What's the Difference Between a Dive Mask and a Snorkel Mask? A Comparison

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 24, 2019

Keen to go for an underwater adventure but not quite sure if you should go for a snorkel mask or a dive mask? You’re not alone! We’ve seen a lot of curious snorkellers online asking about the difference between the two masks, and for good reason. Both masks are designed to give you crystal clear vision of sea and marine life, and both feature advanced technology that allows you to make the most of underwater life. But they’re also two very different things.

In this article we’ll go through a comparison of snorkel masks and dive masks, looking at the features that they have in common as well as what’s different between the two. If you’re not sure if you should be buying a snorkel mask or a dive mask, you’ll know for sure by the end of this article!

1. Design

Let’s start with the obvious. It might not be entirely clear when you’re looking at the two side by side, but the designs of snorkel masks and scuba masks differ greatly. Firstly, let’s reiterate the fact that snorkelling and scuba diving are two entirely different things.

When snorkelling, it’s typically just your face that’s underwater and your body can be floating above the surface. With scuba diving, though, your body is always going to be completely submerged underwater. Being completely submerged underwater while scuba diving means that diving masks are designed to be less buoyant.

Basically, it means that diving masks are designed to have the least amount of air trapped inside the mask so that it doesn’t float up. On the other hand, with snorkelling masks it doesn’t really matter about the buoyancy as you’ll be floating along the surface most of the time.

That said, a lot of snorkel masks have evolved to allow for diving underneath the surface (freediving), and therefore less buoyant and designed to expel the air to reduce pressure underwater. But that’s a story for another time! (Want to learn more? Check out our Pinch Your Nose & Equalise! mask)

2. Build and quality

Design is one thing and build is another, and snorkel and scuba masks differ in both. Scuba masks must be built with the highest quality materials and subjected to extremely strict and rigorous testing as they’ll generally be travelling much deeper underwater than snorkel masks. The deeper you go underwater, the more pressure will be pushing water into the mask, and the longer it will take you to resurface for a breath should something go wrong with your mask.

For that reason, dive masks need to be built extremely sturdy and strong so they can withstand all the pressure and not buckle or break underwater. Scuba diving can be a dangerous sport (you are going deep, deep underwater after all) and the mask needs to make sure that divers are always able to see clearly and breathe.

3. Material choices

Going from the point above, since it’s absolutely necessary that dive masks are able to go extremely deep underwater without cracking under pressure, the materials used to construct scuba diving masks are different.

Typically, dive masks will feature a window made from tempered glass rather than acrylic or plastic as you may find with lots of snorkel masks. Tempered glass breaks without sharp edges, so even if the window should break from the underwater pressure, at the very least it won’t pose as much danger to the diver. On the other hand, you can basically forget about a snorkel mask window cracking as there’ll be barely any pressure put on the mask from the water’s surface.

It’s also important that the skirt and frame of the mask also be made from soft, durable, and high-quality silicone that creates a watertight seal around the face. While you’ll find lots of high quality snorkel masks that are made using medical grade silicone, most will just use rubber or normal silicone. While that’s fine for snorkelling, it makes snorkel masks less durable than dive masks and more prone to crack/dry out.

Lower quality silicones also mean the mask won’t seal as tightly around the face, giving the chance of water leaking in while snorkelling. Again, this isn’t so much of an issue while snorkelling (just an annoying one), but while diving it could be life-threatening.

4. Price points

All of the above mean that dive masks are priced much higher than snorkel masks. The need to be designed well, built sturdily, and made from quality materials means that scuba masks can run you quite a lot of money. That said, they’re designed to last virtually forever.

On the other hand, snorkelling masks can range in pricing, from extremely cheap to a little pricey (but still nowhere near dive masks). It doesn’t mean that they’re bad quality, it’s just because they’ll be subjected to a lot less pressure than dive masks.

Comparing snorkel and dive masks

To wrap it up, the main difference between snorkel masks and dive masks is that one is designed for going deep underwater while the other is mainly designed for the surface or shallow diving. Because snorkelling doesn’t pose the same dangers as scuba diving, a lot of snorkel mask manufacturers tend to take shortcuts and create pieces that are poorer quality – but that doesn’t mean all snorkel masks are shoddy!

You’ll find snorkel masks priced much cheaper than dive masks, and going for the cheapest snorkel mask will probably mean buying a lower quality mask. That said, higher end snorkel masks are designed quite similarly to dive masks, with strong, sturdy materials, medical grade silicone, and the ability to dive underwater without feeling pressure on your face or mask.

Should you buy a snorkel or a dive mask?

Do you have a scuba diving certification? How deep do you plan on going underwater? If freediving is as far down as you’ll get, then a snorkel mask will be more than enough for your needs. You don’t need to be certified to use a snorkel mask, it’s not difficult at all, and it’s more affordable and requires less care and maintenance than a dive mask.

For something in between the two, check out our Pinch Your Nose & Equalise mask. A full face snorkel mask that allows you to breathe while diving underwater, as well as pinch your nose and equalise, this is as close as you’ll get to snorkelling with a dive mask (without actually snorkelling with a dive mask).

How many people dream of snorkelling but don't feel comfortable wearing a snorkel mask?

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