Picking a snorkel for your next underwater adventure? There are actually a number of things to consider. Your mouth comfort is very important. So make sure and get one that is a good fit for your mouth size and the right tube size if it is for kids.
Here we give you our advice from years of experience on what types work best.
First let's just look at the basics. Your snorkel is how you breathe with your face stuffed in the water. It has a mouthpiece that is soft and comfortable and that seals out any water. It attaches to the side of your face mask strap, and will allow you to breathe in a variety of head positions common to snorkeling.
Let's take a look at some of the styles available today, and what features each has.
A classic is just that, a solid tube with a mouthpiece. Sometimes these can be bent to a specific shape, but they are generally not as comfortable to use as one with a flexible tube section. They have no splash prevention, and no purge valves, and if you dive underwater or have a wave fill the tube, you will need to clear it by exhaling forcefully. We prefer at least a splash guard on top.
The next level up of has a partial flexible silicone tube and will most often have a purge valve. Both of these are nice features that we describe more below.
Benefits Of A Flexible Tube
A flexible tube below the strap attachment point is often more comfortable than a classic snorkel with a single piece of hard tube. It does not pry on your mouth as much, and you can rotate the top and mouth piece to different angles for a better fit to your face. It will also drop away from your face when you are not using it, which is nice.
Benefits Of A Purge Valve
This is a common feature of a many snorkels. Basically there is a sump area where any water that has come down the tube will collect (it is lower than your mouth and keeps small amounts of water from entering your mouth). There is a little valve in this area, so that when you blow out it will clear water from the tube, instead of having to blow it all out the top. It takes much less effort. We like them, but sometimes then can fail if they get sand or dirt in them, which is annoying.
A semi-dry snorkel has a splash guard on the top, and will most often have a flexible tube and a purge valve.
Benefits Of A Splash Guard
This is simply a guard that prevents splashed water and spray from easily entering the tube. Each company has their own method of protecting the opening. This is a worthwhile feature to have. Choking on water is not fun. A splash guard will not stop water from entering when you go underwater or if a good sized wave covers your snorkel.
This is the kind Nicole likes to use. Old dry valves used to have lots of problems. They would not seal effectively. They would stop air coming in at weird times. But more modern designs have cured most of those problems and these are the most comfortable snorkels to use.
Benefits of a Dry Valve
A dry snorkel has a special valve on top of the tube that completely seals out all water (and air) when a wave comes over, or when you dive underwater. That way you don't have to clear them when you come back to the surface. When done right, this is a great feature.
What we recommend and own is the Tusa Hyperdry MAX Snorkel. But there is a newer model, the Hyperdry Elite II that looks just as good. They are unique in a couple of ways. They have a very comfortable mouth piece (although it is a bit small, so this is not a good choice for someone with a big mouth). The tube and purge valve area has a very water-ergonomic shape, which causes much less stress on your mouth when snorkeling for long periods. And finally, its dry valve system works the most consistently. The dry valve on the newer Elite II model is more compact and streamlined than the original Max and there is a change in the mask strap clip as well.
Our second favorite is the extremely well loved Oceanic Ultra Dry Snorkel (pictured at right). We have owned it, and it is considered one of the best for snorkelers. It has a unique dry valve that is weighted and uses a silicone seal instead of the more common styrofoam seals by other companies. The benefit of the weighted valve is that when you inhale strongly, the non-weighted valves will sometimes be sucked closed, preventing air intake. The foam seals on other brands also don't last very long, as compared to the silicone seal on the Oceanic Ultra Dry. They also make a version of it called the Mini that has a smaller mouthpiece, but uses the same tube. Good for kids and adults with smaller mouths.
Our favorite non-dry-valve snorkel is the extremely popular Aqua Lung Impulse 3. We tested it and loved it. It is physically big, with a big mouth piece, but the special semi-dry top on it stays as dry as any dry valve we have tried (above water at least). It comes in two versions, a flexible tube version or a solid tube version.
The best free diving snorkel. Galen free dives down to get better pictures, and he tested many before becoming thrilled with his Riffe Stable Snorkel. This snorkel moves easily through the water thanks to its unique wing shape, and its huge purge valve works great. This is the most recommended free dive snorkel on spear fishing forums.
Another option to consider is the full face snorkel mask that combines the snorkel with the mask into one piece of equipment. To learn more about what brands are good and the pros and cons of them, read this page.
Here are a few more details to consider before buying.
Just like with your diving mask, silicone is the best option for your mouthpiece material (instead of plastic). It is much more comfortable, flexible, and longer lasting.
We have never needed to replace one, but if you tend to chew on your mouthpiece, then being able to replace it would be a real benefit instead of having to buy an entirely new snorkel.
Mask Strap Quick Release
With some snorkels it is not easy to separate your snorkel from your mask strap for travel. Higher end snorkels now have a quick release system where one part stays on your mask, which makes it easier to quickly attach and detach it from your mask.
Big Person vs. Small Person
Besides a smaller person needing a smaller mouthpiece for comfort, a small person may also need a smaller diameter tube. The reason for this is because as a smaller person exhales, they don't have the lung capacity to drive all of their exhaled breath out of a large diameter tube. They will then be re-breathing their exhaled gases, which will increase their difficulty breathing. And of course, a big person trying to breathe through a small tube is also a problem.
It is important for the reasons stated above for kids to have a kid-sized snorkel. They have smaller mouthpieces, a smaller diameter tube, and a shorter tube. Although it may at first appear like using an adult one would not be a problem, in fact they have difficulty breathing with a large diameter tube. Additionally, a larger tube is more difficult to push through the water when swimming, which is tiring for a small mouth.
Freediving & Tube Collapse
If you freedive, and use a dry valve, don't be surprised if your soft silicone mouthpiece, and the flexible tube suddenly collapse once you are down about fifteen to twenty feet. That is because your tube is full of air, and the water pressure squeezes the tube. It is not really a problem, but it is a surprise the first time it happens. If you don't enjoy this they do make snorkels for free diving, like the Riffe Stable Galen recommends above.
One thing that you might consider when buying a snorkel is that it is streamlined to go through the water easily. Because your mouth will start to get tired when you are swimming for an hour or more, pushing that snorkel through the water. The easier it goes through the water the better. Avoid gimmick snorkel products that have a large surface area for this reason (like the ones that have two tubes, one for exhale, one for inhale, doubling the size of the tube surface area).
Easy Breathing Tip
The biggest problems people have breathing through a snorkel is almost always due to not being relaxed, not from bad equipment. If you are not relaxed in the water, you will have much more difficulty breathing. But if you are relaxed, you can have your head in the water for hours with ease.