When purchasing a BCD, one of the main decisions is whether to buy a back inflation or jacket BCD.
So what is a jacket style BCD? Jacket-style BCDs are the more traditional of the two styles. The bladder (or the part of the BCD that inflates) wraps from the diver’s back around his sides and chest like the Scubapro T-One.
A back inflation BCD features a bladder that inflates only along the back of the BCD. Usually, this bladder hangs behind the diver in the form of “wings.” An example of a back inflation BCD is the Scubapro Knighthawk.
There are many advantages to a back inflation BCD. The first advantage is mainly comfort, As the bladder inflates behind you, you do not feel the “squeeze” as you would with the jacket BCD. In fact you would not even feel it inflate at all.
Since the air bladder is wrapped around you, you enjoy a more comfortable fit. It gives you more freedom in movement as your sides are not restricted. Added that with a back inflation you would be using a harness that is custom adjusted to your fit, this fit is not affected when inflating or deflating the BCD.
Most back inflation BCD’s also offer more lift than their jacket counterparts. Since the bladder does not wrap around you, this allows the choice to increase the size of the bladders to provide more lift This is why back inflation BCD’s are so popular in the Tech Diving community. Tech divers, many times, need a BCD with increased lift to compensate for multiple tank configurations like the Dive Rite Transpac .
Many argue that with back inflation BCDs you are ‘thrown onto your face’ at the surface. While it is true that back inflation does tip you forward but this is not necessarily the case as if you are properly weighted and trimmed you would have no problem on the surface. Anyway let’s be honest when diving you do want to be facing down and the back inflation aids you in doing this, creating better trim for you in the water.
Back inflation BCDs also give you the option of adding trim pockets. Trim pockets are simply a non-drop weight pocket that is located towards the back, upper back or shoulders of the BCD. Some back inflation BCDs come with it like the hybrid BCD Zeagle Scout,
Other BCDs have the option of adding it. These pockets allows you to add weight where it is needed to counteract the air to further improve your trim as some people are not bestowed the natural ability to be horizontal in the water.
As numerous as the advantages of the back inflation are, the jacket BCDs have their pros as well.
As opposed to the back inflation, jacket BCDs hold a diver in a vertical position when inflated on the surface, keeping his head well above the water. This is a good advantage for beginners as they may not be comfortable in the water yet and any equipment which can minimize the learning curve for new divers is highly welcomed.
Another advantage the jacket BCD holds is the ease of deflating, Jacket BCDs are sometimes easier to deflate than back inflation models. The bladder in jacket BCDs is held tightly against the diver by the BCD’s shoulder, chest, and waist straps. These straps squeeze against the bladder allowing and helping to force air out when deflating.
Back inflation models may not deflate so easily. The bladder, or wing, hangs freely behind the diver, and no straps squeeze the wing to force air out when deflating. This means that air may take a longer time to exit a back inflation BCD, and increases the likelihood that air may become trapped in crevices or folds in the wings. Some models of back inflation BCDs have bungees or elastic bands wrapped around the bladder to counteract this problem.
Price and affordability may also be considered when purchasing a BCD. Generally jacket style BCDs are cheaper compared to back inflation BCDs. As back inflation provides the ability to customize your BCD to suit your needs like interchangeable wings, harnesses, addition of D-rings, tank-bands, back-plates, trim pockets and so on so forth, it can come up to a hefty price. A jacket on the other hand comes with limited customization options and usually has everything needed come in stock it is usually cheaper.
The argument of jacket vs back inflation can go back and forth but you owe it to yourself to try out both and find a proper suit for yourself. Finding a BCD which provides you with all that you need in a dive as well as comfort is what you should be aiming for.