Snorkel Mask 101: A Comprehensive Guide

Snorkel Mask 101: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve ever gone on vacation to some exotic tropical location, you may have seen advertisements that urge you to put on your swim suit, put on a snorkel mask, some fins and observe the aquatic life under the surface of the water.

Snorkeling isn’t just a fun word to say, it’s a really fun activity! Many people feel that snorkeling is the best way to enjoy the ocean without having to become a certified scuba diver (although it isn’t uncommon that people are so taken with the experience, they do go on to become scuba certified!).

woman snorkeling in clear water

In this guide, we are going to talk about everything you could want to know about snorkeling, how to choose snorkel gear, and the different types of snorkels and masks. By the time we’re done, you’re going to be more than ready to start your snorkeling adventures!

What Is Snorkeling?

Perhaps before we go into the finer parts of snorkeling, we should probably talk about what snorkeling means is for those who are brand new to the activity. Well, snorkeling is when you are swimming with your head just below the surface of the water.

While you snorkel, you’re going to wear gear like a diving mask, a tube (called a snorkel) to breathe, and you’ll probably wear fins on your feet to help you through the water. When you use this equipment, you can see underwater and marvel in the beauty that lies beneath the surface.

woman snorkeling surrounded by fish

Snorkeling is an activity that is offered at many tropical resorts, but it can also be used in pools, lakes, and other bodies of water. People of all ages can enjoy the activity because there is minimal effort that goes into doing it and you don’t have to use scuba gear to be able to enjoy it.

What Kind Of Gear Do You Need To Snorkel?

The basic gear that you’ll need to go snorkeling includes a mask, a snorkel tube, and diving fins. There are other pieces of equipment that you could opt to use on your snorkeling adventure. These include: diving socks, snorkeling vest, swim cap, and an underwater whistle.

  • Snorkel Mask – This is the most important piece of equipment that you are going to need when you go snorkeling. The mask will provide you with an air pocket that you can open your eyes so you can see under water. Without this, you won’t be able to enjoy the beauty that lies beneath the surface of the water!
  • Snorkel Tube – The snorkel tube is the device that you’ll have in your mouth and it will allow you to breathe while you’re face down in the water. When you choose a snorkel tube, it is important that the mouth piece is comfortable, especially if you intend on snorkeling for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Fins – Compared to the previous two bits of equipment, purchasing a pair of fins is going to be pretty easy. The fins are going to be what helps you propel yourself through the water

Choosing The Right Snorkel Mask

To get the most out of your snorkeling experience, you’re going to want to have the best gear that fits within your budget. Like all things, not all masks are created equal. By choosing the wrong snorkel mask, it could leak, it could be too tight, or even be painful to wear. Choosing the wrong mask could even be dangerous! So, how do you choose a good mask?

SeaFin Mask New 2017 Full Face Snorkel Mask Technology

Your snorkel mask should fit over your face so that it creates a tight seal all the way around your forehead, under the nose, and the sides of your face. If you choose a mask that is too tall or wide, it isn’t going to create a good seal.

In the next section, we are going to talk about the different features and components of a diving mask that will affect your snorkeling experience.

Snorkel Mask Skirt

The material that forms the seal around your face and the snorkeling goggles is called a skirt. The skirt should be a flexible material that fits snuggly against your face and doesn’t cause you pain. The material can either be made of silicone or a plastic.

Typically, you will find inexpensive snorkeling masks with a plastic skirt. These plastic skirts aren’t very flexible, they don’t create a good seal around your face, and they don’t last long at all.

When you choose a mask with a silicone skirt, you can expect it to be more durable, it’ll be more elastic, and it will create a better seal on your face. Almost all masks that are sold today by any diving or snorkeling shop is going to have a silicone skirt. However, if you’re buying a mask from your general big-box store, you will want to check the packaging to make sure it says “silicone” on it because these places will carry both.

Cressi Panoramic Wide View Mask Dry Snorkel Set Mask only

When you are looking at the masks with a silicone skirt, you’ll notice that they are either black on clear. The masks with a black skirt tend to be more for photographers who take underwater photography. The black skirt prevents light from filtering into the mask, making it harder for them to view the camera’s screen. Also, with a black skirt, some people have said they get claustrophobic because their peripheral vision is greatly reduced.

Snorkel Mask Lenses

The snorkel mask that you may have had when you were young probably had a window that was made from plastic. As an adult seeking a good quality mask, you’re going to want to make sure your mask uses a tempered glass.

The material that your mask’s window is made of is only one aspect that needs your consideration. The number of lenses your mask has is important because it will affect several key elements of the mask. For example, it will affect how the goggles fit, but also it will affect your peripheral vision, if you have an unobstructed view, and even how much air is inside the mask. There are six types of lenses that you’ll want to consider:

  • Classic Lens - The classic snorkel mask will have one large lens and your nose will be inside the mask. The air volume is high, but these masks create a very poor seal around your face.
  • Single Lens - These masks are more common and they have a nose pocket in the silicone skirt. These masks give you an unobstructed view, but you can only see forward, not from the periphery. A problem some people have with these masks is that there isn’t a lot of room in the pocket for folks with a large nose bridge. Some people have had to split the mask so that the pocket isn’t pressing on your nose while you’re submerged.
  • Two Lenses - With a mask that features two lenses, you will notice that there is a separation in the front. These masks are often more comfortable for those with larger bridges, but they aren’t going to have as much of an air pocket inside the mask for your eyes. You might be concerned that you will be distracted by the split in the front, but just like glasses, you’ll learn to ignore it in no time.
  • Three or Four Lenses - These masks will have glass on the side of the main window. These are intended to give you better peripheral vision, but they will also allow more light to come into the goggles. With these masks, snorkelers say they feel less claustrophobic while underwater. Keep in mind, you won’t be able to focus and see clearly from these side windows, although you will still be able to see movement in a much more natural way. Also, these additional windows will give your eyes extra air space.
  • Frameless - The frameless mask is going to remove the need for that rigid plastic frame. Instead, the mask is held together by glue and the silicone skirt is attached directly to the (single) lens. These masks are lightweight and are more flexible.
Phantom Aquatics Velocity Scuba Snorkeling Mask Snorkel Set

Along with the type of lens you choose and how many, you will see if they are “low fog” lenses. These lenses require very little preparation to make them ready for the water. Another lens quality to look for are vision enhanced coating. This coating will make things look more crisp and clear because the glare will be greatly reduced as a result. While this coating isn’t a “must-have,” it is still worth mentioning.

If you wear glasses and you plan on snorkeling often, you can even have custom made masks with your prescription in the lens.

High Volume Mask VS Low Volume Mask

You may have noticed we mentioned the volume of the mask a couple times when talking about the lenses. A mask with high volume is going to be further from your face, thus giving you more air inside and it’ll be more buoyant. A low volume mask is going to be easier to create a seal around your face and it’ll be easier to pull off because there is less leverage and less buoyancy. Low volume masks are going to be easier to remove the water from also.

You may be thinking that the low volume mask is the better mask, but that isn’t always the case. The trade off with the low volume mask is that you aren’t going to be able to see nearly as much with the mask as you would with a high volume.

Seaview 180° GoPro Compatible Snorkel Mask

The low volume mask creates less pressure that will have to be equalized the further you go into the water. That may not be a problem if you’re just using the mask to snorkel with, but if you decide you want to try free diving, that could be an issue.

Mask Purge Valve Or No Valve?

The purge valve is a small valve located at the bottom part of the nose pocket. The valve lets you hold your mask up to your face and blow air out from your nose to remove any water that may have entered your mask. This will let you get that water out without having to break the mask’s seal on your face.

We do want to point out that a purge valve isn’t totally necessary because you can remove water from the mask without it. Simply hold the top of your mask and blow out through your nose.

basic snorkeling mask with purge valve

The water will go out of the bottom of your mask and when you’re finished, the skirt will reseal just as good as it did the first time. Regardless if you choose a mask with a valve or not, this trick can be helpful in either instance. Sometimes valves break (which they can do from time to time) and if you don’t have a replacement.

Full Face Snorkel Masks

If you don’t like the idea of having a tube in your mouth to breathe, you may want to try a full face snorkel mask. These masks combine the mask and the snorkel all on one unit. These masks feature separate channels for inhaling and exhaling, thus letting you breathe fresh air.

What Are The Pros And Cons Full Face Snorkel Mask?

With traditional snorkeling kits, you’ll get goggles and a tube. These masks cover your eyes and nose so that no water gets inside. As we’ve described, there are a lot of options of these masks. With a full face dive mask, the mask is going to cover your whole face and you don’t have to worry about a separate breathing tube, as its integrated in the mask itself.

So, you might be wondering what exactly are the pros and cons of a full face snorkel mask before you decide between either option.

Pros

  • For beginners, a full face mask can really make for an enjoyable experience. There isn’t any learning curves with this mask as there are with the traditional mask. What this means is that you can breathe normally with a full face mask, whereas with a traditional mask you have learn to breathe in your mouth (through the tube) and out your nose.
  • Even if you aren’t new to snorkeling, the full face masks can a good option for those people whose jaw gets sore easily, or if you have a very sensitive gag reflex. These can also be useful for men who have mustaches and aren’t interested in shaving it off just to go snorkeling. Do keep in mind that if you have a full on beard, you may experience some leaking.
  • ​Many of these masks feature a 180° view that isn’t obstructed in anyway.
  • A dry snorkel is built into the mask. With a dry snorkel, you don’t have to worry about any water getting into the breathing tube (and then into your mouth or mask) if a wave splashes over you. Also, you can go under the water with the mask and not have any water come in too.
  • ​These masks also allow you to have your prescription installed. You’ll have to have your optician do it for you, which may be an extra expense.
Octobermoon Second Generation 180°Full view Panoramic Snorkel

Cons

  • This mask has a tendency to get very hot and this is because when you’re exhaling, your warm breath is trapped inside the mask. This can get very uncomfortable and make your diving experience not so pleasant.
  • ​With this mask, you’re unable to breathe in fresh air quickly, so if you intend on using this mask, you can only use it for casual snorkeling rather than for exercising because you won’t be able to get oxygen fast enough while wearing it.
  • If you choose a mask with a plastic lens, you have to be careful of how you handle the mask while you aren’t wearing it. The plastic has a tendency to scratch very easily and it will get hinder your view.
  • ith a full face mask, you aren’t able to go freediving with them on because there is no way to equalize the pressure that will build in your ears the further you dive. Typically, you’ll equalize the pressure by holding your nose and forcing air into your ears. 

​However, with a full face mask, you can’t access your nose without taking off your mask. Also, the large amount of air in the mask is going to create a strong pressure on your face that is going to continue to build as you dive. If you were hoping to be able to dive deeper into the water to get a closer look at the aquatic environment, this is not the right mask to do it.

woman snorkeling with a full face snorkeling mask

Should I Rent Or Own Snorkeling Gear?

If you’re going on vacation and you’re trying to decide if you should purchase a snorkel mask or if you should rent. Here are some pros and cons of each option for you to consider before you decide one way or another.

Renting

Pros

Cons

When you travel and want to snorkel, you don’t have to worry about remembering to bring your gear—you can just rent it.

Depending on where you are renting the gear from, you may not be able to find a mask that will fit your face comfortably or properly.

Renting snorkeling gear can be the cheaper option if you don’t plan on snorkeling again or too frequently.

Sanitation is a very big concern people have in regards to renting gear. You can never be sure of the gear was properly sanitized after use.

two people snorkeling

Owning

Pros

Cons

You can go snorkeling whenever and wherever it is allowed, regardless if there is a rental gear facility near the beach.

If you’re only interested in going snorkeling once or twice, you’re basically just wasting money.

You know the gear you purchase is going to fit your face and you’ll always have a secure fit.

You have enough on stuff to try and remember when packing for a trip, do you really want to be tasked with remembering the snorkel gear?

Snorkel Mask Wrap Up

Snorkeling is a fantastic way to get out in nature and enjoy everything Mother Earth has to offer. You can see marine life up close and personal without having to go through rigorous scuba lessons. It can really be a magical experience!

If you do decide to go snorkeling, there’s a lot to think about in terms of the kind of snorkel mask that you use. If you’re new to the activity, you may want a full face snorkel mask because all you have to do is breathe normally. However, if you want to go free diving (meaning go deeper under the water to get a close look at coral or other things on the ocean floor) you would be better off using a traditional mask because they are able to reduce the pressure build up from the dive.

group of kids with a teacher snorkeling

When you’re finished your snorkeling experience, you love it, and maybe want to do it again, you then have to decide if you want to buy your own snorkel mask or if you’ll stick to renting. If you do decide to buy it and wear glasses, you can have your optician install your prescription in the mask so you can fully enjoy the view under the water.

Whatever you decide to do, one thing remains certain—snorkeling is a great past time and a fantastic way to gain an appreciation for ocean life. Plus, if you’ve always wanted to be a mermaid, the mask will bring you one step closer to it.

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