UNMASKING SNORKEL MASKS

[HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ONE FOR YOU]
Author: Sarah Marie Finley

Imagine a beautiful day at the beach with your family. The sun is shining, no chops in the water and the sand feels perfect on the soles of your feet. Grabbing your snorkeling gear, you head towards the surf placing your mask and snorkeling tube over your head. Your mask is on tight, snorkel in mouth and fins ready, you begin to submerge into the underwater world.

WAIT!

Now there’s water in your mask! The strap is tight, and the mask fits your face. How can that be? When it comes to choosing the right mask, it all starts with the proper fit.

Unmasking the Mask

Your snorkeling mask is the most important part and where you need to focus.

Not only do masks provided us land-dwelling animals crystal clear vision underwater, but they also ensure the proper amount of oxygen or air space. Anything from a loose hair to the improper fit can significantly add more water and even fog the lens.

No two people have the same head shape, let alone facial structure, so trying on different masks is key. The fit of the mask is crucial to help reduce or eliminate constant purging – we will get to that later. Keep in mind, one size does NOT fit all.

Ensuring the Proper Fit

Here are simple steps to test if a mask fits-correctly:
  1. Hold your breath and place the mask to your face, making sure all hair is held back and out of the way, pressing slightly.
  2. Without inhaling, let go of the mask. A well-fitting mask should stick to your face creating a seal. DO NOT INHALE! Any inhalation and a mask can seal to your face.
  3. Pull the straps over your head. This should not disrupt or break the seal or be tightened. Straps should only be adjusted to prevent the mask from shifting.

Key Features of Masks

Masks come in a variety of colors, textures, and pricing. The design and materials used help secure the airspace and functionality of a quality mask. Remember, these features come after finding the proper mask that fits your face.

Lens/Windows

In the world of masks, you will find many options and models. Available in a variety of lens (glass, onlynot plastic), framed or frameless, and volume. Here are some examples for choosing the best mask for you.

Tempered glass or Polycarbonate glass – Tempered glass is superior in strength, visual clarity and easier to clean. You will see a ‘T’ or ‘tempered’ in the corner of the lens. It is also more scratch resistant and choice of divers and snorkelers. Polycarbonate is unbreakable and less costly.

Single Lens – Offering a larger view forward, this is the most common mask type. For those with a larger nose bridge, the single lens is not recommended due to inadequate space for the nose bridge.

Two Lens Masks – Reducing internal volume, two lenses are split and are held together by a frame. This allows more room for the nose bridge and brings the mask closer to the face.

Three/Four Lens – Adding side windows allows more light, including a panoramic and downward view. Think of it as taking off the blinders of a horse. It’s also the choice pick for those who suffer from claustrophobia.

Skirts

Silicone Skirts

The skirt is the part of the mask that directly touches your face and creates the seal to keep the water out. Look at the width and always go with wider, which creates a better seal. As a rule of thumb, the more of the edge that’s in contact with your skin, the more likely it will make a good seal.

ONLY choose a silicone skirt. Not only are silicone skirts the ideal choice for hobbyists and experienced divers, but it also creates a better face seal, is more durable and lasts longer – sometimes up to ten years!

Skirt Colors

When it comes to colors, each has its own advantages.

Clear- lets in more light. Most common to find.

Black- reduces glair, movement, and light patterns. Great for underwater photographers.

Purging

Some masks have the ability to remove water with a purge valve, a little flap located right under your nose. Purging is the process of blowing the water out of your mask by lightly blowing your nose, without breaking the seal or forcing you to go back to the surface. Warning – some purge valves flap will become damaged over time, so make sure to carry extra ones.

No purge valve flap? No worries! While holding the top of your mask, blow out your nose. The water will exit your mask and should reseal just fine.

Proper Volume

It all comes down to compression. Just like flying in an airplane, ‘popping’ your ears helps alleviate the air compression, the same goes for going under water. The deeper you go; the more weight of water is above you, compressing air inside your mask and creating pressure.

Low volume masks allow less air volume since the lens sit closer to your face. This is beneficial as it allows your lungs being filled with air. These types of masks also prevent you from having to exhale, making it less likely to fog the lens.

Glasses or Contacts

Thanks to technology, prescription lenses are available to those who are near or far sighted. The tradeoff is you will spend $150 or more and only have the option for a two-lens mask.

Many manufacturers offer premade corrective lenses. Many snorkeling masks are designed to have their lenses removed, that way you can easily slip a premade corrective lens into place. However, those who have strong prescriptions, cataracts or astigmatisms, it is not recommended.

If you can wear contact lenses, please do. Plus, it saves you from spending hundreds of dollars for a custom mask.

There are other considerations when choosing a mask.

Frameless Masks

By gluing the silicone skirt directly on the lens, frameless masks eliminate the stiff, vision-impairing frames.

Pros:
  • Thin materials
  • 180 degrees of visual range
  • Weighs less than framed masks
  • Great for those who need prescription lenses
  • Cons:
  • Higher cost over framed masks
  • The bond will disintegrate over the years, so checking the seal is critical
  • More prone to breaking
  • No replaceable parts
  • Full Face Masks

    Gaining popularity, full face masks feel more natural as your given the ability to breathe through your nose. A great option for those learning how to snorkel as your entire face is covered by the mask.

    Warning - These might kill you. Due to improper CO2 venting people have been known to pass out and drown in the water with some models.

    Pros:
  • Natural breathing
  • Special value for water drainage (bottom of chin)
  • No need to bite on a snorkel
  • Better visibility
  • Cons:
  • No freediving; inability to equalize pressure creating pressure
  • The lens is easily scratched
  • Bulkier than traditional framed masks
  • Inability to learn basic mask/snorkel skills
  • Fogging and Defogging

    Today, many manufacturers produce ‘fog free' or ‘no fog' lenses. Keep in mind, no mask can ever be 100% fog free – unless it's off your face and not being used.