Full-Face Snorkeling Masks: Pros And Cons
During recent years, full-face snorkeling masks have been steadily gaining popularity worldwide. This type of mask feels more natural to many snorkelers since it offers the ability to breathe through the nose (rather than the mouth as with traditional snorkels). It was also well received by beginner snorkelers, who prefer to have their entire face protected from contact with water. However, there are those who are skeptical about the concept or even raise concerns about the safety of full-face masks.
So, in this article, we have decided to cover the pros and cons of using full-face masks for snorkeling as well as give you our picks of the best full-face snorkeling masks.
Some of the benefits that make snorkelers lean towards using a full-face mask include:
1. Natural breathing. While using a full face mask you can inhale and exhale through either your nose or your mouth. The natural breathing helps keep you calmer and more relaxed in the water. There is also no learning curve or getting comfortable breathing through the snorkel, which is great for beginners.
2. Water barrier. The masks seal around your entire face, which decreases the chance of water getting into the mask when you smile. A mustache is also not a problem if you choose a full-face snorkeling mask. Finally, the rear strap holds the mask in place on your head, allowing you to move freely and take on waves without losing the mask.
3. Built-in dry top snorkel system. Although there are many conventional snorkels offering a similar feature, high-quality full-face snorkeling masks take it to a whole new level. In addition to a standard ball float system that stops the water from entering the tube when submerged, full-face masks are designed in such a way that even if a small amount of water does get into the snorkel, it will be channeled away from the face and into the chin area of the mask. A special valve located on the bottom of the chin allows to drain the water out.
4. Anti-fog breathing circulation. High-quality full-face masks don’t get foggy as easily as regular masks do. They feature a dual vent system that allows the air to circulate inside, preventing fogging.
5. No jaw fatigue. Since the majority of full-face masks don’t have a mouthpiece that you need to bite onto, snorkeling for extended periods of time becomes more comfortable. This is especially true if you have issues with sore jaws or mouth from holding onto the snorkel.
6. Better visibility. Most full-face mask models offer a curved lens that extends behind your eye and provides a clear uninterrupted 180-degree view. The frame seals behind your vision line, which means that it won’t alter your view.
Now for the disadvantages:
1. You cannot freedive wearing a full-face snorkeling mask. A full-face snorkeling mask restricts the access to your nose, so you are unable to equalize the pressure in your ears that increases as you dive down. What’s more, during the descent, a large volume of air in the mask creates a strong pressure on your face. While with the traditional mask you can relieve the pressure by breathing out through your nose, this is impossible with the full-face snorkeling mask. So, if you like to freedive to get a closer look at the reef and sea creatures, this type of mask is not the best option for you.
2. The plastic lens can be easily scratched. In order to avoid the nasty scratches on your mask, you must be very careful about how you pack, travel and care for it. It is preferred that you always carry your mask in a special bag and never let it get sandy.
3. Full-face snorkeling masks are larger and bulkier than the traditional ones. A full-face mask will take up more space in your luggage and prove more challenging to pack for travel.
4. Users don’t learn basic mask and snorkel skills. Full-face masks are super easy to use and don’t require any special knowledge or training, which is great for beginner snorkelers. However, this also means that the snorkeler doesn’t develop such simple but crucial skills as mask and snorkel clearing. For this reason, a snorkeler who have only been using full-face masks and have not acquired the necessary snorkeling skills can feel extremely uncomfortable and start panicking if water floods their mask. So, remember, regardless of what gear you choose, it is essential that you learn to use it properly and know how to act in case something goes wrong.
Some users have voiced concerns regarding the safety of a full-face snorkeling mask. The argument is that due to the large dead airspace in the mask and tube, there could be a buildup of carbon dioxide in the mask. This could lead to the user becoming disoriented, weaker, and possibly blacking out.
In regards to this, it is worth noting that some manufacturers specify that their masks are not designed to be used for exercise, but for casual snorkeling only. They do warn that you will not be able to get enough oxygen if you wear one while exercising intensely enough to need to breathe through your mouth.
What’s more, trying to get to the bottom of this issue, HEAD/MARES - one of the manufacturers of full face masks - has conducted specialized testing of various types of masks on the market. To perform the testing, they used an ANSTI machine (a breathing simulator designed for scuba regulator testing) which HEAD/MARES have in-house in their rebreather manufacturing center in Belgium.
As background to their testing, HEAD has stated the following:
“While there are no specific standards for testing of full-face snorkel masks, HEAD referenced two European Union Norms, the EN250, and EN14143, standards widely used in the scuba diving industry and also adopted by US authorities such as NASA for the testing of full-face scuba diving masks.”
The two standards considered are:
EN250:2014 Respiratory protective devices - Open-circuit self-contained compressed air breathing apparatus. This norm has a section on inspired carbon dioxide. In particular, it specifies that if a “facepiece” has an internal volume greater than 200ml, it should be tested for inspired carbon dioxide levels.
- 10 l/min (10 breaths per minute of 1 liter each): the carbon dioxide level should not exceed 20mbar;
- 62.5 l/min (25 breaths per minute of 2.5 l each): the carbon dioxide level should not exceed 10mbar.
EN14143: Respiratory equipment - Self-contained re-breathing diving apparatus. This norm deals extensively with carbon dioxide since it covers equipment meant to recirculate exhaled air by removing the exhaled carbon dioxide. The only part relating to a snorkeling full-face mask is section 22.214.171.124 where it is stated that the volume-weighted average inspired partial pressure of carbon dioxide during each inhalation shall not exceed 20mbar.
An extract from the HEAD full-face mask testing can be seen below.
In conclusion, HEAD has stated:
“CO2 buildup measured on the HEAD full-face mask is at around 50% of the maximum allowed limits set by EN250 at a breathing rate of 10 liters per minute (slow and calm breathing) and at around 20% of the maximum limit when breathing at a rate of 62.5 liters per minute (e.g. breathing heavily with still deep breaths in a panic situation). In other words, the higher the stress level, the higher the breathing rate, and the better the mask performs.”
“The success of the HEAD full face snorkel masks has spawned a number of low-cost copycat masks from little-known companies whose expertise, design and manufacturing experience are unknown. These off-brand products are offered at attractive prices, but their performance and the nature of any research or testing that stand behind them, if any, is completely unknown.”
What does this all mean to you as a potential user?
Of course, snorkeling, swimming, and any other activity involving the ocean includes an element of risk and using a poorly designed full-face mask, or for that matter, any low-quality equipment can contribute to that risk.
There are a number of manufacturers that have put a lot of time and hard work into designing and testing full-face snorkeling masks. However, because of their success, there have appeared a large number of poor-quality copies developed with no technical background or knowledge. These can not only take the pleasure out of snorkeling but even prove to be dangerous.
So the best thing you can do is choose high-quality gear from well-known manufacturers and learn how to use it correctly.
Most reliable full-face snorkeling masks:
In conclusion, it is up to you to weigh all the pros and cons of using a full-face snorkeling mask and decide if you want to give it a try or stick with a classic mask and snorkel combo. The most important thing, after all, is your comfort in the water.
If you have any thoughts you’d like to share related to full face masks, leave a comment! We wish you fun and safe snorkeling adventures!