Want to choose the perfect snorkel equipment for your next family vacation? Great! We've learned first-hand that using inadequate snorkel gear can ruin the experience. And what an experience it can be!!
If you're looking for a great activity for your family to explore the next time you go on vacation, it's tough to beat snorkeling for a number of different reasons. With quality snorkel gear costing well under 100 dollars, the value is unbeatable. And that's for a full snorkel set (snorkeling fins, mask, and a decent snorkel)! It's surprisingly easy and affordable to get started with snorkel equipment.
Even better, all of your snorkel equipment is easily transportable; unlike a heavy scuba tank, you can throw your fins, mask, and other accessories right in your suitcase along with clothing and toiletries. Most snorkeling equipment even comes with its own bag or backpack, so our family tends to each carry our own snorkel set as carry-on luggage of flights. That way, everyone's helping out AND, if we lose our checked bags, we're still guaranteed a terrific vacation. We just buy a bathing suit each and head to the nearest reef!
The next time you plan a trip to the beach, we highly recommend you include snorkeling for an excursion that combines science and exercise with an all-around great time for adults and kids of all ages. As long as your kids can swim, they can snorkel. And even a beginning swimmer can wear a snorkel vest and look at the colorful fish through their mask while they hold their breath (to start) and then work their way up to breathing through the snorkel itself.
Here, we've listed the major components that will make up your snorkel equipment, along with some suggestions to keep in mind as you go about purchasing your gear.
The Basic Snorkel Set up
A complete snorkel set comes with the following components. The most important part of basic snorkel equipment is the mask and snorkel itself. The kit will also usually include fins, which are important for propulsion, and some may even add a life-jacket and snorkel bag to the mix. You can find these full snorkel sets anywhere from local convenience stores to the internet to shacks on the beach.
The complete snorkel equipment rigs that you find at local or beach stores are generally on the lower end of the quality spectrum, because each adult and child set includes the most generic of each item and doesn't take into account different preferences for specific masks, snorkels, and fins. Well-maintained snorkel equipment can last years, so if you plan on using your new setup a number of times, we recommend staying away from the super-cheap stuff in favor of better, name-brand pieces.
You don't have to move all the way up to buying each piece separately though. Read through this page before deciding, but many snorkel equipment sets now come with mid-range quality gear that's perfectly fine for most snorkelers (and light years ahead of what you can rent). If you know you're only going to use your snorkeling gear occasionally or if you're just getting started, go ahead and buy one of the mid-range sets (roughly $40 - $100).
Do yourself a favor though and at least take the time to purchase your snorkel equipment online, where you can read reviews from others who have actually tried out the equipment you're purchasing. You'll definitely do better than guessing on your own at a sporting good or, worse yet, convenience or beach store. We recommend Snorkeling Set Amazon (try this search for "Snorkeling set") as they have by far the most extensive reviews. The quality FAR surpasses anything you'll be given for free on most boating/snorkeling excursions or any equipment you're likely to find at a rental place.
Another option, of course, is buying from a reputable sporting goods store that has an outstanding return policy.
If you're interested in buying each piece of your snorkel equipment ala cart, read on. It's a good idea to read on anyway, even if you're planning to purchase a set, since the advice here will help you choose your kit.
You should think of the snorkel mask as the most important part of the entire snorkeling equipment. If this piece of the puzzle doesn't work right, the other equipment won't matter. The quickest way to turn your kids off to snorkeling is by plopping them in the salty ocean wearing a snorkel mask that doesn't fit correctly. When you're in the store, have them breathe in through their nose, developing a firm seal between their skin and the mask. Keep the strap hanging down in front of the face; if it stays in place and feels comfortable, you've found a match. Consider purchasing a mask that has a strap that can grow with your child, but paramount in your decision should be comfort. Most shops will allow you to take the mask into the bathroom to test in freshwater, and some will even have a station right there for your child to try.
There are a couple of other features that you should look for. Ask what kind of anti-fog coating is sprayed on the plastic. Higher-end masks will also have a strap that's made of rubbery material that floats, important if the apparatus falls off in the water.
Think your children need snorkel jackets or vests for floatation? With the right pair of snorkel fins, your kids can kick their way along the surface without a problem. Fins mimic the way a fish uses its tail to glide through the water, adding a significant amount of power to every flex of the ankle. Aside from floatation, of course, fins are necessary to span distances. Snorkeling is different from swimming; your arms are supposed to remain at your sides, allowing much more powerful legs to provide all of the forward momentum. This keeps the water calm and clear as you glide smoothly through it.
Perhaps more than any other part of snorkeling equipment, fins have greatly evolved over the past 20 years. There used to be a standard, one size fits all shape and form, but that's a thing of the past. Today's high-quality fins feature a split down the middle that aids in propulsion, allowing you to cover more ground while diving deeper (once you become more advanced).
Again, the most important thing to consider when deciding on a set of snorkeling fins is fit. Equipment that doesn't conform to the shape of your foot will cause blisters, which are an activity-ending catastrophe in the harsh, salty ocean environment. Have your children walk around the store in the fins, and lay them down on a bench to simulate kicking for at least 30 seconds. Above all, steer them away from the aesthetic aspects and towards comfort and functionality. If they're stuck on a color, look online; Often, shades that aren't available in the store can be found from an Internet retailer with a larger catalog. Some kids will find booties more comfortable, so try those on together with fins and see if it makes a big difference.
The snorkel is usually included with the mask, but the most expensive snorkels will come separately. You don't really need the best snorkel out there, and most separate components are meant to be paired with a scuba diving rig.
Most decent snorkels will say something like "Dry snorkel" which means that they have a valve guard at the top that stops splashes at the surface and even while underwater from getting down into the snorkel (and into your mouth). This is definitely something you'll want, especially for kids!
Other Snorkeling Accessories to Consider
Once you have the main pieces listed above sorted out, you can move onto accessories. These aren't necessary, for the most part, but can improve the experience.
Snorkel Jacket or snorkel vest
As we mentioned above, this is an optional component, but one that many novice swimmers will appreciate. Younger kids will feel much more secure with some extra floatation from a snorkel jacket or vest, so consider that as you add accessories. Some prefer snorkel bobs instead, but keep in mind that these can slip off.
A snorkeling wetsuit is a great addition if you'll be traveling to a less tropical destination. Indeed, even places like the Caribbean and Hawaii can be a bit chillier during the winter, warranting the use of a suit. As an added bonus, you'll experience some extra floatation, increasing as you add thickness. Wetsuits can be a pain to get in and out of, and you'll bake in the sun in the brief moments out of the water.
Snorkel Backpack and Snorkel Bag
Do you need to purchase a separate carrying bag for your gear? This is a personal decision, but a bag branded to carry snorkel equipment will be five times as expensive as the same generic carrying case.
Last but not least, an under water camera is definitely something you should NOT forget (along with sunscreen of course!) when you're gathering your snorkeling gear. You'll remember those colorful fish and coral for years to come, especially from your first experience, but it's SO much better to bring home the pictures to help everyone remember the fun. We love our Flip video camera with an underwater case, but a simple disposable underwater camera can work great as well.
Snorkeling is a wonderful way to spend quality family time together on vacation. We've discovered that even our parents enjoy snorkeling with their grandkids and, surprisingly, were never introduced to it before. What a treat it was to give my mom that experience! And then I was able to buy her first snorkeling set as well!
With a bit of time spent purchasing the right snorkel equipment, you can have a safe, fun and very memorable experience on the surface of the sea.
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