Snorkeling Equipment: A Guide to Snorkeling Masks
A good test to see whether a mask is a good fit is to hold the mask up to your face with the strap hanging loose. Once you push the mask gently onto your face you should be able to keep the mask on simply by inhaling slowly. The air pressure within the mask should keep it firmly secure. If you have to breathe in forcefully to keep a mask on it is a sign of a bad fit.
Next, tighten the straps somewhat and get a feel for the mask when it is fixed in place. Sometimes a mask will seal tighter with a looser strap, sometimes with a tighter strap, but avoid the temptation to over tighten a mask to try and eliminate leaks. A snorkeling mask strap is used mainly to keep the mask from slipping off the face. The real seal is provided by water pressure. Also, because a diver’s mouth is a different shape when they have a snorkel in it a diver should try on their mask while wearing the snorkel in order to get a feel for the entire system. Because you will also expect to be making various small head movements, try turning your heat and looking around through the mask to make sure you have the range of motion.
It is impossible to know whether or not a mask will leak until you actually go for a dive, but using a mask out in a swimming pool is a good way to see if it will leak. Sometimes even a small tub of water can give you a sense of a mask’s seal or potential for leaks. Often, an improperly fitting mask will allow a certain amount of water to trickle in. This inflow, though often very small, can eventually build up to a considerable amount of water during a longer dive and must be removed. A purge valve, a built in feature on some masks, allows a diver to do that by breathing out through the nose, but all snorkelers should learn to clear out their masks with or without a purge valve.
Finally, masks exist for snorkelers of all shapes and sizes including masks specifically for women and children. Divers who wear glasses can find masks with built-in prescription lenses, or can have special lenses fit into a mask. Some divers prefer to wear contact lenses while diving, but these may get lost if a diver loses their mask while underwater. Whatever your needs, chances are there is a mask out there that is right for you.
Good mask vs. cheap mask:
Materials are often a good indication of the quality of a snorkel mask. Most good masks are made out of silicone, which resists deterioration better than basic rubber. Any metal parts of a mask should be made from a non-corrosive metal, like stainless steel. Masks can be either transparent or opaque, but many divers prefer plain black masks because they reduce glare in darker waters. The lens of a mask should be made from tempered glass, which is more durable and resistant to pressure than normal glass. Masks can either be made from a single piece of glass or two pieces separated at the nose. Others have side windows that give a wider viewing angle. Whichever style, a mask should have a wide perspective and should not cut off too much peripheral vision. Straps should be easily adjustable and not fixed to the skirt.
Many expensive masks will offer double seals along the bottom portion of the mask. These can help stop small leaks from occurring. Other masks come with built-in purge valves to help expel water build-up from the inside of the mask. These small one-way valves are generally located above the nose. To use them, simply breathe out gently and steadily through the nose. The buildup of air will force excess water out the valve. Purge valves are not a necessary mask feature, however, as snorkelers should know how to clear their mask of water even without a valve.
Finally, there are several indications of a poor-quality or cheap mask that a snorkeler should avoid. Masks which use a plastic lens should be avoided, as plastic has a tendency to fog during a dive and can scratch easily, obstructing a diver’s vision. Similarly, goggles, which cover only the eyes, can distort vision unless they are perfectly aligned. Also, because they do not cover the nose, goggles have no way to equalize pressure between the two eyepieces, which can become a factor during deeper dives.
As with any piece of equipment, no matter how good the materials and manufacturing quality, unless it fits comfortably it is not a good choice. Be sure to test and try out your mask and other snorkeling equipment before you take it out, to ensure a good fit and a good time.
Pricing: Low end masks sell for $15 or $20, while top of the line masks approach $80 or even $100. For the casual snorkeler, a quality mask that will last should run you around $35-$45