one of those BCs that you can climb into and think no more about, because it's all so unobtrusive in its function.
It has two useful zipped pockets with a capacity that varies according to how much weight is installed in the adjoining weight-pockets.


SEAC-SUB AIR ONE £285 2.25kg

Maximum Lift: 15kg
Comparative Ride Height: n/a
Integrated Weights: No 8
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: 2
Pockets: 2
Sizes: XS – XL
Alas, this product did not arrive in time for this comparison test but we are familiar with it from using it extensively in a DIVER Test last year.
The tank is secured by two cambands, but our biggest gripe then was that it didn't feel as if it was part of the diver when under water.
This was because, without the benefit of a hard backpack, the tank tended to move about on the back. It is probably the result of the two cambands being too close together.
The Air One is very lightweight as a result of the materials used, but this also imparts the feeling that it might not fare well in the rough and tumble of daily dive-boat use.
There is no integrated-weight system, although trim-weight pockets are provided. These are not designed to take much more than a kilo of lead each. There are two large zipped pockets.
Our conclusion at the time was that, although Seac-sub had some fabulous BCs in its range, this was not one of them.


MARES F-LIGHT £290 2.2kg

Maximum Lift: 21kg
Comparative Ride Height: 17cm
Integrated Weights: No
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: One plus stabilising strap
Sizes: XS – XL
This is Mares' latest attempt to get into the extra-lightweight travel BC market, and it gets very close to the 2kg threshold with it.
The F-light is a conventional-style BC, with those all-important trim-weight pockets for use with an aluminium tank, but there are no integrated weights as such, so you'll need a weightbelt too.
The trim-weight pockets are attached to an additional stabilising band that sits high up around the tank.
A huge amount of maximum lift was reflected in a massive amount of ride-height when the BC was fully inflated at the surface. There are two very useful, large zipped pockets.
Overall, the F-light demonstrated that, for single-tank diving, the conventional wisdom of the jacket-style BC is not wrong.


AQUA-LUNG ZUMA £272 2kg

Maximum Lift: 16kg
Comparative Ride Height: 15cm
Integrated Weights: Yes
Trim Weights: No
Cambands: One
Sizes: XXS – XXL
This is a new and particularly minimalistic design. It's a back-flotation BC, specifically designed for use with the long aluminium cylinders typically encountered diving abroad.
To this end, the camband is positioned near the bottom of the cylinder to counter that floaty tail-end effect common when an aluminium cylinder is getting empty.
There is a very important strap that goes around the tank neck to maintain stability. This is a different take on how to attach the tank, but although it proved difficult to use with our shorter 10-litre steel cylinder, it worked.
The 2.5cm webbing straps looked at little flimsy, but wide, comfortable padded areas around the shoulders and neck augment these.
Our initial suspicion of this avant garde design turned to love the moment we got under water. There is only one very small pocket, and trim-weight pockets are an optional extra.
The adjustable nature of the harness means that all diver sizes are accommodated in only four models.


SCUBAPRO GEO £299 2kg

Maximum Lift: 14.5kg
Comparative Ride Height: 14cm
Integrated Weights: No
Trim Weights: No
Cambands: One plus stabilising strap
Sizes: XS – XL
Another travel-weight BC new to the market this year, the Geo is an otherwise conventional design using lightweight materials, and Scubapro gets the weight down to the magic 2kg level.
There are no integrated-weight facilities of any kind, so the diver is limited to the use of a separate weightbelt or weight-harness.
However, the assumption is that in warmer waters only a thin suit may be necessary, so not too much weight should need to be imposed on you.
Ride-height when fully inflated at the surface was more than that of many of the Geo's competitors.
It has two big zipped pockets.
There isn't much to say about this jacket, other than that it offers the minimum necessary for a usable lightweight BC.


CRESSI FLEX £289 1.8kg

Maximum Lift: 12.5kg
Comparative Ride Height: 14cm
Integrated Weights: No
Trim Weights: Yes
Cambands: One plus stabilising band
Sizes: XS – XL
This Italian company was probably the first to realise that, while BCs were being given more features, they were also getting heavier and heavier. So it came up with this exceedingly lightweight conventional-style BC.
The Flex is the "airmail envelope" of BCs. It may have only limited maximum buoyancy, but all of this is positioned in such a way that it provides a very adequate ride-height and a perfectly upright stance when fully inflated at the surface.
It has some trim-weight pockets, but we decided these were too flimsy to survive more than a kilo in each on a repeated-use basis.
Look after this BC and it will repay its price in saved excess-baggage charges – after a couple of long, costly journeys to the Far East, for example. You'll need to carry a separate weightbelt.
The Flex has two large zipped pockets with internal divisions.