Snorkels are one of those pieces of equipment that can be found is just about every home. They are also very useful on dives, because they allow you to conserve the air in your tank when you are near the surface of the water. For both snorkeling and diving, snorkels are also important because they allow you to breathe naturally while the water supports the weight of your head. This allows you to swim and snorkel more easily, with less fatigue.
The problem is that most people give very little thought when buying a snorkel, even though it is a very important part of the diving experience. When looking for a quality snorkel, you will want to consider:
1) Use. If you will be using your snorkel for snorkeling, a simple snorkel with a streamlined design will often be best. There is little point in paying more for a higher-end snorkel, as these are designed for scuba divers. Scuba divers may also prefer a simple snorkel, since they use snorkels only near the surface of the water (to avoid using the air in their dive tanks) but there are certainly many snorkels designed especially for divers. These have extra features that can make a dive more pleasant. No matter what you use your snorkel for, consider getting an extra mouthpiece for your snorkel. Your snorkel’s mouthpiece will wear out long before the rest of the snorkel does, and having an extra on hand can save your dive.
2) Comfort and fit. All snorkels consist of a mouthpiece and a tube. It is important to look for a snorkel that fist correctly, and this means trying on snorkels both with and without your dive mask. The snorkel should fit well with your mask and should feel natural and comfortable in your mouth, without pinching any area of your mouth. Ill-fitting mouthpieces are most likely to pinch the corners of the mouth, so be especially alert for this. A good mouthpiece will fit like your regulator mouthpiece: it will rest between your teeth without any effort on your part. It is important to find a great fit for your mouthpiece, since incorrectly fitted mouthpieces can irritate your jaw, gums, or mouth.
3) Mouthpieces. Some mouthpieces have an accordion-like flexible attachment point between the mouthpiece and the snorkel tube. If you dive, this handy feature will keep the mouthpiece out of your way. Some snorkels have swivel mouthpieces or flexible hoses for the lower half of the snorkel tube. Both these features allow you to keep the snorkel out of the way while you are at depth. These are additional features the serious diver may want to consider for comfort’s sake.
4) Materials. Many mouthpieces are made from silicone, which is flexible enough to offer a good mouthpiece fit and is durable enough to ensure good value. Make sure that at least the mouthpiece of your snorkel is made from silicone. If it is not, it may not be flexible enough, and this will cause you to bite down on your mouthpiece hard. This, in turn, will cause your jaw to ache and will cause the mouthpiece to wear out faster.
5) The snorkel tube. The snorkel barrel, also called the snorkel tube, varies considerably in size and shape. Some are shaped like a “J” while others are shaped like loops that extend all the way around your head. More experienced divers and snorkelers may prefer the longer loop-style snorkels, but it really is a matter of personal choice. Comfort is key here. Beyond the shape of the snorkel tube, you may also want to consider the size of the tube. A tube with a larger diameter makes it easier to clear out water and to take in the amount of air you need. Generally, you will want a tube with a diameter of at least ¾ inches (1.9 cm). However, don’t assume that bigger is always better: larger snorkels do cause more drag. As with many things in diving, you will want to balance things out. Choose a snorkel tube that is large enough to allow for comfortable breathing, but one that is not so large as to cause too much drag underwater.
6) Attachment options. Your mask and snorkel will need to be attached, and you have a few options here: a snorkel keeper, a snorkel clip, and a quick-release mechanism. The snorkel clip looks a little like the letter “U” and it slips over your mask strap as well as the snorkel tube, linking both. The snorkel keeper is usually a piece of neoprene or rubber with two loops or holes. The holes or loops yoke the snorkel in place and the keeper is put between the mask strap and your head to keep the snorkel and mask together. The quick-release mechanism has a tab on the snorkel and a sleeve on the mask strap. The tab slides into the sleeve (and back out), attaching and detaching the mask and snorkel. Many divers like this option because it makes attaching and putting on the snorkel much easier.
7) Purge valves. Not all snorkels have a purge valve, but an increasing number of models do. This valve is placed near the mouthpiece and allows you to get water out of your snorkel quickly and easily. Purge valves also allow you to purge water while exhaling normally and keeping your head in a normal position. Purge valves are not necessary on a snorkel, but they can be a nice feature to look for.
7) Types of snorkels. In addition to regular snorkels, which do not have any features to keep water out of the top of the snorkel underwater, you can also opt for semi-dry or dry snorkels. Semi-dry snorkels can keep out 95% of the water that can enter the top of the snorkel barrel underwater, while dry snorkels keep all water out. This can be a nice feature for divers. However, keep in mind that both dry and semi-dry snorkels do allow less air into the tube. Another option is the folding snorkel, which is ideal for divers who are annoyed by having their snorkel on at depth. The folding snorkel can be easily detached underwater, folded, and put away in a pocket until you need it again.