It’s been almost five years since we first slapped a mask and snorkel on one of our kids and threw him overboard. Yes, that actually happened here. We’ve had a range of experiences snorkeling with kids, with some excellent days and some really tough ones. But the most important ingredient for success is having the right gear – and that means investing in a well-fitting kids snorkel set and making sure you have access to a safe personal flotation device for kids. Read on for the best snorkel gear for kids of all ages – even the elusive toddler snorkel mask!
What snorkeling gear for kids do you need?
There are a few pieces of gear you’ll want for a successful snorkeling trip with kids – some of them are required, some are optional and some can be provided by a tour provider or local snorkel gear rental company.
Kids snorkel set
A snorkel set generally consists of a kids snorkel mask and a childrens snorkel. They can be purchased together or separately (we’ve done it both ways); if purchasing as a package, the sizing of the mask should guide your choice, as snorkel sizing can be more flexible. In selecting a snorkel mask for kids, the top feature I’d look for is just the size – I’m indifferent to one wide lens versus two separate lenses for very young kids. In purchasing snorkels for my own kids, I look for kid-sized version that have a dry top or semi-dry top – that means there’s a valve in place to keep most water out of the top. We bring our own kids snorkel set when we travel, as many tour companies or rental outfits just don’t have the right sizes for young children.
Snorkeling flippers for kids
Snorkeling flippers can be helpful for kids to move around more comfortably in the water and increase their buoyancy. Sometimes our kids use them and sometimes they don’t – it just depends on local availability or if a tour operator has them in the right size. If we lived in a place where we snorkeled often, we’d invest in flippers for kids, but we don’t feel it’s necessary to travel with them. If you’re concerned about foot protection on sharp surfaces, small lightweight reef shoes should do the trick.
Life jacket for kids
Our kids always wear a lifejacket when snorkeling – we wouldn’t consider otherwise for them. We don’t travel with enough luggage to bring our own, so we always make sure that tour operators we book can provide life jackets in the right sizes for our kids. That has gotten easier as they have gotten older, so parents of younger toddlers need to be especially vigilant about it!
The same noodle that your kids use to whack each other over the heads can be a nice add-on when snorkeling with kids. They’re usually very inexpensive to purchase at your destination and kids can rest on them to feel more comfortable and buoyant.
The best kids snorkel set for every age
Snorkeling with a baby
If you’ll be out in shallow, calm waters and want your baby or very young toddler to get a taste of the sea life, check out this cool snorkeling window or the larger kids snorkeling raft. You’ll want to supervise very closely, of course, and take turns with another adult while you go out for some more serious underwater exploration.
Toddler snorkel set
If you have a toddler or young preschooler who’s eager to snorkel, check out this great toddler snorkel mask. It’s the one both of our kids have started with and it actually fits at that age unlike all the other ones that are meant for older kids. (Check out the photo above to see it in action).
Since you won’t want your little one gulping a mouthful of salt water, grab this kid-sized snorkel with a nice dry-top system.
It can be a challenge to find toddler snorkeling flippers, but these in size XXXXS (size 6-8) or XXXS (size 8-11) will do the trick if you decide to pack them along. If you decide not to bring flippers, you should at lease pick up a pair of these water shoes to protect tiny toes from jagged rocks and broken coral – they’re compact and light, inexpensive and come in any size you could need! Plus I guarantee your little one will love picking out her favorite design (here’s my daughter’s faves, in case you’re curious).
If you plan to snorkel without a guide or you have reason to believe that a right-sized life jacket won’t be available for your child, make sure to bring one along! This model should accommodate the youngest snorkelers (30-50lbs) nicely, or if you’re packing really light you can try out this inflatable swim vest – Shoshana had a great experience using hers in Hawaii! We’d still recommend close supervision even if your child is wearing a flotation aid.
Youth snorkel set
If you’re child is around elementary school age (or a bigger pre-K jetsetter) you’ll have many more options when it comes to a childrens snorkel set. The nice thing about buying a kids snorkel set at this age is that it will fit them for many years to come – in a pinch I sometimes borrow our son’s set that’s designed for ages 5 and up. If you plan to continue snorkeling as a family, it’s worth buying a high-quality junior snorkel set rather than a cheap toy – your kid will be using it for years to come!
The Cressi snorkel set for kids is our pick for a youth snorkel set – you get a top-quality brand, a dry-top snorkel and a mask that’s specially designed to fit young kids – probably the best snorkel mask for kids in this age range. Though the product title says it’s designed for kids 7 and up, reviewers have had success for much younger kids. Check prices here (they seem for vary by color!) or buy the same set with flippers.
If you want to save a few dollars and your child has enough experience to manage a semi-dry top, you can pick up this kids Cressi snorkel set instead. It also features a slightly less sophisticated system for sizing the mask strap, but it’ll still do the trick. You can also purchase the same set with kids snorkeling flippers here.
If your child will feel more comfortable with a little extra buoyancy, this inflatable swim vest in size M should fit the bill without taking up your whole suitcase. As with our toddler recommendations, if you opt against traveling with flippers at least bring these kids water shoes to keep them comfortable.
Are full-face snorkel masks for kids safe?
We have’t yet tried a full-face snorkel mask for kids. On the plus side, they offer easier use and a great panoramic view. However, they can be prone to toxic CO2 build-up and have more potential for leaking. They’re harder to remove, so if a mask leaks there’s a possibility of flooding before a parent is even aware that the child has a problem. At least one organization no longer permits them after a spate of deaths in Hawaii in 2018. I urge you to do your own research before purchasing a full-face snorkel mask for your family.
Other things to pack for snorkeling vacations
There are plenty of other odds and ends to bring on your family snorkeling trip! First and foremost, you’ll want to bring either specialized defogging drops or a travel-sized bottle of baby shampoo. There’s nothing more frustrating for a kid than getting all geared up and being unable to see in the water!
You’ll also want to bring along a mesh bag to hold all your best snorkeling gear while letting the sand and water drain out. This set makes it easy to color code everyone’s gear, or you can buy reasonably priced singles if you don’t need that many.
Finally, you’ll want to capture memories of your little ones spotting their favorite sea life. We use these protective cases for our iPhones, though the photos come out a bit hazy unfortunately. If budget and space allow, consider picking up a great budget action camera for your family snorkeling vacation! This one gets great reviews – and at a fraction of the price of a certain extremely popular name brand.