Are you thinking about snorkeling during your next warm-weather cruise? Here’s why you should consider trying a full face snorkel mask.
Have you snorkeled before, but you’re not a fan of the equipment? Snorkeling is a popular activity at many beach destinations, and excursions often include a snorkeling component.
Excursion companies will provide fins, a mask, and a snorkel on these tours, but hundreds of guests re-use this same equipment each year. You can’t really be sure that anyone is properly sanitizing these items between uses. That’s especially gross considering that you hold a snorkel inside your mouth. Yuck.
Why did I decide to try a full face snorkel mask?
Growing up, I snorkeled with a basic three-piece set (mask, snorkel, and fins) that I’m sure my mom purchased at some discount store. Spending all day in our lake, searching for turtles, bass, and the occasional crayfish was my favorite summer pastime.
But I had always wanted to snorkel in a tropical destination and see more colorful creatures, along with coral and prettier sea vegetation than the milfoil and tangles of lily pad stems I was used to.
On a Caribbean cruise in 2018, we had the chance to snorkel from our tour boat which anchored near a coral reef. The guides opened up a large trunk full of jumbled snorkel gear, and our group just picked our gear from the pile. I swished my mask and snorkel in the saltwater, but who knows what nasties remained.
Traditional snorkel masks don’t always seal well
Mr. SBC, first-time snorkeler, immediately had a claustrophobic feeling from the small mask and the new experience of trying to breathe through the snorkel. He has graciously allowed me to share with you that he panicked!
As he bobbed in the waves, he kept getting water in his snorkel from the top of the tube. I didn’t have that feeling, having logged countless hours in the water as a kid. However, I couldn’t get my mask to make a proper seal for the life of me.
I tried tightening the strap, adjusting the placement of the mask on my face, and adjusting the strap placement up and down on the back of my head. Water still poured in from the sides of the mask.
Mr. SBC had given up on trying to snorkel at this point, and was back up on the boat. I called to him to throw me down another mask, and we tried two more masks until I could make a proper seal.
I was unhappy that I wasted half of my precious snorkeling time fiddling with the equipment, and he missed out on a fun activity (and indicated that he had no interest in ever snorkeling again).
Determined to snorkel again (and not just by myself), I remembered hearing about the new full face snorkel masks but I assumed they were super expensive. Nope! I was able to buy masks for both of us on Amazon for about half of what I expected to pay.
How do full face snorkel masks work?
The snorkel mask goes over your eyes, nose, and mouth, so you’re able to breathe just through your nose. You don’t have to hold anything in your mouth, so you just keep it closed. The snorkel snaps onto the top of the mask and angles back. This feature allows you to swim normally without ever having to adjust the tube.
The mask slips on over your face, and there’s a silicone seal around the nose and mouth to prevent fogging. A silicone seal also goes around the edge of the mask. The two straps, which meet in the middle, go around the back of your head to securely hold the mask. I only needed to make a minor adjustment by pulling the straps on either side.
The strap setup kind of reminds me of a sports bra—you have to wiggle into it, but it holds securely once you’re in. Having soft elasticated straps was also a nice upgrade over a rubber strap that always tore at my hair when I needed to adjust it. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s size information so you get the right size snorkel mask for your head.
For the guys (hopefully you’re still with me after I just compared the mask to a women’s undergarment), other reviewers note that the silicone seal works best on clean-shaven faces. I reminded my snorkeling partner to shave that morning, so we had no issues. Just something to consider if you have a beard.
The field test: Did the snorkel masks live up to my expectations?
Our next chance to snorkel was in Bermuda on the fantastic Hidden Gems tour. The guides provided traditional snorkel gear, which they assured us they sanitize after each use.
But we had our new gear, and I was so excited to try it for the first time! Mr. SBC was still (very) skeptical, but he was a trooper and was willing to give it a try. We put on our masks with the attached snorkels, and our guides fawned over our “high-tech equipment”.
When we got in the water, the seal did its job—no leaks! Even more exciting, I could see so much more than I could with an old-school mask. The convex shape of the lens made depth perception a little weird in the water; objects looked quite a bit closer than they actually are, but I got used to it.
Even better, I could breathe normally! No need to be a mouth-breather like with traditional snorkel masks.
As you’re breathing into the mask, it’s important to note that you should take more frequent breaks. Remove the mask to clear any CO2 that may have built up, and breathe normally for a few minutes. From my non-expert research, a break once every 20 minutes or so should be safe.
Even a novice can use a full face snorkel mask
What thrills even more than the fact that I love my full-face snorkel mask is that Mr. SBC can now happily snorkel away beside me. No claustrophobia, no panic, no problems with the snorkel.
Whether the sea is calm or even choppier than it was on his first attempt at snorkeling, water won’t splash into the top of the tube.
But if water does go over the top of his snorkel, he doesn’t notice—it has a valve that doesn’t allow water in. This valve also allows me to swim a few feet underwater without having to blow water back out through the snorkel, which I never really enjoyed doing with a traditional set.
Update: Our full face snorkel masks five years later
It’s now been five years since I bought our snorkel masks, and they’ve held up really well! We still pack them for all of our cruises (I just returned from a solo cruise through the South Pacific and snorkeled with it at every port).
With the cost of snorkel rental fees constantly going up, we’ve been able to save several hundred dollars on rentals over the five years we’ve owned our snorkel masks!
Looking for more accessories to make your cruise even better? Check out The 19 Best Cruise Accessories You Need to Pack
Have you tried a full face snorkel mask yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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