In our search for a quality mask, we came across many styles, features, and colors. What we learned along the way is that finding a mask that creates an airtight seal around your forehead, nose, and mouth is the most importantly part of buying a snorkeling mask. If your mask is too tall, too short, or too wide your face, it will leak water and you will not have a quality snorkeling experience. A mask that is too tight will hurt long before you are ready to get out of the water.
A snorkeling mask is comprised of a frame, a skirt, a strap and buckles, a nose pocket, a purge valve, and two lenses. Let's take a look at each item:
Inexpensive masks are often made of plastic, which is a stiff material that doesn't seal well and can crack easily. Spend the extra money and buy a mask with a skirt made of silicone, which is more flexible and will last longer. If you don't find the silicone version at your local discount store, check out a diving store near you. For the photographers in the crowd, you will find black skirts which cut down stray light, however, black also reduces your peripheral vision. For general use, look for skirts made of clear silicon.
Purge valves help keep your mask clear. You blow air and a flap at the bottom of the mask opens to release water. You can also release water from a mask without a purge valve by holding the mask at the top and blowing out the bottom, so a purge valve is not a necessity. Plus, they can tear and need replacement. Keep a spare with you, if your snorkeling mask has a purge valve.
Snorkeling masks are available in different materials and styles. Look for lenses that are made from impact resistant materials and leave the cheap plastic on the shelf. Lens styles go from one long lens, to two separate lenses which work for prescriptions, to lenses with side panels for better peripheral vision. Some are even available with no frame, where the lenses are connected directly to the skirt. Whichever one you choose, look for low-volume i.e. masks that are closer to your face. They seal better and are easier to purge water. Oh, and you can even buy a mask with a hands-free GoPro camera.
The nose pocket is the area available for your nose. Look for a mask that has enough room, so that your nose is not pressed up against it, as this will be very uncomfortable.
You'll want a mask where the strap fits tightly around your head, but not so tightly that it hurts. Also, if you have long hair, add a mask strap, which covers the straps so it doesn't pull your hair.
You will find our page dedicated to prescription lenses here...