Updated: Aug 15
With so many types and designs, a diver’s mask selection is usually based on their individual face shape and personal selection. After all, a mask is a mask. Right? Well, yes and no. A mask is a mask in the sense that they are all designed for the same purpose, to enable us to see underwater. However, there are some factors that make the difference between a good mask and a poor mask, and some general considerations a diver should make when selecting their own personal mask.
Tempered Glass - First and foremost, a scuba mask’s lens, or lenses, should be made of tempered glass. Tempered (or toughened) glass is a type of safety glass that has been strengthened (either through heat or chemical treatment) when compared to normal glass and, when broken, will crumble into small granular chunks, instead of splintering into jagged shards as plate glass does, and are less likely to cause injury. A mask with tempered glass is usually identifiable by either a “T” or the word “Tempered” on the lens. Another consideration is whether a mask has a single lens, twin lens, or multiple lenses:
• Single lens - As the name suggests, a single piece of glass with no mask frame in the middle. A single lens mask gives a great, open view.
• Twin lens - Usually compatible with easy-to-replace prescription lenses (“drop-in lenses”) from the manufacturer. Just bear in mind that, while drop-in lenses are cheaper than custom prescriptive lenses (which is probably the best option), they are usually only available in half steps. So, if you require a 7.25 correction, you will have to choose between 7.0 or 7.5, with the recommendation being you should always go under i.e., 7.0, not 7.5, as using a prescription that is too high can cause eye strain and headaches.
• Multiple lenses - Have a window pane on either side of the mask, which allows light to enter and makes the mask feel “more open”. However, they add little peripheral vision.
The skirt of a mask provides a simple yet crucial role, it keeps the water out and keeps the air in. Skirts should ideally be made of high-grade silicone, which is very comfortable and provides a good seal. A high-quality silicone skirt will also be molded, over time, to a diver’s individual facial contour giving an even better seal. Cheaper masks (often sold in snorkel packs with nasty fins and horrible snorkels) will often have skirts made of plastic derivatives, which are less flexible, uncomfortable, and prone to warping.
A mask should also have a place for a diver’s nose (that’s how we know we buying a diver’s mask and not a pair of swimming goggles), which should comfortably accommodate their hooter. The pocket shouldn’t be too tight around the nose, but it also shouldn’t flap about like a loose condom. Straps
The mask is secured to the diver via a neoprene strap, which is attached to the mask frame or skirt. The strap needs to be adjusted to fit an individual diver, so is typically tightened or loosened with a buckle system. An excellent accompaniment to a strap is a slap strap, a neoprene sleeve that goes over the strap itself. A slap strap is more comfortable than just the basic strap (especially if you have hair longer than a crew cut), slows a mask descent if accidentally dropped, and is easier for mask removal and replacements. They also come in lots of great colors with numerous design prints which allow your buddy to easily identify you underwater.
Masks come in one of two formats, framed and frameless. Framed masks come in a variety of colors, and use a frame (like dur!) to attach everything together i.e., lenses, skirt, and strap. While framed masks are generally bulkier than frameless ones, they can typically be dismantled allowing for cleaning, repairs, and fitting of prescription lenses. In a frameless mask, the skirt is molded around the lenses and strap, giving a more compact and slimline mask that is easily stowed away when not in use. Unfortunately, because the lenses are molded into the skirt, they are not replaceable (the lenses) in the event of breakages nor can they be fitted with prescription lenses. Fitting a mask
• Place the mask against your face without putting the strap over your head i.e., looped in front of you.
• Gently inhale through your nose. A mask with a good seal will, surprisingly, not leak and should “stick” to your face.
• If the mask doesn’t stay on, remove any possible loose hairs and try again. If the mask still doesn’t stay in place, it is probably best to try a different mask.
• If the mask does stay on, shake your head up and down, and side to side - the mask should still stay in place.
• Once you are sure your mask has a good seal, place the strap over your head and adjust the tightness. You don’t want the strap overtightened, else it will hinder mask equalization, nor do you want the strap too loose, or else the mask simply won’t stay in place.
• Evaluate how the mask feels on your face - it should be comfortable.
• If possible, attach a snorkel to the mask and put it in your mouth, or put a scuba regulator in your mouth (just the mouthpiece section, not the whole thing). It shouldn’t greatly affect how the mask fits.
• Check you can perform equalization easily.
Some people will advise a diver to try different masks before settling on one, others will say if a mask feels good, why not that one? Personally, I’m in the latter group, and that’s how I selected my very first mask - it was the first I tried that just felt right. Never settle on a mask if you’ve any reservations about it. It’s better to hire a mask for a few days rather than buy one just because it was the best choice of a bad bunch at the time.
By. Sean Cooper