Do you have an exciting, exotic trip planned? Are you tired of renting equipment that has been used by dozens of tourists and are looking to buy your own snorkel gear for the first time? You may be a little overwhelmed with all the different options like silicone vs. rubber, flex vs. rigid, and semi-dry vs. total dry. If you’ve already picked out a mask and fins but are finding the snorkels tricky, here’s a snorkel buying guide to help you figure out what all those descriptors mean. Not all snorkels are alike so make sure you read through before making your final decision!
Snorkels come in usually two different sizes: child and adult. The child’s barrel is made to be proportionate to a kid’s lung capacity which is less than an adult’s by making the bore in the tube thinner. An adult trying to breathe through a child’s snorkel would feel like they were trying to take breaths through a straw and a child trying to breathe through an adult snorkel wouldn’t be able to circulate the air sufficiently to be getting fresh air. They’ll likely be inhaling what they’ve just exhaled. One using the other won’t be efficient.
Many divers will choose a black rubber snorkel because they’re usually less expensive than the more popular silicone. Silicone has seen a lot of popularity lately because it is more resistant to the elements and less likely to crack when exposed to UV rays or chlorine.
Black rubber, though cheaper, doesn’t age as well as its silicone counterparts. It is often subject to dry rot and will crack when exposed to the air over time.
Silicone is not perfect either, as it tends to yellow with age. This is just a cosmetic problem, however, and won’t affect its performance. There is some snorkel gear made with black silicone although clear is still the most common.
You have two different options with mouthpieces: replaceable and non-replaceable. If you’re like me and you often bite into your mouthpiece, it’s prudent that you buy a snorkel where replacing that piece is an option should you wear through it. If not, you’ll just need to get an entirely new snorkel when the time comes.
High quality mouthpieces are made of soft silicone and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Comfort is a key priority here. You can get mouthpieces that are plastic but they’re not as comfortable, flexible, or long lasting as the silicone.
More modern snorkels now include a purge valve which is a one way opening on the bottom of the snorkel near the mouthpiece. It helps you to clear water from your snorkel with much less effort than trying to get the water out of the top of the snorkel.
If a diver or snorkeler has water that enters the tube, the user simply uses a short burst of air to rid the snorkel of water through that valve. Snorkels with purge valves are exponentially easier to use and are becoming an industry standard.
Snorkels without purge valves take some practice to efficiently clear of water. You want to save as much energy as possible when diving or snorkeling and conserving breath is major factor.
If you look at the lower part of a snorkel, you can usually tell whether it’s fixed or flex. If it’s flex, it’ll usually have a portion made of silicone tubing so that the mouthpiece will bend to fit the contour of your face. If it’s fixed, that section will be made of the same material as the rest of the snorkel barrel and is not quite as custom-fitting. The flexible portion allows the tube to fall away from the mouth when not used which is a great option, particularly for divers who switch back and forth between a snorkel and their regulator.
Most manufacturers nowadays have made the top section of the snorkel curve so that it doesn’t wobble while in use. Some, however, are still the old straight design. It’s not terrible, just less ergonomic than the former. The one problem that does occur with curved design barrels are that they create more dead space, sometimes making it more difficult to breathe through.
Most snorkels will have a clip or some kind of attachment area that will connect to the straps of your mask. This keeps the snorkel from wobbling in the water so that it will remain upright. There are attachments that slide, lock, and swivel to make the attachment and adjustment process easier. Make sure you connect the two before getting in the water as it will be tricky once you’ve jumped in.
Higher end snorkels now have a quick release system where part remains attached to the mask straps so you can connect and disconnect with ease.
This is the biggest differentiation when picking a snorkel for your vacation. If you go with the basic design, the tube is often inexpensive and simple in both form and function. The opening in the snorkel is open and defenseless when it comes to keeping out unwanted sea or ocean water. If you ever dive below the water line or have a wave crash over the top of you while observing any critters under the surface, the barrel fills with water.
A semi-dry snorkel provides a good middle-ground between being too bulky and being easy to breathe through. The semi-dry design is made to make it harder for splashing water to make its way into the opening at the top of the snorkel. This is done by using some sort of deflector that will keep most of the water out; the semi-dry snorkel will still fill with water when submerged under water. The first semi-dry toppers were made to be an add-on to existing open-bore snorkels and although it worked well, it restricted breathing because it fit on the inside of the opening. Now most are manufactured as one piece.
Total dry snorkels’ origins were interesting. They used to have what looked like a ping pong ball in a small cage perched atop the snorkel that would close off the bore opening when submerged underwater. That design died off when the ball would be crushed when diving down to any significant depth.
Engineers have since come up with a much better design. Total dry snorkels are designed to close off the air flow totally when the snorkel falls below the water line while in use. Manufacturers offer a variety of designs to the public and the industry is constantly trying to better the design of the dry snorkel to make it less bulky and more user friendly.
There are some additional features you may want on your snorkel if they’re available to you. Some snorkels are travel friendly or easily packed in a bag as they are foldable. These are made mostly of silicone and fold out for use.
Others may come with a distress whistle to be used in case you encounter any kind of danger in the water and may need help. This would be an excellent feature if you’re snorkeling alone, although that is not something we recommend in our snorkeling safety guide.
What’s your favorite part of your snorkeling or diving setup? Is there something you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments!
Don't forget to watch our video about the basics of snorkeling!