November 27, 2021

DIVER TEST: Scubapro Hydros Pro

By Divernet

BC

Scubapro Hydros Pro

Appeared in DIVER May 2020

Way back in 1977 Mike Todd, DIVER’s then technical editor, conducted a consumer test of nine state-of-the-art BCs. One was more state-of-the-art than the others, a back-inflation unit, or wing, with integrated weights, called the BCP.

All the others were horse-collar BCs, modelled on inflatable emergency life-jackets used for sea survival. The principles had been modified for diving with the addition of large oral inflation hoses and either one-shot carbon dioxide cartridges or, standard in the UK, mini air-cylinders you filled from your main tank for back-up inflation, and dump-valves to let the air out.

You wore a separate weight-belt and cylinder harness. As you added air to neutralise your buoyancy, it collected behind your neck, pitching your head up and feet down. Your dead weight was taken on a jock-strap. I had my first horse-collar BC when I was 15. For a teenage boy, that jock-strap proved a huge incentive to use the minimum weight possible.

At that time, leisure divers didn’t use back-inflation BCs much, especially in the ultra-conservative UK. The horse-collar BC, considered to be a life-jacket, was presumed rather optimistically to be able to float you face-up if you had the presence of mind to inflate it before passing out.

The mini-cylinder also provided an independent supply of air that could be breathed through the bag in an emergency.

It even doubled up as a linebacker when riding to and from the dive-site in small boats.

Divers simply ignored the sloppy buoyancy characteristics of horse-collar BCs when submerged.

Of the BCP, Mike noted presciently: “It was found to be the most comfortable system for adjusting buoyancy while diving.” Wings would remain largely the preserve of cave-divers until the 1990s saw the emergence of technical diving, and the wing slowly migrated from cave to tech and on to recreational users.

It’s easy to associate early back-inflation BCs with small specialist cave- and technical-diving brands and think the big scuba manufacturers climbed aboard the bandwagon only recently, but that’s not the reality.

Because in 1977 the BCP wing, with its built-in weights and so far ahead of its time, was made by one of sport diving’s best-known companies, Scubapro.

Some 40 years down the line, what does Scubapro’s Hydros Pro back-inflation BC offer to tempt recreational divers?

The Design

The Hydros Pro is a high-end BC designed for single-cylinder diving. It uses a single-bladder air-cell made from 420-denier nylon-coated PU, providing 16-18kg lift depending on size.

The air-cell is the doughnut type rather than a horseshoe, so air can circulate around it regardless of your position in the water.

If you’re head-down, the air will collect where it is easily vented through a single bum-dump.

Hydros Pro weight release.

Hydros Pro weight release.

Horseshoe air-cells don’t connect at the base, where technical divers often want to use the saved space to carry light canisters, for instance, so they might have two bum-dumps to allow either side of the wing to be vented when you’re head-down.

Both doughnut and horseshoe cells have their advocates, so it’s probably reasonable to assume that neither is significantly superior to the other for most sports divers.

To help keep the wing streamlined when only partially inflated, three sets of bungees collapse the bladder. These are mounted internally, rather than wrapping around the outer air-cell, where they could create a snag hazard.

Along with Scubapro’s time-proven balanced power inflator, with its oral-inflation/dump, there is a rapid exhaust-dump activated by pulling down on the oral-inflation hose, shoulder-dump and bum-dump.

Two quick-release side-pouches take your main weights of up to 4kg each. Trim-weight pockets holding up to 2kg each are mounted at the rear. Scubapro uses its regular stainless-steel buckle for the tank camband and provides a loop for setting the height at which you want your cylinder to sit. There are no accessory pockets, but two small and four large stainless-steel D-rings are provided.

Instead, the Hydros Pro is factory-prepared to accept a choice of accessory mounts that attach through holes above and below the weight-pouches. Scubapro uses these not just for bolting on a knife but also to fit additional screw-on D-rings and bungee loops.

The designers of the Hydros Pro aren’t wild about BC pockets (some are made for the Hydros, though I suspect somewhat under protest). The feeling is that they can be difficult to use when movement is restricted by a dive-suit, and sit over loaded weight-pouches.

Instead, tech-style, they prefer an external place for everything, and everything in its place and in easy reach.

These Hydros Pro system accessories were not supplied for test but they look efficient.

The harness shoulder-buckles have a swivel action to encourage them to assume the most comfortable position as you move around, and have pinch-clip releases. They attach to the backpack with hinges that allow you to fold the shoulder-straps flat for packing.

Hydros Pro rapid exhaust and shoulder-dump.

Hydros Pro rapid exhaust and shoulder-dump.

When the BC is deflated, they also help to hold the straps open for you to make it easier to don. A sternum-strap, again closed with a pinch-clip, can be adjusted for height to accommodate different torso lengths, prevent interference with a drysuit direct-feed or for comfort for women (Scubapro has produced a version tailored for the female form). There is no cummerbund, only a waist-strap with another pinch-clip buckle. A jock-strap can be added.

If you don’t want to use the weight-integration pouches, you can quickly replace them with a simple belt, also equipped with a pinch-clip release and stainless D-rings. It’s included, and you can switch back and forth in seconds by removing a clip – no tools required.

Small weight-pouches are available as an extra. The idea is that when using a lot of lead to offset a coldwater suit’s buoyancy, the bulkier weight-pouches are really your best choice, but when visiting the tropics, where a couple

of kilos might suffice, you can dispense with these in favour of the more compact waist-strap and smaller and lighter weight-pouches. This seems a good concept.

Material Differences

So far these are all good features, but many are found on other premium BCs. The difference lies in Scubapro’s choice of materials and it lays strong claims for their advantages.

One of the main ones is the generous use of a compound called Monprene for the backpack. The main pack is plastic, providing rigidity to stabilise your tank, but it’s combined with Monprene. While fairly rigid over most of your back, the pack becomes progressively more supple at hips and shoulders, allowing it to mould to your build.

This close fit should, according to Scubapro, improve comfort out of the water by ensuring that the weight of your cylinder and weights is optimally distributed. Monprene also lines the harness. Under water, Monprene’s ‘stickiness’ is said to keep the Hydros Pro body-hugging and help to prevent the BC shifting and destabilising the diver – a pain for underwater photographers lining up a shot, for example.

Scubapro also claims that the air-cell is not only rugged enough to stand up to hard use for years but, like the harness, rapid-drying. This is a nod towards the needs of travelling divers who don’t want to deal with the increased weight and hassle factor of transporting wet kit.

The Hydros Pro is also designed to fold in on itself to minimise its footprint for packing.

Hydros Pro in its rucksack.

Hydros Pro in its rucksack.

In fact, Scubapro includes a BC rucksack that’s supposed to be small enough to travel as carry-on and can also take your reg, mask, wetsuit and, hung on the outside, your fins.

The Hydros Pro is built in South Africa. It seems to share some of the “make do and mend” philosophy I’ve come to associate with friends from there, who abhor waste.

Touting the tagline BC 4 Life, almost every part of the Hydros Pro is designed to be field-replaceable by the owner. For example, webbing ends are not stitched around their mooring points, so break a buckle and you can easily change it over with no need to reach for a sewing-machine.

First Impressions

When you pick up the Hydros Pro, the first thing you notice is the Monprene. It feels very different from the usual nylon materials found in BCs. It’s also a midweight BC. Scubapro rightly describes it as “travel-friendly”, maintaining that making it any lighter would significantly compromise its durability and working life.

The single tank-band is adjusted by changing the length of a Velcro-lined strap that passes through a D-ring. The stainless-steel over-centre buckle closes through this and is very secure. Scubapro has used variations on this fastener for decades. It’s not quite as convenient to alter if changing tank diameters as a standard buckle, but once set it works very well.

The integrated weights are jettisoned by releasing squeeze-buckles. Most BCs employ either a variation on squeeze-buckles or have pull handles, and each has its fans. The part of the pinch-buckle you need to squeeze is identified with a hi-vis colour. Squeeze the release and spring-loading takes over and opens the buckle. It’s easy to use with thick gloves.

There are D-rings to help you pull out a recalcitrant weight, but in my tests the block weights I had loaded slid out as soon as the release was popped. The D-rings also make it easy to hand up the weights to boat-cover.

I found it easy to load weights into the Hydros Pro after I’d kitted up, for those who prefer not to don a fully loaded scuba-set.

The two D-rings on the shoulder-straps are quickly adjusted, but I didn’t bother. I clipped off my pressure-gauge to one and found it sitting where I could see it perfectly just by glancing down. The webbing edges aren’t stitched, so you can easily add more D-rings if you wish to.

With a 15-litre steel cylinder fitted and equipped with 6kg of main weights and a pair of 1kg trim-weights, I was packing around 35kg on the half-kilometre walk to the dive-site.

I was wearing a 7mm wetsuit and can confirm that the Hydros Pro was very comfortable.

In the water, I measured how high the wing would float me by checking the distance from the waterline to my mouth. I was properly weighted, so I was loaded down by about 4kg of air I would not have at the end of the dive.

The Hydros Pro raised me a very creditable 18cm out of the water, and surface-stability was excellent, with no tendency to tip me forwards or backwards.

This is the ideal floating position while waiting for other divers to join you in the water, take a compass-bearing or await a boat pick-up.

Under Water

Under water, the Hydros Pro put me into a prone position and supported me horizontally, so I was streamlined without any head-up and fins-down incline. This is great for photographers needing to work low to the seabed without contacting it.

I had my harness-straps cinched down, but the snug fit also seems to owe much to the Monprene, which does seem to grip you.

I felt that this contributed to preventing any sideways roll from the 15-litre tank. I’ve never got on with them, finding that with my build they tend to roll me, creating irritating instability. There was none of that nonsense wearing the Hydros Pro.

Control

The Scubapro Balanced Power Inflator (right) has been around for a long time, with minor mods made over the years. It’s progressive, so you control the speed of the flow-rate with lighter or harder presses, and very precise. It’s clearly differentiated from the dump-button by shape and colour. Oral inflation is via the usual pipette.

On full blast, on tests in 10m, the BPI filled the Hydros Pro in about 8sec. Because a high-flow direct-feed that sticks can quickly send a diver surfacewards, it’s important that you can bring an unintended ascent back under control quickly. Both the shoulder-dump and rapid exhaust, activated by pulling down on the BPI, will dump air faster than the BPI can deliver it.

I also tested stopping distance by fully inflating the Hydros Pro at 10m while hanging onto some wreckage, then letting go. I could dump all the air and stop the ascent within a metre using the shoulder-dump, or 1.2ms using the RE valve, so no worries about runaway ascents there.

The rapid exhaust valve has a small built-in switch that can be activated by the wearer reaching back, or by a rescuer making a controlled buoyant lift from the rear, as advocated by some training agencies. The pull-cords on the shoulder and bum-dump are easy to reach, and the tabs are hi-vis for easy identification by a rescuer.

Conclusion

Scubapro makes a lot of claims for the Hydros Pro and these are borne out by my experience of using it. Performance above and below the water can’t be faulted. The innovation is in the clever use of Monprene. The other features and benefits are mostly time-proven, but consummately combined in the Hydros Pro.

This is a very impressive BC and one I highly recommend. I think Mike Todd would have agreed.

Specs

TESTER> Steve Warren

PRICES> £570

SIZES> Male 4 (S-XXL), Female 3 (XS-L)

BUOYANCY> 18kg (M)

WEIGHT> 4kg (M)

DUMP VALVES> 3

COLOUR> Black with optional colour trim kits

CONTACT> scubapro.com

The post DIVER TEST: Scubapro Hydros Pro appeared first on Divernet.

For More go to: Divernet