While backmount cave divers have mostly adopted the Hogarthian gear configuration, sidemount divers’ kit remain very individualistic. Without commercially available units, each sidemount diver built rigs based on different levels of knowledge and experience, different environmental challenges, different goals, and different ideas on how best to realize them.
In the past, many of the pioneering sidemount divers were dry cavers. As the result, they were comfortable building their own gear and this gear had to work in both the dry and wet sections of a cave.
When there were no readily available units, sidemount divers would either build a system from scratch or adapt an existing non-sidemount specific kit for their needs.
Even with the introduction of commercial systems (see the explosion of systems at DEMA 2009), many sidemount divers choose to modify and extend. This speaks heavily towards a strong individual streak in sidemount divers.
But it could also mean that no one has come up with a holistic gear configuration to meet most sidemount divers’ needs. While the Hogarthian backmount system is common these days, we must remember that it is a relatively recent innovation. Standardization in sidemount configuration is where backmount was 10-15 years ago.
After taking a sidemount course with Steve Bogaerts, I believe that his configuration does provide a holistic and standard system for sidemount divers.
Steve’s gear configuration shares a few key similarities to the Hogarthian backmount rig:
- 7′ long hose and shorter 22″-24″ hose, necklaced (“Basic” sidemount configuration).
- Single continuous 2″ webbing harness and a crotch strap.
- Minimalist approach to dive gear and set-up.
For sidemount divers diving at the basic level or in mixed teams of backmount and sidemount divers, the 7′ long hose and shorter 22″-24″ necklaced hose keeps OOG and gas-sharing protocols almost the same as in the Hogarthian gear. OOG diver receives the long hose, and the donating diver breaths from his short hose.
The difference for sidemount is that the donator may not be breathing the long hose when an OOG situation occurs. However, OOG situations are usually not without advance notice and the divers can plan accordingly. In addition, one breaths the long hose at the beginning and end of the dive, the most likely times of OOG situation.
Routing of the hoses on the sidemount diver is similar as well. The necklace is routed from the left tank, around the back of the neck, and delivers from the right side. The 7′ hose is partially tucked into the right tank’s bands, brought across the chest, around the back of the neck, and delivers from the right side.
When not in use, the 7′ hose is clipped to the right shoulder D-ring, with a breakaway connection. The boltsnap is close to the second stage to prevent dangling, but far enough to allow breathing from the stage without unclipping. If gas sharing may be required, then the long hose should be unclipped in preparation for easy handoff, unless it’s already in the diver’s mouth.
Each tank has an SPG attached to a 6″ HP gauge. The gauge is not tied back up to the first stage and remains flushed against the tank. The handwheels are positioned on the diver’s outside, and the valve stems face inward.
The first stages are faced up (towards the diver) and the SPGs rests on the tank. When the sidemount bungees are attached to the tanks, they rotate 45 degrees placing the handwheel in the armpit and the SPG between the tank and the diver’s body. This reduces entanglement and keeps the gear streamlined. To view gas, the diver flips the gauge up from the outside.
It is important to note that sidemount tanks should be considered your primary tanks, and set-up should not be confused with stage tanks and stage tank configurations.
After a couple of years of field trials, Steve’s harness is complete. He has dubbed it the “Razor Harness.”
Unlike the other sidemount harnesses currently available, the Razor is extremely minimalistic – A single 2″ webbing harness, a separate crotch strap, and two small stainless steel plates to give the harness shape. To hold the neck of the sidemount tanks, the Razor has one continuous bungee with a bolt snap on each end. Custom sized D-rings and two special tri-glide with an attached D-rings complete the harness.
Each shoulder contains a 1″ D-ring. The smaller D-ring minimizes movement of gear, and is the attachment point for the bungee and stages. In addition, they also function as a temporary work space, similar to backmount. When not using a helmet, I attach my backup lights to the shoulder D-rings as well.
The bungee is an in-water replaceable unit and is attached to the shoulder D-rings with a small bolt snap on each end. The custom length allows it to be as tight as possible, keeping the sidemount tanks secure to the body.
A primary cutting device is attached to the waist. Or Steve’s preference of the wrist.
Waist D-rings on the side of the body secure the bottom of the sidemount tanks. This is similar to carrying a stage in a backmount set-up. The significant difference is the Razor uses small 1/2″ D-rings. These very low profile D-rings reduce tank movement as it limits the distance between tank and diver. In addition, the bolt snap position on the sidemount tanks is different than a stage tank, and this further reduces tank movement.
Additional low profile D-rings are positioned between the hip and diver’s midpoint. These are used to secure butt light tanks in a horizontal position when they start to float. In reviewing other sidemount harnesses, the Razor is the only harness that has this feature.
Weights are threaded on the harness, generally on the back waist or on the back center piece. If more heads down trim is required, then weights can be placed on the shoulder straps where they exit the Razor’s Delta Shoulder Plate. The diver is weighted to be neutral in water, without tanks. Tanks are kept streamlined, and no weights are attached to tanks.
When the weights are back waist mounted, then triglides with small D-rings (Drop Attachment Points) help lock the weights in place. However, if position of weights makes DAPs location non ideal, then regular tri-glides may be used.
The Bogaerthian method mounts a detachable flat pouch to the DAPs. The pouch contains backup safety items as well as wetnotes. Backups include spare bungee, double ender, zipties, and a 2nd cutting device. This set-up is very streamlined, using 2 attachment points with double enders.
The small D-rings can be used as additional holds for spools or reels. I found these triglides with small D-rings very convenient as a temporary hand. Others use the DAPs to attach a canister light.
A butt mounted D-ring is available for additional space or longer term storage. Primary and exploration reels are best stored on this D-ring.
Personally, I chose to keep my contents in thigh pockets. This kept my backmount and sidemount configurations even more similar. However, there was a benefit to using the pouch, as it can be detached and brought in front of the diver. Then an item can be extracted and the pouch returned to the back position.
With thigh pockets, extracting items is by feel only. In addition, Steve notes that thigh pocket access becomes more difficult when carrying multiple stages. My short arms don’t help, but this is something I’ve worked on in BM configuration.
The Crotch strap serves multiple purposes. A smaller canister light is butt mounted on the crotch strap, and a larger canister via the DAPs. With the crotch strap on top of the canister, the canister is more securely held in place. The crotch strap also contains a scooter ring – for tow behind scooters. Lastly, the crotch strap keeps the harness snug and can provide a tie point for the BAT wings.
To reduce any chance of entanglement or line traps, tanks are streamlined. The only connection point is a small bolt snap attached to a line, held in place by a hose clamp. The line is as short as possible, only exposing enough to be able to cut in case of bolt snap failure.
The left tank has one hose retainer. When not in use, the regulator is tucked into the retainer. The retainer also serves as a back-up attachment point, in case of bolt snap failure.
The right tank has two hose retainers in the Basic configuration. The 7′ hose is tucked into the retainers, and they also serve as back-up attachment points.