I, Nicole, finally tried out a full face snorkel mask. Took me a while, huh? Galen has also tested one, but since he cannot freedive in it, and he does a lot of freediving, he has never been interested in using one.
This review comes from both personal experience snorkeling in this type of mask and from thorough research on the subject. I will cover what brands are best and the pros and cons of them so you can decide if you should get one.
The first of this type of mask was the Tribord Easybreath, released in 2014. Now there are many other brands. You would think that the pricing would be an indicator of quality, but that is not necessarily the case. The prices are all over the place for these types of masks.
Caution: In 2017 & 2018 there has been growing concern about snorkeling deaths potentially linked to full face snorkeling masks. In particular off brand masks that may not be properly venting exhaled CO2 gas. At this point no one really knows for sure if there is a correlation between these deaths and full face snorkel masks. But it is worth being very cautious about. If we were buying a full face mask we would only buy from quality brands. We are only aware of one brand, Head/Mares, that has done CO2 testing on their product.
Many of the options for these masks are inferior Chinese made knock-offs of the original Easybreath (Amazon is full of them). They have leaking issues and the dry snorkel often fails, cutting off breathing or flooding the mask, and as noted in the caution above they may put your life at risk because of CO2 buildup. Most offer fewer size options too.
We recommend you stick with the original Tribord Easybreath Mask, provided it fits you well. Tribord has changed its company and brand name as of 2017 to Subea. The older Tribord versions of the masks offered four sizes, including a child's. The 2017 and later Subea versions of the mask are only offered in two sizes. All years are offered in three color options. I tried this brand.
If that does not work for you, we can also recommend either the Head (Mares) Sea VU Dry or the Ocean Reef Aria.
These two masks are essentially the same with a patented design. They are not knock-offs
of the Easybreath, but a slightly different design. They are the only brand we are aware of that has done C02 testing that may be related to snorkeling deaths. Read about that here. One of the design differences is that the exhalation tubes in the sides of the mask are through hard plastic instead of the silicone skirt, making it a more uniform sized chamber. They are made
in Italy and come in three sizes, including a child's. There are accessories for these masks to add a GoPro camera mount (not a great tool, read more below), a marker wing and an optical lens support, which can also be used in the Tribord/Subea masks according to Ocean Reef's website.
Our next mention is the Seaview 180° by Wildhorn Outfitters,
which also has the GoPro mount. The earlier version of this mask has a rounded lens that distorts what you see ruining your
depth perception. Avoid this version. There are a few copies of this mask with the rounded
lens you should avoid as well. But the new version has a flat lens, so reviews may not be as reliable. This company has been making these for quite some time.
Galen tested the Vista Vue by Deep Blue Gear, because it addresses one of the cons of these masks, that they don't provide enough oxygen. You can read more about that below. The Vista Vue added valves near your temples where your exhalation exits the mask, instead of it having to go all the way up the snorkel. This is supposed to reduce how much rebreathing of old air you do. Galen did feel like it improved the quality of air compared to some other masks. Although, because of where the air exits near your ears, the mask does make a bubbling noise underwater, so you have to get used to that.
Check out this list of the pros and cons of these masks to help you decide if you want to try one.
For beginners a full face snorkel mask can really be a boon. There is no learning curve or getting comfortable breathing through your mouth. You simply put it on and breathe normally.
Even if you are not a beginner, these masks are great if you have issues with sore jaws or mouth from holding onto the snorkel.
For men with mustaches, these masks give you the option to not have to shave it off. With a beard, there will be some leakage though.
Through a system of air flow, these masks are not prone to fogging. Though as with any mask, you do need to keep it clean. But do not use toothpaste like we recommend to prevent mask fogging on regular masks, as the lens is plastic and will be scratched. Tribord's site recommends "washing up liquid", which we believe means dish soap.
All of these masks and many of the reviews remark on the large
unobstructed 180° view that they have. When I used one I did not feel
that way. I felt like the frame of the mask was obstructing my view.
But, I am used to a mask that sits quite close to my eyes.
A dry snorkel is built into all of the full face snorkel masks we have seen. This means that if a wave comes over you or you submerge the snorkel, it will stop the water from coming in. We recommend these for general snorkeling, so this is a good feature.
A new option is an optical lens support that can be used inside most full face masks (at least Ocean Reef Aria, Head Sea VU Dry and Tribord Easybreath), so that you can install your prescription lenses. You must have the lenses installed by your optician. And the glasses frames just basically wedge into the mask skirt, so it is not going to be a perfect fit for everyone.
Most notably, you cannot dive down with these full face masks on. You have no way to equalize the pressure in your ears that increases as you dive down. Equalizing requires you to hold your nose and blow air into your ears. There is no access to your nose in this type of mask, as there is in a normal mask. The large volume of air in the mask creates a strong pressure on your face as you dive down that cannot be relieved as it can with a normal mask and breathing out slightly through your nose. So, if you like to freedive down to get a closer look at the reef and creatures, do not purchase one of these masks.
Something that was noticeable and uncomfortable for me was that the full face snorkel mask was very hot. The hot feeling was partly caused by all of my warm breath being in the mask with me. It was really uncomfortable. I read other reviews stating similar experiences, even going as far as to recommend that they are only usable in cool water.
I found it very difficult to get a full fresh breath of air while wearing the mask too. These masks are not designed to be used for exercise, but casual snorkeling. They warn that you will not be able to get enough oxygen if you wear one while exercising intensely enough to need to breathe through your mouth. I was not exercising excessively but definitely was not getting enough oxygen. It seemed to me that some of the problem was that my old air was not leaving the mask. Other reviewers reported difficulty breathing as well. Read about the Vista Vue mask above because it may offer an improved air solution if you are concerned about this.
more disadvantage to the plastic lens is that it is easily scratched and
that will mar your view. So, you must be very careful about how you
pack, travel and care for your mask. You should not let it get sandy at
Speaking of packing, a full face snorkel mask is a large bulky thing and will prove more challenging to pack for travel. You need to make sure that you do not pack your mask in a soft bag as the plastic will be easily broken in luggage transport.
You would think that it is easy to talk to your snorkel partner with one of these on, compared to having to take the snorkel out of your mouth. But in my experience people could not hear me well with it on. So, imagine having to remove your entire mask to talk to someone and then putting it back on each time.
Finally, a number of full face snorkel masks come with a GoPro mount
just above the lens. While this sounds like a marvelous idea, it is
pretty useless in real life. You can see in the pictures on this page
that the top of the mask where the camera is mounted is out of the
water, or nearly so. This means that your camera is taking pictures or videos above the water, not under it.
Even if you tilt the camera down so that it is in the water, it will be
looking at the ocean floor, probably not what you want for your video.
If you are absolutely set on using this option, you can buy an extension that will put the camera basically in front of your mask lens like the photos in this Amazon review. With this option you will likely get some decent video, but your view from inside your mask will be reduced.
If you decide to get one, we would love to read your reviews of the different brands. Please share them here. If you have a review about the Tribord Easybreath, Head/Mares Sea VU Dry, Thenice, or the Seaview 180°, leave it as a comment on the appropriate page in the links below.
A Compact Snorkeling Camera