For 2018, the annual gear review was held on Grand Cayman Island across a dozen beach and boat-accessed snorkeling spots over eight days. Our experienced snorkeling staff reviewed the top snorkel masks of 2018 from leading dive manufacturers including Aqua Lung, Promate, Seavengers and US Divers.
No one wants a snorkel mask that is foggy, leaky or uncomfortable. But, what exactly are the features that affect those aspects. Snorkel masks come in a variety of styles, materials and sizes. And contrary to kids wearing adult masks, there is no one-size-fits-all mask. Let's try to break down the exact features that make for a good snorkeling mask that fits well.
First, the single most important factor of a snorkel mask is how it fits YOU. If it's too big for you, water will leak around the rubbery skirt making it impossible to even snorkel period. If it's too small, it will be very uncomfortable around your eyes, nose bridge and upper lip. Most beginner snorkelers don't even realize that masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The primary fit factor is width and height. While these are published for each mask, most people don't know their size, so they rely on the trial and error of trying each mask on. Most mask descriptions will typically say that it fits large faces, or medium faces, or small/junior faces.
Second, the next factor is the skirt seal. Again, water intrusion is a big issue. If you've got water entering the mask, then the snorkeling experience won't be too enjoyable. After physical mask size, the skirt materials, feathering and shape are critical for maintaining a good water-tight seal around the face. The best skirts are made from a soft silicone. On inexpensive masks, there is typically just one edge on the skirt where it touches the face. On more expensive masks, there is usually a double-feathered skirt edge, which tends to keep water our better.
Third, once the mask fits and the skirt keeps water out, then the clarity of the lens window becomes important. Most mask lenses are made from a tempered safety glass which resists scratching and cracking. Some older, cheaply made masks used plastic, which is not very transparent and scratches easily. Tempered glasses have a light transmission rating, so try to choose the highest rating possible (>85%). Snorkel masks come either with one large lens, two smaller lenses, and possible some side-view lenses. Some masks come with a glass tinting to correct for the loss of red light wavelengths with water depth.
Fourth, while talking about the lenses, the aspect of fogging needs to be addressed. Ideally, it is preferred to have a lens that resists fogging. While out snorkeling, mask fogging is a major issue that greatly reduces enjoyment. Even with proper application of anti-fogging solution prior to entering the water, pretty much all masks get some fogging. In addition to height and width, snorkel masks come in a variety of depths (i.e. distance between eye and lens). Generally, most snorkelers feel that lower volume masks (i.e. smaller distance) resist fogging better than large volume masks. Another contributing factor to fogging seems to be the various manufacturing chemicals that intentionally or accidentally coat the lens glass. That's why it's so important to clean a new mask with toothpaste prior to use.
Fifth, after lens material and fogging, the field-of-view or viewing space of a mask can affect the snorkeling experience. If the mask has a narrow field-of-view, then you can only see what is directly ahead of you which limits your snorkeling experience. Some snorkelers feel claustrophobic in a mask with narrow field-of-view. Generally, masks with a lower volume where the lens is closer to the eyes offer higher viewing angles. Single lens masks tend to have a larger viewing space, but the are larger volume and may not offer a wider field-of-view. Some masks have glass or plastic sides to give the illusion of wider field-of-view without compromising volume.
Lastly, the final factor of a good snorkel mask is comfort. Mask comfort is affected by the skirt material, the nose cup, the strap buckles and the strap itself. Much of this is very subjective and personal preferences. Certainly, softer skirt materials are much more comfortable against the face and leave less impressions on the face after taking the mask off. A soft nose cup is desirable if you plan to dive down and equalize. Pivoting strap buckles tend to keep the mask on tight in a wider range of comfortable strap positions. And, of course, the strap should be adjustable and just wide enough to keep it in place during the snorkeling dive.
Honestly, we couldn't have asked for better snorkeling conditions on Grand Cayman Island. Every day was mostly sunny with a high temp of 85F. The surface water temperature was about 82F. We had over a dozen test snorkeling spots including both shore-accessed within 30-300 feet of the beach and boat-accessed inside the fringing reef. In both types of dives, there was light surf from 1-3 feet.
As usual with our mask reviews, we throughly cleaned these new mask windows with toothpaste to remove any manufacturing protectants. And, just prior to entering the water, we applied one drop of anti-fog liquid in each side of the window and rubbed it around the inner surface.
All we can say about the Aqua Lung Infinity is WOW! We weren't sure what to expect from this mask which is mainly targeted at scuba divers, so we were all kind of overwhelmed how it perform. The Infinity mask is a low-volume, multi-lens mask that has a soft double-feathered skirt. With its unique polymer side lenses and elongated windows, we found that it provided a bright and open feel of larger multi-lens masks. It did take a little getting used to the slightly blurry images in the side windows but it was awesome to have that little bit of addition peripheral view to be aware of snorkelers to your sides.
The tempered-glass dual-lens offered excellent clarity and had surprisingly little fogging compared to most of the masks we've ever tested. The nose cup was supple for blowing out when diving down, and the mask was easy to clear. The double-feathered silicone skirt provided a water-tight seal across a variety of our medium to large face sizes and was usually comfortable. We all noticed the multi-pivoting strap buckles (aka Cardanic Joint Buckles) which moved both horizontally and vertically. By the end of 10 days of tests, this mask was a testers-favorite, and while expensive, it is well worth it.
The Aqua Lung Infinity was unanimously our "2018 Snorkelers Choice Award Winner".
MSRP $99.00 USD
The Ventura+ is another Aqua Lung mask that tends to be marketed to scuba divers, so we weren't sure again what to expect. The original Ventura mask has been around for a long time and is an old standby for many scuba divers. The newer Venture+ is an updated version of the orignal Venture mask, and incorporates those super comfortable, multi-pivoting Cardanic Joint Buckles onto a rugged frame. Those buckles can almost fold all the way in making the mask pack very compact.
Unfortunately, all of the testers experienced water intrusion with the Aqua Lung Ventura+. None of us could keep a solid seal, even with this double-feathered silicone skirt. The mask has large silicone cups on either side of the nose that tended to push the mask off the face. To compound the problem, the skirt is cut unusually short under the nose above the upper lip, which was the source of water leaking for each of us. It was a very comfortable mask and may just take a very large face to fit perfectly -- it didn't work well for our medium and large face snorkelers.
MSRP $77.00 USD
Snorkelers who prefer single lens masks should love the clean lines of the Aqua Lung Visage. It's minimalist design keeps the volume very low on this single lens mask. The soft silicone skirt sits gently on the face and provides a solid seal.
While this single lens mask should have a open panoramic feel, all of our testers felt the mask offered a very small overall viewing area. It felt kind of claustrophobic. Moreover, it didn't fit any of our male or female tester faces. The minimal interior volume resulted in the frame impacting the nose bridge of our women testers, and it just seemed too small overall on the medium and large male faces.
MSRP $65.00 USD
The Promate Fish Eyes mask shares a similar lens design to the Aqua Lung Infinity mask with elongated dual lens to reduce volume but offer large viewing area. These extra wide and long lenses provide wider peripheral view and downward vision. This tempered-glass mask is ideal for medium faces and comes with a liquid silicone injected skirt and strap. The newly designed buckle system features the 2-Button-Tec buckle and new patent pending silicone squeeze technology for superior functionality and durability.
When using the Promate Fish Eyes snorkel mask, all of our reviewers experienced a higher than average amount of lens fogging even after all the usual treatments (soap, toothpaste, anti-fog drops). While the Fish Eyes mask had the least fogging of Promate masks, it was still much more than average. Our assumption that it was some sort of film on the lens interior from the manufacturing process. The skirt was spec'd as liquid silicone but it still felt pretty firm against the face. Although it does have the elongated lenses for a larger viewing area, the dark skirt and thick frame resulted in a sensation of a limited viewing area (the continual fogging didn't help, either).
MSRP $24.95 USD
With its soft and subtle red tint, we had very high hopes for the Promate Sea Viewer Color Correction snorkel mask. The tempered safety glass lenses comes with a Red/TrueColor underwater color correction. The low volume mask is sized for medium faces and has a double feathered silicone face skirt.
Unfortunately, the color correction didn't live up to the hype. Our reviewers all had the same experience of double-vision, like looking through 3-D glasses, and felt the tint was too strong for snorkeling water depths. It may work well for scuba depths, but is certainly not for snorkeling. In addition, this mask suffered from the same issues of other Promate masks where there seemed to be a manufacturing film on the inside of the lens causing unusually high fogging, even after all the usual treatments.
MSRP $75.00 USD
The Promate Ocean Owlet mask is a low volume snorkel mask that is sized for narrow faces. This mask is the smaller version of the much larger Ocean Owl mask. It has single tempered glass window, a silicone double-feathered skirt and a quick-release swivel strap buckle.
Our women testers found this mask to be extremely comfortable with a wide field-of-view. It fit their small and medium size womens faces perfectly with a good skirt seal and very little water intrusion. Matter of fact, it was the best fitting womens mask tested. While this mask is promoted to fit kids, it was way too large for both 10 year old snorkeling testers.
MSRP $24.95 USD
The Promate Chico Junior Purge mask is sized for small faces including kids under 12 years old. This low volume mask has a single tempered glass window and has a silicone double feathered skirt. It comes four window frame colors.
Our young snorkelers all reviewed this mask very highly for comfort, and they loved the purge feature which allowed them to more naturally breath out of their nose and clear the mask. It was their go to mask of choice.
MSRP $24.95 USD
Over the past year, there has been a controversy brewing in regards to the safety of full-face snorkel masks. Here is our article on whether full face snorkel masks are safe to use.