We are often asked, what is the best snorkel vest and our answer is one that works. But seriously, the best snorkel vest has to work. To make the buying purchase less confusing, we have written a detailed article on the differences of the vests. You get to decide what the the best snorkel vest is, for you.
Water is 800 times denser than air and moving through the water while snorkeling can cause you to become overexerted in a relatively short period of time. When you think of gear needed, mask, fins and snorkel come to mind. There is one piece of equipment that is often overlooked and should be considered an integral part for every snorkeler. The main purpose is to help you offset negative buoyancy and allowing you to rest at the surface should the need arise. The snorkeling vest is not meant to be considered a life jacket and should not be used as such. When doing research, you should be aware of the two basic styles in which it is offered.HORSECOLLAR DESIGN:
This particular style is probably the most common and best described by the way it is worn. It consists of a single bladder that is shaped like an oblong donut where the head is placed through the hole. It is secured to the body by the use of either one or two adjustable nylon straps. The single strap design would use only a waist strap which keeps the bladder from floating away from the torso. The two strap design also includes a crotch strap which extends down your back and between your legs. The purpose is to keep the vest from 'riding up' while you are in the water. The straps are secured by either clips or some sort of buckle system. For more on how the vest is worn be sure to watch our video.
While all of the bladders are basic oval shape, some may offer slight variations. You may find ones that the shapes taper so they are narrower toward the top making them less bulky. There are also some that incorporate wing-like extensions in the lower portions which increase the stability while in use.JACKET STYLE:
This jacket design is different from the horsecollar style. It is worn the same way as a snorkeling vest but more like wearing a shirt by placing the arms through arm holes. The bladder of the jacket is usually located only in the front portion with the back portion consisting of material only. It is secured to the body by adjustable straps or a zipper. This style may or may not have a crotch strap depending on the manufacturer.HYBRID DESIGN:
There is one company who takes comfort to a higher level and their Hybrid design which is the ScubaPro Cruiser Snorkeling Vest. Their design incorporates the traditional styling of the horsecollar but adds a neoprene sleeveless vest. The nylon material is used in the bladder portion but it is kept off of bare skin by the neoprene vest to which it is attached. The top portion of the bladder is sewn to the vest itself while the lower portion of the bladder is held to the vest by hook and loop tabs. A side zipper make donning and doffing the unit so easy. The Cruiser is more streamlined that the other two contemporary styles because of the sizing is less generous which is why they have 5 different sizes available.SIZING:
Selecting the size that is needed is often the most confusing aspect with regard to purchasing a snorkel vest but knowing the weight of the snorkeler is what is used to help determine the correct size. The reason is to assure that there is adequate lift capacity to allow you to remain at the surface without having to kick to do so. The length of the straps is the next factor in size determination. The horsecollar type is usually the most generous in this respect whereas the jacket may be limited in the range of body sizes that can accommodate you. For some unexplained reason, manufacturers have a tendency to avoid using the term large when they are assigning sizes. Typically, one will see small, medium, adult or regular and extra large with the small being reserved more for child sizing. It is a must that, when researching snorkeling vests, a size chart for that particular vest is referenced. It is important to know that sizing may vary by manufacturer. Some smalls from one manufacturer may be listed for those whose body weight does not exceed 88 pounds (40kg), while the smalls from another manufacturer is designed for those whose body weight does not exceed 110 pounds (50kg). So if you do not see a size chart that includes weight, please do not purchase it.
As with everything, comfort and fit are key ingredients. The nylon material used in the construction of the bladder can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable against sunburned skin and exposure protection such as a rash guard or lycra dive skin is highly recommended.ZIPPERS, STRAPS, BUCKLES & CLIPS:
Most snorkeling vests use quick release male to female squeeze clip buckles which are made of a heavy duty plastic material. Others may use snap clips which attach to D-rings which can be either plastic or metal. Zippers, if used, may also be constructed using plastics, metals or combinations of both. There may be an issue with oxidation in instances where metals are used. Corrosion resistant is a key word when researching. Straps are usually a nylon webbing material but some companies may use elastics in addition to these straps. Elastic straps may wear quicker than the traditional webbed straps. Care and maintenance procedures are easy but be sure to watch out video on Inspecting Your Vest before using it.INFLATOR TUBE:
All snorkeling vests are orally inflated. The oral inflation tubes are usually a semi rigid stem protruding from the front which has a locking ring on it. The locking ring (#2 in photo, left) may be made using metal or plastic with metal having the better durability. The inflator mechanism itself uses brass in it's construction in vests of higher quality. Be sure to read our How to Operate Your Snorkeling Vest for more detailed information on it's use.CONVENIENCE OPTIONS & APPEARANCE
In the olds days, vests were only available in one style and one color. With the growing multitude of people enjoying the water sport of snorkeling, the industry has addressed things that have been asked of them for years. They are now available with many convenience options including pockets, additional D-rings, safety whistles, neoprene and even more streamlined designs. Colors abound from bright pinks, fluorescent yellows, oranges and more. Printed material patterns have been steadily making their way into the marketplace which are allowing you to be the fashion diva in the water. We hope you enjoyed our article and have decided which is the best snorkel vest for you.
By Roy Jamason
Updated July 15, 2015