Types of Snorkels
Different types of snorkels

If you haven’t been snorkel shopping in a while you’ll probably notice a bunch of different options for snorkels you never knew existed! The classic snorkels you are probably most familiar with can now roll up into a little ball while others have purge valves and chambers at the base to collect excess water. Some have silicon accordion-like sections while others boast of their splash-proof or even dry tops! Then there’s the day-glow Darth Vader looking full face mask with a built-in snorkel protruding from the top of it! With all these vastly different options that all essentially serve the same purpose—a tube to breathe through as your face is planted in the water—you may be wondering which one is best for me? Here’s a quick and simple breakdown of the different styles and the intended purposes of each snorkel.

Classic Snorkel

In function, the classic snorkel or J-snorkel as they are often referred to hasn’t really changed much. What’s changed though in a lot of new classic “j” snorkels is the materials used to manufacture them. Many are now made from various polymers which allow for some short-term flexibility in the snorkels. Some can even be folded or rolled up completely for easier packing. These snorkels are not recommended for those who are new to snorkeling as they require a bit more effort to clear the water from. If you are an experienced and confident snorkel who likes to dive down and comfortable clearing the water upon surfacing then these are great snorkels.

Classic snorkel design

Pros:

  • Simple design
  • Easy to pack
  • Nearly indestructible
  • Low profile/hydrodynamic
  • Most affordable

Cons:

  • Water needs to be cleared with a big exhale
  • Splashing water enters from the top more easily
  • The rigidity can be uncomfortable for some

Flexible Snorkels with Purge Valves

Snorkels with the flexible rubber or silicon section and accompanying purge valve at the base are some of the most popular among snorkelers now. The flexibility with these types of snorkels can make it a lot more comfortable to hold the snorkel in your mouth as well as providing two points of rotation for you to adjust the snorkel to fit around your head better. The purge valve below the mouthpiece—which is just a little silicon flap that opens one way—helps make clearing the snorkel a lot easier as the water will clear from the top and bottom. You can also lift your head out of the water and any water in the snorkel will just drain out through the bottom. These are great snorkels for people who are just beginning to snorkel and confident in the water to those who are seasoned snorkelers. Freediving or duck diving is not an issue at all with these snorkels and the added purge valve requires less force to fully clear the snorkel upon surfacing.

Flexible Snorkel

Pros:

  • Easy to clear water
  • Flexibility allows for greater comfort
  • Mouthpiece drops away from the face when not in use
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • The purge can fail if sand gets in it causing it to leak
  • Splashing water can enter through the top easier
  • The flexibility can cause the snorkel to flap around more when swimming fast
  • Extra drag can cause mouth fatigue

Semi-Dry Snorkel

Semi-dry snorkels will often look very similar to the flexible snorkel as they will typically have the flexible rubber section as well as a purge valve, but they will also have an added splash guard on top. Splash guards will come in different various designs, and some will even have moving parts, but the basic idea behind the splash guard is to help prevent any splashing water from entering through the top. The ergonomics and overall fit will be similar or the same as the previously mentioned type of snorkel, but with the added benefit of less water entering through the top of the snorkel when on the surface. These types of snorkels will let water in when fully submerged and may require a bit more force to fully clear the snorkel as the splash guard does add a bit of resistance. For those with larger lung capacities, this is also something to think about as the more obstacles a splash guard has to keep water out it may restrict the airflow a bit. A splash-guard with a larger diameter will allow more airflow and may be better for someone with larger lungs.

Semi-dry snorkel diagram

Pros:

  • Flexibility allows for greater comfort
  • Mouthpiece drops away from face when not in use
  • Helps keep splashing water out
  • Can be fully submerged and cleared quite easily
  • Extra drag can cause mouth fatigue

Cons:

  • Does not keep 100% of the water out
  • Splash guard can add a bit of resistance for breathing and clearing
  • Can be fully submerged and cleared quite easily
  • Extra drag can cause mouth fatigue

Dry Snorkelers

Dry snorkels are some of the most recent types of snorkels on the market and are slightly more complex than any of the other types of snorkels we’ve mentioned, but still very easy to use. These snorkels will typically feature the flexible tube as well as a purge valve at the bottom, but also be fitted with a valve at the top which blocks out all water—even when completely submerged. These snorkels are great for those that want absolutely no water in their snorkel at any time. While these snorkels can be submerged, it’s good to keep in mind that if you do like to dive down deeper than eight to ten feet the tube will collapse with the added pressure and can even suck your tongue into the mouthpiece which is quite uncomfortable. Something else to keep in mind is that many brands or models of dry snorkels have been known to get stuck in the closed position for no reason at all. In the closed position no airflow is possible and can be a bit disconcerting if it happens regularly while snorkeling. Also, because of all the moving parts now involved in the dry valve they are prone to get stuck in either the open or closed position if sand or dried salt builds up between the mechanisms. Before purchasing a dry snorkel it’s a good idea to read the different reviews, even the more expensive brands and models can have issues with the dry valves. 

Pros:

  • Keeps all water out
  • Flexibility allows for greater comfort
  • Mouthpiece drops away from face when not in use
  • Purge valve allows water to exit through the bottom easily

Cons:

  • The dry valve can get stuck in the open or closed position
  • Snorkels with smaller dry valves can be more restrictive for breathing
  • More expensive than other types of snorkels.

Full Face Mask

full face mask snorkel

The full face masks are the most complex as they combine both the mask and snorkel in one design that fully covers the face. Prior to purchasing one of these though you need to be made aware that not all brands and models are safe. In the past, there have been a number of deaths linked to these types of masks as a result of drowning and also co2 poisoning. Buying cheap off-brand versions are not recommended and not allowed on our snorkel safaris. With that in mind, if you get one of the approved models and it fits properly they can be great as you just breathe as you would on land with a much larger field of view. The snorkels protruding from the top are dry snorkels so no water is allowed in. Full face masks are great for those that are nervous bout snorkeling and really not comfortable with the traditional mask as snorkel set up. Full face masks are not recommended for those that like to dive down. Also, really make sure that prior to buying a full face mask you try it on to make sure it fits your face perfectly, any leaks can flood the entire mask which is less than ideal. 

Internationally Approved Models 

SEAC: SEAC offers a number of models of full face masks, all of which are safe and approved for snorkeling.

Head/Ocean Reef: Similar to SEAC these brands are also tested and approved for snorkeling.

Pros: 

  • Large field of view
  • Breathing is more natural without a snorkel in the mouth
  • Can be a more comfortable fit
  • Snorkel keeps all water out

Cons:

  • Large and not ideal to pack
  • Leaks can be very disruptive and potentially dangerous
  • Not ideal for duck diving
  • Dry valve can get stuck in the open or closed position with a build-up of sand and salt
  • Most expensive type of snorkel/mask

About Author

client-photo-1
Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as one of the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world as an underwater cameraman, including five years on a boat in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year, and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.