While writing about the pros and cons of Sidemount v Backmount for June’s edition of Sport Diver (UK) , I asked my colleagues here at PADI to answer the question and, as you can see, found that their preferences and reasons are as varied as the divers and their locations:
I used to dive both, but have turned into one of those people I thought were so annoying and will never dive backmount again. In the cave (inside and out) environment I feel it is a superior configuration, and for folks, like myself, who have had back problems it can actually be safer.
It allows you to use cylinders at your location to be turned into doubles without having to worry about whether the dive center has manifolded doubles, bands and all of that malarkey. So technical diving in more remote areas is much easier and possible. So this is why I am now am one of those annoying people!
Steve Mortell, Director Technical Diving Division and TecRec IT, PADI Americas
Yep, I dive and teach both, but when it comes to Tec I prefer backmount, since I consider the whole set up a lot tidier (2 cylinders at the back and only deco cylinders on the sides). With backmount, there is hardly any risk of getting confused from which regulator/cylinder you should breathe. And there is no need to switch regs during the phase when you are breathing bottom gas.
Chris Heitkemper, Training Consultant and TecRec IT, PADI EMEA
I dive both back and sidemount configurations and have found sidemount to be easier manageable and accessible before and during dives. I do like the clean Hogarthian configuration which provides for less clutter and I can still see a use of backmounted cylinder configuration for deeper dives requiring multiple cylinders. But then, why wouldn’t you use a rebreather for the deeper dives . . .
Thomas Knedlik. Training Director and TecRec IT, PADI Asia Pacific
The equipment you use is often application specific. That’s how I see Sidemount v Backmount. I’d mostly champion back mount over sidemount as I appreciate the stability that it offers over a sidemount configuration. Having said that Sidemount is great for tight overhead environments where back mount won’t fit or unnecessarily limits your range of movement.
For entries & exits they have their own particular challenges – sidemount allows easy donning & doffing in water so you can jettison cylinders easily & quickly but is terrible for walking & walk in entries. Back mount is great for stowing & easily accessing equipment but can be a challenge with some ladder exits especially when you can’t remove the back mount rig prior to exit.
Alex Boulton, Technical Diving Consultant and TecRec IT, PADI Asia Pacific
I have not many experiences in Sidemount config, but I prefer Backmount for its stability and more room in front/side when you go deeper with 2 or more deco cylinders.
Junya Kato, Technical Diving Consultant and TecRec IT, PADI Asia Pacific
In open water sidemount, when diving some of our local areas where there are many steps to negotiate to access a shore dive site, it creates a lot more work to carry the cylinders down and back because multiple trips are needed. Also, many shore dive sites, at least in southern California, do not have a good place to kit up before entering the water and surf entries carrying two mains and sometimes deco cylinders is a recipe for disaster.
In my experience, a disadvantage of Tec Sidemount, is trying to stage deco cylinders in the water at a busy shore entry/exit point where everyone – recreational, technical and snorkelers must use the same set of stairs for water access. In this situation, the best option is back mounted doubles carrying a deco cylinder which makes for a simpler and less awkward entry and an easier exit.
For me, the best application for Sidemount and Tec Sidemount is in cave diving and boat diving where all the cylinders can be easily attached to a down line to make entry and exit safer and easier for the diver.
Kelly Rockwood, Technical Diving Consultant and TecRec IT, PADI Americas
Thank you to all my colleagues for sharing their thoughts. I think, over the years, preferences can change as your diving type and location change, so the answers may be different by next year! We’d love to hear what you prefer and why and have your preferences changed over the years?