Fins for Snorkeling
There are two basic types of fins available, open-heel and full-foot. If you dive and snorkel or are serious about snorkeling your way around the world, you will probably want to invest in a good pair of open fins that allow you to wear booties or shoes for protection and comfort. Full-foot fins are typically worn barefooted or with socks. Both types come in a wide range of designs.
TIPS: Shorter fins move less water, meaning you have to provide less power. Unless packing space for your gear in your luggage is a big issue, opt for longer fins. Flexible fins are the easiest to pack and use in most condition.
Unless you are snorkeling from a boat, you are going to need shoes, even if you opt for full-foot fins. The reason is that the best snorkeling is rarely in areas that are easy on your feet. Pure sand beaches with no rocky outcroppings may attract a few stray fish, but the best snorkeling is near rocks, jetties, piers, and pilings, all of which are best approached with some kind of protection on your feet. This is probably the number one reason to choose open-heel fins. Picture this scenario: the snorkeling spot you have always dreamed about is not at a beach at all, but along a sharp rocky shore. You have good water shoes for walking across the rocks to the water’s edge, but then what? Where will you put the shoes when you take them off to put on your full-foot fins?
Yes, I recommend socks with any type of fin/shoe combination. There are two reasons: I hate blisters and everything (including a wetsuit) slides on easier with cloth on your feet. Plain white cotton socks work perfectly well, but specialty socks are a fun option.
There are two pieces of snorkeling equipment I recommend you purchase, not borrow or rent, and the mask is the most important one. A leaky mask makes snorkeling miserable, if not impossible. The best option is a mask that you have actually tried on and know that it fits snugly no your face. Visit a dive or outdoor store and try on a few different options. If you have vision issues, dive shops can even help you with ordering prescription lenses for your mask. To make putting your mask on a simple task and to prevent the rubber strap from tangling hair, be sure to outfit it with a strap cover.
The design of the snorkel is less important than the fact it is yours. Nobody else’s mouth has been on it. No stranger spit, no questionable cleaning practices. Be sure to get a snorkel keeper that attaches it to your mask to hold it in the proper position in relation to your face– which is almost perpendicular to your body, not straight up and down.
All it took was one really bad sunburn on my partially exposed buns to convince me that snorkeling in just a swimsuit was a bad idea. Cover as much as you can with a lightweight wetsuit and you not only gain buoyancy, but will stay warm longer, and need considerably less sunscreen. A wetsuit also protects you from stinging creatures you might encounter in the water.
Sunscreen, insect repellant, and lip protection.
Even if you are well covered in the water, don’t forget exposed areas like ears, the back of your neck, and even your nose, which can burn inside that clear plastic mask. Be careful applying about too much sunscreen around the edges of your mask. It can cause the mask to move around on your face and leak. A reef approved sunscreen is recommended to prevent harming the fish and corals, and all sunscreens should be applied half an hour before entering the water to be most effective and prevent it from washing off to easily.
Always bring insect repellant for snorkeling from shore, not for the snorkeling itself, but for your shore time. Areas next to the shore are often home to mosquitoes, gnats, and even sand fleas.
Sun and salt water are a brutal combination when it comes to your lips. Protect them with UV 15 or more and reapply after snorkeling.
With or without a wetsuit, water shorts and shirts are usually the most comfortable and graceful thing to wear snorkeling. Fabrics with UV protection are a huge bonus for your time both in the water and out.
A light UV protective layer worn before and after snorkeling can make the difference between a fun trip and an uncomfortable one. Snorkeling from boats can be made more comfortable with a dry layer or a complete change into dry clothes afterward. My favorite Columbia Titan Peak shirt is the perfect breathable, almost indestructible, wear-everywhere shirt for snorkeling and beyond.
And don’t forget a hat or visor to shield your face from sun and cover up your beach hair.
Hair bands and a brush or comb
The hair bands are less about vanity than about making sure long hair stays out of your face in the water. The comb or brush are the item you are most likely to forget to pack, and the one thing you will wish you had when it comes time to stop for some shopping after snorkeling.
Soft cooler for drinks and snacks
It may seem counterintuitive, but time spent immersed in the water is dehydrating. Factor in the tropical or sub-tropical heat and you will need cold drinks. If your snorkeling adventure is on your own, or if there’s any doubt about whether drinks are provided by the tour, bring your own. A small soft-sided cooler packs well and can easily hold drinks and even a small picnic.
Tip: Don’t use those little blue freezer blocks. They take up space needlessly. If possible, freeze a bottle or two of water the night before and use those to keep the others cold. They melt quickly when left out of the cooler, providing extra drinking water. If you don’t have access to a freezer in your hotel room or cruise ship cabin, simply get extra ice from housekeeping and contain it in a plastic zipper bag. You do travel with those, right?
Comfort following snorkeling is all about the ability to rinse off the salt and the sand. And since lengthy snorkeling sessions can leave you chilled on even the warmest tropical day, warm rinse water is the absolute bomb. Here’s the easy way to get it: Take along a two-liter bottle of water for everyone in your group. Before you leave your vehicle, put the bottles in direct sunlight, if they won’t stay put on the top of the car, try the hood or against the outside of the windshield. Presto! Soothing warm water when you return. Splash a little on your face, pour some on your head to rinse your hair, and save a little for that last bit of sand between your toes before you get back in the car.
These are an obvious piece of equipment for a snorkeling adventure, but the easiest one to forget to pack.
Cut the glare and protect your eyes with a good pair of UV shades. Besides, they make you look way cooler.
There are so many good choices on the market these days, there is no reason to forgo the photo ops you will encounter while snorkeling. GoPro in an underwater housing is a great choice obviously, but family travel expert Shelly Rivoli shares her thoughts after testing the Lumix DMC-TS25 waterproof digital camera.
Carrying it all
Whew! Is the list longer than you thought? You thought sticking your face in the water was going to be easier than this, huh? If all you want out of it is a quick peek, then it could be simpler. But if you want to spend a time exploring the life beneath the waves, you’ve gotta gear up to get the most out of your time and make it comfortable. Gear bags help keep everything you need close at hand and make it easier to get your gear to and from your car at the hotel or on and off the cruise ship.
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Never forget a thing! Click here for a printable PDF checklist to take on your snorkeling next trip.