When buying a mask, divers and snorkelers are greeted with a wide variety of options, brands, styles, and features. Although it appears to be a simple piece of dive gear, a mask can make or break a dive or snorkeling trip. Make sure the mask you take into the water with you is THE mask for you. The details and options can become overwhelming, but if you keep the following fundamental points at the forefront of you are guaranteed decision making, you're guaranteed to find the right mask for you: Safety, Comfort & Fit, Vision, and Purge.
All masks are comprised at least one lens, a head strap, a nose pocket, and a skirt. Deciding which combination of these mask components is right for you will take some trial and error on your part. Fear not, the time you invest in finding the right mask will more than pay off when you are in the water.
The key safety factor to look for when mask shopping is a tempered glass lens. If a mask does not offer a tempered lens, it is not the mask for you. Tempered glass resists scratches and breaking when underwater. As your diving depth increases, so does the water's pressure on your body and gear. Having tempered glass in your mask means you aren't at risk for cracks and breakage, even if something (like your buddy's fin) hits your mask. Tempered glass in your dive mask keeps you safe, much like the safety glass in your car's windshield keeps you safe from flying debris and the elements.
If a mask doesn't fit your face correctly, it will become your archenemy once you are in the water. Masks are made in small, medium, and large sizes, and are formed in a variety of ways to meet the wide variety of diver/snorkeler needs.
To determine if a mask fits your face, put your regulator or snorkel in your mouth, put the mask on your face (without putting the strap around your head), breath in through your nose, and then hold your breath. Let go of the mask; if it stays on your face, the mask fits. If the mask falls off of your face when you let go of it, the mask does not fit your face properly. Not that if you have facial hair, the seal created by the mask's skirt may be negatively affected; you may need to apply a small amount of a silicone compound to your facial hair before being able to determine which mask fits your face properly.
The skirt is the part of the mask that creates a seal with the diver's face. Most modern mask skirts are made out of hypo-allergenic silicone that is available in a wide variety of colors. The lighter your skirt's color, the more light and peripheral vision you'll have. Dark skirts are frequently preferred by underwater photographers because it reduces the flood of light. Light-colored skirts are often suggested for newer divers and snorkelers because the increased light and peripheral vision can reduce the sensation of claustrophobia. The nose pocket should comfortably fit over your nose without feeling tight. When wearing the mask, you should be able to pinch your nose easily in order to clear your ears while at depth.
Mask straps are available in rubber, silicone, or neoprene. Neoprene masks are frequently preferred by warm-water divers who do not wear hoods because the chance of hair catching in the neoprene straps is very minimal. Cold-water divers often prefer rubber or silicone straps because they tend to slip less and are easy to adjust while wearing thick diving gloves.
Regardless of the number of lenses that you desire, if the lenses are cloudy, do not purchase the mask. Any visual impairments or flaws that you on the surface will be magnified once you are underwater. When determining how many lenses you prefer, keep in mind the profile of each mask. The higher profile that a mask has, the greater amount of drag it will create in the water. Additionally, the higher the mask's profile, that much more water can enter the mask should a flood occur. A lower-profile mask will clear faster than a high-profile mask, simply because there is less space for the water to fill. Low-profile masks also reduce the visual distortion that is caused by the mask.
Masks that offer side senses and bottom lenses increase your peripheral vision and ability to scan where gear is in relation to your body. They also allow you to easily look at the sea life that is below you.
Single lens masks are frequently used by people who have smaller faces or are distracted by increased peripheral vision. Deciding between single versus multiple lens masks often come down to personal preference; try on a few modules of both options to determine which you are more comfortable in and most drawn to.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses when on land, you may want to use a corrective lens (or lenses) when in the water. Many mask manufacturers offer permanent and removable corrective lens options.
Some dive masks offer a one-way purge valve in the nose pocket. The purge valve allows you to easily clear any water that may have inadvertently entered the mask simply by gently exhaling through your nose. The purge valve makes clearing the mask quite simple, but it does add one more element to your dive gear that can malfunction. If a piece of grit or sane gets lodged in the purge valve, you could experience a leak once you enter the water.
Without a purge valve, to clear water from the mask, you must use one hand to press the upper portion of the mask against your forehead, tip your head back slightly, and forcefully exhale through your nose until the water is removed from the mask.
Masks are a very basic piece of equipment, but that doesnít mean masks are without need from time to time. There are mask-related accessories that will enhance your time in the water and the life of your mask.
Snorkeling or diving with a fogged up mask can impair your vision; using an anti-fog product on your mask prior to entering the water can make the difference between an enjoyable dive and a frustrating dive.
If your mask strap breaks or is so worn out that it won't stay in place, it is time to make a change. This simple piece of replacement gear is priceless when you need it. It is always a good idea to keep one or two extra mask straps in your gear bag.
If you hate your hair getting tangled up in your rubber or silicone mask strap, a neoprene mask cover might be the solution you've been looking for. Strap covers enclose your rubber/silicone mask strap, allowing it to slide easily over your head and leave you tangle-free!
If you wear eye glasses or contact lenses while on land, consider corrective lenses for your mask so you can truly enjoy the splendor the sea has to offer. Ask your optometrist about color-corrective lenses to compensate for the blue/green of the water.
Keeping your mask loose in your gear bag is inviting the rest of your gear to scratch, damage your mask and render it useless. Protect your investment by keeping your mask in a protective box or case.
The last thing you want to do is find out on the beach or dive boat that something is wrong with your gear, and not have a way to fix the problem. By carrying a save-a-dive kit, you can still safely enjoy your dive or snorkeling adventure just like you planned.