For decades, not much changed when it came to snorkel gear. You had a basic mask with a rubber liner that fit over your eyes and nose, and a plastic tube to breathe through. And yes, they worked OK. But there were also some major problems.
Specifically, regular masks and snorkels offer limited vision, can be uncomfortable around your face, and make you breathe through your mouth when underwater.
Now a radically new design of mask and snorkel has come to the market. These full-face snorkels are designed to fix the shortcomings of older masks and snorkels. They are made to fit comfortably around the face, allowing you greater visibility and the ability to breathe through your nose, just as you would on dry land.
We recently got our hands on one of these full-face snorkels — the WildHorn Outfitters Seaview 180 — to give it a test and see if the new design really does live up to the hype. Here’s what we found…
First Impressions of the Full-Face Mask & Snorkel
While we have yet to see full-face snorkels for sale in stores, there are several different brands available online. We received ours from Amazon. We decided on the WildHorn Outfitters Seaview 180 as it had the greatest number of reviews (more than 1,200!) of all the full-face snorkels and earned 4.5 stars out of five. In other words, people seems to like it a lot.
The mask comes in five different color combinations ranging from pink/white to blue/black to the white/teal version that we ordered. We ordered an “L/XL” sized mask. The Amazon posting suggests ordering a “L/XL” if the distance from the bottom of your chin to the bridge of your nose is 4 3/4″ or greater. Our face measured exactly 4 3/4″, so we went with the larger size. Because we are Amazon Prime members, we also received free overnight shipping. (If you aren’t yet an Amazon Prime member, you can get a free 30-day trial here.)
The Seaview 180 comes in a nylon carrying case. Included in the package is the mask, the snorkel, spare parts for the mask, hardware to attach a GoPro camera to the mounting bracket on the mask, and an information card.
What struck us immediately is just how much larger the full-face mask is compared to our old mask. You can tell right away that it will be a different experience when worn in the water. And while you would think it would be much heavier given the size, they are comparable in weight.
The build quality of the Seaview 180 also feels great. It’s solidly built, with all the components feeling secure. This mask does not feel cheaply made. The straps that go over your head are smooth cloth with elastic instead of rubber like with a traditional mask. Meanwhile, the actual mask is made of nice, thick plastic. As well, the inner liner that rests against your face feels extremely smooth and pliable.
Our only concern with the build is that the snorkel, when attached to the mask, seems vulnerable since it sits up on its own.
Trying on the Mask For the First Time
Putting the mask on is surprisingly easy. If you’re used to the old style masks with rubber straps, then you know how they can catch on your head, pulling your hair. The cloth straps on the WildHorn mask pass smoothly over the head and fit securely. If you want to tighten the mask, all you need to do is pull the endloop of the straps near the chin. A quick tug immediately tightens the mask against your face.
Once the mask was over our face, we were surprised at how comfortable it felt. Because the liner that seals out water is larger than a regular snorkel mask, it has more area around your face to press against. This seems to reduce the pressure in any one spot, making it feel light against the skin. Compare that to older masks that press hard against the face to make a seal — especially in the upper lip area. The full-face mask is much more comfortable to wear.
Apart from the comfort, we also immediately noticed the greater visibility. The viewing area is large, as you would expect. You can see things in the peripherals which would be blocked by a regular mask. That’s not to say it’s perfect. There is some distortion of your vision if you look down in the mask, as well as to the sides. However, considering these are areas where you wouldn’t even be able to see in a regular mask, that shortcoming is forgivable.
Breathing is also different in this mask. Unlike a regular mask and snorkel, you can breathe through your nose. To us, breathing was actually a little constricted while wearing the mask. It wasn’t enough to make us uncomfortable, but it is noticeable. The best way to describe it is if you were only able to breathe about 90% of your full capacity. (More on solving this issue below.)
To us, the size and fit were perfect, despite being on the borderline 4 3/4″ measurement for our face. The seal fit securely around our face. We also had our wife try on the mask, whose face is smaller and rounder than ours. She had to tighten the straps, but it was still a secure fit that molded comfortably to her face. We’d recommend adults get the “L/XL” size, even if they are on the borderline of the smaller size.
Testing the Full-Face Snorkel in the Real World
We recently took the WildHorn Seaview 180 to test it out in real-world conditions. On a cruise to Cozumel, we were able to do some snorkeling at Chankanaab park. The park features a massive snorkeling area that is among the most popular spots on the island. The sea was a bit choppy on the day of our test, giving us great conditions to try out how the mask performs even in weather that isn’t calm and perfect.
Entering the water, our first impression is just how easy it was to go snorkeling. With a regular mask, we normally wet the mask, dunk our head under water to wet our hair, and then put on the mask, adjusting it to fit. The entire process takes a minute or two to get ready to go snorkel.
With the Seaview 180, we just slipped it over our head and gave the tightening straps located near the chin a small tug. The mask fit perfectly with no leaks. Putting on the mask and adjusting took no more than 15 seconds.
Starting to snorkel, the extra visibility is immediately noticeable. No, you can’t see everywhere perfectly. The edges of the mask lead to some distortion. But instead of having two small eyeholes to look out of, like a normal mask, the full-face mask gives you a much more open experience. We could see fish swimming at our sides through our peripheral vision that would never have been noticed with a regular mask.
What we also noticed was the comfort. We’re used to masks that fit snug over our face — especially where they fit under our nose. If you snorkel much, then you know the ring they can leave on your face afterward. That’s not the case here. Even in water with the extra pressure the mask felt surprisingly light against our face while holding a good seal. If we were to go on a lengthy snorkel tour, this is the sort of mask we would want.
That’s not to say the mask was perfect. In our tests, breathing continued to be more difficult than a regular snorkel. It wasn’t enough to put us off, but it was noticeable. In fact, after our testing day we decided to look into the issue to see if it could be fixed.
That night we took apart the snorkel and found the culprit. To keep water out of the snorkel when you dive beneath the surface, the Seaview 180 uses two layers of protection. First is a plastic ball that rises up with you dive below the surface, blocking the air intake (this sort of approach is what most regular snorkels use). Second is a thin layer of rubber that acts as a one-way valve to keep water out of the mask.
For testing purposes, we took out this thin layer. Immediately after putting the snorkel back together, we noticed that the small difficulty in breathing was completely gone. Still, we worried that by making this change we were going to now have a flooded mask every time we dove underwater. That’s why we went back out to test it.
This time we took the mask to a pool. Breathing was now flawless and extremely comfortable. We dove down repeatedly underwater to test for leaks. There were some small trickles of water that came in the mask, but they were cleared easily simply by exhaling. One of the neat features of the mask is that if you do get any water that leaks in, you just have to exhale, and the water is blown out of a valve located in the bottom of the mask.
All in all, making this small change made us like the mask even more.
Summing Up the Wildhorn Seaview 180
What We Like: This is the most comfortable snorkel mask we’ve ever worn. The rubber seal sits light on the face and created a perfect seal. Visibility is great. Putting on and taking off the mask is easy, without much fuss.
What Can Be Improved: Breathing was slightly difficult until we removed a small piece of rubber from the snorkel. Removing the piece improved breathing, but did let in a small amount of water (which was easily cleared) when diving under the water. Snorkeling on the surface wasn’t affected at all. The mask features many nooks and crannies that can take a longer time to dry.
Final Take: We loved the WildHorn Seaview 180 and plan to use it going forward instead of our regular-style mask. There are some small issues, but the comfort and visibility of the mask far outweigh those concerns. We’d recommend it to any recreational snorkeler.
One thing to keep in mind, if you’re a scuba diver, then this mask is not for you. Because of the full-face mask, you aren’t able to ease the pressure on your ears when you dive down to lower depths.
Note: The manufacturer provided us with a rebate on the purchase of this snorkel for us to review. We also receive a small commission if you purchase the product through the Amazon links above. The opinions expressed are 100% our own.