A holiday in a tropical paradise is always exciting. The sun, the sea, and the cocktails. Amongst all the relaxing on the beach, the thought of snorkeling amongst the tropical fish in reef corals seems fun. If you’ve done it before you might know the process.
If you haven’t though, or done it a long time ago then you face a decision as to whether to buy or rent the gear you might need.
While there is no right or wrong answer to the question, as everyone has different tastes, tolerances, and needs. However, there are a set of commonalities that can give you the information to make a better decision for you.
I snorkel when I get the opportunity to, so I don’t tend to rent at all. I have a set of gear I travel with that suits me just fine.
That attitude doesn’t suit everyone though, nor all circumstances, so let’s walk through what you might want to consider when making the decision.
Buy or Rent – At a Glance
If you want the best chance of enjoying a snorkeling experience with comfortable gear, that’s reliable, and of decent quality then buying is the better option.
Buying your gear first allows you to select what suits you and test what works, and make sure the gear is functional and comfortable to use. With renting this is a gamble at best.
You could get fins that don’t fit you properly and give blisters. You could get a mask that leaks or fogs, and you aren’t near the rental place so you just have to make do.
A mask where the skirt doesn’t make a good seal will leak water which is so annoying that it could ruin the whole snorkeling experience. Sometimes just tightening the strap forces a seal, but that can also be uncomfortable.
In a nutshell, if you want a high-quality snorkeling experience you’re best buying, at least a snorkel and mask. The more important snorkeling is to your holiday, the more you should consider getting your own gear.
You can always just rent the fins.
However, sometimes it becomes more convenient to rent, especially if you’re not sure you will have the time for snorkeling. If it’s a once every year type of experience, renting might be easier.
The mask, out of all the equipment is probably the most important. A leaking mask will leak from the very beginning and stop your snorkeling experience before you start. It’s the one item of equipment that can pretty much stop you from going snorkeling.
A badly leaking mask is more than a pain, it’s a show stopper.
Sometimes the leaking can be cured by overtightening the straps but that can be uncomfortable, and even produce headaches if you’re susceptible to them.
If you decide to buy and buy only one item for the trip, make it the mask.
As the sport is called snorkeling, this bit of kit is quite important. Even a basic snorkel will do, but semi dry or dry snorkels are preferable by most.
In some areas, particularly hotel type snorkels can be quite basic, and you may want one with a few features, like a splash guard, or a purge valve for simpler snorkeling.
The main issue with snorkels is how comfortable you are using a mouthpiece that is frequently used as a rental bit of kit. I’m not overly worried, but many feel that they don’t want something that other people have used.
Buying, and testing a snorkel before you go will not only make sure it fits but minimize the time mucking around getting rental kit together on your vacation.
Fins are always one that can go either way on the rent or buy spectrum. Regular snorkelers have a preferred set but may still decide to rent on short-hop trips, taking their own mask and snorkel.
It’s undeniable that having your own set is best, but as they’re bulky relative to the mask and snorkel, it becomes very much a personal preference.
Where Should You Buy If You Decide Not to Rent
Definitely, a local dive shop, where you can test what fits your face best, and works for you.
Where you should emphatically NOT buy the gear is on location at the beachfront.
Every top snorkeling location has a vast array of shops willing to sell you the correct gear to go. That is, it can loosely be described as a mask, snorkel, and fins.
They tend to be much cheaper quality, and the prices are a great deal higher to the point renting may be a better option.
If you are going to buy a set of snorkeling gear, it’s much better to get the required equipment before you go on holiday. This has the advantage of being able to test it before departure.
Reasons You Might Buy Snorkeling Gear
This section isn’t a set of recommendations. The reasons below are just listed to give you some reasons to evaluate in favor of buying.
Well-fitting gear – you can take time out to make sure that everything fits correctly and is comfortable. This will eliminate ill-fitting masks, snorkels that are awkward, and fins that give you blisters.
Snorkeling for a day – a lot of holiday snorkelers can stay a while at the same beach. You may dip in and out of the reefs. Not everything is a quick tour. If you plan to spend a day out when you might snorkel, better to get the kit you know will be OK.
Memorable – while snorkeling is a quick activity for some, sometimes you are just going somewhere too amazing. Imagine going to Oahu and not getting to see a sea turtle because the rental kit isn’t great. If the place has amazing snorkeling, you should consider buying before you depart.
A good percentage of the trip – The more snorkeling you plan on doing on a day to day basis, the more you should consider your own gear. If you are away for a few weeks and might snorkel twice or more, the cost of buying your own gear relative to hiring twice or more starts to favor buying.
Sell your gear – Once you get back you can always list your kit and sell it. That should recoup some costs relative to hiring.
Just the mask and snorkel – You don’t have to buy everything or rent everything. You can mix and match. Consider just buying the mask and snorkel and renting the fins. Many people who snorkel a lot do this.
Comfort – buying beforehand allows you to test and make sure everything fits so correctly that it will prevent problems. You may decide to purchase booties for the fins to prevent blisters.
Guarantee – buying before you go makes good snorkeling more assured.
Quality – you obviously get a better quality of kit if you buy. Not just in the basic quality of the kit but buying guarantees newer gear. Rental kit has been used multiple times and gets dents, scratches, and general wear and tear.
Cleanliness – this is a deal-breaker for many. Rental equipment has had many users. Although the rental shops are meant to clean the gear you never know how well it might have been done. It might have been cleaned but has it been sterilized. This very much depends upon your propensity for using a snorkel that’s been used by other people, possibly quite recently.
No time constraints – buying your own gear means you have unlimited time at destinations. You don’t have to catch a bus to get things back to the rental shop, although many can stay open late in tourist spots. However, if there are multiple attractions, you don’t have to think about returning gear.
Limited sizes – In popular places, how much kit is available, and will the remaining gear be in your size if it’s a hotel and you want to rent for the afternoon.
Reasons You Might Rent Snorkeling Gear
Again, listed below are not recommendations for renting but rather a set of reasons to think about if you favor renting.
Limited time – if you are only going to spend the equivalent of a quick dip then renting may make more sense. Buying and packing your own gear makes less sense if you only want a dip for an hour or two.
Short snorkeling – if you are going on a tour, with a reputable company then you can email them and ask about the gear. If you get answers that satisfy you that the equipment is cleaned, and of good quality then you might consider renting.
One-off – the more likely that it’s a ‘one-off’ as part of a trip rather than a specific requirement of the trip, the more weight you should give to renting.
Short on packing space – packing for a holiday is stressful and short on space at the best of times. A mask and snorkel can easily fit in, but fins?
Easier – less thought has to go into renting. A quick test of the mask and snorkel can often make an hour of snorkeling easier than planning to buy. A good dive shop will help you out with rental gear to make the most out of your vacation.
Seek out a quality dive shop – you can actually seek out a dive shop, not too near the snorkeling location, but they do exist. Do some google searching for quality shops in the area. Try not to rely on renting from a hotel or shuttle service.
Opportunistic snorkeling – ask yourself how sure you are to try out snorkeling. No point buying gear if you might not use it.
Test snorkeling – are you sure you are going to like it? If you are not sure you are going to like it then renting would be preferable.
Wet gear – no doubt about it, snorkeling makes the equipment wet. You will need to dry them before packing them to avoid getting the rest of your gear wet.
Children – If you have kids that you want to try snorkeling, it might make more sense to rent. They may not like it, and will outgrow the size of the kit you buy. Yes, you can sell it afterward, but renting makes more sense with children.
Final Thoughts – Parting Waves
Whether you buy or rent your gear for a vacation comes down to a simple question. How serious are you about the snorkeling you want to do?
Is it likely to be a short dip or something you do only occasionally? If so, renting might be the better option.
However, if you really want to enjoy the snorkeling, and think it may provide some great memories then buying would be a better idea. At least with the mask and snorkel, which are more important and easier to pack.
It becomes more of an investment in your future snorkeling if you decide to buy. I take my own gear because I know they fit well and that I don’t get blisters or a leaking mask seal. That’s important to me.
Most tours will offer you gear, but quite often the gear isn’t the best quality and shows signs of wear. It’s too old or hasn’t been maintained well.
It’s not unknown for companies to give standard ‘cookie-cutter’ responses to their equipment and promise you great gear which in reality turns out to be less than truthful.
Buying should definitely be done before you go. Buying on the trip tends to mean buying in expensive locations, and the quality is often lower than you could get back home, so plan ahead.