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October 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 25, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Guaranteed to Travel Light

the Scubapro Litehawk vs. the Dive Rite TravelPac

from the October, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Scuba diving for Undercurrent readers is irrevocably linked with traveling abroad. Now that airlines are charging for every last bag, it can get expensive if you check in with a ton of baggage, which is why equipment manufacturers are fighting to come up with new lightweight gear. Aside from camera gear, the BC is the heaviest and most cumbersome piece youll carry. While many divers have decided to rent a BC at their destination, others note that it can make economic sense to buy a lightweight BC just for your trips abroad. It will save its cost in excess baggage charges in no time at all.

John Bantin, perhaps the most experienced equipment tester of all, has tried the two most recent lightweight BCs to come on the market; the Scubapro Litehawk - - which he calls a travel wing, though some manufacturers avoid that reference - - and the Dive Rite TravelPac, a substantially made wing-style BC with a slight diversion from Dive Rites well-established technical diving Transpac system. Here is his report:

The Harnesses

The top part of the Litehawk harness is part of the buoyancy cell, whereas the lower part is separate and threaded through the small, hard backpack. The two parts are joined by quick-release buckles at the shoulders. The rotating nature of these buckles allows for a comfortable arrangement that would suit curvaceous ladies as much as men who are all steel and whipcord.

Scubapro Litehawk

Scubapro Litehawk

The TravelPac harness is permanently fixed to the buoyancy cell, too. Theres a removable cushion. It has two large D-rings at the waist and two adjustable for height (with difficulty) on the shoulder straps. There are harness breaks with pinch clips to make climbing out of it easy. A crotch strap eliminates the risk of a loosely worn tank falling over your head during a duck dive.

Both BCs have a conventional sternum strap to prevent the shoulder straps from slipping off, but my lady friend discovered this was a little tight on the TravelPac. I had no such problem. Both BCs employ a five-centimeter webbing belt and buckle akin to a weight belt.

The Camband

The Litehawk employs the unique Scubapro stainless-steel cinch strap that makes for swift tank swapping. It allows you to pull the BC off a tank without pulling it over the top, so you dont have to remove the regulator first. Its easy to adjust the cinch strap for tanks of varying sizes, easier than using the conventional stainless steel camband buckle on the TravelPac.

Integrated Weights

The manufacturers specification does not include an integrated weights system. However, on each side of the Litehawks waist belt is a small pocket mounted and closed with a pinch-clip. Dare I suggest you could stow a couple of four-pound weights (or even more) in each? Of course, these could not be dropped easily in case of an emergency, but I found that in conjunction with the same amount of weight on a belt that could be dropped if needed, they made wearing a separate weight belt more agreeable. I wouldnt suggest this if the weight you stowed in the pockets was the only weight you needed. Dive Rite offers the option of QB weight pockets for use with the TravelPacs waist belt. These are at extra cost, have a quick-release feature and can hold nearly eight pounds each.

In the Water

Dive Rite Travel Pac

Dive Rite Travel Pac

Gently restrained by an elastic strap threaded through it, the Litehawks buoyancy cell is kept nice and tight when it is not needed, yet there doesnt seem to be a problem with air getting trapped in the wrong part, and it certainly doesnt flap. The TravelPacs donut-shaped buoyancy cell is small and neat and in no need of restraining, and air easily finds its way to either dump valve, whichever is the highest at any given moment. Air always migrates to the highest point, which is behind the shoulders for good diver attitude while finning.

Control of Ascent

With the usual three ways to dump air during an ascent (that is to say, by pulling on the corrugated hose, pulling on a cord and toggle at the right shoulder, or by pulling on a bottom dump), the control of ascent with the Litehawk proved easy. The TravelPac leaves you with the choice of pulling on the corrugated hose to activate the shoulder dump, or using the bottom dump, so you need to raise that side slightly to get rid of the last vestiges of air.

Its a shame that nearly all BC manufacturers opt to face the bottom dump, where fitted, downwards so that it is less effective when doing an ascent with the diver in a horizontal position, but that seems to be the way it is, and both these wing-style BCs are no exception. Its a system that certainly works well, and is quick to locate when dumping flotation air at the surface for a rapid, head-down descent.

Surface Support

The Litehawks buoyancy cell become enormous when inflated so that there is a massive amount of surface support available. The cell widens out sensibly towards the bottom to give lift where it is needed. If you use the aforementioned pockets for weights, you need to be sure that your other weights are well round to the back or youll be pushed forward onto your face by a fully inflated BC.

The buoyancy cell of the TravelPac is much smaller. Its likely to leave you a lot lower in the water at the surface, but enough is enough. Assuming youve traveled somewhere warm, youll probably be wearing a 5mm or 3mm suit and not a lot of weight. Without a trim-weights option on either, I used an additional short camband to lash a couple of four-pound block weights to the lower part of my aluminium tank for better weight distribution, and to rid myself of that floating tank feeling.

Which Is Better?

The TravelPac is robustly made, to say the least, but it doesnt offer the maximum lift of the Litehawk. The Litehawk isnt flimsy but its larger wing needs the elastic cord to stop it from becoming unwieldy when not fully inflated. The TravelPac offers simplicity and technical diving credibility at an inflated price, while the Litehawk offers a few extras for the single tank diver.

I think the traveling diver will be more content with the greater lift of the latter, especially if he finds himself surfacing in a rough sea, and the $20 price difference will go nicely towards the cost of checking another bag!

The Scubapro Litehawk retails for $358. It has a dry weight of six pounds and a lift of 56 pounds (www. scubapro.com). The Dive Rite TravelPac retails for $389. It has a dry weight of 5.7 pounds. and a lift of 27 pounds (www.diverite.com).

Other lightweight BCs to consider are Oceanic Islander ($500; www.oceanicworldwide.com) and the Aqua Lung Zuma ($395; www.aqualung.com)

John Bantin is the technical editor of DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom. For 20 years, he has used and received virtually every piece of equipment available in the U.K. and the U.S., and makes around 300 dives per year for that purpose. He is also a professional underwater photographer.

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