Masks are a very important part of a snorkeler's equipment as it allows us to see all of the beauty beneath the waves. It provides us with the air space which our eyes need in order to be able to focus in the underwater world. They are the same with respect to the basic parts needed for their construction. All of them have a lens which acts as our window, all of them have some sort of a strap which keeps the mask on our faces and they all have a skirt which creates the seal as well as the air space needed for all the components to work together. To the novice this would seem to be enough knowledge but it merely scratches the surface of what seasoned snorkeler's have learned about the different materials of which they are made. Not to mention different features that may or may not enhance your experience. Watch our video, The Difference Between Masks.
Back in the day, most snorkeling and scuba diving masks were made of black rubber with regard to the skirt. It was an inexpensive material but it did have a couple of drawbacks to it, one of which was dry rot. The rubber had a tendency to lose its elasticity as it aged developing cracks and tears in the skirt which made it useless in a relatively short period of time. The second drawback was that it limited the amount of light by creating a sort of a tunnel vision. This did not bode well for those who were a bit on the claustrophobic side.
Manufacturers, in an effort to make snorkeling enjoyable to as many people as possible, started using silicone for their skirts. Early silicone was cloudy but still allowed more light to penetrate than the black rubber material. Silicone was also a more expensive material but its resistance to dry rot along with the additional light it afforded appealed quite well to the snorkeling world. Through the years silicone masks became more the norm rather than the exception. Further developments lost it's cloudy appearance which allowed even more light as you see today.
Just when everyone was thinking "It can't get better than this", the manufacturers once again go above and beyond by introducing "Crystal" silicone. This silicone is the super hero of all silicone. Being the clearest silicone on the market, it is also more supple than regular silicone. This means an infinitely better fit and the benefits of Crystal silicone don't stop there, the Crystal silicone prevents the premature discoloration mentioned previously.
In an effort to keep costs down some manufacturers have developed other materials for use in the skirts and are usually a polyvinyl or PVC material. They look as good as the silicone but their main drawback is that the PVC has a tendency to become less flexible in cooler waters and then invariably ends up affecting the fit to the face.
Masks that are suitable for scuba divers are also suitable for use by snorkelers but the opposite can not be said. In order for a mask to be acceptable for scuba and snorkeling, the lenses need to be made of tempered glass. The word tempered will be printed directly on the lens itself and because it it is better suited for changes in pressure which occur when a scuba diver descends and ascends. Tempered glass has a better resistance to scratches than plastic lenses and is stronger than ordinary glass which, therefore makes it harder to shatter. When tempered glass is broken it shattered in chunky pieces rather than dangerously sharp shards. An interesting fact about tempered is, while we may think that it is clear (lacking color), there is a slight tint of green which is due to the iron content used in it's manufacture. Some manufacturers decided to take tempered glass lenses to the next level and some are now considered ultra clear because the type of glass used is minus the most of the iron content. (We only sell adult masks that have tempered glass for reasons above, with a few exceptions on kids masks due to price.)
The key to selecting a mask is to make sure that it fits your face. We have put together a video (above) that you can try it on land, no water needed, to make sure that it fits your face properly, before viewing the fishies. Now those that require vision correction will be pleased to know that manufacturers also can accommodate diopter lenses and there are companies that can chemically bond prescription lenses to the inside of the existing lenses of virtually any mask. As we offer both, the less expensive is the Clarity Mask with Diopter and Lenses. Your option is a plus or negative inserts that we apply for you.
Contact wearers should know that it is perfectly acceptable to wear your contacts while in the water as water does magnify things by 25% making objects appear larger and closer than they really are. Those with minor vision corrections may not need any enhancements as the water itself may compensate. When you use a defog product please read the directions as you do not want the chemicals to affect the contacts and your eyes.
The past few years have brought a wider selection of ways to keep the mask on the face, whether using a silicone or rubber strap that goes through buckle system. Purchasing an additional replacement strap is always a good idea. Some straps are unique, not a standard size which is also another good reason to purchase spare straps. Other options may include straps made of neoprene which are great for those with longer hair as they reduce the chance for hair entanglement. There are also neoprene covers that can be added to existing rubber and silicone straps. A suggestion for those people that have longer hair; if you can braid it, then do so. This will greatly reduce the risk of having hair getting tangled in the strap.
Another feature that is available to the snorkeler is a purge valve which is a one way valve that is used to clear water from the mask should any get in. Purge valves may be found as part of the lens in many older single lenses. Most manufacturers that offer a purge valve usually incorporate them in the the base of the nose pocket itself. Though a nice feature overall, the purge valve at the base of the nose pocket can be uncomfortable for those of us whose nose tip may have a downward hook to it. Also it is made of plastic which can easily break and can not be replaced and if this happens, you would need to purchase a new one.
The technology is forever changing and when the manufacturer add new innovations, designs and options, we will update this article.