Mark Evans: Backplate-and-wing combinations are becoming all the rage for single-cylinder divers. Read on for my review of the Mares Blue Battle and Silver Knight
With various training agencies teaching beginners in such set-ups, along with a long-hose regulator, it is no longer seen as being a ‘techie’ thing. However, I still maintain a lot of people like using a backplate-and-wing on a single cylinder as it does make them feel like they are somewhat above the norm.
I have been a firm fan of backplate-and-wing combinations for a long time, especially for travelling. You can’t beat having something stripped back to basics to keep your luggage weight down. Plus, I find being unencumbered around your front much more comfortable than being smothered by a jacket BCD. And finally, having all the gas in the wing on the back means you naturally fall into that classic trim position that everyone strives for!
Mares have been in on the backplate-and-wing scene from the beginning, and the Silver Knight – or its limited-edition blue-camo version, the Blue Battle – is a robust and well-made piece of kit.
The backplate itself is made from 3mm aluminium, and it is then kitted out with a standard ‘unbroken’ webbing harness that is equipped with five 6mm aluminium D-rings (two at the shoulders, two on the hips, and a crotch ring) and an aluminium buckle.
The wing is a single tank donut bladder with twin efficient rear pull dumps and a nifty power inflator that has a nice heft in your hand. It proved itself more than capable in UK waters, as Tom Pimblett found out when he stepped in to be my buddy at Vivivan Dive Centre, but it is equally at home in the tropics. If you don’t like wearing a weightbelt, there are optional dumpable weight pockets that can be attached to the webbing waist strap.
In and out of the water, it is very comfortable, and once submerged, it does hold you in a nice trim position. However, it is easy to roll around and get into different positions without feeling like it is trying to force you back into the classic ‘skydiver’ position.
The power inflator is comfortable in a gloved hand, and the stainless steel buttons have a nice feel to them. It is efficient, and pumps air in at a good rate.
Similarly, the twin pull dumps on the bottom of the bladder work well, venting extremely quickly when you need them to. The backplate is a very arty design – you could strip the straps and bladder off it and put it on your wall! – but it is also purposeful, and it threads the strap and the tank bands in the optimum positions.
The standard Silver Knight is a great backplate-and-wing combo, but if you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t beat the Blue Battle, which is the same price. We loved the blue camouflage finish, and the anodised blue aluminium buckle and D-rings were just beautiful. However, if you want the latter, don’t hang about, as it is a limited edition, and once they’re gone, they’re gone!
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