parts of a scuba mask

A Beginner’s Guide to Picking a Mask for Scuba Diving

If you’re looking to dive even semi-regularly, one of the essential purchases is a mask. 

While divers can get by renting gear, a mask is one of the few items that nearly every diver should purchase due to its important nature.

However, anyone who has spent some time browsing the internet or perusing at their local dive shop may feel a bit overwhelmed at all of the options. 

This guide will help you learn more about scuba masks and walk you through the process of finding the one right for you. So why is a mask important and what should you look for in one?

Scuba masks are important because their fit can vary widely from person to person, making renting one not ideal. When picking a mask, the most important factor is fit. It’s not a good idea to buy one without knowing it will fit you making online purchases a gamble. Other than that, there are a number of options that come down to personal preference.

So let’s take a look at scuba masks, some basic terminology, and the process of how to pick out your scuba mask.

What are the Components of a Scuba Mask?

Scuba masks are fairly simple in nature, but it is important to understand the terminology as this will help you to better understand the shopping process and how to evaluate different masks. 

The below image provides an overview of basic parts of a scuba mask.

scuba diving mask parts

The lens is probably the most important part. After all, it is your window to the underwater world. Scuba masks should always have tempered glass lenses. 

Plastic lenses should only be used for snorkeling as they are not strong enough to withstand the increased pressure at depth. If you wear glasses, you can have prescription lenses made or can wear contacts and use a regular mask. 

The lenses are held by the frame.

An important term to know is skirt. The skirt is made from silicon and provides the seal around the mask. The top of the skirt typically has a double seal while the bottom of the skirt has a single seal which makes it easier to clear your mask if needed.

The nose pocket, as you would likely assume, refers to the area that houses the nose. The key for a nose pocket is for there to be enough space but not too much space. 

You should be able to comfortably squeeze your nose to perform a Valsalva maneuver to equalize ear pressure.

The head strap is an adjustable silicone or neoprene strap that holds the mask to your face. Many companies will advertise some special technology; however, this is simply marketing rebranding as all straps are either silicon (usually) or neoprene. 

The head strap is the place for the snorkel clip, which securely attaches your snorkel.

female scuba diver in shallow water

What are Important Considerations when Buying A Mask?

Many people are tempted to make price the most important consideration. For some people, you may think you’ve found a deal with an inexpensive mask. However, masks are a relatively cheap component that can frequently last a decade or more.

If a deal seems too good to be true, the product may be substandard, not something you want controlling your vision under the surface. A basic mask can be purchased for around $45 while more expensive versions can be found for up to $200. 

For a beginning diver (and for most divers), the basic mask will be perfect.

By far, the most important thing to consider when selecting a mask is fit and comfort. You want a mask to fit your head well. Otherwise, you risk water leaking into your mask or experiencing discomfort, both of which can make a dive difficult to enjoy.

We will discuss how to determine comfort level later in the article. Essentially, the mask should seal well to your face and still feel comfortable. I’ll discuss the process of determining fit later in the section about how to test a mask.

After fit and comfort, everything else is basically a matter of preference. Mask volume is one consideration that deals with the amount of air space in the mask. 

Lenses farther away from your face have higher mask volume while closer lenses have lower mask volume.

A high volume mask generally provides a greater field of vision. The drawback is that they also take more time to clear (since they can hold more water). Low volume masks are easier to equalize and clear while also creating less drag. 

If you’re claustrophobic, you may want to avoid a low volume mask.

Another major consideration is whether to use transparent or colored silicon for the skirt. Transparent silicon will allow for much more light and is typically very popular for beginning divers. 

It can also make a mask feel more open (good if you’re a bit claustrophobic) and provide better peripheral vision.

Divers that choose an opaque or colored skirt will have reduced glare, which has its own benefits. This is a popular option for underwater photographers especially.

Another thing to consider is the structure of the lenses. Masks come in one, two, three, and four lens versions. A one lens mask has a singular lens spanning the mask with a nose bridge. A two lens mask has two separate lenses for each eye. A three lens mask is a one lens with windows on each side while a four lens mask is a two lens with the side windows.

With respect to lenses, there is no option that is better than the others. The typical determination is what you like best. Try on different masks and check out your field of vision by looking around in order to determine the ideal option for you.

How Do I Test a Mask?

Testing a mask is a critical component for the purchasing process. You may be tempted to purchase a scuba mask online for convenience or if you find a good deal. 

However, you should always try on a mask at your local dive shop. Otherwise, you may be very unhappy with your purchase.

Step 1. Place your mask on your face without the strap. Take a note of the space where the skirt meets your face. There should be no gaps. If there are gaps, the mask will leak and you’ll need to pick another option. Meanwhile, if the mask (not the skirt) touches your face (i.e. tip of nose, cheeks), it is too small. Pick another mask.

Step 2. Inhale through your nose. The mask should suction to your face rather easily (see the picture below). If it takes too much effort, you’ll want to choose another mask. Additionally, if the mask falls off, you’ll want to try another mask.

selecting a scuba mask for comfort

Step 3. Once you’ve made it this far, your next step is to adjust the strap and put it on your face. A mask should not be too tight so don’t over tighten the straps. If the frame digs into your face or hurts, it’s time to put the mask back. If it hurts a little now, it will hurt a lot underwater.

Step 4. Finally, attempt to equalize pressure. You should be able to easily pinch the nose pocket as performing this maneuver underwater is important. If you’ve made it this far and feel comfortable, this mask is a good option. If you have a color preference, you can now look at those options.

Do I Need to Do Anything Before I Dive?

You’ve got your mask, it fits, and it’s stylish! You’re done, right? Not quite. 

There is still one thing to do before you begin to dive. Your mask has a thin layer of silicone on the inside of the lens that needs to be removed. If you don’t remove it, your mask will fog very easily.

The simplest way to remove this at home is with toothpaste. Be sure to use non-whitening toothpaste. Simply put a small amount on each lens and gently rub it around to ensure that it covers the entire lens. Next, thoroughly rinse it off with water and dry it with a cloth. Repeat this four to five times and the layer should be removed.

If you have friends that dive or have looked for advice on the internet, you may have heard that the film can be burned off with a lighter. While this is true, it is not advised as this can accidentally damage your new mask. 

The toothpaste method is easy and doesn’t risk damaging the mask.

Finally, your mask should come with a plastic case. Be sure to store it in this case to protect it from wear and tear (also, some insects eat neoprene).

mike seals scuba diving in the bahamas

Final Thoughts

Your mask is an important piece of equipment and one of the first items you’ll want to purchase. You want to ensure a good fit so that the mask is comfortable and functions effectively underwater.

Finding a mask is simple. Hold it up to your face and make sure there are no gaps in the skirt and that the lens & nose pocket don’t touch your face. Next, inhale to ensure the mask suctions to your face easily and completely. 

Finally, adjust the straps and make sure it is comfortable. Finally, ensure you can easily pinch your nose to equalize pressure.

Before you use your new mask, use toothpaste to remove the thin layer of silicone that causes fogging. Having your own mask will improve your confidence on dives and provide one less thing to worry about under the surface.

Mike Seals
Chief Crisp Eater at Guiness Brewey | + posts

Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.

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