When you’re just getting started with a hobby and are learning all about the equipment you’ll need, it can be confusing distinguishing between what is necessary and what is just marketing fluff.
When it comes to snorkeling and choosing a snorkel, you will realize that there are the standard J-snorkels, semi-dry snorkels, and dry snorkels. Dry snorkels are often touted as being the best, most featured-packed of the bunch, but are dry snorkels truly better than a traditional J-snorkel?
Dry snorkels are better than J-snorkels if your goal is to keep as much water out of the tube as possible. They feature many designs that prevent water from flooding the tube and entering your mouth, so they are the top choice if that is a problem you are struggling with.
With that said, dry snorkels are a terrible choice if you plan on diving. When the float valve of the dry snorkel seals the opening shut, it will trap some air in the tube that is very buoyant. Those who are freediving, duck diving, spearfishing or scuba diving will not want this extra buoyancy. Thus, a J-snorkel would be a better choice for divers.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each type of snorkel. In this article, we will discuss these strengths and weaknesses of the dry snorkel vs. traditional snorkel to help you decide which option is right for you.
How a dry snorkel works
If you’re not aware of what benefits dry snorkels provide, this section will briefly catch you up to speed.
Dry snorkels have something called a float valve, which is a buoyant ball that is located beneath a flap close to the opening of the tube. The ball will rise or fall within the snorkel tube according to how close it is to being submerged.
When the snorkel is fully submerged, the ball will rise all the way to the top, pushing the flap with it, sealing the opening of the tube. This will keep water from entering the snorkel while you’re temporarily submerged, and as soon as the snorkel is above the surface of the water, the ball will drop down and unseal the opening.
Beginners who are not used to snorkeling often complain that while snorkeling, they will sometimes accidentally swallow water because water unexpectedly splashed into the snorkel or they accidentally submerged too far.
The dry snorkel is aimed at preventing these instances of water suddenly entering the tube, and it requires no input from the user because the sealing and opening process happens automatically.
Aside from the float valve, the dry snorkel also has something called a splash guard and a purge valve. The splash guard is a covering over the top opening of the tube with small slits that allow air to pass through, while preventing most splashes of water from entering the tube. It does not keep water out if you’re fully submerged, however; that’s the float valve’s job.
Lastly, the purge valve and water reservoir is located close to the snorkel mouthpiece. Water that trickles in will collect in the water reservoir where it can be purged from the snorkel before it enters your mouth. The purge valve is a one-way valve that opens when you clear the snorkel by forcefully blowing the water out of the tube.
These components can all be found on a dry snorkel, and they work in tandem to keep water from getting in your mouth. A traditional snorkel has none of these features.
Where dry snorkels fall short
Despite being feature packed, dry snorkels are not necessarily the be-all and end-all of snorkel design. They can be extremely beneficial to beginners, but they are not without problems.
Furthermore, dry snorkels are not versatile; they are not a good choice for scuba divers, freedivers, spearfishers, or any other diver that spends a long period of time underwater.
The float valve can get stuck
First off, the feature that makes a snorkel a dry snorkel – the float valve – is amazing when it works as intended, but is a nightmare when it malfunctions. There have been some reports of the float valve remaining sealed even after surfacing.
Imagine the specific feature that was intended to protect you from choking actually ends up depriving you of oxygen. Actually, we don’t have to imagine; this has happened to some unsuspecting snorkelers already. It can be extremely panic-inducing to have your air source cut off, especially if you’re a beginner.
In anticipation of this scenario occurring, you should practice how to quickly remove the dry snorkel from your mouth, assume a vertical position with your head above the water, and be able to tread water until you get the darn thing unstuck.
The trapped air in a dry snorkel increases buoyancy
Another issue is that dry snorkels are not designed for diving. When the float valve seals the opening shut (as intended), it will trap air inside the snorkel, making the snorkel very buoyant. It’s difficult to dive when the snorkel is floating up.
If you plan on freediving, duck diving, or scuba diving with a snorkel, you should be using a traditional J-snorkel which lets water pass through easily. You don’t have to deal with unwanted buoyancy, and it’s very easy to clear the snorkel after surfacing from a dive since there are no splash guards or float valves in the way.
It all depends on your needs
Now that you have an idea of how dry snorkels work, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, you need to consider how it will affect you.
If you are someone who just wants to leisurely snorkel, with no intention of ever duck diving or trying out any of the other diving activities, then a dry snorkel is arguably the better option than a J-snorkel.
As long as you are prepared for the very rare and unlikely instance that the float valve jams, then you can have peace of mind snorkeling with a dry snorkel instead.
On the other hand, if you are someone that likes to freedive, duck dive, spearfish or scuba dive, you will want to use a J-snorkel. A J-snorkel does not add unnecessary buoyancy and is easy to clear the water out of.
We cannot definitively say that one snorkel type is better than another, as this all depends on your skill level and your needs. However, dry snorkels are generally the better option for beginners, especially those starting out who are the most susceptible to accidentally swallowing or choking on water, which the dry snorkel can protect them against.