Buying a Great Dive Mask
Huge range of masks
at The Scuba DoctorIt may not seem like a crucial piece of life-support gear for scuba diving, freediving, or spearfishing, but your mask is vital to a successful dive. After all, scuba diving is all about the visuals, so it's critical to have a mask that keeps the water out, is comfortable and provides an optimal viewing platform.
Need help finding a well-made dive or snorkeling mask that's perfect for you? The Scuba Doctor explains the important features you should understand when shopping for your next window on the underwater world. Plus we guide you through what to consider in order to get the right mask for your water activities.
Dive and Snorkelling Mask Features
Many scuba diving mask reviews emphasise extra features, such as purge valves or side-view lenses. These widgets are nice if you want to pay for them, but these extras are entirely secondary concerns. With a good fit, your mask shouldn't need a purge valve. The improvements to viewing that so many reviews trumpet are all in the realm of peripheral vision, so in terms of a diver's overall real ability to see, the range of vision is really improved only by a tiny fraction. These things are nice, but not worth spending an extra $50 on, especially if you are on a budget.
For a full run down on the various dive and snorkeling mask features you need to be aware of when buying a mask, please see our Mask Features page.
The Right Mask for You
Those are the features you need to be aware of, but now we need to find the right combination of features for the water activity/activities you're doing.
Swim Goggles Can't Be Used For Scuba Diving
A mask must enclose a diver's nose. This feature increases a diver's comfort by allowing him to empty water from a leaky mask and preventing him from getting water up his nose. However, the reason it's absolutely essential that a mask covers a diver's nose is that it enables the diver to equalise the air pressure in the scuba mask as the diver descends. This prevents the mask from painfully suctioning on to the diver's face, and in an extreme case, sucking his eyeballs out.
Don't use swim goggles for snorkeling either. See also Goggles vs Masks.
Dive Masks vs. Snorkeling Masks
Scuba Diving, Freediving and Spearfishing masks are different from other kinds of masks. Created specifically for diving, they are made of high quality materials like tempered glass and silicon. These materials are tough enough to withstand the unforgiving underwater environment.
Snorkelling Masks, and other masks designed for surface water sports, may be made of inferior materials, such as plastic lenses that can fog and scratch easily. Such weak materials could break during a dive.
Although scuba masks may work well for snorkeling and other water sports, masks created for surface water sports generally do not work well for diving.
Masks promoted for snorkeling only are typically high volume masks made out of lower quality materials. (We don't sell such inferior masks at The Scuba Doctor.) Most snorkelling only masks are not suitable for scuba diving, freediving, spearfishing etc. Conversely, any good dive mask is great for snorkeling.
Form vs. Function in Dive Masks
Frameless vs. Frame: The lenses in frameless designs will sit closer to your eyes offering a little wider field of vision in all directions. Frameless designs are also typically lower volume than rigid frame designs. The lack of a thick rigid frame means frameless styles can be folded up very flat and easily stowed in a pocket as a 'backup' mask. Most people find that the traditional rigid frame designs offer the most stable and secure fit. Select a framed design if you are one of those rare individuals who have difficultly finding masks with a good fit.
Single vs. Double Lens: Single lens styles will normally offer a somewhat less obstructed view compared to double lens styles because of the absence of the nose bridge. However, single lens masks are typically heavier than double lens mask because there is simply more glass. Double lens styles are also usually lower volume than single lens designs. The extreme teardrop lens shapes offer better 'look down' vision, but at the expense of increased volume.
Low Volume vs. Snorkel: Divers should never use the typical 'snorkel mask' because it holds such a large air volume that it requires excessive effort to clear of water and as well as being wasteful of breathing gas. There is no 'perfect' mask, but all the masks we offer are suitable for diving and have been carefully selected to be relatively low-volume designs with good field of vision. Some low volume masks we offer are very low volume and sit very close to the face, making them a poor choice of you have a large nose or facial hair.
Clear vs. Reflective Lenses: Some spearos will tell you that reflective lenses keep the fish from seeing your eyes. We're not fans of reflective lenses when diving, mainly just for safety reasons. Your eyes are very telling and are one of the first things your buddy will look at when they think you might be in trouble. Reflective lenses keep a safety from recognising this important sign of hypoxia.
Frankly, the differences of frame and lens styles are very subtle in the high-quality masks offered by The Scuba Doctor. Choice is largely a matter of personal preference and your experience.
Consider a Opaque/Black Skirt Dive Mask
Clear skirts on masks are popular because they minimise the claustrophobic feeling some people get when they wear a mask. Nevertheless, clear skirts and even coloured frames actually interfere with vision. Extraneous light entering through the clear skirt makes it more difficult for the eye to focus and causes reflections that obscure vision. Demonstrate this by looking out a window from a lighted room at twilight. You will see better by cupping your hands around your eyes as you press your face to the window. Brightly coloured glossy accent frames can also cause annoying colour halos around the lenses. For these reasons, knowledgeable divers seeking the best possible vision prefer masks with solid black skirts and frames.
Freediving and Spearfishing Masks
A good Freediving or Spearfishing mask will be very low-volume. As you dive down to depth the air in your mask compresses, which you need to equalise. This means you'll need to blow air from your lungs into your mask, where you're not able to use that air to utilise the oxygen in it. It's best to keep as much air in your lungs as possible, which is most easily achieved by using a low-volume mask! This will also reduce drag and will help with equalising your ears as well.
Finding the Right Mask
Now that you know all the things to look for, you've got to actually find the snorkeling, scuba diving, freediving or spearfishing mask that's right for you. Here's a step-by-step method:
- Go to your local dive shop, drop into our store in Rye south of Melbourne, or go to the Masks section in the The Scuba Doctor Dive Shop.
- Try on every mask in the place that meets your criteria.
- Play close attention to how the mask seals.
- Set aside the ones that fit.
- From that group, try them on again, paying close attention to comfort, eliminate half.
- From the remaining half, try them on again, pick the one that's most comfortable.
- Wear the mask, with the strap in place, for 3-5 minutes in the store. (You'll look silly but a mask that's not comfortable for a few minutes in the store won't be comfortable in the water.)
- Tell the salesperson what colour you want and buy it if in stock or arrange for it to be ordered in for you.
How to Quickly Check a Scuba Mask for Fit
When choosing a mask, three sets of criteria are critically important: fit, fit and fit. As no two heads and faces are alike, proper mask fitting needs to be a careful undertaking. No matter what the price or aesthetic value of a mask, do not buy a mask if it does not fit correctly. Bring your regulator and snorkel on your shopping trip because these can affect the mask's seal.
A poor fit means not just an uncomfortable mask, but a mask that leaks, or presses uncomfortably on your face. Too many divers who completed Open Water training at a cracker jack course on vacation have not received basic pointers on how to test a dive mask for a good fit. Thus they buy a poor-fitting mask, and try to compensate by tightening the mask straps.
- Move your hair out of the way, and make sure none of it winds up under the skirt. For men and women both, long hair sometimes creeps in and breaks the seal of the mask skirt, causing problems underwater. The same thing applies on land, since you can't test the mask without a good seal.
- Push the mask strap up and aside, so you aren't actually wearing it. Place the mask on your face and gently inhale through your nose, sucking the mask onto your face. Don't suck too hard through your nose, since using all your lung power would probably hold even a bad mask in place. If you can hold the mask to your face with only moderate suction alone then it will stay put with just a little underwater pressure. If possible, it is better if you can have either your regulator or snorkel in your mouth when doing this, to ensure that the mask is still comfortable. Also, check that you can comfortably equalise your ears with the mask on. Pinch your nose and gently blow against it, your ears should pop but do not blow too hard! If the mask feels comfortable, you have a good candidate for the mask you want.
- Adjust the mask strap to fit loosely around your head, offering only moderate resistance. Try Step 2's suction test again. The loose strap and the moderate suction ought to hold the mask in place for several minutes without help. It it can do this and you are comfortable wearing the mask, you have a winner.
Make sure the mask is comfortable — there's nothing worse than diving with a mask that digs into the bridge of your nose, eyebrows or upper lip.
If you are going to be wearing gloves underwater, check that your fingers still fit around the nose pocket for equalisation.
Certain masks are meant for children and people with smaller or narrower faces. Make sure the mask you choose is the right size for your face.
We've seen casual divers who were unaware they had bought the wrong mask, or size of mask, for years, so this fitting test is not as elementary, or as well-known as it might seem.
If you are at all unhappy with the fit of the mask that you purchase from The Scuba Doctor, remember that we can exchange it for an alternative choice as long as it has not been underwater.
Any quality mask that fits well is a good choice.
The dive mask strap pad/tamer is an accessory worth having. This inexpensive item improves your mask in two ways. If you dive in warm water, the mask tamer prevents your strap from becoming entangled in your hair, and in general the pad stops the mask strap from becoming twisted as you put it on. With a mask strap the mask also has a larger surface area, which establishes more grip against a neoprene hood.
For many divers, the strap pad is one of those little, understated things they swear by. The dive mask tamer really is one of those accessories that once you have it, you will wonder how it is you ever got by without it.
Please check out our extensive range of Mask Accessories.
Preparing Your Mask
Once you are happy with your choice of mask, you now need to properly prepare it for use.
During the manufacturing process, a thin film of silicone and mould release agents will develop on the glass lens of your new dive mask. This film will cause rapid fogging that is resistant to conventional anti-fog measures. It is important to remove this film from the lens prior to your first dive.
To remove the film you will need to scrub the mask lens and skirt inside and out with a powerful surfactant. Please do not use toothpaste. There are commercial mask cleaning products, but any good baby shampoo will work well. Rub the cleanser into the lens and skirt with your fingers several times and then rinse clean thoroughly with warm (not hot) clean fresh water. We suggest you do this cleaning at least twice.
Mask fogging is a normal occurrence, even after the film of silicone and release agents has been removed. Normal fogging can be easily prevented with after market anti-fog agents, or saliva. Rub onto the lens and then rinse. Your dive will now be fog free!
To protect your investment of purchasing a good quality mask you should also purchase a Padded Mask Bag which can store your mask when not in use. They are inexpensive and will extend the life of your mask.
For details about looking after your mask, please see Dive Mask Care.
Leaking Mask? Loosen The Strap!
If your mask is leaking, try loosening the strap, not tightening it. All mask straps, regardless of the type, are there just to keep the mask from falling off your face, not to make the seal. The thin feather edge of the silicone mask skirt is what makes the watertight seal with the face. If the strap is too tight, the skirt and that feather seal will become warped and misshapen which can cause the mask to leak. If the mask is leaking slightly, tightening the strap even more will usually make the leak worse. With a properly set strap, some types of water entries might dislodge the strap, so make a habit of reaching back behind your head with one hand to steady the strap (not the mask) during entry. Any diver who exits and has a 'mask ring' indentation in their face probably has too tight a mask strap.
If your mask is leaking, you can try loosening the strap during the dive to see if it solves the problem. Of course you can also tighten it during the dive. Sometimes on deep dives the water is very cold on the bottom and requires a hood, yet the water is very warm near the surface which can cause uncomfortable overheating on the shallow deco stops. Some technical divers like to wear a hood during the cold part of the dive, then during their warmer long deco stops they pull the hood off and tighten the mask strap to compensate.
For a large range of Masks for various applications and conditions from the The Scuba Doctor Dive Shop, please visit:
- Masks and Snorkels
- Scuba Diving Masks
- Snorkelling Masks
- Freediving Masks
- Spearfishing Masks
- Prescription/Corrective Lens Masks