Monday, August 06, 2007

How to fit a mask for scuba diving or snorkeling....


I thought I'd post something that's almost informative for once. One of the complaints you hear about lots in this business is of ill fitting masks. It's a pretty common thing.

When I first started diving, I was taught that a mask fit if you could put in on your face, inhale through your nose, and if it stuck, it fit. Well you know what, that works - sometimes. As often as not, you could make a non-fitting mask, that'll leak badly when you are in the water, stick to your face just by inhaling hard. I dove with a badly fitting mask for years, I'm pretty much used to having an inch or so of water in my mask.

When I got to Kona, I was hired on at a now defunct (it wasn't me, really, I think it was an ownership squabble) dive and snorkel gear shop downtown. They sold probably 3-8 masks a day, and had people try on umpty-ump more during the course of a day. Every shop I'd ever been to did the old snort and stick method, so that's how I sold masks. Over the course of two weeks or so it was apparent that any returns were masks I sold, the manager/owner of the shop clued me into something I'd never heard, and I cant remember any returns after that. When I left for a full service dive center, they had a lot of return issues with masks so I passed along the info to them and things improved dramatically during the time I was there, I think they still sell it the the way I was showed today.

So here it is....

Most dive shops will have numerous styles of masks. They may have several colors of each style, but the important thing for the mask buyer is to find the style that fits and then pick a color. If you go to a shop that has 20-30 masks on the wall, there's a good shot that there may be 10-12 or more styles represented, and odds are that one or two of them will fit you far better than the rest. ... EDIT: As one of the commenters mentions below, you may have to try numerous masks, even go to more than one store, to find the one that is right for you... it all depends on what's in stock and the build of your face.

As many mask frames as there are, there are probably more skirts. There are only a handful of companies that actually manufacture masks, and then numerous companies that contract with them to manufacture masks for them. Two different brands may be exactly the same, or have the same frame but a slightly different skirt. To get a proper fit, you'll be checking to see how the skirt matches up with your face.

Rather than pressing a mask against your face and inhaling, you are better off to gently touch a mask to your face and stop when it first touches your face. You can eliminate a lot of masks right then. A mask that is too wide will touch your forehead and below the nose, but not be touching your temples at the same time. A mask that is too narrow will touch your temples or cheeks before it touches your forehead and below the nose. Big gaps anywhere = try another mask. A more ideal mask will touch everywhere at the exact same time when it first barely touches you, remember not to press hard.

Once you find a likely prospect, or a couple of them, barely touch it to your face and check for gaps at the temples, dimples, the back of your eye sockets, and smile lines. These are the trouble areas for a lot of people, but if you try enough masks you should find something that works. Sometimes it helps to have a friend look for gaps while you barely touch your face with a likely mask, but once you get the hang of it you'll be able to tell pretty much right away.

Another method, if you don't mind looking a bit strange, is to lay flat on your back or look straight up and see if the weight of the mask alone (do not press when you place it) will create a seal to your face that you cannot draw air through with a very, very, very light inhale. A bad fit, you will be able to still softly inhale through, a really good fit it's stuck to your face by it's own weight and even if you try to inhale a single cc (teeny bit for those who don't know what a cc is) you'll feel the mask move to your face.

A few little hints....

Price - you are likely to find prices from around $35 bucks and up for masks. Some of it is name branding, some of it is quality of the silicon skirt. If you feel enough skirts you'll start to notice a flexibility/softness difference as there are several different grades of silicon (this was passed on to me by an aqualung rep, it seems to be accurate as I could feel the difference between the cheap and expensive models of the exact same mask). The basic thing is, don't automatically think a spendy mask is better than a cheap one... a 90 buck mask that constantly leaks isn't worth much... all things being equal you may want to spring for the spendier mask, but go for fit first.

Single pane vs. 2 lens mask - In general, the single pane masks often have wider skirts than the 2 lens masks. If you have a narrow face, cheekbones or forehead, you may not fit many single pane masks - try one of the fitting methods mentioned earlier, there are some more narrow single pane masks.

Field of vision - Some people think more glass equals more vision. That's not always the case. Some low volume two lens masks fit closer to the face, giving a wider angle of view. While there are a lot of masks that are promoting a wide angle view, and they do a good job of it, it's worth putting the mask on and comparing.

So, you've got a wide face... try several different single lens masks, and really take a look at some of the frameless masks that have come out in the last 7-8 years. There are a few old standards that work great, and many of the larger frameless masks fit those with wide cheekbones great.

That's some basics for now. Keep in mind it's a bunch of generalizations, but I hope it helps for some. If you're in the Kona area, feel free to stop by Wanna Dive and check out our masks. We'll be happy to help you with fitting masks.

The pic above is of a Devil Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis diabolus). It was out in the rubble, and I saw a couple of our divers looking at it... good find, it blended in quite well. I wish the flash were working for this.

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tom said...

Great tips. Thanks for the comments on mask fitting.

Ted S said...

Thanks for the tips... The last time I bought a mask using the "snort and stick method" as you refer to it, things didn't work out so well. I must have tried clearing 20 times on that dive before I realized it was the mask and not me.

Another piece of advice for anyone purchasing a new mask: Don't stop with the first one that "fits". These days there's so many options and it's easy to try a couple, pick one and leave. I found my last mask right after I thought I found the "perfect one" -- and it is amazing how much better life is with the right mask.

James Forliti - Blue's Dad. said...

I just came back from Acapulco; not a big diving place, I know BUT I have found a few spots there that are accessible and good for a newbie like myself. (I have family there, so I go there at least once a year, and I MUST take advantage of the opportunity.) I've had a leaky mask for about five years now and it was so annoying this last trip that I chose to leave it at my in-laws' house and told them to toss it in the trash. After all the travelling, and the arrangements necessary to get to the beach, and get off shore a ways to my "spot," having a leaky mask is infuriating. Everything worked perfectly except for that, and because of that, I wasn't in the water for even 20 minutes. Thanks a million for your remarks. It's exactly the sort of information I need to begin my search for the right mask so i can actually pursue this hobby I enjoy so much, yet so rarely. - James in Surrey, B.C.

Steve said...

Thanks everyone!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I know exactly what you mean by you can make a lot of masks fit by inhaling hard, even the ones that don't REALLY fit. Your method makes perfect sense and I have never heard of it before (even the PADI Open Water dive course booklet I think only conveys the inhale method). Thank you so much for sharing!

yaeld07 said...

Anyone know what difference the quality of the silicon makes? Is it just softer and therefore more comfortable or does it affect visibility?

Steve said...

I'd suspect it would largely be a comfort thing. In general, you look through the glass, not the silicon. Cressi did come out with a clear silicon mask this last year. I haven't tried one yet, on't know if it would mae a difference with peripheral vision or not.