During the earlier era of SCUBA diving, when the majority of divers were known as frogmen, SCUBA equipment had a significantly different appearance compared to its modern counterpart. One particular piece of gear, the dive mask, resembled a contemporary virtual reality headset, featuring solid construction and large viewing windows reminiscent of a fishbowl affixed to the face.
Although traditional dive masks are still being manufactured, a new trend has swiftly emerged in the market over the past few years: the low-volume mask. This term has become nearly ubiquitous in dive shops and is often highlighted as a key selling point. However, many divers find themselves perplexed by this phrase. What exactly does a low-volume dive mask entail? And, more importantly, what factors contribute to their growing popularity?
A low-volume mask is meticulously crafted to reduce the volume of air trapped inside the mask to a minimum.
In the past, low-volume masks were primarily utilized by freedivers and spearfishers, catering to their specific needs. In these sports, the term “low-volume” referred to a capacity of approximately 100 mL or less. However, as manufacturers adapted the mask design for SCUBA divers and snorkelers, the definition of low-volume has become more flexible. Nowadays, low-volume generally indicates a mask that sits closely to the face, sometimes referred to as low-profile. To differentiate them from other models, masks targeted specifically at freedivers and spearfishers often bear the descriptors “ultra-low-volume” or “micro mask”.
What is the purpose of a low-volume dive mask?
Low-volume dive masks serve a variety of purposes and offer benefits to different types of divers. They are particularly well-suited for those who need to conserve their breath during dives or prefer masks that are easy to clear. While freedivers and spearfishers primarily enjoy these advantages, the appeal of low-volume masks extends to SCUBA divers and casual snorkelers as well.
Freediving and spearfishing:
In the realm of breath-hold sports, low-volume masks are indispensable because they require minimal air to equalize at greater depths. Freedivers and spearfishers can dive up to 50m (in some case more!) underwater solely relying on their breath-holding ability. As the water pressure increases with depth, the air volume inside the mask compresses. This compression can lead to mask squeeze, a type of barotrauma. To prevent this, divers need to equalize the air space within the mask by exhaling through their nose. With a low-volume dive mask, there is less airspace to equalize, minimizing the amount of precious breath expended on this necessary task. In fact, ultra-low-volume masks or micro masks can have internal air volumes as low as 75 mL. Some individuals seeking to maximize their breath-hold have even discovered ways to modify their masks, reducing their volumes to as little as 20-50 mL. In the past, freedivers would employ similar techniques by incorporating special inserts into their masks to decrease their volume.
Is a low-volume mask the best choice for me?
In my opinion if you are regularly diving more than 10m then a low-volume mask will be a better choice. Although the field of view is limited compared with a higher volume mask, the fact that you will not experience any discomfort through your descent is a total game changer and is essential for relaxation.