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Sidemount versus Backmount – a constant debate



An increasing proportion of divers are making the transition from recreational to technical diving for a variety of reasons, whether it be to go deeper, to stay down longer, to enter caves, or to dive bucket list wrecks. We all have our own individual diving aspirations and reasons why we love being underwater, so when it comes to choosing equipment, why should it be any different? It is all about personal preference.

People often ask me, what is the secret to relaxed and comfortable scuba diving? My answer is always the same – it has to be using the most suitable equipment for your specific dive that meets your individual needs and requirements. This is especially true when it comes to technical diving, as with increasing equipment load and task loading it becomes all the more important to ensure that you are only carrying necessary equipment which is streamlined and you are confident in using.

I dive backmount, sidemount, multistage and CCR configurations; of course, I make it no secret that sidemount is my preference, whether I’m in caves or open water. For me, it’s about taking the weight off my back in any environment. For some, having the weight on their back causes no issues, so then you have to decide what works for you, both in and out of the water in different environments.

This is where training comes in. At the end of the day there’s no substitute for experience – both an instructor’s and your own. By all means talk to people, follow forums, but ultimately there’s no vetting process for who can make comment, so whose opinion can you really trust? The obvious answer is you have to make your own opinion and the best way to do this is to give the equipment a try, but under the supervision of an experienced and reputable instructor. Most full-time technical instructors will have spent 1000s of hours underwater and many of these will have been spent perfecting their equipment, so why not make use of that experience? Skip the awkward errors and time spent analysing how the harness should fit, where the weights should go, what length regulator hoses, which D-rings to use and where – Just skip to the good bit of diving and deciding if you like how something feels. Ultimately, diving is all about feeling relaxed, not stressful or uncomfortable.

So, what’s the right equipment for the right situation? Carrying excess equipment for a dive, eg. 6 cylinders for a 1 hr dive at 10m, is just adding extra stress and strain for no reason. However, the big debate comes in when discussing sidemount outside of cave diving. People still view sidemount as just a tool to squeeze through restrictions by removing cylinders, but sidemount has a lot more to offer than this. When it comes to diving safely in open water, especially  at depths or overhead environments, it’s important to access your valves easily in the event of a gas problem. Some people struggle to access their valves in a twinset, whereas in sidemount, valves are always easily accessible and visible. Taking weight off your back and carrying cylinders separately on the surface is an advantage for those who suffer with back pain or struggle to carry weight. Conversely, if you have no physical issues, then backmount could be right for you. Ultimately, it’s about approaching the decision with an open-mind and recognising that both configurations will give you redundancy – it’s just about what you feel best and most confident in.

There has been much discussion around the difficulties of using sidemount on a boat or effectively staging multiple cylinders for deep dives, but it has to be said that these issues apply equally to backmount and ultimately it just comes down to training from an experienced instructor. Open water sidemount is the relatively new kid on the block in comparison to twinset diving, so unfortunately people are still experimenting, and as a result, getting it wrong. My experience has been that although most boats are fitted out with backmount divers in mind, a well-trained sidemount diver has much greater flexibility towards kitting up, i.e. sitting on a bench, standing up, kneeling on the dive deck, straddling the tube of a RHIB or donning/doffing in the water. There’s no denying the fact that there are pros and cons for each configuration, but it really comes down to how you feel in the water, and with adequate training you’ll learn how to make your life easier and overcome any issues. It’s all about technique, and with the right technique even the smaller, more petite divers, can readily handle multiple cylinders in a variety of situations.

Overall, if you are considering that transition from single cylinder to dual cylinders and perhaps beyond, my ultimate piece of advice would be, don’t listen to all of the talk and the hype about different configurations, but instead go out and give them a try yourself. Spend your time/research finding a reputable instructor who can give you the best taste of the different equipment – you’ll soon know what suits you best and you’ll love your diving all the more for it!

If you are interested in further training or you want to know more about RAID don’t hesitate to contact me.

RAID logoGarry is the owner of Simply Sidemount ( and a Director of training agency RAID UK & Malta ( To contact Garry email or visit his Facebook page: Simply Sidemount & Simply Tec



Crazy haired and passionate diver, teacher, author and photographer. Life-long adventurer, keen to explore new environments including caves and wrecks whilst enjoying the tranquillity and surreal places below the surface. Protecting the ocean and wildlife, but also dedicated to improving diver safety. Still dreaming about that boat on the ocean, love on the seven seas, pirates, treasure and rum.

Gear News

Breaking News: Garmin Descent Mk2 & Mk2i Launch & Review (Watch Video)



After over 12 months of rumours and speculation, the team at Garmin have finally launched the Garmin Descent Mk2 and Mk2i.

Garmin has gone all out with these, and with the Mk2i having the latest technology in air integration it looks to absolutely be the one to beat!
Why I hear you ask?? Well, they’ve incorporated their Sonar technology into the equation and called it ‘SUBWAVE’ – this will deliver an incredible transmission range of 5-8m..!
How does it work? Well, you’ll need to watch the video to find out!
The dive features are based on the Descent Mk1, while the fitness and life management aspects are based on the incredible Garmin Fenix 6.

With a larger viewable screen, bigger internal memory, and all the latest features including Garmin Pay this promises to be an absolute game changer!

Find out more at

For more from Richard and Hayley visit

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Gear News

Northern Diver give you the deals you’d be getting at the Dive Show!



Northern Diver know how much their customers look forward to the Dive Show every year and the great offers that can be found there, so they have decided to run some of their favourites until the end of October so that people can still experience that Dive Show bargain feeling!

Key Special Offers

Heated Vest – was £89 now £79 with free rash vest

Provide heat to give complete warmth to the body when working in cold conditions.The Northern Diver ‘Electracore’ heated vest has been designed and manufactured with your comfort and warmth in mind. The three heat settings allow you to pick a temperature that suits you and if it happens that you want to raise or lower the temperature, the switch has been positioned in an easy to reach position to the left of your midriff – ensuring that even when you’re wearing your suit, the button remains easy to access.

Varilux LD Max – was £169 now £149

This sleek new addition to the Varilux range is a great choice for a primary dive light. The anodised aluminium body provides a tough exterior and the matt black finish makes the Varilux LD Max stand out from the rest of the range.

Guardian BCD – was £320 now £269

The latest Guardian has an incredible 1680/1000 denier nylon build. There’s thirteen D rings on the BCD, nine of which are stainless steel. There’s also two clips either side of the jacket, two generous zipped pockets and four air dumping methods. The jacket’s two integrated quick-release weight pockets and two rear trim weight pockets give a wide range of weight options.

The Guardian has all-new features and extras: our ergonomically designed power inflator system, Moulded Protection Plate, sliders for vertical adjustment of the chest strap, a removable reflective pocket for our Flexi-Light (light stick not included), and a removable bungee cord with a split ring attachment point.

For more great offers visit the Northern Diver website by clicking here.
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