Any recommendation on alternatives to the Balance (excluding the BP/Wings setup)? I had originally thought of going for a Ranger but since most of my dive time is spent on vacation in the Philippines or South Florida, I realize it's a bit much. I've seen quite a few recommending the Balance on various scuba boards and have checked Rodale's reviews of weight-integrated, back-bouyancy BCs. Ever try an Aqualung Malibu?
The Malibu and Balance are quite similar. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the Balance. I'm replacing mine because 1) it never fit quite right, it's a little big and rides up except when I'm diving dry 2) the Velcro that the weight pouches attach to are ripping out.
I have to use shop brand gear, so my choices for a replacement are somewhat limited. I wanted a minimalist configuration. The Balance does the job, but I'm not a fan of their velcro weight pouches. They have now changed the design, despite their claims that they hold just fine. Sorry, I've seen them fall out too many times.
I wanted a Dive Rite Transpac II, but we couldn't put together a big enough opening order to become a dealer. The Transpac with travel wings is about as minimal as you can get.
I was not averse to getting a BP and wings, but I wasn't interested in the continuous webbing harness. I'll take a few extra potential failure points in exchange for more comfort out of the water and I do have to spend a fair bit of time out of the water with my gear on while diving locally.
We are a Deep Outdoors dealer. They have their own alternative to the single continuous webbing type harness. But they only make a SS backplate, which doesn't travel well and is unnecessary for my local diving (fresh water/steel tank) most of the year. The company went to great lengths to see if I could fit their harness to someone elses AL backplate, but I chose not to go through the hassle of custom cutting additional slots in the BP.
I finally went with their back inflate, simplest lowest lift BC with no cummerbund, plenty of d-rings, couple of weight pouches, and crotch strap.
Back to point, as far as non-BP BCs go, the Balance (with new weight system), Malibu, Transpac or SP S-Tek will work fine and travel well. Just make sure it fits you well.