Choosing a mask is a very personal thing and what works for one person may not work for another. The one key thing to keep in mind when choosing a mask is that fit and comfort are more important than anything else. It may be the all singing all dancing mask that everyone has or wants but if it doesn't fit properly that's the end of it.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the three basic mask configurations, what do look for in a good quality mask, some of the extra features you may find on masks or that you may want to upgrade your mask with and how to try on a mask.
Regardless of shape, style or type a mask has the same basic components. Different manufacturers opt to take different approaches to their design but they are always there:
Frame- Gives the mask strength and holds everything together
Lens - Tempered glass panes
Skirt - Creates the watertight seal against the skin
Buckle - Allows the strap tightness to be adjusted
Strap - Keeps the mask in place
Single Lens Masks - use a single pane of glass because they don't an extra bit of frame above the nose which will typically result in a better field of view and more open feel.
If you wear glasses and are likely to want to fit prescription lenses to your mask they a single lens mask is probably not going to be the mask for you.
Twin Lens Masks - split the single pane into two. The advantage of this is that the mask may be compatible with corrective replacement lenses that allows users that wear glasses to see much more clearly underwater. Visit our Prescription Mask advice page for more information.
Splitting the lens can mean the mask is a little bulkier and that the field of view may become interrupted by the extra piece of framework above the nose but as technology improves it is often cancelled out by more advanced frame designs.
Multi-lens Masks - look similar to either single or twin lens masks but feature extra lens panels to the side that aim to improve peripheral vision, increase light transmittance into the mask and also give the mask a more open feel. The downside is that the frame and internal volume may be slightly bigger.
Skirts - not all are created equal. All the masks we sell are fitted with a skirt made from silicone of one variety or another but very cheap masks (especially snorkelling sets bought in beach shops) can be fitted with a plastic material skirt that is much less flexible and far less comfortable.
The skirt colour is as much about personal preference as anything else. If you want a nice light, airy feel then opt for a clear silicone based skirt as light will be come in through the skirt. Black silicone masks are often used by photographers that want to reduce the glare and reflection that can sometimes be seen on the mask lens.
Some masks are available with smaller skirts that are tailored towards people with narrower faces or younger teenagers that find normal masks just don't fit properly. They offer all of the same features but the shape of the skirt has been modified slightly.
As moulding techniques have improved the skirt design has become more complex. Whilst a normal silicone skirt is good, skirts that feature varying silicone thicknesses, areas of dimpling or ridges or even two different silicone styles in the same mould all work to improve the fit and comfort of the mask.
Frames - come in all sorts of shapes, thicknesses and styles. There are also frameless style masks that bond the silicone skirt directly to the lenses. Frameless style masks make excellent backup masks for divers as they can be folded flat and stored in a pouch but because the lenses are bonded into the silicone they are not compatible with corrective lenses.
Lenses - at a minimum a mask should be fitted with Tempered Glass which is stronger than normal float glass. There is a misconception that tempered glass shouldn't break and that there is a problem with the mask if it does. In fact tempered glass can still be smashed if impacted with enough forced (like face on entry into the water) but how it shatters is different compared to normal glass. Where normal glass shatters into tiny splinters, tempered glass will crumble into small chunks which are less likely to cause injury.
Some masks are available with optical grade lenses. What this means is that the manufacturing process filters out more of the impurities found within the glass, reducing the slight green tint of the lens, improving light transmittance and making colours seem more life-like.
Some lenses are also finished with an anti-reflective coating that further improves the light transmittance into the mask, making everything seem brighter. It is important never to follow new mask treatment guides (abrasive cleaning of the lenses using toothpaste or similar techniques) for lenses with this finish as it will destroy the coating.