Traveling divers know that small and light is good when it comes to packing the gear. Nowhere does this come to light faster than when flying internationally on airlines that may impose unrealistic baggage allowances.
In many cases, BCDs are the heavyweight space hogs of the gear bag. The obvious solution is to choose something lighter and leaner in a BCD. But at the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice durability or function.
As an avid underwater photographer accustom to doing a lot of diving both at home and abroad, I have some specific preferences in a travel BCD. I prefer a soft backplate design combined with a low-profile wing, as this combination is both light weight and can be fitted or crammed into a gear bag in a number of ways to accommodate everything else that I need to carry. And because I dive often and year-round, the BCD needs to endure season after season of vigorous use.
These were the criteria I had in mind when I had the recent opportunity to evaluate Dive Rite’s Hydro Lite BCD. The company describes this product as a “tech inspired, light weight BCD for discerning single tank divers.” Out of the box, the size large Hydro Lite Dive Rite was kind enough to loan me came complete with an integrated wing providing 30 lbs. of lift and weight pockets. It tipped the scales at 5 pounds, 14 ounces dry. Playing around with how I could pack it into a gear bag, I found it worked best in one of two ways: lay it flat or fold it over to create a mass just under 17 x 10 x 7-inch in size. Cool, this one will be easy to pack for a trip somewhere.
I give the Hydro Lite equally high marks for construction. Like its predecessor, Dive Rite’s former TravelPac BCD and current big brother, the Dive Rite TransPac XT harness, the Hydro Lite features a load-bearing mountaineering backpack style harness utilizing 2-inch webbing backed with 2-3/4-inch-wide padding for the over the shoulder segments, coupled to an integrated chest strap. It is available in five harness sizes from S to XXL, with quick adjustability for in-between sizes. The shoulder pieces are designed to be both user-replaceable and adjustable for fine tuning the fit and has the capability for adding extra D-rings for customizing the BCD. The weight pockets that came standard with Hydro Lite are user-removable and can be replaced by larger pockets that can hold 10 pounds or more each.
Below the shoulder segments, the harness transitions to a low-profile quick release using 1-1/2-inch wide webbing with anchor points on the soft backplate located near the kidneys to better help transfer the load to the hips. For added stability the harness features a 1.5” crotch strap. Four 2” D-rings are located on the chest and waist belt. An integrated lumbar pad, hip pads, and shoulder pads are included for additional comfort.
HYDRO LITE TECH SPECIFICATIONS:
- Harness: 2-inch (5 cm) webbing construction with shoulder pads
- Aircell Outerbag: 600 denier polyester
- Aircell Inner Bladder: 210 denier laminated nylon
- Integrated Weight System: 12 lbs. (5.4 kg) total capacity with quick-release buckles
- 1 x 2-inch (5 cm) roller buckle cam strap
- 1 x 2-inch (5 cm) Hook-and-loop retainer strap
- Tank height adjustment strap
- 4 x 2-inch (5 cm) D-rings
- 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) quick-release crotch strap
- Weight: 6.2 lbs. (2.8 kg)
- Available in 5 sizes: S-XXL
- Made in the USA
Where Hydro Lite differs from the TransPac XP is that it is not at all suited for use with back mounted doubles or having the tanks slung off the sides as a side mount rig. If that is what you intend to do, better go with the TransPac, otherwise keep reading.
No gear review is complete without getting to the part where the rubber meets the road, or in this case the BCD meets the water. Taking the Hydro Lite for a couple of spins at my favorite shore diving site, the Blue Heron Bridge, allowed me to really get a feel for what it offered.
I suited up at the car with a high-pressure steel 100 and 6 pounds of lead in each weight pocket —which is the max for the standard pockets. Walking some 120 feet across the parking area and beach to get to the water, I found the harness did a good job of distributing the load to my shoulders rather than my lower back.
Underwater, my most important criteria for a BCD is that it should not be constantly reminding you that it’s there by shifting or riding up your back when the tank is low or when the aircell is partially inflated.
As mentioned earlier, the Hydro Lite features an integrated aircell providing 30 pounds of in-water lift, which is more than sufficient for single tank. The wing’s aircell is constructed with a 600-denier polyester material outer bag with a 210-denier nylon laminated inner bladder. The cell follows a continuous 360-degree oval configuration to prevent the aircell from wrapping around the tank like a taco or trapping air to one side. That last part can be annoying when there is the negative weight of a high-pressure steel tank on your back trying to roll you onto your side.
The Hydro Lite scored high marks in both areas working fully with me instead of against me. I didn’t even think about it as I went about my hunt for subjects to photograph.
To sum it up: The Hydro Lite is light weight and relatively compact for travel; constructed with durable materials that should provide many years of use; very comfortable in water without any apparent annoying traits in regard to fit and trim. Overall, it delivers the convenience of an all-in-one streamlined system that is ideal for warm water diving and travel, all without sacrificing the features that advanced divers would demand most in a BCD.