Choosing a snorkel mask
Choosing a snorkel mask is essential to an enjoyable snorkeling experience. Without a mask the underwater world will look decidedly blurry (unless you were raised as a Moken sea gypsy who’s eyes have adapted to underwater vision). A mask should be comfortable, should offer clear vision and should not leak. If it does any of these things it will be at best a minor annoyance and at worst dangerous.
Where to buy a snorkeling mask. You can buy masks in scuba diving stores, sports stores and many other shops. The masks found in dive stores tend to be of a higher quality than the cheap snorkel sets that you find in tourist stores in holiday locations. By going to a dive store you’ll have more choice to select from.
Types of snorkel mask: There are many different types of mask to choose from when choosing a snorkel mask. Snorkeling and diving masks are basically the same in that the nose is enclosed in the mask to facilitate equalization. They are different from swimming goggles which do not enclose the nose. With a snorkeling mask you can dive below the surface, with goggles diving to even a few metres would be painful.
There are masks with one big lens covering both eyes and masks with two lenses. Some masks have side windows to allow in more light. Some masks have a frame that encases the lenses, others are a frameless design. There are low volume masks designed to make equalization easier, these are often ideal for snorkeling and free diving. There are masks with purge valves in the nose to help with clearing from the nose.
There are masks especially for women and kids. A good shop will have masks that you can put corrective lenses in to. Masks come in all colours if you want to match your mask, snorkel and fins and look super stylish on the reef which colour attracts sharks the most?) Masks can also come with clear silicone skirts. Some snorkelers prefer a clear skirt as it allows in more light. Others find that light reflecting in from the sides is a distraction, underwater photographers often prefer a black skirt. Some mask lenses have a coating added to reduce reflection or to alter colours underwater. If you wear glasses you may also want to consider a mask with prescription lenses.
Why are some masks more expensive than others? One reason is the material used. Cheap masks have skirts made of plastic which are stiffer and therefore fit less well. The plastic may cause skin rashes. More expensive masks are made of silicone rubber which is softer and should fit your face better. Most masks have a double skirt (a small inner skirt inside the main mask skirt to prevent leaking). The better silicone masks have feathered skirts, the skirt thins at the edge to give a more comfortable fit. All mask lenses should be of tempered glass, plastic lenses will scratch and could be dangerous. Expensive masks are not always superior to cheap ones though, sometimes you are just paying for a brand name. One idea is to have the store assistant turn the price labels so you can’t see the price. Try the masks on an select the best fit. If it turns out that it was a cheap mask you were lucky, if it’s an expensive one you don’t need to feel guilty.
Mask fit: The way to test the comfort of a mask is to try it on. Go to the store and try on several masks for fit and comfort. Standing in a dive shop in front of a wall of masks can be daunting, so many to choose from, so many different prices.
To test a mask for fit place it on your face without putting the strap over your head. Breath in through your nose to test if a seal is formed between mask and face. The mask should stay on your face without you having to hold it. This is a good indication that the mask will not leak. Top tip – when you try on the mask put a snorkel in your mouth. Having the snorkel in alters the contours of your upper lip and the creases in the face. You can discard any masks that don’t form a seal. Next test that you can pinch your nose while wearing the mask. Can you get your fingers around the nose pocket of the mask? If you wear gloves when snorkeling try this with gloves on.
Does your nose feel comfortable in the mask. If you have a big hooter you’ll need a big nose pocket. A mask with one single lens may offer more clearance over the bridge of the nose.
Mask vision: Keep your head still and look around by moving your eyes. How wide is your field of vision? How low can you see? Some masks have a much better field of vision than others.
If you need glasses to see you can either wear a regular mask with contact lenses or you can purchase a mask with prescription lenses. A good SCUBA store will stock prescription lenses in plus and minus, they may also offer bifocal lenses. Note that water magnifies so if you can’t find your exact strength lens choose the next weakest strength.
Mask Strap: Can you adjust the strap easily? In truth once you adjust your strap the first time you should rarely need to touch it gain but some people like to loosen the strap and tighten it each time so a strap that adjusts easily is useful. Newer designs allow easy adjustment while you are wearing the mask. Long hair can get tangled in a mask strap and is painful to remove. Consider buying a neoprene mask strap wrapper that covers the back of the strap and makes it easier to add and remove the mask.
Mask Box: Does your new mask purchase come with a box? If not consider buying a box or padded case to protect your purchase.