Sidemount Diving Equipment – Rigging
Our twinsets slowly but surely are getting dusty or are converted to single tanks with left and right valves. We just certified our 50th sidemount diver and decided to go and test what the manufacturers throw on the market these days.
We found 3 schools of sidemount rigging configuration; the technical harnesses, hybrids and the minimalist BCD’s
The technical harness, usually comes as a climbing harness style rig with array of D-rings and plates, held together by adjustable webbing. The harness is complimented with a stand-alone buoyancy device, which is independently strapped to the divers’ waist. Examples are ; Stealth 2.0, Helix, UTD Z mount and Razor.
The advantage is that you can travel with a lightweight package.
The Hybrid BCD is a solid harness combined with a butt plate and a single/double wing with ample volume to lift high volume steel tanks . Most harnesses can be separated from the wing. Grommets through the harness and wing allow the mounting of a twinset of a rebreather. Daisy chain webbing on the back even allows for single tank setup. The wing is bungeed with the aim to wrap it around the diver in case of sidemounting and thus creating a lower profile. This is your perfect BCD. Downside; bulky, heavy and pricey. Examples are the Nomad Series from Diverite, SMS100 by Hollis, Recon by Oxycheq, OMS Profile.
The minimalist BCD’s are sidemount rigging only. They incorporate a small wing, covering most of the divers back. The wing is kept in place by a basic harness.
Because of relatively low lift characteristics, these BCD’s are preferably used with drysuit or aluminium tanks.
The popularity of minimalist ‘sidemount rigging only’ bcd’s has increased tremendously in the last 2 years. The comfort and ease of travel combined with a relatively low price makes these harnesses the main choice of the ‘recreational sidemount diver’.
Examples are the Hollis sms50, Nomad LT and Armadillo.
This time around, we tested Hybrid and Minimalist BCD’s alone. Mainly because training agencies seem to endorse these more.
We decided to compare Hollis and Diverite and took minimalist and hybrid samples from both brands. We compared maximum in-water lift as a standalone and actual in-water lift when worn by a diver in 5mm wetsuit.
THE SIDEMOUNT RIGGING
The lightest in the testing series with 2.2KG. Diverite recently changed this minimalist sidemount rig over to its Superfabric ®, making it a durable yet lightweight travel companion. The LT features the typical Diverite ring bungees. Here, the upper clip from the stage tank is locked against the tank neck by means of ‘chokers’, this way the tank is pulled right up underneat the divers’ armpit. The chokers are a bit of a fiddle and require the diverite stage straps. Once mounted tough, the tanks are very easily clipped on and off. The steel ring guarantees a metal-to-metal connection instead of a bungee. This way, your stages don’t hang off your knees when walking to the water.
The LT trims out very nicely and is easy to adjust. There are a variety of inflator placement options (cave, bluewater versions) but finding the dumb valve just above your left butt cheek remained a challenge. There’s no provision for weights and the lateral D-rings can’t be moved forward (to trim stages when they become floaty). The LT has it’s own removable buttplate with small, but easy to reach rails.
Maximum in-water lift: 12kg
Actual in-water lift: 12kg
The smallest BCD tested in the minimalist regs we tested. This is one of the more popular BCD’s because of it’s size and looks. The SMS 50 is a BCD designed for the traveling recreational sidemount diver. With a wetsuit and two aluminium 11L tanks(S-80’s) this BCD gives ample lift. It is a 1-piece rig with excellent trim characteristics. Hollis provided 3 weight pouches; one on top for a conventional 0.8kg/2lbs piece and two on the sides for soft weights.
Downside; like with the LT, the lateral D-rings on the waistbelt can’t be moved forward to trim the tanks down. Although these can be easily added later. We did have a few problems reaching the dumpvalve though. The ocean version gives the option to place the dumpvalve on top of the BCD. The SMS 50 has the same bungees as the SMS 100 and we found them rather useless. Adjusting the crotch strap was a bit of a fiddle, but after we changed the bungees, this turned out to be a very comfortable BCD. It sits snug and the freedom of movement with a single tank comes closes to that of a freediver. Hollis introduced a nifty plastic buckle, which doubles up the chest strap as an inflator attachment point. The inflator hose is a little too short though to route the inflator hose in front of the divers chest. All in all a very nice BCD and we could see why this rig is so popular. It’s main downside is the lack of buoyancy in fresh water
Maximum in-water lift: 8kg
Actual in-water lift: 8kg
The Nomad XT is the product of over a decade of development by Diverite. The Nomad has now also been changed to the same Superfabric ® as the LT. The Nomad is your typical hybrid wing that easily allows you to change from sidemount to twinset to CCR or single tank. With ample of lift, this harness is suited for expedition style diving and can be equipped with a double bladder/inflator. This BCD comes also with the ringbungees and tank neck chokers. The rig can be taken completely apart into a standalone harness, Buttplate and Wing. Each item can be used independently with backplate, twinsets etc. The XT has it’s own removable buttplate with small, but easy to reach rails. One item we found particularly handy were the lower back mounted D-rings. Situated vertically, just above the buttplate. They allow stage tanks to be stowed away without hindrance. The inflator can be placed literally anywhere, so does the dumpvalve; up or down, left or right. The wing itself is a horseshoe shape, which is bungeed from the inside, so no bungees show on the outside. The harness is extremely comfortable and just fits its completely adjustable ,although the chest strap buckle could have been and little better quality.
The wing trims out well, but the sides are slightly floaty when the bcd is full. The grey, lizard like look feels very techie. Overal, an extremely versatile BCD for an attractive price.
Maximum in-water lift: 21kg
Actual in-water lift: 17kg
Also in the hybrid class is the Hollis SMS100. This is Hollis’ workshorse with ample of lift and he option to mount a twinset, rebreather and/or sidemount tanks on it. Very comfortable to wear, but a bit big and bulky for the taste of those who like more clean and minimal setup. Array of D-rings, different adjusting options and a large buttplate together make it a very unique piece of equipment that can be used for all types of equipment configurations. Our tests in the pool with five full S80 sidemounted tanks left still plenty of lift to pick up a 16 lbs/ 7kg weightbelt and hover comfortably. The inflator can be switched with the dumpvalve in an up or down position and double bladder versions are available.
Technical divers might appreciate the trim the wing offers. The strong PU inner bladder is packed in a 1000Denier Cordura® outer shell, in an attractive donut style wing , embroidered with red letters.
The SMS 100 comes with solid bungees that are removeable. It’s is also supplied with two stainless steel cambands, swiveleye clips, which makes for a solid stage tank setup. The only drawback we found were the bungees. They are too long and too stiff. Our stage tanks were hanging too low. We decided to replace the bungee with shorter, more elastic piece and it worked fine.
For it’s significant lift you pay a price: it is the heaviest and most expensive BCD we tested.
Maximum in-water lift: 22,5
Actual in-water lift: 20kg