Packing for a Snorkeling Trip

Your adventure is coming! But packing for a snorkeling trip can be challenging. What should you take and how do you fit in all your stuff? What do you put in the carry-on vs. the checked bag? Can you only use a carry-on? Aren't airlines much stricter about carry-on weight these days?

We have packed for more snorkel trips than we can remember. So we have some tips and suggestions that should answer many of your questions.

Packing for a Snorkeling Trip - Essential Preparation Steps

Here we are about to load a plane for a snorkeling adventure in Indonesia.

Look Up Your Flight Weight Limits & Bag Sizes
We have been taken by surprise recently. Airlines around the world have gotten much more consistent about weighing all bags, including carry-ons, and applying overweight fees. If you don't want an unpleasant surprise, you need to know the weight limits. For example, suppose you are heading to Indonesia for a once in a lifetime snorkel trip. With one airline you may only be allowed 15 lbs (7 kg) in your carry-on and 44 lbs (20 kg) in a checked bag. That is not much. When packing for a snorkeling trip check allowed baggage sizes also. Some overseas carriers only allow really small carry-on bags.

So it is really important to look up the size and weight limits allowed for your flights. Once you know that you can decide on the size and number of bags you will need. SkyScanner.com has a handy chart showing weights and sizes of bag allowances for different airlines that will give you a quick idea. But we recommend always looking at the website of the airline you are flying with. You may also find those details are available with your ticket information.

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Luggage scales are essential tools to own.

Get a Luggage Scale
For years we did not bother with a luggage scale when packing for a snorkeling trip. Imagine the humorous scene of one of us holding some heavy luggage in our hands, while balancing on a bathroom scale while the other person tried to read the weight and subtract the difference. Not very accurate!

We love our digital luggage scale. These things are cheap and give peace of mind that you won't be charged overweight fees. And they save you the embarrassment of trying to quickly move your belongings from one bag to another when checking in if your bag is overweight.

Our #1 Tip for Low Stress Packing - Create a Packing Checklist
There is one thing we have done that has made packing for a snorkeling trip a thousand times easier and less stressful. That is creating a highly detailed packing checklist of everything we need to take. And we mean everything, from the nail clippers, to all of our electronics and camera gear, to travel paperwork and passports. We print it before packing and carefully check off each item as it goes into the bag. You could use a phone app as well. And we keep the list updated after each trip when we think of new things we would like to bring, and we remove things we no longer use.

Now we barely need to think about packing, and have almost no concerns about forgetting something. That list has saved us from forgetting our passports, medicines, and even essential camera gear.

So if you enjoy stressing out when you pack for trips, by all means, freewheel it. Otherwise, make a packing checklist.

Lightweight luggage makes everything easier.

What Luggage Is Best for a Snorkeling Trip? Go Lightweight!
Depending on the length and type of trip we are going on, and what the luggage weight limits are, we have a number of different bags we use. We used to use hard sided but now use soft sided. But it really does not matter what type of luggage you use when packing for a snorkeling trip.

The only strong recommendation we have if you are buying new is to go lightweight. Our new luggage is nearly 5 lbs (2.25 kg) per bag lighter than our old bags, which makes a big difference in hauling it around, and when it is weighed. You can see what bags we use, and some luggage recommendations on our travel gear page here.

How many pieces of luggage you need, and of what size, really comes down to the length of your trip, how much junk you want to take, and the weight limits.

Liveaboard Boats Sometimes Require Duffel Bags
If you are going to be on a liveaboard boat, sometimes they request that you pack in soft sided duffel bags that can collapse when empty, because the boat has no place to store bags with hard sides. Something to keep in mind!

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Packing for a Snorkeling Trip - Pile It, Sort It, Pack It

Once you know your weight limits, and have a packing list, you are ready to start piling everything together you need, and sorting it all into categories. First, decide what is going in your checked bag and what is in your carry-on.

Us heading out to a liveaboard for a snorkeling adventure in the Maldives.

What Do We Pack In the Carry-on?
The big difference between a checked bag and a carry-on is the risk of damage and loss. It's rare, but checked bags do sometimes get lost by airlines, or theft may occur. And they certainly are not gentle with them.

So you need to ask yourself when packing for a snorkeling trip, what things would be very difficult to replace at your destination if they are lost.

The items that definitely go in our own carry-on are:

  • Underwater Cameras & Housings - It would be a disaster if we lost a camera.
  • Electronics - Laptop, phones, e-readers, those all stay with us.
  • Snorkel Masks - If there is one piece of our snorkel gear that would be difficult to find a good fitting replacement for at our destination, it would be our masks. Particularly if you have a prescription mask we recommend you do not let it out of your hands.
  • Lithium Batteries - Lithium batteries are not allowed in your checked luggage. So everything you have with a lithium battery in it must be in your carry-on.

You may have other items like prescription drugs you cannot do without that should be in your carry-on. And some folks like to make sure they have the essentials in their carry-on, like a change of clothes, tooth brush, etc.

Personal Item Vs. Overhead Bag
Most airlines, in addition to an overhead sized carry-on, allow you a smaller Personal Item bag that is supposed to be small enough to be placed under the seat in front of you. Check your airline for allowed sizes and items.

We commonly use a messenger shoulder bag for this, and it carries things we want to use during our transit, like books (e-readers), laptop, medicines, earphones, water bottle, etc. We try not to pack it too heavy since it is not on wheels.

Carry-on Only? Is It Possible When Packing for a Snorkeling Trip?
Can you do it, take a bunch of snorkel gear on a trip, without having to check a bag? Does this mystical unicorn really exist? Yes, you can, in some circumstances. If it's a short trip, and you don't need a lot of stuff, and you can keep it all under the weight limit, then go for it. In addition to the tricks we share below, also read what our site visitors have shared on this page.

Fins are the biggest issue when packing for a snorkel trip with only a carry-on bag. If your fin size is small to medium, you should have no issue getting them into a standard 22" carry-on bag. If you have medium to large fins, it might still work, depending on the type of fin. But if you have large to extra large fins there is less chance they will fit.

First, we would like to suggest that you do not succumb to the lure of really short travel fins. They may fit in carry-on luggage, but provide little power in the water. Strong ocean swimmers may find it a suitable option, but for the rest of us standard humans, having powerful full length fins is very important for safety in currents. If you can't get your fins to fit in your carry-on, then check some luggage, or if possible, rent or buy some fins at your destination.

In our experience the only shorter travel fin that has acceptable power is the Scubapro Go Travel Fin. You can read our fin reviews here. Below you can see how much shorter the Go Travel Fin is compared to the equivalently sized Mares Super Channel Fins.

Mares Super Channel Fins next to equivalent sized Scubapro Go Travel Fins.

Below you can see the Medium/Large sized Go Fin packed into a carry-on bag, with room for other stuff within. After you get your mask and snorkel in, you will still have room for some clothes and other items. In combination with a Personal Item bag, you can make it work.

Scubapro Go Travel Fins in a typical 22 inch carry-on bag.
Try rolling the heel up to shorten the fin if you can.

Generally speaking, open heel fins, like the Go Fin, are easier to pack than full foot fins because the heel strap is easily moved. So you may have better luck fitting them in your luggage. Although some open heel fins have huge foot boxes designed to receive boots, so they will probably take up too much room in your bag.

If you have a full foot snorkel fin you may be able to roll the heel section up and tuck it into its own pocket, like the old Tusa split fins of Galen's at right. That helps reduce the length of these long split fins so that they will fit in a standard 22" carry-on as pictured below. Note that some full foot fins have hard plastic along the side that reduce how much you can roll up the fin. The Mares Super Channel fin above will not roll up as much because of that.

Fairly long split fins squeezed into a 22 inch bag.

You can also lay your fins in flat, on top of your belongs, and sometimes they may fit better diagonally across the bag.

Sometimes fins fit better diagonally.

Sneaky Tip to Get Around Carry-on Weight Limits
Getting around carry-on weight limits may be the only valid reason ever for a person to wear cargo pants. Before your bag is weighed, put as many heavy items into your pockets as you can. So far they are not weighing people! After your carry-on bag is weighed, go around the corner and put those heavy items back into your bag.

Checked Bag Methods When Packing for a Snorkel Trip
There is no mystery to packing a checked bag. Once you know what to put in it, just make sure and protect anything fragile by wrapping it in clothing, and position those items in protected areas. A firmly packed bag is better than one with a lot of extra room inside, to keep things from moving around. As you pack, try and fill small void areas with small clothing pieces and other items.

This is the luggage for two diver friends of ours. Snorkelers have it easy.

If your snorkel fins are not easily broken, then you can use them as a hard surface to protect other items in your bag, by placing them over the top, or along the sides of the bag. But if your fins are a less durable plastic, they may get broken in that position, so protect them more.

If you are looking to purchase a checked bag, know that really large bags above about 28" in height are very easy to over-pack, in terms of airline weight limits. And if you are compaining about too much luggage, feel grateful you are a snorkeler. The picture above is the luggage for just two diver friends of ours.

You might consider using packing cubes to help with organization or maybe some compression.

Are Packing Cubes Useful When Packing for a Snorkeling Trip?
Packing cubes are just smaller little bags like these, that you use to organize, and sometimes compress items into, that you then put into your bigger bags. Many times we have considered using packing cubes. But the overall concept has never really made sense for us. Normally we don't have problems getting everything we need into our bags. And packing cubes also add a small additional bit of weight. But we can understand folks who like to have more organization in their bag.

We do use smaller bags for these items:

  1. A pile of little electronics stuff - battery chargers, cables, SD cards, backup hard drive, surge protector, etc. This goes in our carry-on.
  2. Our toiletries bag, which we split up into three of these clear little bags, for ease of use.
  3. Two neoprene bags for our camera housings.

Everything else we just toss into our luggage. Actually clothing is carefully folded. We wrap swimwear and clothing around breakable items like masks and cameras. We use small clothing items like socks and undies to stuff into nooks and crannies. Heavy, less fragile items like our snorkeling lights, we place in the bottom of the bag so they cannot hurt other items.

Locking Your Bag?
You have it all packed, what about locking it up? You can put a lock on your bag. Some say it must be a TSA approved lock, some say that is not true.

Be aware of a couple of things though. The typical small TSA approved lock is nearly worthless. They are easily picked, and they get stuck in airline conveyor belts and torn off regularly, which damages bags and increases your chances of lost items. Also be aware that locking a zipper is worthless. You can stick a ball point pen into a zipper, open the bag, and then easily reseal the bag without opening the lock, as can be seen in this video.

The only luggage you can truly lock, is a hard sided, non-zipper bag, with a quality non-TSA lock, like this Pelican Case that is shown in the end of that video. They are fairly heavy and expensive bags that just scream that they have valuables in them.

Here is how we deal with checked bag security.

  1. We don't put anything of high value in a checked bag. No one is going after snorkeling gear.
  2. Instead of a lock we secure our zippers with a small zip tie. It keeps the zipper from accidentally opening, provides a small amount of security, but is easily removed if TSA needs to. And it will not get caught in a conveyor belt like a dangling lock, reducing the chance of bag damage. If you do this you have to have some method of cutting the zip tie off. We keep some nail clippers handy for that purpose.

Packing for a Snorkeling Trip - What About...?

Snorkel Gear In Its Own Bag?
Many people travel with their snorkel gear in its own bag, like a mesh sack, that is sometimes checked, or sometimes gets put overhead. We have never liked this idea when packing for a snorkeling trip because of the risk of damage. If checked it will get thrown around. Even overhead, other bags will get smashed into it. We prefer to wrap our mask and snorkel in clothes, and use the fins as extra protection around things in our bags. But we do still take our snorkel gear bags. They pack flat and are easy to throw on the top of even a very stuffed bag.

Essential Travel Medicines
Well before any trip you should consult with your doctor or local travel medicine clinic to see if you need any medicine or vaccinations for diseases like Malaria, Hepatitis, Typhoid, etc. for the specific places you are visiting.

In addition to those, if you get a case of travel sickness (think diarrhea for days), you will be glad to have these items with you.

  • Imodium - To stop you from losing all your fluids.
  • Rehydration Salts - To replenish your system after you have had a good flushing. You could use Emergen-C packets or something similar.

Bug spray is another essential item to bring to tropical locations that can help prevent mosquito-borne diseases. Be aware that Deet will damage plastic, so keep it away from your camera housing or anything else plastic. We use Picaridin insect repellent instead.

Prescription Drugs - Bring Your Prescription Also
Obviously you will need to bring whatever prescription drugs you need. But also bring your doctor prescription, because some of the drugs you have may be illegal in some countries, and that prescription will keep you in the clear.

Other Pills
It may be wise to keep vitamins and other pills in their original packaging, so that TSA does not wonder what they are.

Travel Clothing
Regarding clothing, if you are visiting a tropical location that has mosquitoes and potential for diseases, in addition to bug repellent, long pants, long sleeved shirts, and socks are your friends. You can even buy clothing pre-treated with bug deterrent chemicals, or send yours away to be treated with a long lasting coating.

Sun Protection
We mostly wear full clothing snorkeling these days, for our health and the reefs. But we have tested lots of sunscreens, and our favorite reef safe sunscreen is Stream2sea, which you can read more about here. It really works.

What About Food?
On some trips we do bring a bunch of snacks we enjoy, and because of some dietary issues we also bring some other difficult to find staple items to cook with. So our bags often weigh less coming home.

One tip we have learned about bringing food is that many tropical locations have lots of tiny ants, that are masters of getting into your food. So make sure it is all well sealed up. And the more of it you can keep in a refrigerator once at your room the better.

Note that some countries may not let you bring certain food items into their country, or out. Particularly fresh foods.

Grocery Shopping Bags
Some countries do not provide shopping bags at grocery stores. So on trips where we are cooking for ourselves we take reusable shopping bags with us. They also double as handy gear totes during our snorkel days.

Packable Day Pack
A small backpack that can compress into its own stuff sack is very handy for day hikes and walking tours, so we commonly pack one, like this Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack.

Silicone Bottles & Containers for Toiletries
We love traveling with leak-proof silicone bottles for shampoo and other liquids. We also use tiny silicone jars for other toiletries.

Ziploc Bags Are Handy
We bring a number of gallon and quart sized freezer Ziploc bags. The big bags are very useful for soaking our camera gear in fresh water, because very often sinks do not have drain plugs that work. So we just fill up a big bag, and stick our cameras into it and zip it up. And Ziplocs come in handy in lots of other ways during a trip. We pack any fluid bottles, like sunscreen, into a Ziploc, to prevent leaks in our luggage, which often occur because of pressure changes when flying. We clean and reuse the Ziplocs during the trip, and bring them home to dispose of them.

Reusable Water Bottles
Reusable water bottles are a must for us traveling. They save us a lot on jacked up airport prices on bottled water. And we use them during our snorkeling days. We have used these Platypus bottles for years. They are extremely lightweight. They leave no plastic taste to your water. And when not in use they roll up small. And because they are flexible you can sometimes fill them up easier at low sinks and water fountains than you can solid bottles. They do require two hands to drink from though.

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