Updated - January 2022
The full face snorkel mask is a recent invention that exploded into popularity, and then a safety controversy. This piece of equipment combines a mask and a snorkel into one. The first of this type of mask was the Tribord Easybreath (now Subea), released in 2014. Now there are many other brands. Let's first talk about the safety concerns with these masks, and then get into our mask buying recommendations.
The controversy around these masks stems from snorkeling deaths questionably linked to them, primarily in Hawaii. People suspected that the masks build up CO2, or that they were too hard to remove if they got water in them, causing unexplained deaths. There have been two scientific studies recently though, and neither found evidence to support those causes of death. Although there is some area of concern, from off-brand products.
In 2020 the government of Hawaii released the results of a multi-year study that looked into the causes of snorkeling deaths in their state. They concluded that the majority of unexplained deaths were from a condition called ROPE, which can be caused by breathing resistance in either full face masks or regular snorkels. Certain health conditions raise the risk of ROPE, and they believe flying may also increase the risk. And they found that "CO2 buildup is not a physiologically viable explanation of snorkel-related drownings." This report suggested, without apparent testing, that these masks are difficult to remove, and so may increase risk. The study below tested this theory, and did not find that to be true.
In 2021, DAN and the Duke University Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Environmental Physiology published the results after studying seven full face snorkel masks. They attached sensors to the masks with snorkelers in the water, and tested for levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, pressure, and tested if the masks were difficult to remove. Their study did not find any problems with oxygen or carbon dioxide levels. And they found no evidence that the masks were difficult to remove. But, in two masks they did find possible issues with high pressure, meaning the snorkeler had to work hard to get enough air flow, like breathing hard through a straw, which could lead to respiratory distress. One of those masks developed the problem as water leaked into the mask.
While neither study found CO2 nor oxygen problems with any of these masks, both studies indicate that masks with high pressure problems are a concern. So some full face masks may not be safe, while others are safe.
While a quality full face snorkel mask may be safe, we have tried a number of them and still prefer our traditional masks and snorkels. We do find full face snorkel masks harder to breathe in. But, we know many veteran snorkelers who love their full face masks. So when you choose a mask, make sure it does not offer much air resistance when breathing, understand what ROPE is, what signs to watch for when you are snorkeling, and which health conditions may increase your risk.
You should only buy a mask from a well known manufacturer who makes lots of diving and snorkeling equipment, like the ones we recommend below. Name brand, quality manufacturers have in-house research and safety testing facilities, and they test for safe CO2 and oxygen levels and other factors before coming to market. These companies are reachable and accountable for their products. Four of the masks DAN tested were of these types, and presented no safety problems.
Be aware that there are many masks being sold on Amazon and other places of inferior quality and design that could be dangerous to use, despite lots of glowing reviews (which are often faked). These products often have no traceable manufacturer or parent company, no safety testing, and no accountability. Anyone can sell on Amazon. For example, the #1 best selling full face snorkel mask on Amazon, with over 5,000 good reviews, has an incomplete company website with only one product on it, a fake email address, fake phone number, and fake address in China. The two masks with pressure problems that DAN tested were these types of mystery products.
If you plan to travel with your full face snorkel mask, be aware that some tour companies and liveaboards are not allowing use of them during their excursions. So, check ahead or be prepared with some standard equipment.
Note: Our suggestions come from hands-on experience. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you purchase from the links below. We may make a small commission, from Amazon or other companies, at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
In our experience, the best brand of full face snorkel masks is the Italian company SEAC.
They have the breathing figured out. Their masks are, by far, the best
breathing of any full face snorkel mask we have tried. It is easy to get a full
fresh breath of air, which cannot be said for other masks in our
experience. On all SEAC models the entire snorkel tube is dedicated to
the inhale. Your exhale leaves through separate tubes to purge valves at the
top of the mask body, on the back side. And while that is a good feature, it is also the one potential feature some people may not like, because when you dip your head down a bit into the water, and those valves go underwater, it makes breathing out much harder (like when you dunk a dry snorkel). Though there are no
regulations or guidelines governing CO2 levels in full face masks, SEAC tests all of
their masks to meet European regulations for safe CO2 levels for snorkel tubes and
full face dive masks.
The SEAC Libera Full Face Snorkel Mask is leaps and bounds better than other masks on the market, if it fits you, and if you can get used to the exhale valve position issue mentioned above. Not only are all of SEAC's masks the best breathing we have experienced, but the new Libera has addressed nearly every major safety and comfort issue that many full face masks have. The Libera also comes in a child size. And the SEAC Fun is a more affordable child-sized version of the mask with a non-silicone skirt.
Dedicated Inhale Only Snorkel - The entire snorkel tube is for breathing air in. So you get lots of fresh air, and the snorkel itself remains compact, which is nice for packing in luggage (the snorkel is easily removed), and for less resistance to wind and water. In the graphic below fresh air is shown in blue, coming down the snorkel, into the chamber with your eyes, and then it moves through check valves into the chamber below with your nose and mouth.
Dedicated Exhale Valves in Mask - Your exhale (shown in red above) exits at the top of the mask body through valves - not through the snorkel. This keeps the distance your out-breath has to travel short, making it easier to exhale your CO2 fully. There is a tube on each side of the mask making it very easy to breathe out. Additionally, when you breathe in, these valves close, preventing you from re-breathing expelled air that may be left over in the tubes. But the position of those valves is slightly problematic because when you dip your head down into the water, those valves close, making it much more difficult to breathe out because of the water pressure against the valves. It is something you can get used to though.
Most other full face masks send the exhale out the snorkel in narrow and long separated tubes.
Massively Reduced Internal Air Volume - Take a look at the Libera mask next to the Wildhorn Seaview 180° V2 mask (click to make the picture bigger). Notice how much thinner it is? SEAC has greatly reduced the internal volume of air in the mask. This is designed to make it easier to circulate fresh air, instead of re-breathing old air. Although the Wildhorn mask has also been tested for CO2 safety, which you can read more about below. One other benefit of the reduced volume is that the mask is more compact for travel. And there is still plenty of room for big noses. The Wildhorn mask and many others have big spaces in front of your face and nose and mouth area.
Silicone Mask Strap and Quick Release Buckles - The majority of full face snorkel masks have fabric mask straps. They are hard to tighten, and they make the mask difficult to remove when you are in trouble. The Libera mask uses very easily adjustable silicone straps. And at the bottom of the mask those straps attach with quick release clips. Just push the round button and the mask comes off quickly and easily. Fabric straps on other masks also stay wet longer.
SEAC also has two other masks that we have tried on and found to be
good breathing. They use the same dedicated snorkel for incoming breath,
and the same separate exhale valves at the top of the mask. They are
also fairly low volume masks compared to other brands. But they lack the
other advanced features of the Libera above.
The SEAC Unica has a high quality silicone mask skirt, but features the same fabric straps as most other brands. Although it is still tested for safe levels of CO2. For just a little more money we would buy the Libera.
If you are looking for an affordable full face snorkel mask that has been tested for safe CO2 levels, with the good breathing characteristics of all the SEAC masks, the SEAC Magica is a good option. To keep costs down the mask uses a thermoplastic skirt instead of silicone (although some websites say it is silicone).
If you cannot get a good fit with one of the SEAC masks above, then consider the Ocean Reef Aria, with a patented design, and tested for safe CO2 levels. They use the same testing machines as used for diving rebreather full face masks. They have found that the harder you breathe, the less CO2 buildup there is.
In this mask the snorkel has three separated tubes contained within it, the center one is for the inhale, and the outside ones are for the exhale. But we did not breathe as easily in the Ocean Reef mask as the SEAC above.
Ocean Reef now has an Aria QR (pictured at right), which has quick release clips on the mask strap, which is the one we would get because of that feature. These masks are made in Italy and come in three sizes, including a child's.
Wildhorn Outfitters has also done testing on their Seaview 180° V2 full face snorkel mask to make sure it maintains safe levels of CO2. We contacted the company directly to ask about the specifics of what tests they have done, and this is what they shared: "We used both in-house and third party testing. Our approach was three-fold, theoretical testing based on volume measurements from CAD data, simulated CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) analysis, and physical product testing using both a simulated breathing apparatus and human testing with the use of testing equipment that recorded air flow/volume, pressure and CO2 concentration. Each step directed decisions throughout the development process to assure that SV2 addressed critical safety concerns." We were glad to hear they took this issue so seriously.
This mask looks a little different than some others, with the snorkel tube on the side. This tube has separate chambers for inhaling and exhaling.
It is also a rather large mask physically. The snorkel tube does come off for travel. But it is big, and the mask itself is also big, with lots of volume of air inside and a huge window. The physical size of it makes it more challenging to pack in luggage.
The breathing in the mask flows easily when breathing in, but we felt like the exhale was a little restricted, so you could feel a slight resistance when breathing out. The hole where your breath goes out is a good bit smaller than the diameter of the exhale tube.
The mask does come with a side mount option for attaching an action camera like a GoPro. This seems like a much better placement than those masks that mount a camera in the forehead area where it pops in and out of the water.
Check out this list of the pros and cons of these masks to help you decide if you want to try one.
Easier for Beginners - No Learning Curve
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.
Less Mask Fogging Problems
Through a system of airflow across the inside of the mask lens, these masks are not as 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. Try dish soap instead.
Large Unobstructed View
All of these masks and many of the reviews remark on the large unobstructed 180° view that they have. We actually find that the masks offer less peripheral vision than our traditional masks, because of the size of the frame on the sides.
Great for Men With Mustaches
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.
Built-in Dry Snorkel
All full face masks we have seen have a dry valve at the top of the snorkel. 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.
Option for Prescription Lenses
There is the option of an optical lens support that can be used inside the Ocean Reef Aria full face masks which allows you to use 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.
Designed for Casual Snorkeling - Not Exercise
The majority of full face snorkel masks say they are for casual snorkeling, not exercise. And in our personal experience most masks are more difficult to breathe in compared to a standard snorkel. Most manufacturers actually 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. You can find many reviews of people saying they cannot breathe easily, get headaches or are lightheaded, with most masks. That means if you have to swim hard, in a current, there could be problems. Reason alone not to use one in our minds.
Clean Air Breathing Systems Don't Work as Advertised
The DAN study also found that none of the tested masks worked as advertised. These masks are supposed to allow you to breathe in through one tube, and out another tube(s), without mixing. But they found that the seals and valves don't work as described, and in all of the masks an almost equal amount of gas flow happened both directions in all tubes. We have found that to be the case also. So really, they are not any different than a regular snorkel, in regards to re-breathing gases. But, according to the DAN study, so long as you buy a reputable mask, they offer safe levels of gas flow, just not in the way advertised.
Difficult to Fit Correctly
These masks have an outer seal that wraps around your forehead, down your face, and under your chin. They also have an inner seal around your nose that is supposed to separate the upper and lower areas within the mask, with one-way valves for air flow between. The problem is that human faces are all really different, and even with different size and brand options, we have found it very difficult to get a correctly fitting mask. What normally happens is that the mask leaks water, or it leaks air flow between the inner chambers, which is another reason that the breathing flow patterns don't really work as advertised, as talked about in the point above.
Not for Diving Down - Despite the Pictures and Videos
Yes, every advertisement and video for full face masks shows people diving down. But beyond going down a few feet you really can't safely freedive in a full face snorkel mask. You have no way to equalize the pressure in your ears that quickly increases as you dive down. Equalizing normally requires you to hold your nose and blow air into your ears. If you don't do this you will damage your ears. And there is no access to your nose in this type of mask. There is a mask called the Ninja Shark Equalizer that does have a flexible nose pocket. But that mask does not solve the other issues that all of these masks have when diving down. They have a lot of volume of air inside the mask. All that air creates a strong pressure on your face as you dive down. This cannot be relieved as it can with a normal mask by 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.
Fabric Straps Can Be a Problem
The fabric straps that come on most full face snorkel masks are both difficult to get tight when putting it on or to loosen when taking off the mask. You need to place a strap holder around the end of the strap in order for it to stay where you have adjusted it to, which is difficult when it is on the back of your head. Then, when you need to get it off, you have to get those strap holders loose in order to get the straps loose and get the mask off your head. It is not quick or easy. Although the DAN study did not find it took a dangerous amount of time to remove.
We Find These Masks Very Hot
Something that is very noticeable and uncomfortable for us is that full face snorkel masks are very hot inside. The hot feeling is partly caused by our warm breath in the lower breathing area. But the large window also acts like a greenhouse. We have read other reviews stating similar experiences, even going as far as to recommend that they are only usable in cool water.
Air Across Eyes Is Drying
With these masks your incoming breath comes in at the top of the mask, and is drawn across the mask in front of your eyes, before going through valves into the breathing chamber where your mouth is. This is supposed to help prevent the mask from fogging. But we find the constant airflow across our eyes very drying and irritating.
Lens Is Easily Scratched Plastic
A traditional mask is tempered glass. But full face snorkel masks are plastic and are easily scratched, which mars 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 all. Full face masks will likely not last as long as traditional masks because of this.
Bulky for Travel
Speaking of packing, a full face snorkel mask is a large bulky thing and will prove more challenging to pack for travel than a traditional mask and snorkel, that take up less room. If you have soft sided luggage the plastic mask could easily be broken during transport.
Talking Not Easy Between Snorkelers
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 our experience the mask muffles your voice, making it hard to understand. So, imagine having to remove your entire mask to talk to someone and then putting it back on each time.
GoPro Mounts at Top Not Useful
A number of full face snorkel masks come with a GoPro mount just above the lens, near the top of your forehead. 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. Some masks have started placing the camera mount on the side of the mask which is an improvement.
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, Thenice, or the Seaview 180°, leave it as a comment on the appropriate page in the links below.
A Compact Snorkeling Camera