Many swimmers and full face snorkel mask owners have wondered if they could swim laps with their full face mask.
There are many benefits to wearing a full face snorkel mask for swimming. The most obvious one is that you don’t need to lift your head up to breathe; you can keep your head submerged the whole time. This also has a secondary benefit of being easy on the neck for those with neck injuries. As such, full face masks are an excellent training tool to use when swimming laps.
With that said, there are some downsides to wearing a full face mask for swimming. First, they are not designed for swimming; snorkelers spend their time conserving their energy and breathing slowly. When you’re swimming laps, you will be gasping for air and a full face snorkel mask may not necessarily be able to give you sufficient oxygen.
In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of wearing a full face snorkel mask for swimming laps so that you can decide if it’s an option you wish to pursue.
Full face mask vs. traditional snorkel mask for swimming laps
First off, if you want to incorporate snorkeling gear in your swimming routine, we recommend using a full face snorkel mask instead of a traditional snorkel mask.
The benefit of a full face mask is that you can breathe with both your nose and mouth. On top of that, you do not need to put a mouthpiece into your mouth which feels much more comfortable for most people.
Traditional snorkel masks have two separate pieces – the mask and snorkel – and they can easily come off if you are aggressively swimming laps. Additionally, having the snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth is tiring and painful for your jaw, and not being able to breathe with your nose feels uncomfortable for many swimmers.
Since the mask and snorkel can be purchased separately, there is variance in the type of snorkel someone ends up with. If they make the mistake of buying a standard J-tube snorkel instead of a dry snorkel or semi-dry snorkel, then water can easily enter the snorkel tube and they can end up swallowing the water.
With a full face mask, you can expect that the built-in snorkel is a dry snorkel. From what I can tell, this is the industry standard for full face masks, so you can rest assured knowing that water is being kept out of the snorkel mask. Even if water makes its way in, since the tube is not directly connected to your mouth, you still won’t choke on the water.
Benefits of a full face mask for swimming laps
You never need to surface for air
Many swimmers wish they don’t need to lift their head up or to the side in order to breathe, as this is a wasted movement that slows them down. If only they could just keep their head down and keep swimming for as long as they want.
Well, a full face snorkel mask easily solves this problem and avoids many of the problems that a traditional snorkel and mask combo brings to the table. You want to breathe with your mouth still? Fine, you can do so without any jaw pain. You’ll also now be able to breathe with your nose.
You will love how convenient it is to just keep swimming laps without having to awkwardly twist your neck or lift your head up, and even more so if you literally can’t do that.
You can work around a neck or shoulder injury
If you have a neck or shoulder injury, you may not be able to comfortably swim laps without the assistance of a full face snorkel mask.
Instead of taking days or even weeks off to recover, you can still maintain your training by wearing a snorkel mask. To be fair, there is still some risk involved doing this as you can easily make your injuries worse, so you do this at your own discretion.
Not needing to surface for air gives you the side benefit of being able to work around neck and shoulder injuries, so count your blessings and keep on swimming.
Take it with you on vacation
The point of this article is in regards to swimming laps with a snorkel mask, but when you’re vacationing in Costa Rica and want to use the snorkel mask for its intended, leisurely purpose, you have that option as well.
Or, you might want to do some open water swimming with a full face mask if you aren’t already doing that. Either way, full face masks are beneficial whether you’re a snorkeler or swimmer.
Improve your lung capacity
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, because there is a point we wanted to save for the “downsides” section that we’re spoiling here.
When you swim with a snorkel mask, you might find it harder to breathe since you need to inhale air from the surface through a foot-long narrow tube and this requires great lung strength and stamina.
This sounds like a downside at first, but what many swimmers have found was that they were able to improve their swimming times (with the mask off) because they were able to take deeper breaths and keep their face submerged for longer after training with full face masks on.
Naturally, since you cannot compete with a snorkel mask, this is great news that validates the full face mask as a legitimate training tool and not something to wear just for fun or convenience.
Downsides of a full face mask for swimming laps
They are banned in a lot of swimming pools
Many swimming pools are banning full face masks because they say it’s hard for lifeguards to tell if you’re drowning with the mask on.
To be fair, the dry snorkel on a full face mask isn’t 100% foolproof, and there have been times when people have had that unfortunate experience of finding out that the snorkel was closed shut due to a malfunction.
Now, it could be argued that it’s still very easy to tell when someone is distressed, however don’t be surprised if a lifeguard asks you to take off your full face mask if you’re swimming at the pool. They’ll probably say it’s just their policy.
You will struggle for air (at first)
We spoiled this point in the “benefits” section, but when you first swim with a full face mask, you will probably struggle to breathe.
This sounds alarming, but in practice, what will happen is you will be swimming slower than usual so as not to increase your oxygen consumption beyond what you can breathe through the snorkel.
As you get used to breathing through your snorkel, your lungs will get stronger and you will inhale more oxygen more easily. When you take the mask off, your stronger lungs translate to fuller, deeper breaths that allow you to be more efficient when swimming.
Carbon dioxide buildup – debunked
We’re including this section because the myth of full face snorkel masks being dangerous has long been circulated, and we think it’s time that myth died out.
You may have heard that full face masks are unable to fully clear out the carbon dioxide you create when you exhale, and that over time, enough CO2 will accumulate in your mask to asphyxiate you.
We have written an in-depth article on this topic (which cited heavily from this study, so it’s not just the opinion of some random internet strangers) that comes to the conclusion that full face snorkel masks are as safe as a traditional mask and snorkel. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.