Snorkeling is one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii. It’s not hard to see why, the waters are warm year-round, calm, in many places, and absolutely teeming with exotic and stunning sea life. On top of this, the entry requirements to the activity are very low. You just need a minimum of gear, the ability to swim a bit, and somewhere to do it. But people often ask “What Gear do I Need for Snorkeling in Hawaii?”
The good news is very little. A very modest investment is all that is needed and in reality, you only need two things. There are a few extras on top that will make the experience better but are by no means essential. So let’s take a look at what Equipment you need to go snorkeling and what is the best Snorkel Gear for Hawaii
The single most important thing on the Kit list is your Mask. A good mask makes Snorkeling a joy a bad mask makes it uncomfortable frustrating and a pretty pointless experience. A poor mask will fog up, leak, rub or press hard against your face and nose and basically make the whole experience unpleasant and a bit pointless as the fog means you can’t see anything and you spend more time fixing leaks and fiddling with your mask.
A good mask will be forgotten about. A seamless extension of the body that you forget you are even wearing, you are just a merperson able to sea underwater with perfect clarity.
The Good news is Good masks are not Expensive. While a cheap mask can cost only $10-20 a Top Quality Dive mask will only set you back $50-60 so there is no reason to cheap out on a crappy mask when a really good piece of kit costs SO little and makes such a huge difference.
We have a Full Article on Choosing the Perfect Mask For Snorkeling
A Close Second in terms of importance obviously is the Snorkel. It is just as important but far less critical to get right. Most Snorkels are pretty good. As long as they have a “Blow out Purge” valve and some kind of anti-wave guard on top you are good to go. We tend to look for Mask and Snorkel packages and just go with the provided Snorkel.
The Anti Wave Guard is pretty self-explanatory, it is designed to stop water ingress from the top should it get splashed by waves or rougher water or even your kicks. They are not perfect and should a large wave submerge the tip of the snorkel water will enter the tube.
This is where the Purge Valve comes in. An exhalation mildly sharper than normal breathing will cause the purge valve to open. This expels any water that has entered the tube leaving you free to breathe again.
Neither of these features
Best Mask and Snorkel For Snorkelling
Most of our favorite brands can be bought together in a package that can save a few dollars and come with a hand-carry bag. It really makes perfect sense and below we list some of the best packages available on Amazon.
Full Face Mask and Snorkel vs Two Piece.
The New breed of full-face masks is becoming extremely popular. These are highly recommended by many websites that both review and recommend snorkeling products. We however are doubly dubious of these devices. There is the suggestion that used incorrectly they are dangerous, and we agree with this fact. And we don’t see much of an advantage, only many disadvantages.
As Such we are a long way off ever even trying one let alone being in a position to recommend them. We write more about the topic in our best Snorkel Mask Review and our Full Face vs Two-Piece Snorkel Mask Review.
Honestly, that is all you NEED. The rest of this equipment list is useful and we obviously own it all, but there are still times we just throw on the mask and jump into the ocean. As we mentioned above the mask need not be overly expensive and the snorkel cheap $40-50 will get a great set that could last a long time. So really there is nothing stopping you from buying a mask and enjoying the incredible undersea world.
Just remember to do so SAFELY!
But the following can make the whole experience far more enjoyable, and comfortable and extend your range and ability.
Fins, or Flippers if you prefer, are completely transformative in the context of snorkeling. It makes the difference between Snorkeling and swimming with a mask on. Without fins, motion comes from swimming. using your arms and legs in conjunction to move through the water. You may be surprised to find out that using your legs for swimming provides very little propulsion. So the Arms must be used to power you along. This is both hard work and can scare and spook the fish.
By using fins you can massively increase the amount of propulsion you get from your legs and hence glide around almost effortlessly with less noise and movement to disturb the sea life. They really are a win-win. And there is no need to splash out, a good pair of fins can be bought for $20-30 and can be very light and quite compact so won’t take up too much of your luggage allowance.
Finally Fins hugely help if you want to advance onto Skin Diving. By this we mean diving down under the surface, for short periods of time, to get a closer look at the reef and wildlife. For this fins become essential as moving underwater without is just too costly in terms of oxygen use. Meaning you will run out of breath too soon. Fins allow you to stay down for far longer.
Best Fins for Snorkeling
When Looking for fins for Snorkeling there is not too much to look out for. We look for short fins rather than full size for numerous reasons, Short Fins are lighter and Smaller so these are more convenient for traveling, they fit in even a carry-on and don’t take too much of your baggage allowance.
They are also lighter and easier for packing in the beach bag and carrying to and from the Snorkel Sites. But most importantly they actually work better for snorkeling.
Full fins work best when Scuba Diving. They allow a long slow kick that allows effortless movement through the water. On the surface, this is less effective and a faster kick propels you through the water better. They allow better maneuverability when diving under and are generally just a lot more manageable.
And anyone who has tried to walk in full fins will appreciate the increased mobility of short fins as you get in and out of the water.
Cressi Palau Short Fins – Excellent lightweight short fins perfect for travel.
Cressi Adult Short Fins With Foot Pocket – Foot Pocket versions of above. We like the foot pockets as they are less complicated but require a more exact fit and will not work well with water shoes.
Cozia Design Swim Fins With Water Socks – Another good set of fins, these ship with Neoprene socks that can help with foot protection from rocks and accidental coral impacts.
U.S. Divers Proflex II Snorkel Fins – The U.S. Divers Fins are a good option but a bit larger than the Short fins we suggest above.
Best Packages for Snorkeling
Many people ask “Do I need a wetsuit to snorkel in Hawaii?” The short answer is no…most of the time. So the long answer is…Still no…
We have NEVER used wetsuits in Hawaii, and almost certainly never will, not when Snorkeling at least. The water temps year-round are easily warm enough for Snorkeling without.
In winter the Temps bottom out at 76°F (24°C ) and in summer they peak at around 81°F (28°C). This is more than warm enough for year-round swimming in nothing but shorts/trunks. There are two problems with this, however, First, some people feel the cold differently to others. and water at 76°F might feel really really cold to some.
Also, the Air temp can also have an effect. While this really doesn’t make much difference while you are in the water but it can feel very cold once you get out. Especially if it is a bit windy…which is likely.
All these things can lead some people to really think they need the comfort of a wet suit while snorkeling. Invariably you don’t. In hot Climates the water ALWAYS feels cold on entry, but in a minute or two, you will be adjusted.
Only if you are a person who knows they are very affected by the cold should you seriously consider a
Dark Lightening 2mm Shorty Wetsuit – Super cheap,
The Big issue with wetsuits is their weight and bulk means they are a killer for packing space and weight.
A fantastic compromise to a wetsuit is a Rash Guard or Rash Vest. These only have very basic thermal properties but they give the feeling of warmth which can be enough for most people. They also have a very useful function of having up to 50+ Spf Protection.
While snorkeling you will be lying face down in the water possibly for extended lengths of time. While Sunbathing or walking or any land-based activity it’s very easy to feel the intensity of the Hawaiian sun and any sensible person would seek refuge, but when partially submerged in the cooling P
The solution is obviously preventative, large amounts of reef-safe sunblock (see below) is all that is required but a rash guard can do an excellent job too and is a lot faster and easier to apply.
They also provide a bit of warmth once you get out, so on cooler days when the wind is blowing, you may get back to the hotel/condo without breaking down in fits of shivers. There is also a modicum of protection should you inadvertently get too close to a reef.
They are Cheap, Lightweight, and effective. Overall there isn’t much of a case to not use one. And if you are snorkeling with kids we would probably move these up to essential.
O’Neill Men’s Basic Rash Guard – Excellent cheap men’s Rash Guard
O’Neill Women’s Basic Skins – O’Neill’s Rash Guard with a women’s fit.
TSLA Boy & Girl’s UPF 50+ Rashguard – Superb Rash Guards for Boys and Girls
Snorkeling is best enjoyed as a low-effort sport. You simply cruise around the reefs enjoying the sea life below without a care in the world. The best way to achieve this is with a Buoyancy aid or vest. These nifty little vests just sit over your head and give you the confidence and safety of added buoyancy.
They are a double-edged sword really, and they are not our favorite accessories. We certainly never use them. But if your confidence is REALLY low they can help get you over that mental block that is stopping you from getting in. They can also be great for kids when supervised.
Lesberg Inflatable Snorkel Vest Adult – Simple basic and cheap Vest that packs up to almost nothing.
Faxpot Children’s Snorkel Vest – The same as above but for Children.
Another great option is a Noodle, or Doodle or Floaty, whatever you call them. These are super cheap and easily packable and provide that extra bit of lift in the water.
WARNING! – With all inflatables care should be taken not to rely on them. They only add a little extra float they will not stop you from getting into difficulty. If you feel you require one of these we can only recommend very shallow near-shore snorkeling.
Trips to Hawaii can be incredible once-in-a-lifetime vacations and naturally, you are going to want to capture this on film. While most of your trip can be recorded on your smartphone, even the best, waterproof phones are not designed for submersion in Saltwater. So if you want to get snaps of the stunning reef fish or film yourself swimming with turtles you will need something a bit specialized.
While you can rent good underwater cameras from Snorkel Rental Shops, a cheap Action Camera is not overly expensive and can do the job for most people. We take a look at the best underwater cameras for snorkeling in the thread below
What is the best underwater camera for snorkeling in Hawaii?
Where do I put my Keys? Or my money? or even my phone?
This is a question we have asked a lot. Leaving valuables on the beach is not the smartest plan. and dragging an electric Ignition key out to the reef is unlikely to have good results when it comes to unlocking your car afterward! So what the heck do you do? Answer… Dry bags.
A simple water-tight back you can wear around your waist is perfect. That way you can pack most belongings in the car and just take the ignition key out with you safe and dry in its little pouch.
Venterior Waterproof Pouch 2 Pack – Ideal Solution to keeping your keys, phone, or money safe!
Lava Rock is Sharp. Coral is even Sharper and Sea Urchins are liable to leave you with infected wounds for weeks afterward (experience!). For soft mainlanders (us) walking on these is not fun. A simple answer to this is reef shoes.
If you are just snorkeling from sandy beaches and using fins these can be avoided. However, you may find them useful in a variety of places in Hawaii. And they are not exactly bank busters.
Barerun Barefoot Quick-Dry Water Sports Shoes – While you can get expensive Dive Specific shoes there is no need we just grab cheap and cheerful brands like these, they are not going to last a lifetime but they are very inexpensive and do the job perfectly.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Even if using a rash guard sunscreen is very important in Hawaii. The Islands are far further south than anywhere in the Continental United States and as such the sun can be fierce. An hour unprotected in the sun can result in a severe burn. So any areas not covered by the rash guard must be protected too.
Hawaii has, brilliantly, Banned the sale of NON-Reef Safe Sunscreen. It has been shown certain chemicals in Sunscreen are severely damaging to Hawaii’s Reefs and as such the huge number of tourists swimming and snorkeling on the reefs. While you won’t be stopped at the airport to have your sunscreen checked, why would you want to bring a product that is so harmful to the reefs you are clearly e
All Good Sport Reef Safe Sunscreen Lotion – The All Good Sport Reef Safe is a great product. It is waterproof, easy to apply, and effective. This is our go-to sunscreen.
All Good Kids Reef Safe Sunscreen Lotion – Same as above but specially formulated for kids
No really. We actually consider this essential, but as we assume you already own toothpaste it’s not a big hardship. What do we use Toothpaste for? De-Fogging. A clean Mask is a mask that doesn’t fog. Toothpaste is the number one trick for this. It’s pretty simple. As Toothpaste is mildly abrasive it actively wears away any unevenness on the surface of your mask (inside) Making it super clean and smooth. This means it will never fog…until it gets dirty again.
So next time your toothbrush is nearing the end of its life save it as a Mask Brush. Then before using your Snorkel mask brush the glass, both inside and out with a good amount of toothpaste then rinse thoroughly. Then try breathing hard all over it. It might fog a little bit but clears almost instantly. Keep on top of this to ensure a mask that never ever fogs.
Should we Rent Snorkeling Gear in Hawaii?
Renting Gear is Big business in Hawaii, with many companies on all islands willing to rent out gear for occasional users to try out snorkeling while on the islands who don’t want to commit to buying their own gear. But is this a good idea?
We always buy our gear, but that is because we get immense use out of it. We use it several times a year and keep it till it fails. So for us, it’s a complete no-brainer. But if this is a one-off trip or you are just not sure how much use you will get Renting can be a good idea. You know you will get decent gear and if anything breaks you can always get it replaced straight away. Breakages in your own gear can mean ruining the trip as far as snorkeling goes (although there are plenty of dive shops and supermarkets where you can get replacements).
Expect to pay around $5-10 a day for rentals (Mask, Snorkel, and Fins) depending on how long you rent for and where from. As you can see it won’t take many days of rental until you have exceeded the cost of buying your own kit! Although most companies have some pretty good offers available.
Maui, Kauai, Big Island – Boss Frogs
Oahu – Snorkel Bobs
And always check with your hotel as they may well offer complimentary Snorkeling Equipment.
Have Your Say
What Gear do You use then Snorkeling? Do you have a favorite Mask? A certain type of fin You Swear by? or some other piece of kit that we didn’t mention? Join the Conversation by leaving us a comment below. Or if you have any Questions please fire away.