US MAKER ATOMIC has positioned itself unashamedly at the top end of the market, with pricing to match. It doesn’t do budget and it doesn’t do anything less than top quality, so its new BC was always going to be interesting.
Then, when the product was ready to go, Atomic began its marketing push with the bold claim that it had started the project with a blank sheet of paper and reviewed every detail, no matter how small, to produce the best BC on the market. And that makes the newly released Atomic BC1 downright fascinating.
When you make that sort of claim, you need to deliver. I won’t say I approached the review determined to pick fault with surgical accuracy and expose any and every shortcoming with tabloid hype, but if you want to think that, well, I won’t argue.
Time to open the box and take a look at the BC1, which came in a rufty-tufty carry-bag.
My first impression was that this is a weighty piece of kit, 4.6kg on the scales. My second impression was that it’s made of a slightly shiny, almost wet-look material, and that’s where we start to get down to it. Most BCs are made of tough materials that will take all sorts of punishment, but they do tend to absorb some water and take a while to dry out.
Not the BC1, which is made from a material that Atomic claims actively repels water. It looks vaguely like those wet-look PVC macs you used to get, only proper classy.
It’s a double-laminated polyurethane-coated fabric, and extends right to the edges of the zippers on the pockets to protect the teeth and prevent any sand or grit getting stuck in the zips and spoiling their operation.
The black and red colour combination looks stylish, as my other half pointed out. Or you can have it in plain black if you prefer, but why would you?
Get past the material choice and you’ll find what is basically a conventional jacket-style BC with large front buoyancy chambers that also house the pockets and the integrated-weight system.
There’s a rigid backpack, corrugated inflation hose on the left shoulder, dumps on the right shoulder and right hip, Velcro cummerbund with pinch-clip waist-band and a sternum strap.
The integrated weight system is claimed by Atomic to be remarkably easy to use. Each side holds up to 4.5kg of hard or soft weights and the pockets slide easily into place, locking with a distinct snap but coming out easily with a firmish tug on the handle. They worked extremely well, out of the water and in.
A pair of small trim-weight pockets that can hold up to 2kg apiece are situated on the back of the jacket at shoulder-blade height in case you need help with your trim, or just a bit more lead.
The inflator is a very high-spec item, with well-sized buttons to inject and dump gas, and there’s a Velcro loop on the shoulder-strap and a clip on the corrugated hose to hold the inflator neatly in place and readily to hand.
The dump-valves are stainless steel, and Atomic has redesigned the round black plastic ball used by just about everyone else into a sleek, sexy, triangular knob that you pull to dump gas.
Inside the BC1 you’ll find an adjustable padded lumbar-pad and shoulder-pad to make the BC more comfortable in use, with the latter covering a neat carrying handle.
Look closely and you’ll also see that the harness is pretty much separate from the buoyancy cell, which means that a fully inflated BC1 shouldn’t squeeze you too tightly.
Then you turn the BC1 around and see the camband for attaching a cylinder. This looks like no camband you’ve ever seen before, and is claimed to operate more like ski-bindings than a conventional camband.
The strap is a composite material with a stepped outer surface on the part of the band to the right of the cam.
You drop the BC1 in place over your cylinder, pull the camband roughly to the right length and lock the adjustment using a red plastic plate. Then you snap the over-centre cam into place to fully tighten the camband around the cylinder and hold it firmly against the curved plate on the back of the BC.
It all takes much less time to do than to describe, and it’s the easiest and most positive camband system I’ve ever used. On test it held the cylinder as tightly as any standard camband, but without the potential to stretch when wet and the subsequent need to retighten the band.
And if I tell you that the long tail of the camband fits precisely into the wide groove found on the bit of camband on the left side of the cam, and which holds the loose tail of the camband firmly in place without any need for a loop of material, you’ll really start to appreciate the attention to detail that’s gone into the design of the BC1.