Allison in a sunhat and full-coverage upper. body bathing suit in a whale shark pattern while looking at the beach in Moorea

​What to Wear Snorkeling: Complete Guide for Beginners & Beyond

If you’re not sure what to wear when snorkeling on your upcoming beach trip trip, don’t worry — I’m here to demystify all that for you, as an avid diver and snorkeler.

For many years before I got scuba certified, I was a dedicated snorkeler, having learned when I was just a kid because I was so fascinated in the world under the surface.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to snorkel in many places around the world, from Belize to Bali and beyond.

This guide focuses on what to wear while snorkeling in warm waters, but I’ll also give a few tips in case you are snorkeling in cold water. 

For the purposes of this post, we’ll add the caveat that cold water stops at water temperatures 16°C/60°F and up, since below that, I’d recommend a dry suit — which requires certification to use safely.

Keep reading to learn what I think you should consider packing along for your next snorkeling adventure!

What to Wear Snorkeling: The Basics for Breathing Underwater

Snorkeling fins, mask, and snorkel on the sand in Moorea, Tahiti
My own snorkel, mask, and fins in Moorea!

While you can rent snorkeling gear at your destination (or be leant it on a snorkeling excursion), you’re likely reading this post because you’re ready to upgrade to proper snorkeling gear.

There’s a lot of comfort of knowing your own snorkeling equipment — knowing that your mask fits your face well, your fins won’t give you blisters, and that your snorkel tube fits your mouth well.

Nothing is more annoying than dealing with leaky, foggy, or just plain uncomfortable gear on your trip. 

Having your own snorkeling gear means you can just focus on the fun as everything is the right size!

Plus, you’ll have complete freedom to do an impromptu snorkel anytime you want without worrying about rentals. 

For example, Moorea doesn’t have snorkel rental shops on the public beaches, so I’d have missed out on snorkeling there on my trip if I didn’t have my own!

Snorkel Mask

Allison's blue tusa mask with prescription lenses inside
The best benefit of having your own snorkel mask? You can add lenses inside if you wear glasses typically!

There are really only two things you absolutely need for snorkeling: a mask and a snorkel tube.

Well, OK, a bathing suit too for legality’s sake.

Other things are useful for safety (fins, snorkel vest), comfort (water shoes, rash guards), or fun (underwater cameras, Go Pros), but a mask and tube are non-negotiable.

Frankly, I even though I get affiliate commissions for things you buy via my links, I don’t recommend you buy a snorkel mask online if at all possible.

A snorkel mask needs to fit your face properly to have an enjoyable snorkeling experience, and there’s no “one size fits all” high-quality mask option that actually works.

I personally have and use a TUSA face mask, which my local dive shop ordered custom prescription lenses for so I don’t need to wear contacts when I snorkel or dive.

If you absolutely can’t go in person to try on snorkel masks from your local dive shop, then I suggest buying at least 2-3 snorkel masks to try on and then returning the ones you don’t need.

Two things to consider when picking out a snorkeling mask are your gender and your face size and shape relative to your gender. 

​Speaking in broad strokes, women and men have slightly different bone structures, so it can be some help to buy a mask for your gender.

But also you want to consider what your face size and shape is like and seek out brands that are the right size for your face shape. 

For example, East Asian people may have more difficulty when looking for a mask if they have flatter facial features (here are some brands recommended by Asian divers).

To determine mask fit, you’ll want to hold your mask up to your face and inhale through your nose.

A properly-fitting mask should easily form a seal that holds your mask up to your face with no gaps while you’re breathing in from your nose, even without using the mask strap.

Snorkel Tube

Allison Green wearing a mask and snorkel while visiting Tahiti
Me and my TUSA mask and snorkel — we’ve been together on three continents now!

A snorkel tube is a little less important to buy in person, but it can help if you’re already buying a mask anyway.

I bought a TUSA Hyperdry Elite snorkel, because I like its dry top, splash guard, and angled purge chamber which helps make clearing your snorkel tube far easier. 

Plus, I wanted it to match my mask!

The dry top basically uses external water pressure to seal off the snorkel tube once its submerged, so less (but not zero) water gets into the snorkel tube.

This way, to purge the chamber you only need to breathe out with a bit of extra force and it’s pretty much cleared every single time. 

When I used other snorkel tubes without a purge valve and dry top, I’d have to breathe out super hard and then I’d still choke a bit on saltwater… no fun.

A proper dry snorkel tube will keep almost all sea water out of your mouth while making it easy to exhale and purge your snorkel tube. 

A cheap snorkel will be functional if you just stay at the surface, but if you plan to do any duck diving and get a slightly closer look, you’ll want an upgraded snorkel tube.

What About Full Face Masks?

A woman with a tan diving in a full face snorkel with half-in, half-dome dome underwater photography style
Skip the full-face mask and snorkel set, for your own safety!

You’ve probably seen full-face snorkel masks and wonder if you can just buy a two-in-one solution.

I’d honestly caution against it — and this article by Visit Turks & Caicos (a destination that knows a thing or two about snorkeling) lays out all the reasons why in great detail.

They point out several factors, namely the buildup of carbon dioxide within the mask which can lead to dangerous and possibly life-threatening situations like going unconscious underwater.

Other reasons include how difficult it is to clear a full face mask and how it’s difficult to duck-dive to see marine life up close with a full face mask, since it is hard to equalize (relieve ear pressure) this way.

Not equalizing can lead to ear pain and headaches and possible ear injury.

Plus, a full face mask will be absolutely useless in the future if you decide to get certified and become a scuba diver or free diver.

So… yeah, I think my opinions on full face masks are pretty clear. There’s really no good reason to wear one.


Allison Using an air tank and white fins while scuba diving
My IST Proline snorkeling fins, going on a dive in calm waters

The first thing I’d suggest after a snorkel and mask is fins, which help you swim while exerting less energy (and thus more safely). 

With a pair of fins, I can easily snorkel for 2+ hours without tiring myself out! 

That said, I’m also a pretty comfortable swimmer since I’m PADI certified which has minimum swimming requirements that are tested (being able to float for 10+ minutes and being able to swim 200+ meters).

I’ve written a full post on the difference between snorkel fins and scuba fins here, but namely, snorkel fins are more lightweight and shorter than scuba fins.

This is because they don’t need to be as powerful since there’s not as much water pressure on the surface or near-surface of the water compared to at typical scuba depths of 30-100 feet deep.

You might also find that snorkel fins fit more comfortably with some sort of neoprene footwear like fin socks, dive booties, or water shoes.

Snorkel Vest (optional)

Snorkelers in the water wearing snorkel vests for safety
If you’re not a confident swimmer, definitely wear a snorkel vest!

Personally, when I snorkel from the shore, I don’t typically wear a snorkel vest as I am a confident swimmer who knows how to handle most water conditions.

Also, I like to duck dive a lot to get closer up to marine life, which you can’t do while wearing a flotation vest. 

​There are two main types of snorkel vest: collar type and jacket types.

A collar type is what I would use if I wanted to have some option to do a bit of duck diving, since it’s a lot easier to remove and then return to. 

You could either ask someone to hold it, or just surface and find it if you are a comfortable enough swimmer and there’s not a current that would make it hard to fetch.

I’ve done this while I was snorkeling in Costa Rica on snorkel tours where it was mandatory to have a life jacket while snorkeling — I simply returned to it between each duck dive. 

A jacket type scuba vest (more akin to a life jacket) is helpful if you are not a strong swimmer and have zero intention of removing your snorkel vest while you snorkel.

It provides added comfort and safety and also protects you from the sun where it covers, whereas a collar-type snorkel vest doesn’t provide any sun protection.

What to Wear Snorkeling for Sun Protection

Speaking of sun protection, this post will go into the different considerations for UV protection when snorkeling.

We’ll go over different ways of covering up from the sun and some recommended swimsuit and wetsuit brands, as well as what types of sunscreen you should look for.

​Bathing Suit 

Allison in a sunhat and full-coverage upper. body bathing suit in a whale shark pattern while looking at the beach in Moorea
My whale shark swimsuit from Waterlust!

OK, so as we established above, you’ll want some way of covering up while you snorkel, such as a regular swimsuit. 

Yes, a regular bikini or one-piece for women or board shorts or swim trunks for men works just fine, but you’ll really need to watch your sun exposure and re-apply sunscreen frequently.

Personally, I love having a little more built-in sun coverage — such as a rash guard, wet suit, or more full-coverage bathing suit — while I snorkel since I burn easily even with good sunscreen.

I love Waterlust swimwear and I have both a sunsuit of theirs (a wetsuit-style back zip long sleeve swimsuit on top, that has normal swimwear bottoms) and a pair of swim leggings with matching swim top.

Allison Green, the author of the blog, smiling and wearing swim leggings with a blue print on them, while snorkeling in Tahiti
It has… pockets!!!!!!

Their swimwear is made of recycled plastics and each design is representative of a different marine conservation-related cause, towards which 10% of the profits are donated.

So if you have a particular love of some ocean life, you can wear it with pride — like me and my whale-shark sunsuit!

But you can also wear just a regular bathing suit and add, say, a rash guard if you want extra sun protection.

As for what color to wear — anything is fine! 

There have been rather unfounded fears of shark attacking people wearing bright colors, leading to phrases like ‘yum yum yellow’ — but there’s no evidence that this is actually the case.

Bright colors make you easier to see if you have any issues in the water and need water rescue, so brighter swimwear is typically safer.

In any case, shark attacks while snorkeling are extremely unlikely, especially in tropical destinations where snorkeling is an activity, as the main shark attack culprit — great white sharks — are usually not found in these waters but rather temperate, cooler waters.

I’ve snorkeled with sharks (on purpose) in Belize and Moorea — lovely friendly reef sharks and nurse sharks — and they’re kind, shy creatures who are somewhat comfortable around humans but generally keep their distance.

Rash Guard (optional)

Woman wearing a blue rash guard and yellow bikini bottoms while on the beach in Seychelles
A rash guard is essential for covering up while snorkeling!

What are rash guards? 

These are long-sleeve shirts made of quick-drying lightweight fabrics that protect your back and shoulders — the most vulnerable area to sunburn — while you snorkel.

If you snorkel for a long time like I do, it is easy for sunscreen to wear off over time, and a rash guard will protect your upper body from getting burned from the sun’s rays.

It’s a really good idea to wear a rash guard if you don’t have a full-coverage sunsuit or swimwear, as you’re a lot less susceptible to sunburn and sun poisoning that way (take it from me, you do not want to experience the latter!).

Reef-safe Sunscreen

Two different kinds of reef safe sunscreen
Having tried out several brands of reef-safe sunscreen, I like Sea2Stream best

Of course, any skin that’s not exposed to the sun, you’ll need to slather in sunscreen — but you need to make sure it’s reef safe, especially if you’re diving near a coral reef.

But even if you’re not diving on a reef, you should wear a mineral-based eco-friendly sunscreen. All marine life is negatively impacted by the chemicals in typical sunscreen.

The chemicals to avoid include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene as the big 3 baddies, but there are others to look out for: you can read a full list here.

You’ll want to look for a reef-friendly brand that doesn’t have any of the bad guys in it, which typically, means they have the good guys: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

The best sunscreen I’ve found is Sea2Stream — it covers well and comes in both a regular coverage and a tinted formulation which will give you less of that streaky-ghost look that plagues many a reef-friendly sunscreen.

Do I Need a Wet Suit?

Allison's Cressi wetsuit folded up on the floor
My Cressi 2.5mm wetsuit — great for medium temperature water dives and snorkels

This fully depends on where you are snorkeling, when, and what water temperatures are comfortable for you before you start to feel chilly.

For me, I’m usually comfortable snorkeling in water that’s 77° F (25° C) or warmer in just a typical swimsuit…. but I will wear a wetsuit for diving in those temperatures.

As a basic rule, snorkeling is a lot more active than diving and you exert more kinetic energy moving around, swimming, and duck diving. 

Scuba diving is all about energy conservation as much as it is safe to do so, so people tend to avoid kicking or swimming extensively in order to streamline their air consumption and dive longer and with more margin for safety.

For snorkeling, I would consider a wetsuit in temperatures below 77° F (25° C), starting with a 2mm shortie and going as far up as a 5mm wetsuit. I’ve tried this while snorkeling in Cozumel and found I was able to move around just fine.

I think a 7mm wetsuit would start to be knd of hard to swim extensively in, so I’d be wary of that. 

Odds & Ends for Snorkeling

A GoPro in an underwater housing
My GoPro in its dive house casing (not necessary for snorkeling)

There are some other things you might want to pack for snorkeling, which I’ll list in bullet form here:

  • underwater waterproof camera like an Olympus TG6 (preferred!) or a GoPro 
  • hair ties if you have long hair
  • neoprene mask strap to protect your hair from a plastic mask band
  • beach bag to store your snorkel gear in
  • ​water shoes to protect your feet from rocky beach entrances
  • waterproof pouch for your phone or other important things to take with you (be careful, though — a cheap waterproof phone case may leak!)

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