The right diving mask is obviously the one that fits and keeps water out. After all, this is its primary job. Today, it’s easier than ever to find one that fits because they are designed to fit a variety of face shapes. The silicone skirt that seals the water out is very flexible and form fitting. Most modern masks will fit most people with the exception of those with very thin or oddly shaped faces. Those individuals should definitely try on a mask before purchasing it.
The most popular masks fall into several design categories. Framed masks are the most abundant. Frameless masks are gaining popularity especially among free divers. Another interesting category is purge valve setups which make mask clearing easier.
This is the old fashioned design, and it’s the most popular even today. It basically means there is a support frame that runs along the periphery that’s usually made of plastic. The silicone skirt attaches to this frame, and the lenses also attach to the frame. It makes a good solid mask that will last a long time. Many new models made within the past twenty years have multiple lenses in addition to the front lenses. Side view lenses are very popular because they allow for unrestricted peripheral vision. Some have a pillar of plastic between the main lens and the side lens, but many higher end models use a seamless design. This further increases the viewing window. Additionally, top and bottom viewing windows are also available, but are not very popular because of added bulk. They also don’t work well.
This design completely removes the peripheral plastic frame from the entire mask. The silicone skirt attaches directly to the main lens which acts as the primary structural support. This type is very popular among free divers because they are extremely low volume, and they position the main viewing window very close to the face. A smaller mask decreases drag which lets the free diver swim even faster. Because they are less bulky, there is a smaller chance of them getting kicked off by other divers. Those who dive closely around rocks or kelp will also bump and scratch them less.
One major disadvantage of frameless masks is their inability to accept multiple lenses. They cannot have side windows because there is not enough support to keep them in place. However, since the main window is closer to the face, it will provide more peripheral vision than the equivalent framed counterpart.
On many models, there is a small valve located below the nose pocket, and it’s called a purge valve. It’s basically a one-way valve that lets the diver clear the mask without performing the classic clearing method taught in all dive courses. One must simply blow air into the mask, and the water will flow out through this valve. From personal experience, they don’t seem to work very well and often leave small puddles to roll around. They also make it harder to pinch the nose pocket to clear the ears. This is why many divers prefer models without this feature.
Before selecting, it’s a good idea to try on several and see what fits the best. The best scuba diving masks are the ones that fit and keep the water out. Other features don’t matter if it leaks.