Updated – June 2023
The full face snorkel mask is a relatively new invention launching in 2014. It combines a snorkel and a mask, with a seal all the way around your face. These masks were extremely popular when they first came out, with many companies quickly copying the original Tribord Easybreath (now Subea).
But in recent years there have been a number of news stories with growing concerns that full face snorkel masks may be dangerous, and some were blaming these masks for the death of snorkelers, particularly in Hawaii.
Below we discuss recent studies that shed light on the safety of these masks. And we also share some masks made by reputable companies, and what not to buy.
Danger of Full Face Snorkel Masks
The controversy around these masks stems from snorkeling deaths questionably linked to them, primarily in Hawaii. Initial theories concerned a buildup of CO2 levels or lack of oxygen.
The state of Hawaii took this situation seriously, and conducted a study over several years. In 2020 the results of that study were released. And in 2022 there was a second research project conducted between DAN and Duke University Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Environmental Physiology. They tested 10 popular full face snorkel masks, to see if they could find evidence to support three theories of concern around full face masks. This video discuses what they found.
The big takeaways from both tests is that a build up of CO2, or lack of oxygen, was not found to be the cause of snorkel-related drownings, nor were they a problem in the masks tested by DAN. Importantly, the Hawaii study found that the majority of unexplained deaths were from a condition called ROPE (Rapid Onset Pulmonary Edema). Breathing resistance in either full face masks or regular snorkels can be a contributing factor. And two of the masks tested by DAN did present high pressure. Those two masks were popular sellers on Amazon by mystery manufacturers who had fake address and contact details on their websites.
So if you buy a full face snorkel mask made by a well respected manufacturer, it is likely to be safe in terms of air supply. Although there are many other drawbacks to these masks that we talk about further down this page. And a poorly designed full face snorkel mask, just like a poorly designed regular snorkel, by a mystery manufacturer, could definitely be dangerous. Above all, make sure your mask 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.
We have tried a number of these masks, and greatly prefer our traditional masks and snorkels. But, we know many veteran snorkelers who love their full face snorkel mask. It is a very personal choice.
If you plan to go on a snorkeling trip 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.
What Are the Safe Brands?
In case you missed it above, many of the full face snorkel mask products available, with tons of fake positive reviews, are inferior knock-offs, from mystery manufacturers. For your safety avoid buying them. They may have leaking issues, fog up, the dry snorkel can fail, cutting off breathing or flooding the mask, and may have breathing pressure issues that could contribute to death from ROPE (Rapid Onset Pulmonary Edema).
The brands recommended below are from respected manufacturers who have been around for years, are accountable, and who test their masks to meet EU standards for full face diving masks. Although we can’t say these masks are safe for everyone, they are the best options on the market. If we find any new masks of interest we will write about them in our newsletter.
Wildhorn Seaview 180° V3 Full Face Snorkel Mask
Wildhorn Outfitters has a brand new version of their Seaview 180 V3 full face snorkel mask, and although we have not tried it, it looks much improved over their V2 mask. We felt the V2 had some breathing restriction, and it was very bulky and had high internal volume.
But the new V3 is designed specifically to address the issues concerning ROPE, and breathing resistance. The new design has been independently tested and found to offer less breathing resistance than other leading brands, including the SEAC mask below, according to a Wildhorn representative.
The mask offers quick release buckles for the straps, an auto draining purge valve at the bottom, and a GoPro mount on the left side.
One downside we noticed in reviews was that is it was very hard to impossible to remove the snorkel after it had been installed.
SEAC Full Face Snorkel Masks
SEAC tested their design to meet European regulations for safe CO2 levels for snorkel tubes and full face dive masks, and it was also tested for breathing resistance. Of the full face snorkel masks we tried, we found breathing the easiest in the SEAC. Though in the Wildhorn tests above, this full face snorkel mask did not do as well as the Seaview 180 V3 for ease of breathing.
The SEAC Libera Full Face Snorkel Mask is the best model that they offer.
Dedicated Inhale Only Snorkel – The entire snorkel tube is for breathing air in. 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 below) travels through tubes on each side of the mask and exits at the top of the mask body through valves – not through the snorkel. 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.
Silicone Mask Strap with Quick Release Buckles – The Libera mask uses very easily adjustable silicone straps. And the bottom of the mask those straps attach with quick release buckles. Just push the round button and the mask comes off quickly and easily. Fabric straps on other masks stay wet longer.
SEAC also has two other masks are the same basic design. The SEAC Unica has a high quality silicone mask skirt, but has fabric straps without quick release buckles.
The SEAC Magica is a more affordable version of this mask because it has a thermoplastic skirt instead of silicone.
The SEAC Libera comes in a child size and the SEAC Magica Junior is the affordable child-sized version with a non-silicone skirt.
Ocean Reef Full Face Snorkel Masks
The Ocean Reef Aria full face snorkel mask is a patented design and is tested for safe CO2 levels and breathing resistance. They use the same testing machines as used for diving rebreather full face masks.
In all of these masks 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, 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.
Is a Full Face Snorkeling Mask Right for You?
Check out this list of the pros and cons of these masks to help you decide if you want to try one.
Pros and Cons of a Full Face Snorkel Mask
First, the advantages:
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 may 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 some full face masks (Ocean Reef Aria for sure), 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.
Now for the disadvantages:
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 difficult to get a full breath of air in even when casually snorkeling.
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. Maybe the newer breed of masks that are now focusing on less breathing resistance will be better?
Hard to Fit and Don’t Work as Advertised
Having tried a number of different masks, we both find these masks very difficult to fit. The seal needs to fit air tight around your face, and under your chin, and also the internal seal needs to fit over your nose, creating a separate sealed chamber between your eyes and your mouth/nose. Although masks are available in different sizes, we have found it very hard to find a full face snorkel mask where all of those seals work well.
And in the DAN study mentioned above, they found that none of the masks worked as advertised, in terms of separating your in and out air flow. In fact, all 10 masks had nearly equal amounts of inhale and exhale gases flowing through both tubes. The DAN study said that did not cause a problem in terms of safety, but it does somewhat defeat one of the advertised advantages of these masks over a standard snorkel.
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 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 have been a few cheap masks that have a flexible nose pocket that allow you to pinch your nose for an ear clearing. 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.
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 people cannot hear you well with the mask on. 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.
Let Us Know What You Think
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 or the Seaview 180°, leave it as a comment on the appropriate page in the links below.