Finding the right dive mask is essential to your comfort and enjoyment under water. Doing so involves four things:
Make sure your mask incorporates all of the most essential features.
Don’t sweat “features” that are of little consequence.
Remember that comfort and fit are, by far, the most important features.
Get professional help when choosing your mask.
Let’s take a look at each of these things in detail.
1. Features that matter for your mask
While some mask features may be considered “nice to have,” depending on circumstances, others are essential. These include:
Low volume/wide field of vision: Masks with low internal volumes create less drag and are easier to equalize and clear. They also tend to put the lens closer to your face, leading to a wider field of vision, another important feature.
Tempered Glass Lens: Tempered glass resists scratching and breakage yet, if broken, tends to crumble into smaller, less potentially harmful pieces.
Soft, silicone skirt: A silicone skirt with a feathered edge will generally fit better than a cheap skirt made from vinyl or other materials. Most mask designs also incorporate a separate inner skirt for an even better seal. Mask skirts can be either clear or black; your SDI Dive Center or Instructor can advise you on which will better fit your needs.
Nose Pocket: Your dive mask must cover your nose so that you can keep pressure inside the mask equal to the water pressure outside. Having a separate, easy-to-reach nose pocket also makes it easier to pinch your nose when equalizing.
Mask strap adjustment: Although you shouldn’t have to tighten your mask strap unnecessarily in order to achieve a good fit, you do want the strap to fit comfortably. A push-button adjustment mechanism, standard on most better quality masks, makes this easy.
Split head strap: If you elect to use the strap that came with your mask, it should have a wider section at the back of your mask to better fit the crown of your head.
Optional (but possibly important) features: These include:
Neoprene strap or strap cover: Many divers choose to replace the stock silicone mask strap with one made from neoprene foam. Another option is to cover the stock mask strap with a neoprene foam sleeve. Both approaches increase comfort and tend to pull less on hair.
Vision correction: If you need glasses to drive or read, you will probably need “glasses” to dive. If you wear gas-permeable contacts, you will most likely find these work equally well under water — although there is a risk of loss if you don’t keep your eyes closed while clearing. If this is not an option, talk to your SDI Dive Center or Instructor about having lenses with your exact prescription installed in your mask.
2. Dive mask features that don’t matter
While some mask features are essential, others either don’t matter or are completely unnecessary. These include:
Frame or Frameless: Until recently, all masks incorporated a plastic or metal frame that attached the lens to the mask skirt. The past decade, however, has seen the introduction of several “frameless” masks that do away with the frame altogether. Both types of masks can work well, and whether or not a mask has a frame will not likely rank high in your decision making process.
Split lenses: Most masks incorporate a split lens, that is, a lens that is divided into separate left and right sides. However, unless you find this distracting, there is no reason to choose or avoid this type of mask in lieu of one with a single-piece lens.
Side windows: Once popular, this feature incorporates small side windows in an effort to increase the field of vision. Having this feature, however, often leads to increased size, weight, internal volume and drag. Most modern masks achieve a wide field of vision by having a wide lens that fits close to the face, making this feature unnecessary.
Purge valves: Another once-popular feature, these have all but disappeared. A purge valve is a one-way valve designed to allow users to clear water from a mask without having to pull the bottom of the mask away from your face, or to look up. The catch is, if you learn to clear a mask properly, you generally don’t have to do either. Purge valves are also prone to leaking.
Color: When purchasing a mask, snorkel and fins, it’s also important to remember that that fins come in a narrower range of colors than masks do. So, before you set your heart on that exotic lime-green mask, bear in mind you may not find fins to match. If color is important to you, you may be better off selecting your fins first. You will then have little difficulty finding a mask in a color that matches.
3. The two most important features when choosing your mask
When choosing a mask, it’s easy to be seduced by factors such as color and style. Bear in mind, however, that such factors are nowhere near as important as comfort and fit.
Comfort: No one has to tell you whether or not any given mask will be comfortable to wear; your face will do that. If a mask feels the least bit uncomfortable, that feeling won’t go away over time. It doesn’t matter that the mask may be exactly the right color, or has all of the other features you want, if it’s not comfortable to wear, you will not be happy with it.
Fit: This is by far the most important feature. A mask that looks good but can’t keep water from pouring in does you no good at all. So how do you determine whether or not a mask fits properly? See video tutorial.
Start by either putting the mask strap in front of the lens or removing it entirely. The strap has no bearing on how the mask fits.
Next, look up and pull your hair out of the way.
Place the mask on your face and inhale gently. Now hold that breath.
At this point, the mask should stay firmly in place. You should not hear or feel any air escaping. Shake your head from side to side gently. The mask should remain firmly attached. Again, don’t be tempted to settle for a mask whose fit is less than ideal, just because it has other features you want. You won’t be happy with it in the long run.
4. Get a dive professional to help fit you for your mask
You should never purchase a mask without first trying it on and, when doing so, you want to be some place where you can try several masks on at once. That way, you help ensure the likelihood of getting the mask that is perfect for you.
The best place to do this is at your local SDI Dive Center, where you can also draw on the expertise of their professional staff, who often has years of experience helping divers find the right mask for their needs. You can find your local SDI Dive Center at www.tdisdi.com.
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