Here, we break down the individual components of a mask and look at their function, the materials they are made from and different variations you can get. Whichever mask you choose, the most important features are fit and comfort. Your mask should also be low profile, which means it is close to your face, this allows for a wide field of vision and is less space to equalize and clear if it should flood.
This is the softest part of the mask and usually runs around the entire outside of the mask. This is the part that provides the waterproof barrier between your face and the mask. Though older masks use rubber and plastic, it is now standard to have a silicon skirt which is much more comfortable, durable and effective.
The skirt of a mask is usually clear to allow you to see through it in your peripheral vision but some manufacturers will add colouring agents to make it black or a translucent colour. This is usually just done for style, however if you are a keen underwater photographer, you may prefer a mask with a black skirt, this stops as much light entering your eyes, making it a little easier to use your camera and take pictures.
This is the part that holds the mask in place, and will be adjustable to fit you. If it isn't adjustable, don't buy it as you will not be able to alter the length and fit it to your head. If your strap is too loose, water will penetrate the mask when underwater. If it is too tight, it can cause discomfort or even pain so it is important that you adjust it correctly. See our 'Selecting the right mask for you' section for more information on this.
The two most common materials used for mask straps are plastic and fabric. For some people, fabric is more comfortable, however plastic is the more durable and secure option, so long as it is properly maintained.
The Nose Pocket
All masks must include a nose pocket, not only to allow you to equalize the space in your mask, but also to pinch your nose and allow you to equalize the air in your ears. A nose pocket will normally be fitted into the skirt of a mask. It should be soft, usually made from silicone, and penetrate the skeleton of the mask frame to allow you to conveniently pinch or block your nose. Make sure you try this both with and without gloves on when purchasing a mask.
Some include a valve, which allows you to purge the mask when you breathe out through your nose. To purge the mask means release any trapped water whilst still remaining underwater by filling it with air.
Arguably, the lens is the most important part of your mask as it allows you to see clearly whilst diving, letting you enjoy the wonders of the underwater world. They are available in single or twin lens but which you choose is entirely down to personal preference;
- - Single Lens consists of just one piece of glass, generally gives a larger field of vision but is not as good for accessories such as additional push on lenses and prescription lenses
- - Twin Lens consists of two separate pieces of glass and features a nose bridge in the middle, similar to a pair of reading glasses. This bridge does not touch your nose but is a division between the two glass lenses
Some masks, whether single or twin lens, also feature small narrow lenses at the sides which increase peripheral vision. This is often referred to as wraparound design.
It is advisable to go for tempered glass in whatever type of lens you go for. Tempered glass is less likely to shatter into fine, hazardous shards meaning that if the worst should happen and you do have an accident, it is less likely to cause injury.
As mentioned earlier you can ask your optician about replacement lenses for your dive mask if you usually wear glasses although this can often be costly. A cheaper option is to buy push on magnifying lenses which are easy to install and provide similar results.
The frame is a component which is not always present and refers to the area of the mask surrounding the lens. Masks with a frame can be considered more like a pair of glasses; the lenses clip into the frame, which holds them in place. A frameless mask however has the lenses moulded straight into the skirt. The mask buckles can be attached to either the frame or the silicon skirt depending on the mask design.
Masks come in various sizes; some manufacturers produce a regular and mid-size mask of the same design to cater for as many people as possible. In general the lower the volume of the mask, the easier they are to clear, requiring a smaller breathe, however some people like the feeling of space afforded by a larger volume mask.