When buying a snorkel, some water lovers are surprised by the wide variety of options that are available for a fairly simple piece of gear. The details and features can become overwhelming, but if you keep the following points at the forefront of your decision making, you're guaranteed to find the right snorkel for you.
All snorkels are comprised of two main components: the tube and the mouthpiece. The key features to look when purchasing a snorkel is comfort and fit.
If you are a snorkeler, a simple and streamlined design will most likely fit your needs. The bells and whistle that many snorkels offer are aimed at scuba divers. When searching for a snorkel, make sure it is comfort- able in your mouth and works well with the mask you plan on wearing in the water.
If you are a scuba diver, the more advanced snorkel features available may enhance your time in the water, but they are definitely not required. When shopping for a snorkel, make sure it is comfortable in your mouth and works well with your mask and doesn't interfere with your other scuba gear. Divers primarily use snorkels during their surface swims to conserve the air in their tanks.
Materials: Most snorkel mouthpieces are made out of silicone. The silicone offers you a long-lasting mouthpiece that is flexible, offering the most comfortable fit. Some mouthpieces are made out of other materials, but tend to be less comfortable and deteriorate faster than their silicone counterparts.
Fit: When trying out snorkels, make sure the mouthpiece is comfortable and does not pinch the corners of your mouth. Also make sure that the mouthpiece is flexible enough to fit between your teeth without you having to clamp down on it. If you have to fight to keep the mouthpiece in place, it isn't the right fit for you. A snorkel mouthpiece, much like a regulator's mouthpiece, should rest comfortably between your upper and lower teeth; if you experience jaw soreness or fatigue during or after your snorkeling adventure, try relaxing your bite the next time you are breathing through your snorkel.
Maintenance: Much like your home's fire detector batteries, mouthpieces should be changed out from time to time, depending upon the amount of use. Keeping a spare mouthpiece in your dive gear bag is always a good idea.
Shape: Snorkel tube (or barrel) shapes vary from a basic "J" shape to a more contoured shape that wraps around the snorkeler/diver's head. There is no right or wrong shape option, so long as the snorkel is comfortable and meets your breathing needs. The more advanced snorkels tend toward the contoured shapes. If your snorkel fills with water when you are swimming at the surface, the snorkel is either the wrong shape for you or the snorkel's placement on your mask needs to be adjusted. Regardless of the tube's shape, it should have a good diameter for the air to flow into; if the diameter is too small, you may struggle to fill your lungs with air. A large diameter also eases the clearing process if your snorkel should take on water. There is a balance to be found between diameter and drag. If your snorkel is oversized, then it will create more drag while you are underwater.
Attachment: There are several ways of attaching your snorkel to your mask. The following describes each option so that you can determine which fits your needs.
Snorkel clip: The snorkel clip allows your snorkel tube to connect to your mask strap. The basic clip is typically an inverted ìUî shape that attaches to your snorkel barrel and slides over your mask strap. When placing your snorkel on your mask strap, make sure that the end of your snorkel is out of the water when you are face down in the water and that air freely enters your snorkel tube.
Snorkel keeper: Another way of attaching your snorkel to your mask is with a snorkel keeper, which is basically a piece of flexible material (typically rubber, but sometimes neoprene) that is placed be- tween the diver's head and the mask strap; the two holes or loops are used to lasso the snorkel, se- curing the snorkel in place.
Quick-release device: Some divers and snorkelers see snorkel clips and snorkel keepers as a hassle. Quick-release devices allow a tab on the snorkel to slide into a sleeve that has been attached to the mask strap. The quick release offers snorkelers and divers a method for donning and ditching their snorkels without requiring vast amounts of dexterity and a degree in mechanical engineering.
Purge valve: One feature that is becoming more and more common place is a one-way purge valve that is located near the mouth piece. The purge valve only lets water travel one way ... out of your snorkel. The advantage of a purge valve is it requires less energy when clearing water from the snorkel. Instead of the having to throw your head back while exhaling at a high rate, the purge valve allows you to keep your head in a neutral position while exhaling at a comfortable rate.
Flexible barrel/mouthpiece attachment point: Some snorkels have a flexible material that attaches the mouthpiece to the tube. This accordion-style material keeps the snorkel's mouthpiece out of the while the diver is at depth.
Dry or Semi-dry snorkels: If you are interested in reducing the amount of water that can enter your snorkel, consider purchasing a dry or semi-dry snorkel. Standard snorkels do not restrict water from entering the top of the snorkel tube if it is submerged. Dry and semi-dry snorkels, on the other hand, do restrict the flow of water into the tube. Semi-dry snorkels keep out about 95% of the water out of the snorkel tube. Dry snorkels keep 100% of the water out of your snorkel tube. The payoff is that semi-dry and dry snorkels also may slightly restrict the amount of air that flows into the tube.
NOTE: Dry snorkels are not manufactured with purge valves because they do not allow any water into the barrel.
Folding snorkels: Many scuba divers who don't want the inconvenience of a snorkel's additional drag while at depth. To answer diver's cries for more snorkel options, some manufacturers have designed snorkels that can be removed from the mask, folded, and placed in a BCD pocket while the diver is using his/her regulator. When the diver is nearing the end of the dive, he/she can remove the snorkel from the BCD pocket, unfold it, reattach it to the mask strap, and then breathe through the snorkel once reaching the surface.
The means of attaching your snorkel to you mask strap. A wide variety of snorkel keepers are available in neoprene, silicone, and rubber. The style and material are greatly up to personal preference, but you'll definitely need one to keep your snorkel in place.
Attaching a safety flag to your snorkel is a good idea for anyone who plans on swimming at the surface, be it a snorkeler or a scuba diver. This safety flag easily attaches to your snorkel but does not impair the flow of air.
Over time, mouthpieces can deteriorate due to biting and contact with the elements. Be prepared, keep one or two extra mouthpieces and tie wraps (used to attach mouthpieces to regulators & some snorkels) in your dive bag.
A snorkel lock attaches your snorkel to your mask strap and keeps your snorkel firmly in place when the it is in use. It also allows you to easily remove your snorkel when it is not needed.
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.