Every year, over 8 million people strap on fins and masks to explore the underwater world through snorkeling.
The simplicity of snorkeling makes it one of the most popular vacation activities as it doesn’t require a lot of skill or expensive equipment.
With a few basic pieces of snorkeling equipment, you can enjoy the wonders of breathing underwater and observing sea life in a whole new way.
The mask is similar to swim goggles for snorkeling. They are designed to protect your eyes and nose from water, provide maximum visibility, and sit comfortably on your face.
The traditional snorkel mask is a wide pair of goggles with a silicone nose cover. Other innovative designs now have additional features to ensure everyone can find a mask that fits comfortably and works properly while snorkeling.
Types of Snorkel Masks
- Two Window – This mask has two separate lenses, similar to swim goggles. The lenses are held together by a frame around the entire mask.
- Single Lens – If you prefer a mono-lens, this mask has one solid viewing piece with no frame running between the eyes.
- Panoramic with Side Windows– Many snorkelers prefer this style because it has extra glass on the sides, increasing your field of vision.
- Full Face – A full face snorkel mask covers the whole face and allows you to breathe naturally through your mouth and/or nose.
- Prescription - If you normally wear glasses, you can get a prescription snorkel mask so you can see clearly underwater. A prescription snorkel mask may include specialized lens inserts, drop-in lenses, bonded lenses, installed integrated lenses, etc.
Parts of a Snorkeling Mask
No matter what style of mask you choose, most of them have the same basic components.
It is helpful to know how to use and care for your mask to ensure it works properly underwater.
- Strap - This is the strap that attaches to the sides of the mask and secures the mask to your head. Generally, a traditional face mask just has one strap, but a full-face mask has two perpendicular straps around the back of the head.
- Skirt – This is the portion of silicone or plastic that sits against your face and forms the seal. For those with facial hair, it’s important that the skirt fits snugly and directly against your skin to ensure a good seal. If the skirt is loose or worn, the mask should not be used. If a snorkeler worries about claustrophobia, we suggest a mask with a clear skirt.
- Lens(es) – This is the portion of the mask that you look through. A mask may have a single lens, double lenses, and may have lenses on the sides as well to increase visibility. They also can come with an anti-fog covering, but if not, there are numerous ways to prevent fogging on snorkel lenses.
- Nose Pocket - A pocket for your nose allows the mask to sit comfortably and makes clearing your mask easier.
- Low Volume vs High Volume – This refers to the profile of the mask. A low volume mask fits closer to your face (less air in the mask) and a high-volume mask lens is further from your face and may have additional side lenses.
- Purge Valve – This is an optional feature that is not on every mask. A purge valve allows you to clear any excess water from your mask by simply exhaling through your nose. This is typically not necessary if your mask fits properly but can be helpful for those who tend to get water in their mask frequently.
The snorkel, or breathing tube, is what allows snorkelers to breathe underwater. The snorkel tube should be attached securely to the mask strap with the top of the tube out of the water. Full-face masks have a built-in tube that comes out of the top of the mask.
Types of Snorkels
- Basic - The basic snorkel tube is a piece of hollow plastic that forms a J at the mouthpiece. This is what you’ll often get if you’re renting a snorkel on vacation.
- Semi-Dry – A semi-dry snorkel includes a splash guard at the top of the snorkel to prevent large amounts of water from being splashed inside.
- Dry – A dry top feature prevents any water from entering the opening. This snorkel is great for freediving and has a float at the top that allows you to easily breath as you breach the surface.
- Flexible – Some snorkelers prefer a flexible snorkel that can bend if you need it to. Flexible snorkels have a one-way valve located at the bottom that makes it easier to expel any water that may get into the snorkel.
- Full-Face - This type of snorkel combines a full-face mask and a dry snorkel, providing the ultimate snorkeling experience. The tube is attached to a full-face mask and extends upwards from the top. And instead of breathing through a mouthpiece, you can breathe normally without worry of getting water in your mask.
Parts of a Snorkel
- Mouthpiece – Mouthpieces are all shaped differently, so it’s important to get one that is comfortable. Some are soft while others are hard plastic. Find one that requires less “biting” to hold them in and eliminate jaw fatigue.
- Snorkel Keepers – Each snorkel has its own type of keeper. This is a silicon or plastic piece that connects the snorkel tube with your mask. It helps keep your snorkel in place when you dive into the water.
- Purge Valve – If you like to dive down to the bottom to get a closer look at underwater life, the purge valve will be important. This feature makes clearing your snorkel easy as soon as you return to the surface.
While fins are not required to snorkel, they do make the experience significantly easier. Using fins allows you to swim longer, further, smoother and faster.
Types of Fins:
- Full Foot – These fit like a shoe with an opening at the top and full foot covering. While socks are not required, some divers choose to wear thin Lycra dive socks with them.
- Adjustable/Open Heel – This is a heel strap attached to a foot pocket. They are typically what you’ll get with rented equipment because they fit a wider range of feet and are easily adjustable.
- Split Fins – If you have had knee problems in the past, you may want a split fin, which provides high propulsion and less resistance with each kick.
- Full Blade/Paddle – This is great for distance swimming. If you’re looking to snorkel further from the shore or boat, choose a full blade/paddle fin that provides greater speed while using less energy.
A snorkel vest is a must-wear for beginning snorkelers, snorkelers who will be swimming through water deeper than ten feet, or snorkelers who are not 100% confident in their swim strokes or stamina.
Your snorkel vest will guarantee that you stay on the surface throughout the duration of the activity and that you don’t get tired or weak from floating.
You may be supplied with a snorkel vest if you’re on a snorkel tour, but you can also choose to bring your own.
Types of Snorkel Vests
- Horse Collar – This is an easy-to-use, compact, and travel friendly option. The horse collar is an inflatable device placed around your neck and fits similar to a traditional life vest. The main downside is the lack of UV protection.
- Jacket – A snorkeling jacket is similar to a lifejacket. While it is more bulky than other options, it is also more comfortable to wear in the water. It has fabric on the back to provide both warmth and UV protection. A jacket may also have pockets or D-rings for any extra equipment you may have.
- Noodles - Noodles can be great for snorkelers because they provide extra support and help to provide stability. You can also sit on the noodle if you need to adjust your mask or check your camera.
- Floats – A snorkel float is designed to provide support if you get tired while snorkeling. Some may have viewing windows built right into the float, so you don’t miss any of the action.
- Swim Buoys - Swim buoys are not any form of buoyancy aid, but are often used by snorkelers to mark their places and alert boats to their location.
Sun Protection Clothing
Because snorkelers spend a lot of time with their back exposed to the sun, UV protection is a musthave piece of snorkeling equipment.
Nothing is worse than coming in from a great day snorkeling only to discover a blistering sunburn on your back.
There are several different types of sun protection clothing you can use to protect yourself while snorkeling.
- Wetsuits – A wetsuit is a great form of sun protection as it covers your back from harmful UV Rays.
- Swim Skin - A swim skin is a thin wetsuit designed for warmer waters. If you’re in colder waters, you can opt for a full wetsuit made of foamed neoprene.
- Rash Guard – A simple rash guard top is a great option for snorkelers. These long sleeve or short sleeve surf shirts have UPF protection built-in and designed to be worn with traditional swimwear.
- Reef Safe Sunscreen – Of course, you can always opt for good old-fashioned sunscreen. Just be sure to check the active ingredients label to ensure that reef-harming chemicals are not included. It’s also advised to stick with lotions and avoid spray or misting sunscreens.
If you’re going to be snorkeling for an extended period of time, an extra layer of clothing is recommended. A wetsuit or rash guard will protect you from sunburns, but also minor stings and irritation from saltwater.
A good underwater camera allows you to take the magic of snorkeling home with you. Choose a waterproof camera that you can use both on land and underwater that securely attaches to you as you swim.
Types of Snorkel Cameras
- Waterproof Camera - These cameras are specially made for underwater use. They have a fully-sealed body and come with various depth limits.
- Waterproof Casing – If you have a professional-level camera you’d like to use, you can use an underwater case to deliver the best image quality and keep your camera safe along the way.
Be careful using your smartphone as a camera as most “water resistant” electronics are not designed for the depth or endurance of snorkeling.
Snorkeling Gear Bags
When you choose to purchase your own snorkel gear, you’ll need a reliable and safe way to transport it when heading to the beach.
Snorkeling bags come in various sizes and designs.
How to Choose a Snorkeling Bag:
- Make a list of everything you plan to bring so that you can determine what size the snorkeling bag should be.
- Consider how long you will carry the bag. Are you walking a long distance to the beach? If you need to carry the bag a longer distance, be sure you choose one that is comfortable and easy to handle when full of gear.
- Consider additional features you may need. For example, will you need to carry a change of clothes? If you are traveling by car, scooter, or bus look for waterproof options that won’t keep you dripping all the way home.
FAQs About Types of Snorkeling Equipment
What snorkel material should I buy?
We recommend looking for silicone-made snorkels because they are more resistant to the elements like ultraviolet rays and chlorine.
Can I use my snorkel mask for scuba diving?
Generally speaking, if your mask fits your face well, is comfortable, doesn’t leak, and has tempered glass, then yes, you can use a snorkel mask for scuba diving as well. If you have any concerns about whether your mask is okay for scuba diving, then take it to a scuba shop to seek a professional opinion.
Is it OK to use a life jacket when snorkeling?
A snorkeling vest is preferred over a life jacket but yes, any flotation device can be used while snorkeling.
What do you wear under a sun shirt?
A sun shirt is not designed to be standalone swimwear. Typically for men, nothing is worn under a sun shirt or rash guard. For women, wear a sports bikini top or sports bra under your sun shirt.
How do you clean snorkeling equipment?
There are different ways to clean the different types of snorkeling equipment. For the best results, follow the specific guidelines for cleaning snorkeling gear in our article.
Get Ready to Float
Snorkeling is one of the most relaxing and awe-inspiring ways to explore the ocean.
Whether you’re on vacation, or exploring your backyard beaches, snorkeling is an activity everyone can enjoy.
Having the right snorkeling equipment allows you to stay safe, comfortable, and explore the wonders of the ocean right in front of your eyes.