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Choosing Snorkeling Gear

By Slickrock Adventures on February 11, 2010

Belize Snorkeling Tours: On our Belize private island trips, no other item is as important as snorkel gear; exploring the underwater world is the trip’s highlight. You get what you pay for; cheap gear may mean that you spend your snorkel session with salt water in your eyes and throat, or blisters forming on your feet. We don’t provide snorkel gear because this is personal gear; it must fit your body. It’s a good idea to test your gear in a pool so you know it will work for you before you get to Belize. Everything can be ordered online, but it may be best to buy your mask at a dive shop; they can help you with the fit.

Do not presume you can buy snorkel gear in Belize. It is simply not available (except possibly on Ambergris Caye); all snorkel gear in Belize is imported from the US. You may be able to rent it in the US and bring it down if you don’t want to buy it.

We are always surprised that the general consensus is that you need better fins for diving than snorkeling. When diving you are almost always drifting and you are followed by a motor boat; you barely use your fins at all. When snorkeling you are aggressively swimming and moving your body both with and against the current. After years of working with beginning snorkelers on our island, we have the following recommendations:

The most important aspect of any fin is how flexible it is. Trying to snorkel with fin that is unyielding is like strapping a board to your foot and trying to swim. To test a fin you are thinking of buying, grasp the fin down at the end where your foot goes and aggressively wave it up and down. A good fin should flap easily. You can spot a good fin because it will have a visible weak spot built into the structure of the fin. This acts like a hinge that allows the fin to “flip” up and down when you kick your foot. Fins that are just a flat piece of synthetic material without holes or hinges may be too stiff and difficult to propel ones’ body through the water with.

How to turn $20 fins into $80 fins

How to turn $20 fins into $80 fins

Last season we figured out how to alter a pair of stiff fins, so that they act more like expensive fins. We don’t recommend buying cheap fins just to change them, but if you already own cheap fins this works. It’s a huge improvement if you alter your fins this way. This takes about 30 min/pair, using only a sharp Exacto knife. It’s best to copy a pair of expensive fins so you know how far up to split the fin and where to put the weak spot that creates the hinge. These pictures represent “before” and “after” the fix. This pair of fins was a particularly awful set, and the inspiration for figuring out how to make them work. It was do that or throw them away, they were that bad.

There are two kinds of fins: (1) fins with a built-in shoe and (2) fins with a strap on the back that fit over your booties. The 2nd system is preferable, although those fins are more expensive. If you have fins with a built-in shoe, you might need regular socks also to discourage blisters. Even with the built-in shoe kind you still need booties to walk out to snorkel spots, but then you leave the booties on shore and continue walking backwards in the fins to get to where you can begin swimming. If you choose the second type, buy your booties first and then make sure the toe cup of the fin fits over your booties.

Get a snorkel advertised as a “dry” snorkel. This will have a device on the top of the tube that keeps waves from entering the tube and then funneling salt water into your mouth. The Impulse snorkels are fantastic, although expensive ($50). They are only sold at authorized dealers, not online. To find dealers: Your dive shop may have a different recommendation. The mouthpiece is another important part of the snorkel. Get a very flexible mouthpiece or else you will create intense jaw-pain from clutching a stiff piece of rubber with your teeth.

There are many good masks available, just be sure to get a good fit. This is the best reason to buy snorkel gear in person at a dive shop; they know how to spot a good fit. Persons who need corrective lenses can easily purchase corrected masks. They are not your exact prescription, but there are various standardized prescription lenses that will be a big improvement over clear glass for those who need correction. A neoprene snorkel strap (one brand is called “slap strap”) is a wonderful thing for people with long hair. The strap included with your mask will get caught easily; the slap strap is soft and supple and doesn’t get as easily tangled. Slap straps usually also float, which is handy if your mask is stored on the deck of your kayak and you tip over inadvertently, causing all of your gear to come off of the kayak.

In summary, what you are seeking in snorkel equipment is gear that is so comfortable, and fits so well, that you cease to notice it. A snorkel session spent fiddling with leaky or chaffing gear is no fun. Take the time to search out the gear that is just right for your body, so that when you are swimming through the sea you don’t think of anything but the turtles, colorful fish, and coral you are seeing right before you!