If you’re planning to snorkel on your next vacation, don’t leave without first consulting this snorkel gear guide for travelers—it’s packed with tips from industry experts on what to look for in snorkel gear, whether you’re renting or buying. Learn simple tricks to ensure you get the best fit on rental snorkel gear. Find out which snorkel gear is top-rated by travelers. And pack your bags knowing you’ll feel completely comfortable as you fin past colorful reefs and join the ranks of shimmery fish.
What Snorkel Gear to Rent vs. Bring
If you plan to snorkel only once or twice on a week-long vacation, rent your snorkel gear at your destination, says Theresa Kaplan, PADI communications director, and scuba instructor. Renting a full set of snorkel gear saves you the luggage space, especially with fins that can be bulky.
If you are going to rent only one thing, rent the fins, recommends Tom Ingram, president and CEO of the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA). He says the full foot or “shoe” fins are sized like shoes and are the easiest to get a comfortable fit. A mask and snorkel are light and don’t take up too much baggage space, so it’s easier to pack your own.
Bring all of your own gear if you’re planning to spend lots of time snorkeling. That way you can snorkel whenever you want and you’re sure to get a good fit. You’re not left in the lurch if the rental shop has run out of equipment your size, and you avoid using a snorkel that has been in thousands of mouths.
Rental Snorkel Gear Pitfalls
One of the biggest mistakes Theresa Kaplan at PADI sees people make is they borrow or rent low-quality snorkel gear that isn’t made from the best materials (think stiff PVC rubber) and doesn’t offer the best fit. Quality matters, whether you rent from a local shop or borrow snorkel gear from friends.
Look for masks made of soft silicone and fins with some flexibility. “Comfort and fit are key when renting or buying equipment,” says Kaplan. “The better the gear fits, the better the experience.”
Need help finding a reputable rental shop with quality snorkel gear? Tom Ingram at DEMA suggests renting snorkel gear from a dive resort. “Virtually every dive resort has snorkelers and non-divers who want to try snorkeling,” says Ingram. “They will take care of you and make sure you have snorkel equipment that fits well and will make you comfortable.” You can find a list of resorts that specialize in diving and snorkeling at Go Dive Now’s Dive Vacation Finder.
Snagging a Leak-Proof Snorkel Gear Rental Mask
You’ll get the best fit with a rental snorkel mask that has a silicone skirt. Silicone skirts are much more comfortable than PVC, fit a wider range of faces, have a snug fit, and are less likely to leak, says Tim Abbott, VP of sporting goods at Aqua Lung.
Staff at dive shops and dive resorts generally use the “inhale” test to check that the snorkel mask fits and forms a good airtight and watertight seal. You put the snorkel mask on your face without using the strap and then breathe in through your nose. If the snorkel mask stays on when you look down and shake your head, you’ve got a good seal.
When renting a mask, do a thorough visual check of each part to ensure it’s in good condition, recommends Tom Ingram at DEMA. Check all straps to make sure they look new. Tug on them and watch for cracks or frayed edges. Check the skirt for any cracks that could allow water in.
Finding Rental Fins That Fit Properly
Without a great fit, rental fins can quickly become a source of discomfort once you’re in the water. There are two styles of fin pockets: full-foot fins and adjustable strap fins that are worn with booties. When trying on full-foot fins, make sure they fit snugly and don’t easily move around on your foot. If they do, blisters will also be in your future, says Theresa Kaplan at PADI, who recommends specialized snorkeling socks to help prevent this.
Fins are the easiest piece of gear to rent because they’re sized like shoes, says Tom Ingram at DEMA. He recommends checking the foot pocket or heel strap for fraying or tears before you leave the snorkel gear rental shop. “Breaking a fin strap or blowing out a foot pocket when you’re far from the boat or beach will make swimming back uncomfortable and tiring,” he says.
The Most Comfortable Snorkel to Rent
Rental snorkels are fairly basic. Try to score one with a splash guard at the top. Fancier models have a “dry top” that keeps out splashed water and closes completely when submerged. Look for a purge valve below the mouthpiece, which makes it easy to blow out any water that does get in.
Make sure your rental snorkel and mask fit well together and that the snorkel is easy for your mouth to reach when you put on the set. Also, ensure the snorkel attaches to the mask on the left side of your face. Most mouthpieces are somewhat ergonomic, slanting slightly to fit your mouth comfortably and reduce jaw fatigue when worn on the proper side, says Tim Abbott at Aqua Lung.
Always check the condition of the silicone mouthpiece. “Sometimes nervous divers will bite right through the mouthpiece and bite tabs, making it impossible to grip while snorkeling,” says Tom Ingram at DEMA.
Snorkel Gear Buying Pitfalls to Avoid
Don’t fall in love with a particular color or style, warns Theresa Kaplan at PADI. She tells how she once purchased a very pretty pink mask because she loved how it looked. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit properly and leaked the entire time she was in the water. After using it only twice she had to buy another mask.
“No matter how good a piece of equipment looks, if it’s uncomfortable on land, you’ll be miserable with it in the water,” says Theresa. “When trying equipment, think about whether it’s too tight, rubbing in the wrong spot, squeezing, etc.”
It’s easy to be lured by less expensive snorkel gear sold in pre-packaged sets at sporting goods stores. Tom Ingram at DEMA suggests avoiding this equipment usually made from PVC. “It’s less comfortable, tends to be stiff, easily becomes misshapen, and won’t last very long,” he says. “Most snorkel equipment found at a professional dive store is good quality and you’ll be happy with your purchase.”
Buying the Ideal Snorkel Mask for Your Face Shape
Buying a mask that seals perfectly to your face shape is critical to avoid leaking. Every face shape is different and every mask fits a bit differently, so try on several and do the “inhale” test without the strap on to check for an airtight seal. Make sure the skirt covers your nose completely. This allows you to blow out any water that might occasionally seep in and to equalize the pressure in your ears if you decide to dive down.
Features that both Tom Ingram at DEMA and Theresa Kaplan at PADI look for when buying a mask include: A feathered double skirt (two areas that seal around the face) made of soft silicone not PVC, a tempered glass lens, a low profile to minimize the space to clear if water seeps in, adjustable straps that can be locked into place, and a shape with good visibility.
Tip: A clear skirt allows more light in, a helpful feature for anyone who is claustrophobic.
Full-Foot vs. Adjustable-Strap Fins
Full-foot fins: You wear these either on bare feet or with specialized snorkeling socks. They’re great for warm water snorkeling and are the lightest and easiest to travel with. When trying on full-foot fins, make sure they’re snug in order to avoid blisters. If you can find a comfortable fit, full-foot fins are the best choice. If not, go for adjustable-strap fins, which offer more fit flexibility, says Theresa Kaplan at PADI.
Adjustable-strap fins: These open-heel strap fins have a larger foot pocket and are worn with neoprene booties. The booties keep you warm in the cooler water and protect your feet if you’re walking across rocky surfaces to get to your snorkeling site. Adjustable-strap fins are also great if you need more swimming power, says Tom Ingram at DEMA. When buying adjustable-strap fins, be sure the buckles are easy to adjust.
Both styles come in “split” and “paddle” (unsplit) blade designs. The paddle design offers more power. Smaller, narrow blades are easiest to kick when on the surface.
Essential Features in a New Snorkel
Snorkels come in a variety of styles and shapes. The one you buy shouldn’t be too long (hard to draw in air) or too short (easily lets in water) and it should have a way to easily attach it to the mask, recommends Tom Ingram at DEMA. Choose one that, when attached to your mask, is easy for your mouth to reach.
Theresa Kaplan at PADI suggests checking the mouthpiece for size, saying it shouldn’t be too wide or cut into the gums. Mouthpieces made of silicone are more comfortable than those made of PVC. Other features to look for are a purge valve below the mouthpiece and a splash guard or dry top. The splash guard on top keeps out surface splashes, while the dry top feature prevents water from entering when you dive below the surface for a closer look at the reef or marine life below.
The Best Snorkel Gear for Travelers
The top-rated snorkel gear comes from dive manufacturers. Head to a dive shop and try on various styles of equipment until you find a comfortable fit. Most stores carry quality brands and a good inventory so you can walk out with new gear the same day. Or, determine what fits best at the shop then look for deals online.
Snorkeling travel sets, sometimes labeled “travel ready” on the packaging, are lightweight (usually five pounds or less) and come with a ventilated bag that’s great for toting your gear to the beach or on a boat charter. The fins are often shorter (half length) and the silicone snorkel rolls up to fit in a tiny case.