The snorkel is probably one of the most under appreciated of the basic diving equipment, especially by seasoned divers. The purpose of the snorkel of course is to allow the diver to breath face down in the water without waisting air from the tank. Many divers will remember that snorkels are required during the open water certification, mostly for surface skills like the snorkel regulator exchange and skin diving skills. Beyond these many divers find little use for their snorkel, I have met quite a few divers that have abandoned their snorkel because of how annoying it can be, they also dive primarily off boats and do not see the value in snorkels.
First lets analyze the different styles of snorkels and put an optimal use for each style.
- J-Tube Snorkel: This is the most basic form of a snorkel it is usually a single piece of silicone or plastic with a silicone mouthpiece shaped like a J. These tend to be the least expensive option because they do not include a purge valve. This type of snorkel while functional for scuba diving is more ideal for snorkeling or free diving.
- The Purge Snorkel: This is usually the most common style for snorkels for diving they usually have a long tube made of some sort of plastic, connecting to a silicone corrugated section then a purge and mouthpiece. These are ideal for diving because the corrugated section allows the snorkel to be out of the divers face while it is not in use. Most if not all snorkels in the following categories will have these features with additional features added on.
- Semi Dry Snorkel: These are almost identical to the standard purge snorkel with the exception that they will have a splash guard on the top of the snorkel. The splash guard is a piece of plastic that will prevent water from coming directly into the snorkel if a wave splashes over the top. The semi-dry snorkels are not air tight they will fill with water just like a standard purge or j-tube snorkel. These are becoming more popular for diving, as more brands are phasing out the standard purge snorkels for semi-dry.
- Dry Snorkel: The dry snorkel like the semi dry has all of the same features as the purge snorkel with the exception of the dry top mechanism. This mechanism is usually some kind of bobber on a hinge that will seal the snorkel if it is submerged underwater preventing water from entering from the top of the snorkel. These snorkels are most ideal for people doing mostly snorkeling, this is because if a diver is using it and their mouth is not on the snorkel it will fill from the mouthpiece and function just like the purge and semi-dry snorkels. The dry snorkel is usually a moderate price increase compared to most other snorkels.
- Travel Snorkel: The travel snorkel is once again featuring many if not all of the same features of the purge snorkel with the added benefit of being made entirely out of silicone, or with additional silicone sections to be made flexible and foldable to be kept in a pocket for emergencies. These tend not to have any additional features like the dry or semi- dry tops but some will. If you are a diver that is not a fan of snorkels but understands they can be useful in certain situations this is the ideal snorkel.
Keep in mind that for the purpose of diving, snorkeling, or free diving any of these snorkels are functional, but there are situations were one of these may be more suitable for the situation than the others. personally i have separate snorkels for different activities like i have different mask and fins for different activities. I have a j-tube that I use for free diving and spearfishing, and a hybrid purge/semi-dry/travel snorkel for diving. And for those that may be wondering or reading this to figure out what snorkel is best, personally i would recommend the Riffe stable snorkel, it is a bit expensive but it is a great all around snorkel, good for free diving, scuba diving and snorkeling. I will be sure to do a review in the near future.
The good news with snorkels is that for the most part between brands they are all about equal, each brand makes some of each style and i wouldn’t personally rank any brand of snorkel higher than any other. They are a pretty simple piece of equipment that is pretty hard to mess up. My only gripe about any snorkel on the market is the keeper, or the clip that attaches the snorkel to the mask. I have yet to find any with the exceptions of some j-tube snorkels, that I like or trust to keep my snorkel on the mask permanently. I understand that it is convenient to disconnect the snorkel from the mask and store the mask back in the box but at the risk of having to buy a new snorkel i would rather permanently or be it semi permanently attach the snorkel to the mask with a proper keeper. So do yourself the favor and when you buy a snorkel ditch the plastic keeper that is attached to the snorkel and replace it with a silicone keeper like this one and you will never loose your snorkel again.