Our dive mask is our window into the underwater world. It’s usually the first piece of equipment a diver owns and it’s definitely one of the most important. When it comes to choosing a mask to buy, whether it’s for snorkeling or SCUBA diving my advice is the same. Buy the very best mask you can afford. With a mask, the difference of a few dollars in price can make a huge difference in quality. You wont enjoy high quality diving with a low quality mask.
Best Dive Masks of 2017
|Cressi Big Eyes Evolution||Check Price||4.8|
|Mares X Vision Liquid Skin||Check Price||4.2|
|Oceanic Shadow Mask||Check Price||4.4|
|TUSA M-1001 Freedom HD||Check Price||4.7|
|Atomic Aquatics Venom Frameless||Check Price||4.3|
Difference Between a Snorkel Mask and SCUBA mask
There main difference between a snorkel mask and SCUBA mask is the pitch a salesman will give you. Often a mask maybe described as a snorkel mask simply because it’s of lesser quality or made to be sold at a cheaper price. The cheaper price is usually a reflection of the materials used in manufacturing the mask.
If you plan to use your diving mask more than once it’s a good idea to stay away from any mask that is sold as a snorkeling mask only. Any mask that is sold as suitable for SCUBA is always going to be suitable for snorkeling.
If you are looking for a mask for snorkeling only you can also read our post about the best full face snorkel masks. We always recommending using a high quality mask that is suitable for SCUBA above lower quality masks or full face masks. A good quality mask and proper skills will give you much greater enjoyment on your aquatic adventures.
Materials Used to Make a Dive Mask
The two main components of a dive mask where the construction material is vitally important are the mask lens and the mask’s skirt.
Mask Lenses The glass on the front of the mask is the first thing to consider when making any buying decisions. Having low quality glass or a plastic lens can be very dangerous for your eyes, even if you’re just snorkeling on the surface. It’s not just water pressure that can pose an issue, it’s much more likely that we damage the mask lens through impact. Either swimming into some thing (happens to me a lot) or by dropping the mask.
Any mask you consider should have a lens made from tempered glass. Tempered glass is a toughened glass that you see used in car windows and shower screens etc. It has an important function and that is it doesn’t just break or crack leaving sharp pieces of glass, it instead shatters into small rounded pieces of glass. This lessens the chance of eye damage in a collision greatly.
All masks made with tempered glass will have an indication of it on the mask lens. There will be a notation, usually in white somewhere around the edge of the lens. It is often just a letter ‘T’ but may also use the words ‘tempered glass’ or just ‘tempered.’
Mask Skirts The skirt is the part of the mask that makes contact with your face, it’s almost always the place where a mask leaks. The skirt and materials that it’s made of is also often, the main contributor to the price of your mask, particularly in high end brands.
Dive mask skirts are made out of rubber, plastic such as PVC, a silicone blend or silicone. It’s silicone that we want and the best quality silicone that we can get too.
Rubber was used in the early days of diving masks, it draw back is it’s thick and rigid which makes it uncomfortable and very difficult to get a water tight seal. Particularly for people with smaller or narrow faces.
The plastic based skirts are what are often used in cheaper masks sold for snorkeling, they are also often used in kids mask and snorkel sets. The cheapest ones are often made from PVC and they can be pretty easy to spot. The PVC has very little elasticity and doesn’t keep it’s shape all that well making it difficult to get a good seal with them.
Silitex and silicone derived dive mask skirts are often sold as the mid range of snorkeling masks. They’re better than plastic but not as good as silicone. While it’s much more supple than PVC it is still a lot less flexible and soft on the face as silicone.
You should always look for a dive mask that has a silicone or crystal silicone skirt.
How to Fit a Diving Mask
It a mask doesn’t fit, it’s no good for you. Don’t worry though, most quality silicone masks will fit most people’s faces. If you have a mask in your hand it’s a very simple process to make sure it fits and will give you a good water tight seal.
To check a dive masks fit, all you do is rest the mask on your face without using the straps and inhale gently through your nose. A good fitting mask will suck onto your face and you won’t have any air creeping in on the sides.
Be mindful of your hair. Loose hair from your fringe and facial hair can break the mask seal letting in air (or water). If you have long hair get in the habit of using one hand to hold your hair off your forehead when you put on a mask. If you have facial hair, consider a shave.
With the mask in place and sealed on your face you can pay attention to the field of vision you have from a mask and compare it to others. Also make sure that you have easy access to the nose pocket for easy equalising. When a mask is uncomfortable you will most likely notice it a round the bridge of your nose, around the nose pocket and the base of your nose or upper lip.
Notes About a Leaking Mask
There is nothing more annoying than a constantly leaking mask. No matter how comfortable you are clearing the water from your mask it becomes a constant frustration that takes a lot of the enjoyment out of diving. Often it’s the wearer of the mask and not the mask itself that causes the problem.
One thing to bare in mind is that facial expressions like laughing (which I hope you do) can let water into your mask. The change in expressions can make lines in our face especially around the mouth and eyes.
Men with facial hair and even stubble can find it difficult to get a consistent seal. If shaving not an option you can consider at least shaving a patch of skin below your nose so the mask has somewhere to make contact.
Probably the most common cause of all for leaking masks is wearing them too tightly. It’s a natural instinct when your mask leaks to tighten it up. Most likely you are only making the problem worse.
The mask straps role is to keep you mask in position, it’s the water pressure against the mask that will push it against your face. If you pull the mask too tightly against your face you can warp the feather seal around the skirt and let water in. The other likely hood is you squish you face up which creates the lines and wrinkles that let’s the water in.
If you have a good quality mask and a head that’s somewhat normal, you should be able to wear your mask quite loose.
What to Look For When Buying a Dive Mask
Buying a dive mask shouldn’t be too difficult. When I worked in dive retail I would give people the same advice, after showing them how to fit a dive mask. The advice is simple, start with a mask that you like the look of and try it on. Keep trying them on until you find the best fitting mask that you still like the look of. For most people the color and style of the mask is as important as the fit as there’s little point in trying on ugly masks if you won’t enjoy wearing it.
The shape of the mask will effect the amount of vision you get when looking through it. One of the bigger innovations of the last decade has been a move to mask with a ‘tear drop’ design. The masks taper in at the bottom of the lens and the lens also angles towards the face at the bottom. This gives you a much great field of vision looking down which is particularly handy when wearing scuba gear to be able to check yourself over while wearing the mask.
Black Versus Clear Silicone Skirts
The bottom line on black versus clear skirts is personal preference. There is no golden rule that suggests one is superior to the other. Divers that prefer clear silicone often do so because the black skirt makes them feel claustrophobic. Those that prefer a black skirt tend to do so because they find the glare from sunlight through a clear skirt distracting. Many also claim that a black skirt helps focus their vision and enhances the contrast in colors.
I have found through working with many divers over a long time that those that go black generally don’t go back (no joke). My own preference for a black skirt came when I replaced a damaged clear skirt on my mask with a black one and could make the comparison through the very same mask. I’ve never purchased a mask with a clear skirt again.
For night diving or diving in an environment where torches are used, clear skirts can be a distraction as torch light hits the corners of your eyes. Black skirts also don’t discolor or yellow like a clear skirt will. Another great advantage I found with a black skirt was while teaching scuba classes. If there was something coming out of my nose it was harder to see and less embarrassing.
While I’m a black mask skirt convert, if you feel more comfortable wearing a mask with a clear skirt then that is what you should buy for yourself.
High Volume Versus Low Volume Masks
When divers (mostly dive shop sales staff) talk about a mask being either high or low volume they are referring to the air space inside the mask being larger or smaller. There are a number of very good reasons to choose a mask that has the smallest air space possible but bare in mind that there is no arbitrary measurement that dictates if a mask is in fact high volume or low volume. It’s also a term that’s relative to the other masks one is compared to, what we call a high volume mask today would have been called a low volume mask 10 years ago as mask designs have changed.
The benefit of a low profile (low volume) mask is that the closer the mask lens is to your eyes, the greater your field of vision. A low volume mask also requires less air to equalize and less air to clear. This isn’t so important for a SCUBA diver but it is an essential consideration for a free diver. The other noticeable difference is when diving in strong current, the bulkier a mask is the more drag you will notice on the mask, particularly when your mask is side on to the current.
What we call high volume masks are usually just bigger masks. For some people they are the best choice of mask because they offer the best fit. People with larger, round faces are more likely to get a better fit from a bigger mask.
Avoiding Model Specific Spares
When you purchase a mask make sure you have easy access to spare parts. The most common parts that will be replaced on the mask is the mask strap and the clips that attach the strap to the mask. Some manufacturers have release their own exclusive buckle systems for their masks and you will need to determine how easy the are to acquire and if they are the only buckle system that will fit the mask. Where possible choose a mask that can have after market or generic clips added, this will avoid some of the hassle of trying to replace parts while travelling.
A few mask manufacturers have also changed the width of their straps making it difficult to replace them with a generic. As the mask strap may be the very first piece of gear you need to replace make sure that it doesn’t become too difficult to do so.
High end masks will also have replacement skirts available and may also allow for the fitting of prescription lenses.
Clearing Water From Your Mask While Underwater
Taking Care of Your Diving Mask
The most important aspect of caring for your dive mask is to rinse it with fresh water after every dive. It’s a good idea to soak all of your equipment in a commercial solution such as McNett Wetsuit Shampoo and include your dive mask in the soak.
When storing your diving mask you need to make sure it is thoroughly dry and that it is stored away from sunlight. Prolonged exposure to sunlight and moisture will lead to a deterioration of the silicone of the mask skirt and strap and can help promote mold growth.
Your mask can also be susceptible to damage when in transit. When traveling with your dive mask it is a good idea to keep it in the box that it came in. If you don’t have the box or a mask case available, keeping it in the foot pocket of your fins can help. The most important thing to remember is to take care when handling tanks or dive weights as these are the things most likely to damage your mask.