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Is Backplate, Wing and Harness the best Scuba kit set up?


As divers we are fascinated (some may say obsessed) with equipment, and rightly so because to dive means to be trained in using the equipment we need to get underwater to go where we want to go safely. We also love shiny new things!

We are all trained to use the same basic kit. A buoyancy control device, a set of regulators, fins, masks and dive computer and usually a suit (either a wet suit or dry suit depending in the water temperature). But sometimes divers are given very little choice or explanation to the many variations of these essential pieces of equipment.

Most divers are taught using a traditional jacket style BCD (Buoyancy control device) and don’t come to use an alternative type until venturing into technical diving when use of a backplate, wing and harness style is the preferred method. However there are several benefits of using this type set up right from the beginning.

The backplate, wing, and harness (BP/W) configuration has become increasingly popular among scuba divers due to its numerous benefits compared to traditional Buoyancy Control Devices (BCDs). This setup offers several benefits -

•           enhanced stability

•           streamlined profile

•           greater freedom of movement

•           Consistency of kit set up among dive buddies (team members)

These benefits make it a preferred choice for many divers, especially those who are interested in Tech diving and adhere to the DIR (Doing It Right) philosophy and the Hogarthian approach to set up (more about that later).

One of the key advantages of the BP/W configuration is its simplicity in setup and use. Unlike traditional BCDs, which often come with integrated weight systems and multiple adjustment mechanisms and plastic clips the BP/W setup consists of three main components: a backplate, a wing, and a harness. This minimalist design makes assembly straightforward and allows divers to customize their gear according to their preferences and diving conditions.

The Backplate serves as the backbone of the system, providing rigidity and stability to the diver's equipment. Made from durable materials such as stainless steel or aluminum, the backplate distributes the weight of the diving gear evenly across the diver's body, reducing strain and fatigue during dives. Additionally, the backplate can be easily adjusted to achieve a comfortable and secure fit, ensuring optimal buoyancy control underwater. This system does need to be fitted specifically to the diver, but once fitted correctly there is no need for further adjustment.

The Wing is attached to the backplate and gives it the buoyancy, which replaces the traditional BCD bladder. The wing is typically made from high-quality nylon or cordura and features an inflatable air bladder that can be manually or orally inflated. By positioning the wing behind the diver's back, the BP/W configuration promotes a horizontal swimming position, reducing drag and allowing for more efficient movement through the water. The wing also offers superior buoyancy control, allowing divers to achieve precise trim and buoyancy adjustments with minimal effort.

The Harness Completes the BP/W setup, which secures the backplate and wing to the diver's body. The harness is usually constructed from a single piece of webbing or nylon straps and can be easily adjusted for a snug and comfortable fit. Unlike traditional BCDs with bulky shoulder straps, cummerbunds and clips, the harness of the BP/W configuration is minimalist and low-profile, reducing drag and improving hydrodynamics underwater.

The simplicity and versatility of the BP/W configuration make it an ideal choice for divers who embrace the DIR philosophy and the Hogarthian approach. DIR, founded by renowned cave divers George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski, emphasizes the importance of standardized equipment configuration, streamlined diving techniques, and also situational awareness and team diving (essential to cave diving). The BP/W setup aligns perfectly with these principles, allowing divers to focus on essential skills such as buoyancy control, trim, and propulsion techniques. Similarly, the Hogarthian approach, named after pioneer cave diver William Hogarth Main, advocates for minimalistic diving equipment and efficient diving practices, including the use of a long hose for donating in an out-of-air situation (2m in length). The BP/W configuration embodies the Hogarthian ethos by eliminating unnecessary clutter and focusing on essential gear that enhances safety and performance underwater.

Using a standard configuration for the harness webbing and D-rings, with one on each shoulder, one on the left hip and 2 on the crotch strap means the set up is consistent with each diver. It can be easily used for both recreational and technical diver alike with exact locations for clipping on a pressure gauge, stage tanks and diving accessories such as lights and SMBs (surface marker buoys) without changing any fundamental equipment setup.

These principles in combination with a specific regulator set up (using a long 2m hose on the primary regulator for example) all add up to make this equipment configuration a perfect set up for any diver wanting to progress to technical diving and also for any diver wanting to have a streamline, clutter free and easy to use system.


The backplate, wing, and harness configuration offers simplicity of setup, ease of use, enhanced stability, and streamlined profile. By embracing the DIR philosophy and the Hogarthian approach, divers can maximize their efficiency and enjoyment underwater, with a set up that can used regardless of what sort of diving is being done.

There isn't a one size fits all when it comes to dive equipment, but being aware of what else is available and understanding any potential benefits and disadvantages will make your choices easier and more relevant to the type of diving you will be doing.

Contact us for more information or if you would like to try using a BP/W

Ed Smith is a TDI, PADI & PSAI Technical and recreational diving instructor with over 25 years of experience in the water. The views expressed in these blog posts are personal opinions based on many years of diving experience and teaching, however they may differ from other instructors or professionals. These blog posts are for information only and nothing should replace proper, professional training.

Dive safe.


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