This is a continuation of the previous post on some pointers to selecting a BCD for the beginning diver.
Integrated Air: Some of the newer BCD's have an innovative feature that incorporates the alternate air source into the low pressure inflator hose system. The major advantage of this system is that you have one less hose in your regulator setup and don't need a separate alternate air source (also called an octopus). The one thing to remember about the integrated air systems is that if you have to donate an air source to a buddy, you would donate your primary regulator to the buddy and you would then breathe from the integrated air regulator. This is different from the traditional systems where you would keep the primary regulator and donate the alternate regulator (octopus) to the buddy needing air. For a beginning diver, either system has both pros and cons, but if you can afford the additional expense of an integrated system, it probably is beneficial since you have one less hose to worry about.
Pockets: Personally I like to have adequate pockets on BCD's. Sometimes I feel that I don't have enough pocket space for all the things that I like to carry (instructors are required to carry additional equipment when working with students). When selecting a BCD's look for one that has adequate pocket space and that the pockets are easy to get to and to open. Some pockets have velcro strips, others have clips or even zips. The actual choice depends on what your preference is. Personally I like the velcro systems because I find it easier to open when wearing thick gloves. However, I would recommend trying various pocket systems with gloves on (wear the gloves that you might typically wear with the diving that you do).
D-Rings: Most current BCD's come with clips and D-rings. There are various types of D-rings, but typically they are either made from a tough plastic or metal. The metal ones are preferable since they are more durable. Initially you might not need to use the D-rings, but as you accumulate more gear, you might wish you had just one more D-ring. If your BCD did not come with D-rings or you want to add some, you could always buy additional d-rings from your local dive store (LDS). Select a BCD that has at least two or three d-rings attached in easy to access locations.
Clips: If you will be using an alternate air source system (octopus) you would want to have a method to attach the alternate regulator to your BCD. The system that you choose must allow you to be able to detach and donate the alternate air source quickly, yet be secure enough so that the alternate regulator will not come loose on its own. Some other types of clips allow you to attach miscellaneous items such as your console to. If your BCD does not come with enough clips (most don't) you can always buy them from the LDS. I would recommend at least two clips. One for the alternate air source and one for the console. Buy an additional two or three as spares for your dive kit.
Tomorrow I will write more about the various releases and cumberbunds found on BCD's.