A relatively new development in snorkeling is the full face snorkel mask.
It covers your eyes, nose, and mouth and allows you to breathe through your mouth and nose while snorkeling.
While it’s a fun piece of technology, it has its detractors, pros, and cons.
Let’s take a look.
What Is a Full Face Snorkel Mask?
Full face snorkel masks are just what they sound like.
Rather than cover only a diver’s eyes and nose, they sit over the entire face.
You can breathe through your mouth and nose with this type of mask, but it cannot be used for scuba diving, as there’s no way to get your regulator into your mouth since the mask covers it.
How Do Full Face Snorkel Masks Work?
Evaluating a full face snorkel mask and whether it’s the right choice for you means knowing (at least somewhat) how they work.
After all, it’s a bit more complicated than just holding a tube in your mouth and above the water.
How They Work
The full face mask’s construction allows for separating the air you breathe in from the air you breathe out.
The breathing tube has three sections to it, and the structure of the mask intends to keep the carbon dioxide you exhale from staying inside the mask.
Can You Breathe Underwater With a Full Face Snorkel Mask?
You cannot breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask if the tube is also underwater.
Do not try this.
You can breathe while your face is underwater if the tube of the full face snorkeling mask is sticking out of the water, as a regular snorkeling mask.
No gill mechanic somehow filters oxygen out of the water, so if the snorkel tube is under the water’s surface, you will not be able to get any air.
As long as you’re treating the full face mask as a regular snorkeling mask, you’ll be able to breathe.
Most of these masks have anti-leak seals on the tubes so that when the tube does dip below the surface, it won’t fill up with water.
With a traditional snorkel (not a dry snorkel, which uses a similar mechanism), that water could choke you, and in a full face snorkel mask, the water can fill your mask and similarly complicate your time in the water.
How Long Can You Breathe Underwater With a Full Face Snorkel Mask?
You can snorkel for as long as your body can safely stay in the water when using this type of mask.
Provided your full face snorkel mask fits you properly and seals as it should, you can snorkel until you need to get out of the water for some lunch.
Snorkelers can often spot something under the water and decide to swim down to it to check it out.
Going more than a few feet underwater with a full face snorkel mask can be uncomfortable and even dangerous.
You can’t equalize ear pressure in most, so diving too deep can prove quite painful.
Also, with more surface area on your face, the full face snorkel mask will apply more pressure to your face than a regular mask as you dive deeper, and this, as mentioned, can cause discomfort and possibly injury.
However, if you are snorkeling on the surface of the sea, you’re in good physical condition, and the waters are relatively calm, you should be able to snorkel for as long as you like.
Are Full Face Snorkel Masks Good?
Full face snorkel masks can be freeing, especially for newer snorkelers.
Some people have difficulty getting used to breathing only through their mouths as you must with a traditional mask and snorkel, and a full face model allows for easier breathing through your mouth or nose.
The full face snorkel mask has its proponents, while other divers actively avoid them.
Pros of a Snorkel Mask
Most people’s favorite thing about a full face snorkel mask is the visibility.
It is hands-down better than in a traditional scuba mask, which can sometimes feel like you’re wearing blinders.
Most full face models feature a lens that offers a full 180-degree view, and even if there is a slight distortion on the edges of that view, you’re still seeing more of that ocean reef than you would in a traditional mask.
Some other pros of this mask include:
- You can breathe through your mouth and nose in a full face mask, and this natural breathing can be comforting, especially to beginner snorkelers.
- These masks have a vent system that helps circulate air, which means there’s a smaller chance of your mask fogging up.
- Since the snorkel is part of your mask and doesn’t have to be held in your mouth, you can say goodbye to jaw discomfort and jaw fatigue.
- Leaks are almost unheard of in a mask that fits correctly. Smiling or having a mustache won’t lead to your mask filling with water.
- Most masks are compatible with your GoPro, which will pick up your voice in your videos.
Cons of a Snorkel Mask
We touched on this earlier, but freediving is out of the question in full face snorkeling masks.
You can’t reach your nose in a full face mask.
Pressure builds as you go deeper, but you can’t equalize in one of these, and the stress of the mask on your face can’t be alleviated, either.
When the pressure on your face gets too great in a traditional snorkel mask, you can equalize by blowing through your nose, but that won’t help in a full face snorkeling mask.
Other cons may dissuade you, as well.
- Carbon dioxide buildup can occur if any of the mask’s seals get compromised, and enough of this buildup can cause unconsciousness and death, though this is much less likely when using a quality mask.
- If you wear glasses, you cannot wear them with a full face mask since the earpieces will not allow the mask to seal on your face.
- You won’t develop traditional snorkeling skills in a full face mask, so if you plan on scuba diving, you’ll still have to learn those skills.
- Along those lines, this kind of mask is not versatile at all, so again, if you plan on learning to scuba dive, you’ll need to buy a scuba mask for that.
- It’s harder to clear your mask if it begins to fog since you’d have to remove it altogether, whereas a traditional snorkel mask gets cleared just by letting a little water in and then blowing it out.
Uses for Full Face Snorkel Masks
There aren’t multiple uses for these masks, which we’ve touched on previously.
Note the name of this piece of equipment: full face snorkel mask. It’s for snorkeling, and that’s all.
Put to its intended use, a full face snorkel mask can be safe, and it can make your dive fun and interesting with its better visibility.
If you’re new to snorkeling or know that you have some trepidation about breathing with a traditional mask-and-snorkel setup, the ability to breathe through your mouth and nose very well might ease your mind and make your time in the water better.
While freedivers most often wear a mask and snorkel along with their fins, they use a traditional mask.
Remember that the pressure that builds the deeper you dive cannot be equalized or otherwise eased in a full face snorkel mask in freediving.
Do not use one for freediving.
Since scuba diving requires holding a regulator in your mouth, you can’t wear a full face mask.
There’s not an adapter that lets you hook your regulator to your snorkel tube.
You would also face the same pressure regulation issues if you scuba dive with one of them.
For this reason, you shouldn’t use a full face mask to scuba dive.
Are Full Face Snorkel Masks Safe?
Like most equipment for any sport, full face snorkel masks are safe, provided they are used correctly and are well made. That said, you can encounter some dangerous situations in them. However, any activity in the ocean or other open bodies of water is inherently risky.
Dangers of Full Face Snorkel Masks
CO2 buildup of carbon dioxide can be deadly. If your mask or seal is faulty and CO2 can’t correctly vent, you will breathe it instead of oxygen, which is dangerous and potentially fatal.
Also, if your mask fogs or has a water leak into it, it can be difficult to remove since you made sure your mask had a tight seal when you were above the surface.
Full Face Snorkel Mask Deaths
Since 2015, snorkeling deaths in Hawaii have doubled.
In 2018, in Maui alone, eight full face snorkeling mask snorkelers drowned.
The National Institute of Health has recently undertaken a study of the masks, but anecdotal data suggest that the masks are riskier than traditional snorkel equipment.
Outcome: Full Face Snorkel Mask Ban
The eight deaths in two weeks in Maui prompted the state legislature to ban the sale or rental of the devices, and even before they took that action, dive shops around that state had begun to back away from them.
Consideration: COVID and Snorkeling Gear
Because it is still unclear how well or how long the COVID-19 virus can survive in water, you should take active disinfection measures with any snorkeling and scuba gear.
The virus travels through respiratory avenues, and the bulk of this equipment focuses on respiration.
Diving gear seems prone to COVID-19 transmission.
What Is the Safest Full Face Snorkel Mask?
While there are many brands, and lots of them are quality pieces that are safe to use, among the best is the Tribord Subea EasyBreath, available in many shops.
It offers durability, comes with a camera or GoPro mount, comes in multiple sizes and colors, and can fit adults and children.
How Should a Full Face Snorkel Mask Fit?
The short answer?
Since the seal that keeps out water gets created by silicone rubber up against the skin of your face, you have to be sure the mask’s adjustable straps are pulled tight enough, so no water gets in.
Are Snorkel Masks One-Size-Fits-All?
Snorkel masks are not one-size-fits-all.
If you find a one-size model, avoid it, as it’s probably not the safest mask you’re going to come across.
That said, there aren’t infinite sizing varieties, so you’re unlikely to find a custom fit in a mass-produced mask.
How It Should Fit
Since it needs to be snug on your face, you may be best served to buy your full face snorkeling mask in person so you can try it on.
You must have a mask that seals correctly on your face.
If you can’t get a seal to form, your mask will be completely useless.
How to Measure Your Face for a Snorkel Mask
Measuring from the tip of your chin up to the bridge of your nose will give you a number which you can then find on a sizing chart.
Most brands will have their own chart.
If you’re not sure if your mask is too big, go down a size.
The smaller the mask, the better chance you’ll have of getting a tight seal.
The choice is yours, and you’ll have to evaluate the pros and cons to know whether a full face snorkel mask is suitable for you.
Well-made masks are generally safe, provided they are used correctly.
And the superior visibility is a delight.
Still, you’ll know best which option works best for you.