I always get tons of questions about how to pick out the right gear for freediving. Unfortunately new freeedivers often have to pick out and purchase gear prior to taking their first freediving course. Very few places I’m aware of rent freediving gear, so it can be really tough to know what you’ll like and what you won’t. How is a new apneaist to know what equipment to purchase?
In an effort to help with this big decision I’m going to write a series of posts here to help you all begin solving that problem. I’ll go over one important piece of gear per post so we’ll be able to really look in detail at the important features of this equipment that helps you maximize that one breath!
So how do you pick out a good freediving mask? Here are a few important features to consider when you start out:
A good freediving mask will be very low-volume. As you dive down to depth the air in your mask compresses, which you need to equalize. This means you’ll need to blow air from your lungs into your mask, where you’re not able to use that air to utilize the oxygen in it. It’s best to keep as much air in your lungs as possible, which is most easily achieved by using a low-volume mask! This will also reduce drag and will help with equalizing your ears as well.
Large-volume masks, like the one pictured here, require much more air for equalization and can directly impact your ability to get down to depth!
First off, skirt materials like silicone are much better for both fit and comfort than materials like rubber. You’ll also want to keep the silicone strap on the back of the mask instead of switching to things like neoprene, which is often used for scuba diving. Neoprene mask straps easily slide when worn against a hood, creating drag and potentially causing the mask to slide off or flood.
The next material to consider is in the lenses. Typically you’ll find lenses made from glass, but in a sport where flexibility and compression are key, plastic lenses often come in handy. They allow the mask to flex when under great amounts of pressure, reducing the chance of mask squeeze and giving you some leeway when equalizing. Plastic can also bend around your face, giving you a much wider field of vision, though it can temporarily distort your vision as well. That will disappear as your brain adjusts to the bend of the lens, which usually takes about a day.
Check out the Aquasphere Sphera if you’re interested in a mask like that! Plastic is more delicate than glass though, so you’ll need to take good care of a mask like that to make it live a long time.
For the mask not to leak it needs to fit your face. Softer materials in the skirt, like silicone, will help with this, but overall fit will still affect the seal on your face. To test this, leave the strap of the mask off and place the skirt against your face. Make sure it seals well and push it onto your face. The suction created should should keep the mask in place without being held on. If the mask passes this test, check it for places where it hits your face. If it pushes between your eyes or on your nose, for example, it may not be comfortable for long periods of wear, as in when you’re spearfishing.
The color is not only important for looking cool, but also for its effect on your vision. Clear skirts allow light to filter through the skirt, potentially creating reflections on the inside of your lenses, impeding your vision. Black or colored opaque skirts keep surrounding light out, making sure that you can see as clearly as possible.
You may also consider colored or reflective lenses. Some spearos will tell you that reflective lenses keep the fish from seeing your eyes. I’m not an expert on that and have never used reflective lenses when spearing, but I’m not a fan of this style, mainly just for safety reasons. Your eyes are very telling and are one of the first things I’ll look at when I think someone might be in trouble. Reflective lenses keep a safety from recognizing this important sign of hypoxia.
You can also sometimes find darkly tinted lenses, like sunglasses. These can be nice when you’re constantly diving in sunny environments, but can also create problems for safeties, so consider both sides of the equation when making this decision.
Not all masks are made of the same hearty materials. When picking out a mask, consider what’s most important to you. Do you want this mask to be the highest performing mask possible, or is it more important that it last for the next several years? Masks made from things like plastic lenses (sphera) are much more fragile than masks that are made from glass. However, they’re higher performing, so for most divers it’s worth it. The key is to take care of your mask to help it live as long as possible.
When you buy a mask it usually comes with a plastic case. Try to keep your mask in the box when you’re not using it so it doesn’t get cracked, scratched or lose a lens. Make sure you rinse the mask in fresh water after diving and allow it to dry fully before putting it in the box, which can cause growth of some pretty nasty stuff.
I hope this post helps some of you pick out the mask that’s right for you, but please don’t hesitate to ask questions by posting in the comments section below!