Finding snorkeling gear can lead to either a fantastic experience or a miserable one unless you follow a few simple steps.
- Define your objectives. Finding the right gear depends a lot on what you are planning to do. Are you going to be snorkeling in the tropics or in cold water? Are you going to later use this gear for SCUBA diving? All of these factors can play a part in the selection of your gear.
- Find your fins. If you are going to the tropics, odds are you don't require wetsuit booties. This effectively changes the fin that you use as the boot requires a larger fin structure. Also, if you are SCUBA diving, a larger fin works better for more propulsion as you are 'carrying' a heavier load. Check out the different fin structures available, from light duty (usually sans booties) to free diving fins (much larger and extremely firm). If you are going to be putting about in a bay with little to no surge, a light duty fin will do just fine. If you are going to be doing a drift trip, or anything that involves a bit of current, go with something a little stronger as this could be lifesaving.
- Seek out your snorkel. A simple snorkel with a firm neck is best in my opinion. However, others fit the needs of people depending on their situation. Some snorkels are considered 'dry' as they have a mechanism to prevent flooding, but I find these to be annoying as I do not want anything between myself and my airway. Another option is the anti-backsplash snorkel; these have covers over the opening of the snorkel to avoid waves crashing in. They usually just account for more weight and, in turn, a sore mouth. This leads me to my final point in a snorkel: find a comfortable mouth piece. Snorkeling for hours on end can lead to a sore jaw; find a mouthpiece that fits your mouth accordingly.
- Mind your mask. Quite possibly the most integral piece of equipment for any excursion is the mask. There are many options available. If you are just starting out, I would suggest a full face mask with a purge valve. The purge valve allows for you to expunge water from your mask by merely exhaling through your nose. The positive pressure forces the water out of the bottom of the mask. Other options include color correcting lenses. As you venture deeper, sunlight is absorbed, and the amount of visible light decreases. Colors with long wavelengths (red end of the spectrum) are more visible than their blue counterparts. Color correcting lenses compensate for this loss. Another benefit to the full face mask is the fact that it alleviates feelings of claustrophobia.
Another thing to consider is the skirt of the mask; when pressed to your face, it should create a suction against your face and should compress to your face when you try to inhale through your nose. This will guarantee a good fit and minimize leakage into the mask. Having a clear skirt allows for a lot of light to enter the mask, hence giving an overall better view.
Put it all together. Find a good collection bag or something waterproof to hold all of your gear. You can usually find a nice backpack style mesh gear bag that makes carrying your gear to your site a breeze.