Best Snorkeling Gear in 2020 - a Complete Guide
Snorkeling is considered an equipment-light activity, especially compared to scuba diving. The basic pieces of gear you should have are a mask, fins, and a snorkel. That being said, it is worth taking some time to research and select the best products for you and your family. Poor quality sets often sold in discount stores are likely to leave you disappointed. A mask that’s constantly leaking or fogging up, paired with uncomfortable fins and a flimsy snorkel can easily spoil the experience for you.
In this guide, we have outlined the basic features you should look for when selecting each piece of snorkeling gear, as well as provided our picks of the best masks, snorkels, fins, wetsuits and accessories for snorkelers. Hopefully, it will help you choose the right equipment to enjoy your day on the water!
What to Look for in a Snorkeling Mask
Lens Quality and Visibility. Properly constructed masks will feature impact-resistant (tempered) glass lenses that can withstand pressure if you go for breath-hold dives. Lenses made of plastic tend to fog up and scratch easily, while those made of standard glass can even be hazardous, as the glass that has not been specially treated to increase its strength has the propensity to splinter into small shards when broken, which can damage the eyes in case of an accident.
High Grade Silicone Skirt. The mask skirt should always be made from high grade silicone for the best level of comfort and superior sealing. Silica or other plastic based skirts are not as flexible, comfortable to use and may even cause face rashes. Another feature that can be found on all good mask skirts is a secondary skirt. The secondary skirt increases the surface that is able to seal against the skin and significantly reduces the possibility of a leak.
Comfortable Head Strap and Quick-Adjust Buckles. A mask strap should snugly fit against the head’s natural curvature and should also be easy to adjust. Look for a buckle system that allows some range of motion for strap positioning and preferably has a single-button release mechanism.
Our Mask Recommendations
Full-Face Snorkeling Masks
If your snorkeling and water activities are on the surface only and you don’t plan to do any breath hold diving, then a full-face mask may be a good option for you. It has a number of advantages, including a more natural way of breathing using booth nose and mouth, no jaw fatigue, great visibility, etc.
Check out our article Full-Face Snorkeling Masks: Pros And Cons to learn more about the benefits and downsides of snorkeling with a full-face mask.
Our Full-Face Mask Recommendations
Things to Consider When Choosing a Snorkel
Snorkel Top Type. There are three different snorkel top types - classic, semi-dry and dry. Classic snorkels have a full opening at the top. It allows for an unrestricted flow of air in and out of the snorkel but the water can splash in. This system is best for snorkelers with confident airway control who want a light snorkel with no extra bulk. A semi-dry snorkel is partly closed at the top due to a wave deflector which works to direct water that splashes away from the snorkel opening. With this type of snorkel the water will still get in if you submerge, so it is also a good option for those more confident in the water. Dry-top snorkels too have a wave deflector to push splashed water away from the snorkel but also feature an opening valve with a float mechanism that closes when you go below the surface, preventing water from entering the snorkel all the time it is underwater. This type of snorkel is a good option for snorkelers of all skill levels but is especially useful for novices to help them feel more comfortable in the water.
Purge Valve. Purge valves and water collection chambers help to drain water away from your mouth and make clearing the snorkel easier by eliminating the need to exhale sharply to push the water up the snorkel tube. The size and shape of purge chambers can vary but the principle is the same.
100% Pure High Grade Silicone Mouthpiece. Many cheap snorkels use silita or PVC as a silicone-like material in key components such as the mouthpiece. This is a bad option because such mouthpieces are hard, uncomfortable to use and tend to lose shape quickly. They are also likely to rub and cause soreness. Silicone doesn’t have these problems and is a comfortable, soft and flexible material. Silicone mouthpieces are much less likely to rub or cause irritation even after prolonged use. Many reliable manufacturers round off the edges or even create custom mouthpiece profiles to achieve the best comfort level possible.
Our Snorkel Recommendations
Choosing Fins for Snorkeling
Foot Pocket Style. Snorkeling fins can be either full foot or open heel. A full foot design is suitable for those who usually snorkel in warm water and don’t need to wear boots underneath. Full foot fins are lightweight, easy to slip on, spare space in the luggage and provide you with great efficiency. However, when it comes to sizing, it is important to find a good fit, as the fins that are even slightly too large or too small can cause a lot of discomfort. If you will be snorkeling in cold water, where you’ll need to wear booties, an open heel fin is a better choice. Another reason to consider this type of fin is for water entrances that are rocky or full of urchins. You can walk out in your boots and then just put your fins on over them. An added benefit of having an adjustable heel strap is that the size range for a particular pair will be more generous than with the full foot style. There is also a third option, which combines the attributes of full-foot and open-heel fins. This hybrid design features a bungee strap, just like in open heel fins, but the foot pocket is softer, smaller and more comfortable, making it possible to wear these fins with bare feet. So, if you are looking for a compact, travel-friendly fin with more size adjustability, open heel barefoot fins may be a good alternative for you.
Blade Size and Stiffness. As a general rule, fins for snorkeling should be flexible and light. As for the blade length, shorter fins are typically the best option for snorkelers. They make it easier to move around on the surface and sit nicely in a suitcase.
Our Fin Recommendations
Snorkeling Gear Sets
If you don’t want to buy each piece of snorkeling gear individually, you can go for a snorkeling set. Sets can include all three pieces (mask, snorkel and fins) or just a mask and snorkel, with fins being purchased separately. One of the biggest reasons to purchase a set is value. Typically, buying a set is quite a bit less expensive than buying each piece of gear individually. In addition to good value, sets generally include gear that’s been specifically designed to go together, meaning the pieces will fit together seamlessly both in terms of style and function.
On the downside, sets tend to be more generic, one-size fits all sorts of solutions and will not be a good option if you are looking for something specific, like a mask fit or certain type of fins.
Our Snorkeling Set Recommendations
Exposure Protection for Snorkelers
For many snorkelers, visiting tropical destinations, “exposure protection” may simply be swimwear and lots of Reef Safe Sunscreen. However, to ensure best protection against sunburn, as well as prevent scrapes and stings, we suggest you cover your skin by wearing a rash guard with a high UPF rating. It will effectively block the harmful radiation and even provide a bit of warmth for extended snorkeling trips. As for the rashguard style, there are a variety of options you can choose from - short-sleeved, sleeveless or full-sleeved tops, shorts, pants and even full body suits. You can go for any style you like, but remember, the areas most susceptible to sunburn during snorkeling are your neck, shoulders, waist, and calves, so it’s best to have them covered.
For cooler waters, you will want to get a neoprene wetsuit (either a shorty or a full-length) to keep you warm.
To learn more about appropriate exposure protection based on water temperature, read our Wetsuit Temperature Guide.
A snorkeling vest is a great tool for beginners and more experienced snorkelers alike. It will help new snorkelers feel more confident in the water, and allow seasoned snorkelers to take it easy and reduce fatigue during long snorkeling trips. What’s more, in many places around the world local laws require snorkelers to wear a vest, so check if it’s the case in the destination you are planning to visit.
For more info on Personal Flotation Devices, check out our article Life Jacket vs. Snorkeling Vest - Different Types of PFDs
Entanglement is typically not a big risk during snorkeling but if you are visiting areas where sea kelp or old fishing nets can pose a hazard, having some sort of a cutting tool is a good idea. Choose a small knife that can be attached on your lower leg or go for a line cutter.
A well-made snorkeling bag with padded backpack straps can really make your shoulders happier when walking or hiking to the snorkeling site. A good sized mesh bag will hold all your snorkeling gear, keeping it organized and allowing it to dry.
Dry Bag/Box for Valuables
It’s practical to take a dry bag with you on any water adventure, snorkeling included! A dry bag or a small waterproof box will seal to keep everything inside dry, no matter how wet your surroundings are.