Although many waterfront resorts will lend or rent you snorkeling gear, bringing your own ensures it will fit properly—and eliminate any “was this really cleaned?” ick factor. We spent 30 hours subjecting 11 sets of snorkel gear to chlorine, mud, sand, salt, and pounding waves in Charleston and Folly Beach, South Carolina, and at Florida’s Ichetucknee Springs State Park. After the silt settled, we decided that the Cressi Palau Short Fin Set is the best recreational snorkel set for bigger kids and adults.
Cressi Palau Short Fin Set
The design of this classic Palau “Onda” mask (included in the set) hasn’t changed much in 20 years—and that’s a good thing.
Our top pick for most novice snorkelers is the Cressi Palau Short Fin Set. With a simple but solid mask that’s proven itself over the last two decades, a highly functional snorkel, and a short but robust set of travel-friendly fins, Cressi’s snorkel set will propel you forward without risking equipment failure.
The Onda mask that comes in the set doesn’t offer a panoramic view or a plethora of features like some of the other masks we tested, but it’s a solid, simple, and robust option. The mask’s soft, double-gasketed, clear silicone skirt didn’t leak during testing, either. The Supernova “dry” snorkel kept water out of the breathing tube remarkably well during our exploratory free dives to the seafloor, and stayed sealed amid ocean chop and waves. And the Rondine fins were simple but functional, designed to be stiff and strong with robust attachment points between the comfortable strap and the fin itself. Their small size made them easy to travel with, and we really liked this set’s tough storage bag. (The fins come in a longer version, too, which can be found in the Cressi Palau Long Fin Set. The longer fins are a bit less travel-friendly, but they may be better if you need more propulsion.)
When you get into the budget options for a snorkel set, things can get weird. The silicone in the face mask skirts gets uncomfortably hard, the plastic in the fins gets unreliably cheap, and bulky mouthpieces on the snorkels cause unacceptable mouth fatigue. However, we found that the Innovative Scuba Concepts Reef Snorkel Set still gave us the basic features we needed in a snorkel set at a low price, surpassing all of its budget competitors. Innovative’s set includes a comfortable and easily adjustable black silicone mask with no purge valve. The comfortable and high-volume snorkel lacks a “dry” valve at the top, but it does offer an effective splash guard and purge valve at the base. The fins were easily adjustable and offered ample thrust for a wide range of foot sizes, too.