The underwater world is fascinating. Once you start seeing what’s under the surface, you at least double the number of must-see places on your bucket list. But as humans, we’re not in our first element there. Having the right equipment for snorkeling is fundamental to enjoy the experience – especially if you’re snorkeling for the first time. And the first step to choose the best snorkel gear is to define your needs.
Do you snorkel often? Is it your first time snorkeling? Do you travel light? Do you free dive? Answering this will help you define the important criteria for your equipment. So take a few seconds to think about it. And read on the following tips with your personal criteria in mind, so you can determine what’s the best snorkel gear for you: the best snorkel mask, the best snorkel, the best fins for snorkeling, the best snorkeling swimwear, underwater camera gear… and the best accessories to make snorkeling an easy activity!
I am not a professional and these tips are based on my many experiences of snorkeling in different environments and trying different snorkel gear and accessories. I highly recommend trying your snorkel gear before your snorkeling session so you can ensure it suits you and 100% enjoy your snorkeling experience.
1. The best snorkel mask
That’s the most important part of your equipment and you don’t want to look at the price or at the look when you buy or rent it. If you plan to do scuba diving and snorkeling, keep in mind that all masks won’t work for scuba diving: only tempered glass is suitable.
Is a full-face snorkel mask the best snorkel mask for you?
Beginners usually love full-face snorkel masks.
The full-face snorkel masks have been on the market for a few years now, and it’s a revolution. You can use your nose and breathe normally with a full face mask compared to a snorkel where you have to breathe through your mouth. The snorkel is integrated into the mask. It also removes the risks of having jaw pain because of the snorkel, especially if you’re a bit nervous. Plus, they don’t fog easily.
They can be a good option if you only plan to snorkel, but their design is not adapted to skin diving, scuba diving or exercising. Even just going down for a few meters can be challenging as you cannot pinch your nose to equalise. Plus, they are quite bulky so not suited if you want to travel light.
Make sure you chose a trusted brand that has done CO2 testing on their full-face snorkel masks. I am a big fan of Decathlon, who created the first full snorkel mask “Easybreath” (the model featured on the right) and sells it under the brands Tribord or Subea. Click here to see it on Amazon*.
What’s the best snorkel mask?
Having the best snorkel mask is essential for comfort. A leaking face mask is very annoying. So to find a mask that won’t leak, you need to try it on at the shop or the rental place with this in mind: the best snorkel mask is the one that fits your face. Whether you have a large face and nose or narrow ones, you’ll need a different type of mask. The price and the look don’t matter compared to the fit.
Price is often related to the quality of the silicone. The more flexible the silicone is, the better. A good silicone won’t age too quickly. To keep your mask longer, avoid putting it in the sun and rinse it with clear water after use.
Don’t rush choosing your snorkel mask, it could ruin your snorkeling experience.
How can you decide if you’ve found the best snorkel mask?
The best snorkel mask will seal nicely on your face without being too tight. Men will want to shave before snorkeling and testing their mask, so the seal is better.
To test the mask, put it on your face without the strap behind your head. Take time to see how it looks and feels. Do you have enough space for your nose? Do you have space around your eyes? Does it feel good between your nose and your mouth? Can you pinch your nose? If you answered yes, that’s a great start.
Keep the same position, breath in with your nose and take your hands off the mask. Stop inhaling, put your head down towards the ground but don’t put your hands back. Does the mask stay on? If it’s another yes, then you may have found the best snorkel mask for you.
The last thing to test is the strap. Place it on the back of your head and make sure it does not sit on your ears. If it does, it may hurt after a while so you’ll want to find another mask that fits better.
My snorkel mask choice
I am also a scuba diver, so I wanted a mask I could go scuba diving with. I tested a dozen masks at my local shop before choosing my mask. I loved the panoramic view, so I was happy it was a great fit for my wide face!
I’ve used my snorkel mask for a few years now, on more than 85 scuba dives and probably as many snorkeling sessions. The only thing I regret is the colour. It was only available in black at the shop, and I didn’t mind as I find black ages better than transparent, which can become blurry. But when I look at photos, maybe transparent would give me a better look!
Some people love black silicone on their mask; some prefer transparent silicone. The main difference (except for the look on the photos!) is that a transparent silicone lets the light coming in. Some find it better, and they may even describe having a wider view with a transparent silicone. Others don’t like the glare it creates. It’s only a matter of taste.
2. The best snorkel
I highly recommend opting for a dry or semi-dry snorkel, even if it’s slightly more expensive. Don’t go for a wet snorkel. You don’t want to have water coming in your snorkel (and then your mouth!).
I opted for a semi-dry snorkel as I sometimes skin dive to have a closer look at what’s down there. A dry snorkel is buoyant and creates a lot of drag, which is not the best when skin diving.
Plus, I always carry my snorkel with me when I scuba dive, for safety reasons. A dry snorkel isn’t suitable for diving (it can collapse with the air trapped inside as you go down). But if you plan on just snorkeling and staying at the surface, then a dry snorkel will be perfect for you.
The valve at the top of a dry snorkel will prevent water from coming in if a wave comes above your head for example. With a semi-dry snorkel, there’s a splash guard for that, but the snorkel can still fill up with water that will end up in the draining chamber at the bottom. You can purge the draining chamber easily with a big breath.
The second thing to think of to find the best snorkel is the mouthpiece. You don’t want to pick one that’s too big for you as you’ll fill uncomfortable. If it’s too small, you may need to bite too hard on it to keep it in your mouth which can create jaw pain.
Finally, I find the flexible tube on my snorkel very comfortable: it doesn’t pull on my face and fits perfectly.
3. A snorkel mask strap cover
If you have long hair, you’ll love that tip.
A snorkel mask strap cover will prevent pulling and tangling your hair. It will make your life easier by gently slipping on the back of your head when you put it on and off. No more strapped hair. Seriously, it was life-changing for me.
I recommended picking a bright colour that your buddy can easily recognise. An original snorkel mask strap cover helps identify your snorkel partner from behind when you’re in a group or a popular area.
You’ll find many snorkel mask strap covers online. Unlike the rest of the equipment, this time I recommend choosing it according to the look. Just pick your favourite colour or a message that makes you happy! Mine is bright pink and you can find it on Amazon here* among many other models*:
4. The best fins for snorkeling
In most areas, you’ll need fins to go snorkeling for safety reasons. You want to have more power if you need to swim in a current, or you don’t want to use all your energy if you swim for a long time.
I don’t always use fins when I go snorkeling: they’re not necessary to swim in a calm lagoon for example. Fins increase the risk of damaging corals so if I don’t need them for safety, I won’t take them.
Comfort is the most critical feature of your fins. Lousy quality fins or fins that aren’t your size can give you annoying blisters after a few minutes, that will last for many days.
There are different types of fins: closed foot or open foot, split or paddle and long or short.
I highly prefer the open foot fins for two reasons:
- you can wear boots which allows walking without pain on a beach full of shells
- they are adjustable, so they are a better fit
However, closed foot fins are reputed to be more efficient as they are lighter: you need fewer efforts to kick. I am always between two sizes, so I don’t mind heavier fins that are a better fit. But if you’re not a good swimmer and get tired easily, you’ll probably seek performance and thus prefer closed foot fins.
I prefer the traditional paddle fins because of the way I swim: I like to alternate common stroke and frog kicks. Split fins are also a new technology that costs more money: for the same budget, you’ll get better paddle fins than split fins. I recommend hiring both types to figure out which one is the most adapted to the way you swim. If you swim for long and want to save energy, maybe you’ll like the split fins as it’s easier to swim with smaller and quicker small kicks with these fins.
For me, the best fins for snorkeling are the compact open foot travel fins*. I’m entirely looking at the convenience criteria when I pick these fins: they are lighter and easier to store and pack. Of course, with such a reduced size, you limit the performance. I don’t mind spending a bit more energy and love to travel light, so these are the best fins for snorkeling for me.
Short fins are actually great for beginners: it’s easier to kick, and there is less risk of damaging the surrounding environment (or people). But although it feels harder to kick with long fins, it’s often more efficient. So long story short: long fins for long snorkeling sessions, short fins for short ones!
5. A bag for your snorkel gear
If you buy a snorkel gear set, it will likely come with a mesh bag to transport it. But if you buy your gear seperately, then you will need to buy a bag. The main thing to consider is the size (especially if you plan to carry your fins in it) and the closure. You want a large main compartment that can fit all your gear so it doesn’t fall. You also want a bag that quickly drains water for when you’re outside. If you plan to carry your gear or have a wetsuit in your bag, you may prefer shoulder straps so it’s more comfortable. Also make sure the quality of the bag is good enough for the weight you plan to put in it. Cheap bags can rip apart if you carry heavy wet clothes or towels. You may want extra pockets for important items that you don’t want to mix with your snorkel gear.
Here are some different design ideas:
When you place your snorkel gear in your car, you may not want to leave it in the mesh bag. The mesh bag is perfect to keep wet gear ventilated, but the principle is that the water can go away from the bag. If you don’t want to wet your car while transporting your wet snorkel gear, then a waterproof bag is necessary. But don’t leave it in there for too long, otherwise it will be smelly. A better option – but bulkier – is to have a waterproof plastic tub in your boot to throw your mesh bag in.
6. The best snorkeling swimwear
Most people snorkel with just their swimming suits. I never do that for two reasons:
- to protect my skin from the sun and stingers
- to stay warm to snorkel longer
Did you know that we lose heat four times faster in the water than in the air? So if you want to have long and comfortable snorkeling sessions, swimwear becomes an important part of having the best snorkel gear.
I opted for a one-piece Sharkskin suit with fleece inside*. I’ve had it for more than three years and I cannot think of a single con to this wetsuit. It’s a lot more comfortable and flexible than a usual neoprene wetsuit – it actually feels like a second skin – and it’s less buoyant than neoprene if I want to skin drive. As I’m not good at skin diving, it makes a huge difference for me when I try to go down! It’s also suitable to be put under a wetsuit if I snorkel or dive in cold waters. And, of course, it provides full-body protection against the sun or stingers. If I don’t have space to carry the full wetsuit, I also have a version with just the top*.
If you don’t snorkel often, then there is no need to invest in a wetsuit. You may want to hire one for your snorkeling session or otherwise use a cheaper rashguard or lycra suit*.
Be careful also to protect your head from the sun when you go snorkeling. I often use a cap or a bandana.
7. The best underwater camera gear for snorkeling
It depends on your budget. If you just want to capture memories to share online and don’t want to print them, you don’t need anything fancy. Read these tips about underwater photography to find out how editing your underwater photo can make a big difference.
I think the most important thing when you snorkel with your camera is to have it secured.
Make sure it’s attached to your wrist or your belt (see weight belt section for more details), and it can also be very useful to attach a floating tool to it. This can do the trick*.
You may be interested in a telescopic stick* that can extend so you take closer shots without the need to dive in.
GoPro* makes the most famous action camera and the new models are waterproof up to 10 metres, which is perfect for most snorkelers.
8. Accessories to change easily
Removing your wet gear at the beach doesn’t have to be challenging anymore. If you have a mat that becomes a bag for your wet gear and a poncho towel, you basically carry a changing room with you!
9. Weight belt for snorkeling
If you like to free dive, you may consider adding a weight belt to your snorkel gear. Wearing a weight belt will allow you to go down more easily and to stay down without having to kick too much. Both advantages are good for saving air and efforts. Freediving includes more risks than just snorkeling at the surface so if you are interested in this activity, it would be a good idea to join training and look for more information about it. Freedivers can black out up to 20 seconds after coming back to the surface – and you don’t want this to be a surprise when you start freediving.
I advise considering these four things when choosing a weight belt for snorkeling:
- the material: nylon weight belts* are cheaper but may slide if you use a wetsuit, rubber weight belts* are heavier to carry but will adjust and not slip.
- the buckle: I highly advise avoiding plastic buckles as they break easily; metal buckles are heavier but also a lot more resistant.
- the quick-release: you want to be able to get rid of your weight belt quickly in case of an emergency
- the colour: I’m not into fashion at all, but I find it annoying when we all have the same black nylon weight belt and it takes forever to find yours on the boat.
Carrying weights when you are traveling can be challenging. If you are snorkeling from the shore, you may be interested in a pocket weight belt* that you can fill with sand or rocks. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a good idea to avoid reaching your luggage weight limit in no time!
Finally, you may be interested in adding accessories to your weight belt. I particularly like the weight keeper with a D-ring* that prevents the weight from moving on your belt and, when coupled with a clip*, gives you an opportunity to secure your gear (camera or torch for example).
10. A cutting device for safety
Life for many other sports, having the right snorkeling equipment helps to minimize the dangers of snorkeling. If you are snorkeling in a popular spot for fishing, you may want to add a cutting device to your snorkel gear. There’s a small risk to get entangled in fishing line, which can be extremely dangerous. A cutting device will set you free quickly.
Some people prefer carrying a scuba diving or fishing knife strapped to they leg*. I personally find it too bulky. I opted for an Eezycut* which is a lot smaller and – for someone not at ease with knives – safer to use.
11. A box for your keys
Where do you put your keys when you snorkel from the shore? If you don’t have anyone doing a surface watch for you, it can become a challenge. I opted for a portable car key safe*. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s for sure the safest as there’s no risk of the keys flooding or getting lost. If your keys are not electronic, you may want to take the risk and keep them with you when you go snorkeling. Then a waterproof container may be a good solution. Make sure to double-check the size of the box you purchase as some keys are a lot bigger than others – and cheaper boxes tend to be very small.
Do you like snorkeling? What’s the best snorkel gear for you? Share your experience in the comments below!
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