When using a weight integrated BCD many weight pockets are difficult to install into the BCD in water when using large amounts of soft weight. Since this is a skill that is required for certification and should be practiced it may lead divers away from soft weight. The problem may be overcome in a compromise of using a hard weight as the lead weight entering the pocket and using soft weight to make up the balance of the required ballast. In this way the pocket starts it’s entry and has something to help guide it’s path.
In back inflator BCD many users find the need to max out the rear non dumpable pocket to help maintain a kneeling position while practicing skills. These pockets tend to be rated for 5 lbs. each yet can only hold that much when using uncoated hard weights.
So, many may ask why bother with soft weights at all? The answer is soft weight has a more comfortable, form fitting, attached feeling. It avoids pressure points and a clunky feeling that is often felt from 2 hard weights in a single pocket.
I started diving with a weight integrated BCD and still use a Back inflator style integrated BCD when working with students. using a combination of hard and soft weights allows me to trim in out properly and handle skills training with relative ease.
I also dive a Back Plate & Wing for my own recreational dives when doing to I wear a weight belt and use soft weight. The soft weight is simply more comfortable it allows me to position the weight right over my spine for optimal trim and remains in place between my back and the plate. When diving using my dry suit I switch belts to one that is preset with (2) 5 lbs. hard weights and a pouch for soft weight in the middle. This allows me to trim the weight with soft weigh again in place over my spine and have one coated hard weight on each side in a position that is out of the way.
As for the choice of integrated vs. weight belt as I can and do dive each I find the choice based on the intended type of diving. As many of us find during our skills training one skill in particular has a drawback or slight difficulty factor with a weight integrated BCD. That is underwater BCD removal and Donning. As you remove the BCD you are also removing your weight and if you are wearing thermal protection (a wet or dry suit) you may start to float away from your BCD. If you wear a weight belt (whether wearing a integrated BCD or not) you can now adjust your weighting to compensate for your exposure protection and keep the belt on even when removing the BCD. In this case the weight belt carries the needed weight to compensate for the exposure protection alone and your BCD weighting is adjusted to compensate for the tank and it’s own buoyancy along with any other accessories you carry on your dive. You can now take off the BCD and swim around neutrally buoyant and keep the BCD under better control. This skill may become more important as you take on different specialties such as wreck penetrations and cave diving.