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 best snorkel tubes of 2018 from leading dive manufacturers including Aqua Lung, Promate, Seavengers and US Divers.
No one wants a snorkel tube that doesn't breath well, captures water, doesn't clear easily or is uncomfortable. But, what exactly are the snorkel features that affect these? Let's break down the exact features that make for the best snorkel mask.
The proper snorkel tube can make or break a snorkel trip. Today, a snorkel is so much more than just the open J-tube that most people are familiar with from days past. If you've rented snorkeling gear or gone on a snorkeling tour boat, you'll have seen plenty of those old open wet snorkel tubes, which can be very difficult to use especially for beginners. In addition to that old original open J-tube or wet-snorkel, there is also the semi-dry and dry snorkel options. These newer snorkel designs are highly recommended to either prevent water going all the way down the tube to the mouthpiece, or prevent water from even entering the tube, respectively.
Luckily, snorkel tubes come in a variety of styles, materials and sizes to accommodate kids, teens and adults snorkelers. Here are the primary features of snorkel designs that affect breathing, water clearance and comfort.
First and foremost, the size of the snorkel tube affect the ability to breathe. Both the length and the diameter are very important factors that must be balanced and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The proper length and diameter are depended upon the lung capacity of the snorkeler. The main issue isn't necessarily oxygen intake but the ability to clear the carbon dioxide dead space in the tube. The larger the tube barrel diameter and length, the greater the volume that contains lingering carbon dioxide from when you exhale. If the volume is a large percentage of your lung capacity, then you will not be able to get enough fresh air after rebreathing the carbon dioxide left in the tube. So, you need a proper tube volume for your physical size. Adults should use longer tubes with larger diameters. Children and beginner women need shorter tubes with a smaller diameter to ensure that they can complete clear the air volume when the breath out in order to get fresh air. Too little fresh air can result in confusion, hyperventilation and panic.
Second, after tube sizing to ensure carbon dioxide clearing, the next most important factor is to prevent water incursion. The open J-tube offers no protection from water incursion down into the barrel to the mouthpiece. When water splashes over the upper end, the water comes right into the mouth of the snorkeler, which can induce panic and ruin the snorkeling experience. While that tube is still commonly found, the semi-dry and dry snorkel tubes can minimize water incursion and increase snorkeling enjoyment. The semi-dry snorkel uses fixed devices on the tube to block or drain splashed water away prior to reaching the mouthpiece. A dry snorkel tube incorporates a float valve system on the upper end of the tube to shut off when water tries to enter the end of the tube. These types of snorkels typically have a lower purge valve below the mouthpiece to help remove any water that does enter the tube with a strong puff of exhaled air.
Third, now that you can breath air and not water, there are two factors for snorkel comfort. The mouthpiece needs to be properly sized for the mouth of the snorkeler so that they don't need to clench it between their teeth to keep it in place. In addition to size, the mouthpiece comes in various materials and softnesses. A soft silicone mouthpiece typically offers the best comfort but is usually found on more expensive tubes. The tube barrel flex directly affects comfort as well. The snorkel can come with a rigid contoured tube, or it can have a section of flexible tube allowing it to bend to better fit your head shape and mouth position. The flexible bend tends to be more comfortable since it allows you to adjust the position of the mouth piece. Both the mouthpiece design and tube flexibility affect jaw fatigue which determines your comfort on long snorkeling excursions.
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. Now, on to the actual snorkel tube reviews.
Aqua Lung has been making the Impluse line of snorkels for over 30 years. And, the quality and development of that lineage is evident as soon as you enter the water. Aqua Lung claims that the Impulse snorkels are the best selling in the world.
The Impulse 3 is a more streamlined version of the original Impulse and the Impulse 2, and offers higher performance features. It is a semi-dry snorkel with a patented upper annular valve that funnels splash water out of the tube barrel before it goes down to the mouthpiece. If water does get past the upper annular valve, then it will collect in the lower reservoir below the mouthpiece where it can be purged through a lower valve with an easy puff of air. In addition, the Impulse 3 incorporates the patented silicone Comfo-Bite mouthpiece, which has an extra silicone flap extending onto the tongue. The Comfo-Bite mouthpiece was designed to not require clenching your teeth to hold the mouthpiece in-place thus preventing jaw fatigue.
While the Impulse 3 is available with either a flexible tube or stiff contoured tube, we only tested the flexible version, which tends to be better for most snorkelers. Since the advent of dry snorkels with a float valve at the upper end of the tube, we have strongly advocated that snorkelers only use these for safety and to avoid the panic associated with water incursion. Well, after we all tested the Impulse 3, we now have to reconsider this position. This semi-dry snorkel out performed every other snorkel tested across most categories. It's large diameter barrel with the midway slits for the annular valve seemed to provide an impossibly large amount of fresh air with a seemingly smaller amount of CO2 deadspace. Each of us noticed it from the first breath. It could have been partially the fact that we've become so accustom to that restricting float valve at the top of the dry snorkels. And the upper annular valve did an excellent job of funneling any splash water before it could get to the mouthpiece. Actually, we took turns splashing additional water at the tube and we couldn't flood it. We really wanted to break the tube apart to see how it worked, because the performance was unreal. With this system, there is no reason to go back to a dry snorkel. The only negative of a semi-dry snorkel is, of course, when you submerge and surface it requires much more breath to clear the full tube.
Prior to this test, none of use had used a snorkel with the Aqua Lung Comfo-Bite mouthpiece. We all found this silicone mouthpiece to be exceptionally comfortable. While the mouthpiece can be oriented in two directions, each of our testers seemed to prefer the inner tab feature under our tongues instead of against the roof our mouths.
Due to it's diameter and length, the Impulse 3 seems sized for adult males. Our women snorkelers found the mouthpiece too large and felt like there was too much deadspace. Honestly, it would be great if this snorkel came in a junior model, too, with a smaller mouthpiece and a smaller diameter barrel. Overall, we were quite impressed with this semi-dry snorkel and each of us wanted one now to be our go-to snorkel of choice.
The Aqua Lung Impulse 3 was unanimously our "2018 Snorkelers Choice Award Winner".
MSRP $49.99 USD
Aqua Lung recently released the new Impulse Dry snorkel. It incorporates a completely redesigned and patented dry float valve at the upper end that faces forward to allow the valve to more quickly close. It also has a new barrel tube shape to be more streamlined. And, it has a flexible section of the tube for comfort. Like the Impulse 3 snorkel, it also utilizes the silicone Comfo-Bite mouthpiece. The Comfo-Bite mouthpiece was designed to not require clenching your teeth to hold the mouthpiece in-place thus preventing jaw fatigue.
All of our testers had similar experiences with the Impulse Dry snorkel while snorkeling in a variety of conditions. Each of us had the odd sensation that we couldn't breath properly and felt like we could only get about 60% of the air we really needed. The float valve appeared to be working properly, but something was restricting fresh air flow. While this was the longest snorkel tested, we all seemed to feel it had something to do with the diameter of the barrel or maybe that new streamlined shape. We actually had a tough time testing this snorkel for a long time due to the airflow restriction. As a side note, while we loved the Comfo-Bite mouthpiece on the Impulse 3 snorkel, the Comfo-Bite on the Impulse Dry felt different and was less comfortable. The silicone tab that sits above or below the tongue tended to bend and not sit properly.
MSRP $55.00 USD
The Promate Cobra tube is a dry snorkel with a patented upper valve to keep water from entering. It is specially designed to cover water splashes and float closed using a hinged seal to prevent water from entering. When surfacing, the hinge then swings open to allow air to enter. The Promate Cobra comes with a silicone mouthpiece and a lower silicone purge valve.
The flexible snorkel tube design of the Cobra was very comfortable during testing, as was the silicone mouth piece. The tube diameter and length seemed appropriate for adult men. We did notice some sticking and latency of the the hinge valve opening after submersion, even after thorough cleaning. The hinge seemed to be very sensitive to salt and grit gumming up the works. Also, none of us good get the whistle to work at a volume any potential rescuer could have heard.
MSRP $17.95 USD
The Promate Junior Dry snorkel tube is nicely sized for women and teenagers. It has a stiff contoured tube and a smaller mouth piece than traditional adult snorkels. With it's smaller diameter, women and teenagers will be able to clear the tube more easily of carbon dioxide and water. While the automatically sealing top valve looks unusually large, it works smoothly and reliably as noticed by our women snorkeling reviewers. Our testers were surprised by how easy it was to clear this snorkel, which has now become one of their favorite go-to snorkel tubes.
MSRP $14.95 USD
The Aqua Lung Beluga JR Dry snorkel tube is primarily targeted at kids with a stiff contoured, smaller diameter and shorter tube along with a smaller silicone mouth piece. While the marketing material states its designed for children ages 5-11 years old, we found that it was too large for both the 10 year old testers, so it seems better sized for teens and women. Both of our women snorkel testers found the smaller tube barrel diameter size efficient for breathing, but the mouth piece still a bit large producing jaw fatique. The rigid tube barrel didn't help with that either. The float valve at the end of the tube with its Pivot Dry Technology did a great job at keeping water from waves and diving down out perfectly and reliably.
MSRP $19.99 USD
The Promate Nino Junior Dry snorkel tube may look famaliar - it looks identical to ones sold by other brands including Head/Mares. Our guess is that this snorkel is manufactured by one plant and resold under various brand names. Regardless of its origin, it functions nicely for children under 12 years old. It has a small soft silicone mouthpiece sized for kids mouths. And, the shorter contoured tube has a smaller diameter and length that is easily cleared of carbon monoxide and water by smaller lungs. The top float dry valve and the silicone purge valve kept the tube dry and easy to use for our 8 and 10 year old snorkelers.
Since this item is probably not manufactured directly by Promate or Head/Mares, we can't fault them, but we did have two of these snorkels with defective silicone purge valves. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to replace in the field, so we recommend thoroughly testing them at home for water intrusion before heading into the ocean. Even with the defects, this snorkel tube was the only one we found idealy sized for children.
MSRP $12.95 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.