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Snorkeling is a great way to discover the underwater world and add an extra dimension to your beach holiday. Scuba diving is still our first passion, but we’ve been snorkeling a lot with our 4-year old lately. He loves the water. Of course, if you’re going snorkeling you need a mask and snorkel. Snorkeling equipment is available in many price categories. If you’re only going to use it for a 2-week holiday you might not want or need the best snorkel gear on the market but do keep in mind that very cheap snorkeling gear could ruin your experience. Snorkeling with a leaking or fogging mask is no fun at all.
If you’re looking to buy snorkel gear, obviously you’ll need to do some research. Reading this snorkeling gear guide will save you a lot of time, we’ve already done the research for you! In this guide we’ll discuss the various items in a snorkel kit and what you need to pay attention to when selecting a snorkel set. We’ll talk about the best snorkel, the best snorkel mask, the best snorkeling fins and the best snorkel set. And put it all together in a comprehensive comparison table. The full face snorkel mask is a new snorkel mask type that’s becoming more and more popular. We’ll discuss the pros and cons and our choice for the best full face snorkel mask.
- 1 Why buy snorkel gear instead of renting?
- 2 Best snorkel gear comparison tables
- 3 What snorkeling gear do you need?
- 3.1 Snorkeling goggles or snorkel mask
- 3.2 Types of snorkels
- 3.3 Snorkeling fins
Why buy snorkel gear instead of renting?
In most tropical destinations where snorkeling is even remotely possible, rental snorkel gear is available. A great option if you forgot to pack your own, for a one time swim or in case some of your own gear breaks. So if you can rent it, why would you want to buy your own? Even if you bring a travel snorkel set, it’s still going to take up space. No matter how easy it is to rent, I always bring my own mask, snorkel and fins. For the mask and fins, it’s really a matter of fit. I have a narrow face and it’s not easy to find a good fitting rental mask. The same goes for my small size feet. Not to mention that I find it a lot more sanitary to use my own mask and snorkel. My partner did his PADI OW years ago in Thailand and one of the students had a highly contagious eye infection. Just guess how many others had infected eyes after using the same dive mask. The same goes for the snorkel. Do you really want to use a snorkel that tons of other people have had in their mouth?
Best snorkel gear comparison tables
Check out our comparison tables for our choices for the best snorkel sets, the best snorkel masks, the best full face snorkel masks, the best snorkels and the best snorkel fins.
Best snorkel sets comparison
Best snorkel mask comparison
Best full face mask comparison
What snorkeling gear do you need?
Mask, snorkel, fins, those are the three components of a snorkeling gear set. Although you see many goggles and snorkel set packages snorkel fins or, snorkeling flippers as some call them, are really part of your snorkel gear.
Snorkeling goggles or snorkel mask
Without an underwater snorkel mask or a scuba mask you can’t really see much in the water. So a snorkel mask is your main piece of snorkel equipment. Goggles for snorkeling consist of one or two lenses, a frame, a silicone skirt, strap keepers and a snorkel mask strap. A relatively new snorkel mask design is the frameless mask, where the skirt is attached directly to the lens. The quality of the components depends on the price. A good snorkel mask has a silicone skirt and tempered glass lenses, which makes it very durable. When cleaned well after each use and treated carefully, a good quality snorkel mask can be used for years. The mask in a cheap snorkeling gear set often has PVC skirts and a plastic lens.
Full face snorkel mask
Full face snorkel masks, also referred to as full mask snorkel or snorkel face mask, are becoming more and more popular. Basically, this new style snorkel mask is a mask with snorkel built in. They were introduced by Decathlon in 2014, the original full face mask being the Tribord Easybreath. As scuba divers, we don’t really see the appeal but in general, full face snorkel mask reviews are very positive. People using full face snorkeling gear often find it more comfortable than a regular snorkel mask, with less chance of leaking and a great panoramic view. The ability to breathe through both mouth and nose is a big plus for many people.
However, there is concern about dangerous levels of CO2 building up inside full face snorkel masks, especially in low coast full face masks produced by unknown brands. Since full face snorkels have only been on the market since 2014, there is no standard for safety tests yet. HEAD/Mares was the first to extensively test CO2 buildup in their Sea Vu full face mask in 2018, with satisfying results.
How to prevent fogging of your snorkel mask
If you’ve ever snorkeled, you know that mask fogging happens often. Make sure to clean your mask before first use to remove the protective layer over the lens(es) on the inside of the mask. You can do this by gently rubbing a bit of toothpaste over it with your finger, make sure to clean the whole surface. Then, before each use there are two options. We scuba divers tend to spit in our mask, spread the spit over the lens with our fingers, rinse and then put the mask on. It really works! If this grosses you out, you can also use mask defogging drops.
Snorkeling with glasses
It may not come as a surprise, but you can’t snorkel with your glasses on. The temples break the seal of the mask and water will flow in. Even with a full face mask it’s not possible to wear glasses underwater. Of course that’s not to say people who wear glasses can’t snorkel. There are a few solutions. If you snorkel often and perhaps also scuba dive an optical snorkel mask might be a good idea. It’s also possible to wear lenses underwater. If you’re only slightly visually impaired, you might not need any correction as objects in water appear 33% larger and 25% closer.
Types of snorkels
The second piece of your snorkel gear is the snorkel itself. Unlike scuba divers, who have a tank of compressed air and a regulator to breathe through, snorkelers need to be close to the surface to breathe. Basically, the snorkel is just a tube that sticks out of the water and allows the snorkeler to draw air. There are a few different types of snorkels.
The ‘traditional’ snorkel, also called a classic snorkel or a J-snorkel, is nothing more than a J-shaped tube with a mouthpiece. This is the cheapest snorkel on the market, but can be uncomfortable because the snorkel tube isn’t flexible. If a J-snorkel gets fully submersed, there’s nothing to stop the water from flowing in and since it doesn’t have a purge valve, you need to exhale quite forcefully to get the water out again.
Flexible snorkel with purge valveOf course, a snorkel can never be fully flexible. It needs a rigid piece that sticks out of the water. With a flexible snorkel however, the bottom part is flexible to assure a better fit. This is much more comfortable if you’re wearing a snorkel mask. Flexible snorkels generally also have a purge valve at the bottom. The purge valve makes it easier to clear the water out of the snorkel, as the water doesn’t have to go out all the way at the top. Another benefit of a flexible snorkel is that it simply falls sideways when you release the mouthpiece. This makes this type of snorkel comfortable to scuba dive with.
Semi dry snorkel or dry snorkelA flexible snorkel can also be a semi dry or a dry top snorkel. Semi dry means that the snorkel has a splash guard at the top of the snorkel tube which prevents spray and surface water from entering. The splash guard on a semi dry snorkel will not block the water if the tube is fully submerged. A valve at the top of dry snorkels, such as the Oceanic Ultra Dry Snorkel, prevents any water from entering when fully submerged. A tiny amount of water might seep in, but it’s such a small amount that it’s easy to clear. A major drawback however is that due to dust and sand the dry mechanism may disfunction, making it hard to breathe.
A swimming snorkel is not meant for recreational snorkeling. The design is similar to a J-snorkel, but the placement of the mouthpiece is different. A swimmers snorkel fits in the middle of your face instead of on the side and it’s used for pool or open water swim training. A swim snorkel can help competition swimmers to balance their stroke, perfect their technique and can even be used for altitude training (by blocking part of the snorkel tube so less air can come inside).
Snorkelers often think fins are an optional piece of snorkel gear, but they’re really not. Not only is it easier and less tiring to swim with fins, and easier to balance and hover, but it’s also a matter of security. When snorkeling you can easily get caught in a surface current, even in calm weather. With fins you have a much better chance of making it back to shore. There are three variables to consider when it comes to selecting fins: power, efficiency and fit. The first two are closely connected to the sites you plan to snorkel. If there is a strong current or if you have to swim a long way before reaching the reef, obviously you need more powerful and efficient fins than if the snorkel site is very calm and close to shore. Snorkeling fins, or snorkeling flippers as some call them, come in many designs. Two major differences are open vs closed heel fins and classic vs split fins.
Closed heel vs open heel fins
Snorkeling and scuba fins have either a closed or an open heel. Both have advantages. Open healed fins are generally heavier and longer, but provide more thrust and fit usually isn’t much of an issue. Closed heel fins are usually lighter and shorter, so easier for travel. With open heel fins, you put your foot in a foot pocket and secure it with a heel strap. Traditionally they’re not meant to be worn without dive boots.Scuba divers generally prefer open heeled fins. It’s much easier to walk with your heavy dive equipment wearing thick soled boots than in bare feet and the boots also provide insolation at depth. Lots of snorkelers also prefer open heeled fins because due to their design they generally provide more thrust and speed.
Closed heel fins, also called pocket fins or full foot fins, are worn on bare feet (sometimes with a neoprene sock, such as the H2Odyssey 2mm Fin Sock) and need to have a good fit, otherwise you can easily get blisters. Some say closed heel fins make the best travel snorkel fins, but nowadays there are open heel travel fins (like the Cressi Palau light weight travel snorkeling fins or the Scubapro GO travel fins) as well that can even be worn without boots.
Classic vs split finsDivers and snorkelers never agree about the best fins for snorkeling and diving. Everyone has their own preference. Classic fins, also called paddle fins or full bladed fins, come in different design and budget choices. Ranging from very cheap snorkel fins which are basically just a triangular piece of plastic with a foot pocket attached, to highly advanced fins with flexible thrust channels and stabilizers. Split fins are becoming more popular. They’re said to eliminate muscle strain and cramping and are available in closed or open heel designs. Kicking the fins requires less strength and these fins are therefore also suitable for people whose leg muscles aren’t as strong or people with knee issues. With split fins you have to use a flutter kick (quick short kick) as opposed to the large forceful strokes you make with classic fins.
Swim finsSwim fins are short fins that are meant for swim training. They lessen the load on the upper body, allowing the wearer to work on technique and to increase endurance and strength in the legs. Nowadays you also see them marketed as travel fins, but they aren’t fit for scuba diving and should be used with caution while snorkeling. Even though they give you some extra speed while swimming, they don’t provide the thrust needed to get yourself to safety if you end up in a surface current while snorkeling. You should only use these type of fins in very calm waters where there is no chance of a current. They come in all shapes and sizes, from very short almost duck-like closed heel rubber fins, to slightly longer open heel swim fins. Major brands that produce quality swim fins are Finis, Speedo and Body Glove.
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