The first thing that nearly every diver will recommend as a first piece of equipment is a mask and snorkel set. If you have been diving for a while then you will probably have had a dive experience when your mask has been fogging up, or leaking all the time and this can make what should be a great dive not so great. Another great advantage of having your own mask and snorkel is that you can take part in another great water sport for free, Snorkeling can be just as fun as diving and in some parts of the world it is the only way to get up close and personal with things such as whale sharks, basking sharks and other amazing marine life.
Invest in a quality dive mask
If you have got one of those cheap plastic mask/snorkel sets that you find sold in any tourist shop at a seaside resort throw it away now! These are one of the reasons so many people feel they dislike snorkeling and diving. They are uncomfortable, break easily and let more water in than if you were wearing a pair of sunglasses! When choosing a dive mask you want the lens to be made out of tempered glass. If it says polycarbonate on it keep well away. The frame should be made out of soft silicone, not rubber. You will find that rubber cuts into your face and gets very painful after only a few minutes. The reason you want silicone is because it will mold to your face over time, becoming more and more comfortable to more you wear it.
Also when picking up a mask it is defiantly worth getting a spare strap. Mask straps have been known to break from time to time, it might happen when you least expect it, and it can ruin a good days diving. For added comfort as well I highly recommend a soft neoprene strap cover. You can pick these up from nearly every dive operator with their logo printed on it, so choose your favorite and show them off to all your buddies. All masks you will get should come box or pouch, keep your mask in these when not in use as they help protect the lenses from getting scratched, and help keep the silicone frame in shape.
Black or clear mask?
Most masks come either with clear silicone or with black silicone. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Many people feel claustrophobic when learning how to dive, and more often than not this is because of a black silicone mask. The black silicone creates a tunnel vision effect which is why they are often chosen by photography and videography divers. It helps prevent them from getting distracted from other things around them. The clear silicone masks allow in much light, in fact you can almost see through the silicone, although the image comes out blurry. This added field of vision is great for newer divers who may be a little nervous, and also dive professionals who are looking after a group underwater.
How does your mask fit?
You need to make sure that the mask fits you properly before you buy it, this is the most important thing to think about when choosing one. Because of this we highly recommend going to a dive shop before buying, not just choosing one on the internet. You can always go online and shop around once you have tried them on. Here are a few quick tests you can do to see if it fits you properly.
1) Place the mask on your face without doing the strap up, Look up slightly and feel if the mask is properly touching your face around the silicone skirt, especially around your temples, corners or your mouth and under your nose. Make sure that the mask is not pressing on your nose as thing will get painful over time.
2) From the first step try to take a breath in through your nose, if the mask fits properly you shouldn’t be able to. It should form a vacuum and the mask should suck into your face. No look down and the mask shouldn’t easily fall off. If it does then it means it was not creating a proper seal around your face.
3) Make sure it is comfortable for you, wear if for a while with the strap tightened to fit you properly. Areas where people often feel discomfort are on the tip of the nose or on the bridge of the nose.
Although these tests can help see if a mask is going to work with you the only way to really find out is by trying them in the water. If your local dive shop has a pool ask if you can try it in there, most divers are more than happy to help a fellow diver get more into the sport!
There are some features you should consider before purchasing a mask. For instance if you normally wear prescription glasses you can also get a prescription mask from some of the manufacturers. Or if you are interested in free diving as well as SCUBA Diving then maybe get a low profile mask so you don’t need to equalize it as much on descent.
Should I buy a snorkel?
The other half of a mask and snorkels set is the snorkel of course, and again every mask manufacturer will produce a snorkel to match their masks. At the end of the day a snorkel is a tube with two holes in it, one for you to breathe out of and one for the air to come in. It is a design that has not changed much over the history of diving, but there are some nice little features you may want to consider before choosing.
Some of the cheaper snorkels are just plastic tubes, not the best but they do the job. For a small amount extra you can pick one up that bends, meaning it will fit in your mask box or BCD pocket when not being used, meaning it is less likely to be damaged. Many snorkels also have a purge valve on the bottom making it easier for you to clear, however this valve is easily damaged or lost, turning your snorkel into a straw. Many have specialist designs on the top that help prevent water from entering when duck diving or when diving on a choppy day. The most important feature in my opinion is a decent connection between the snorkel and mask. Many diver hate wearing them because they pull your hair, or dig into the side of your head. This can easily be prevented by spending a little money on a proper clip. During a dive I normally forget my snorkel is even there, but I’m always glad I have it when I need it!
If you feel you have specific needs about a mask or snorkel for you and are unsure please feel free to leave a comment below and we will send you a few suggestions.
‘Choosing your first Dive Mask’ was written by Mike