I first saw the prototype of the Mares Loop at the 2015 DEMA Show, and I honestly didn't know what to make of it at the time. And, as I write this today, 18 months on, I am of the same opinion. I am conflicted by this unconventional second stage.
Are we looking at a smart innovation that will prevail? Will this regulator design provoke a rash of 'me too' products from other manufacturers – a trait that Mares is also guilty of – or is this a 'wacky fad' that will fall by the wayside?
I am confused by the Mares Loop simply because of the location of the medium pressure gas hose attachment point on the second stage.
The vast majority of regulators are 'handed'. This term indicates that you can only put the second stage into your mouth one way, normally because of where the exhaust valve is located. If you put a handed regulator into your mouth upside down, you can experience quite a wet breath.
It is possible to change a right handed regulator to a left handed regulator if the model has been designed to allow this to happen. Simply take your reg into a dive centre and ask the service technician to switch the hose and second stage workings around, and you depart with a left handed regulator. You then route the hose over the left hand shoulder.
A true unhanded regulator is one where you do not need to take into account where the exhaust valve is located, when you put the reg into your mouth. This is because the exhaust valve runs laterally across the face, either left or right, rather than down. (Think Poseidon Xstream or Oceanic Omega).
In this instance I think you could describe the Mares Loop as a 'hybrid-unhanded' regulator.
You can only put this regulator into your mouth one way because the exhaust valve is located below the mouth piece. However the difference with this regulator is that the hose is mounted to the underside of the second stage with a lateral 360º swivel. Therefore this design gives the diver a choice as to how they route their reg. They can route their 110 cm / 43 inch hose underneath their left or right arm. Hence 'hybrid-unhanded'.
Tech divers appreciate having the flexibility that an ambidextrous regulator gives them. This style of regulator allows for elegant hose routings and makes handing off a regulator to an out-of-gas diver a less stressful event. And this is perhaps why you will still see the Poseidon Jetstream or Cyklon regs being actively dived by the more adventurous divers.
The last company that started to go down the path of attaching the gas hose to the bottom of the second stage was Poseidon. This Swedish manufacturer launched their lightweight, low volume 'Triton' in the mid 90's. This regulator is no longer in production.
So why was the Loop conceived? This was originally designed specifically for the tech community as a stage regulator. However during trial dives, the Mares test divers reported that the Loop was comfortable to dive and the mouth was not stressed by the hose pushing on the right hand side of the second stage, hence it has been also rolled out to recreational divers.
And there is the rub for me. Hands up, I have not dived it yet, but at present I remain unconvinced that this is an ideal reg for recreational divers. Especially where new(er) divers who have not got a lot of in-water time, or their core skills are not instinctive and second nature.
It is more than possible to spit or cough a reg out. I have done this. More than once. My regulator hose runs over my right arm, therefore it is very easy to find and recover the second stage in seconds. The Loop regulator hose has been designed to run beneath the arm. This routing gets scuba points from a streamline point of view, and then loses scuba points because of regulator recovery. It looks as though this process could be a bit of a faff, taking a few more precious seconds than the norm. A not ideal scenario for new(er) divers who may not be as water confident as they should be.
I can however see some merit in the Loop as a stage reg. A bailout cylinder is generally sidemounted (as opposed to chest or back mounted). Depending on how the cylinder is rigged, how it is attached to you, and how much gear you are wearing, it is possible for the bailout reg to pull a bit in your mouth. I think the hose routing on the Loop may well make deco more comfy for techies because there is no kink in the hose. It is a straight run from the first stage and into the mouth.
There are a couple of times that you move onto a stage cylinder. These include switching to a different gas, switching to a cylinder that contains more gas or your rebreather has completely failed and you are forced to move onto open circuit bailout. The last thing you need in any scenario is a bunch of bubbles in your face every time you breath out. The Loop has two large, prominent flared exhausts that don't seem to encourage exhaled bubbles to flow down and away from the face. I do wonder how many will end up interfering with the divers vision?
All things considered Mares ought to get a pat on the back for coming up with something completely different. But as I said at the beginning, I remain conflicted by this unconventional second stage.