Did you know the purge valve was once a standard feature on almost all dive masks? In the early days of SCUBA when dive masks looked more like fishbowls, purge valves were a popular mechanism. That’s because these vintage masks were characterized by high internal volumes and no molded nose pocket. The skirts on these masks were also made of natural rubber, not the soft silicone modern masks use. All these factors meant purge valves were a big help for clearing the dive mask.
What is a purge valve on a dive mask?
A purge valve is a simple mechanism on the nose pocket of a dive mask that helps you clear water from inside the mask. In modern dive masks, the purge valve is usually a small silicone flap that only opens when you exhale with your nose. This “one-way flow” design is almost the same as a snorkel purge valve. You can expel any water that has collected inside the mask just by exhaling with your nose.
Purge valves on dive masks: Pros and Cons
Though purge valves were once a common feature on dive masks, today they are quite rare.
Many divers debate whether or not purge valves are even useful anymore. Given how much the design of the dive mask has changed since the early days, some would argue that the purge valve is obsolete at best. At worst, it adds needless complexity to the dive mask; just another mechanism that has the potential to break and render the mask useless.
However, there are other divers who still swear by them. Whether it’s because they prefer a more vintage style of mask, or because their mustache makes their mask prone to leaks, some folks appreciate the easier mask clearance that purge valves offer.
Advantages of mask purge valves
The main advantage of the dive mask purge valve is that it can make clearing the mask of water easier. Specifically, you can clear a purge valve mask without using your hands.
Mask clearance is the skill of expelling water from inside the mask while underwater. With modern dive masks, you clear them by gently exhaling from your nose while holding the skirt at the sides of your face. The silicone skirt on most masks is supple enough that exhaling with your nose will force water out under the skirt below your nose (along with the air bubbles of your exhalation). With practice, mask clearance is a skill that any diver can master if they’re using a quality dive mask.
However, new divers often hate mask clearance exercises with a passion. Flooding your mask and clearing it are unpleasant sensations even at the best of times, after all!
A purge valve in the mask removes some of the hassle and awkwardness of mask clearance. You don’t need to hold the mask skirt at the sides of your face and you don’t need to worry about the angle of your face. To clear a regular mask, you may need to angle your head upwards slightly (although I’ve found this isn’t always necessary). A purge valve allows you to clear your mask hands-free in almost any position.
Purge valves may also be useful for you if:
- You prefer a high-volume or vintage style mask
- You don’t want to shave your beard or mustache
- You’re a photographer, researcher, or someone who does any underwater activity that keeps your hands busy
- You wear hard contact lenses that you wouldn’t want to lose by clearing the mask should one of them pop out
As someone who prefers low-volume masks and who doesn’t have facial hair, I can’t really speak to the first two personally. My mask is so easy to clear already I can’t imagine a purge valve adding much benefit. However, vintage-style masks do look cool and it might be fun to try one at some point. Perhaps I’ll appreciate the purge valve more on one of those! As for hair, I’d much rather do what I can to keep it away from my mask than deal with leaks, purge valve or no.
Related Post: No-Leak Dive Mask, How To Get a Perfect Seal
If you wear contact lenses that you don’t want to lose if one accidentally pops out, then a purge valve could save it. The purge valve will catch your contact lens when you clear your mask. With a regular mask, you could risk flushing your contact lens out to sea when you clear it.
To me, it seems the purge valve is most useful for divers using any kind of equipment that keeps their hands occupied. Photographers and videographers would be the most obvious examples. Scientists and researchers taking samples, measurements, or working in underwater construction might also find purge valve masks useful. I’ve done scientific research as a snorkeler and diver, though, and didn’t have any issues with mask clearance. I feel that if you find a mask that fits you well, you won’t need to clear it much anyways.
Disadvantages of mask purge valves
There are two main disadvantages to purge valves on dive masks: 1) They can make the nose pinch more difficult, and 2) they can fail.
Modern dive masks have silicone skirts with a fully molded nose pocket. In older style dive masks, your nose sits inside the cylindrical interior of the mask. There would be a small pocket on either side of your nose for your fingers to do a nose pinch. The modern design is arguably much more accessible, especially given that high-grade silicone skirts are also very soft. Ear equalization is perhaps a diver’s most essential skill, so any innovation that makes doing so easier is a win.
Even though purge valves on modern masks are designed to be minimal and unobtrusive, they can still add some extra rigidity to the nose pocket. Not only can this interfere with the nose pinch, but it can also make the mask less comfortable in the nose area.
Purge valves on dive masks, just like on snorkels, also add extra complexity to a simple, tried-and-true design. That means even if they are very well designed, purge valves add a potential weak area to the dive mask. Valves can jam or fail on occasion, especially if you don’t take the time to clean them carefully after use. This is the same reason some folks prefer not to use dry or semi-dry snorkels.
Related Post: Wet vs. Dry Snorkels, What’s the Difference?
Is a dive mask with a purge valve right for you?
Ultimately, whether a dive mask with a purge valve is something you should consider comes down to personal preference.
If what you read about them sounds appealing, go with your gut and give one a try! Maybe a friend has a purge mask they swear by that you could borrow? If you’ve long struggled with leaky masks, then a purge valve might finally make the difference between an irritating and a comfortable dive. However, if you’ve never had issues with mask clearance and you’ve been able to solve leak problems, then it might be best to stick with regular masks.
If you’re a new SCUBA diver, then I would advise learning and practicing mask clearance without a purge valve. Why? Because if you continue with SCUBA, you may not always have access to a purge mask. If your mask fails underwater and you need to use a spare, chances are it won’t have a purge valve. Purge masks can also habituate new diving students into regularly exhaling with their nose. This is a recipe for lots of leaking if they need to switch to a regular mask. Once you’re confident with mask clearance, then you can switch to a purge valve to spoil yourself!
Personally, I find purge valves kind of gimmicky. But I also admit that I’m biased towards low-profile minimalist masks (and snorkels)! What I find gimmicky just might be your treasure!
The most important thing about a dive mask is that it fits you well. If your perfect mask happens to have a purge valve, then so what?
Quality dive masks with reliable purge valves
So you’ve decided you want a dive mask with a purge valve? Here are a few top-rated options from Leisure Pro (my favorite dive shop).
1. Best Overall: Scubapro Crystal VU-Plus Mask with Purge
- Price range: $$$
- Window style: Full faceplate with side windows (3 windows total)
- Ideal face shape: Average to large faces; smaller faces should be fine so long as they aren’t also quite narrow
- Available colors: Clear skirt with solid black frame; blue, red, or yellow accents on frame
- Special features: Optical-quality low-tint glass for superb light transmittance and visual clarity; push-button swivel buckles for easy adjustment
- Other notes: Purge valve is very reliable if cleaned well but can feel uncomfortable against the nose on some faces
2. Budget-conscious: XS Scuba Fusion Purge Mask
- Price range: $$
- Window style: Full faceplate with side windows (3 windows total)
- Ideal face shape: Average to large faces
- Available colors: Clear skirt with black, blue, or yellow frame; all-black skirt and frame
- Special features: Easy-adjust buckles, durable polycarbonate frame, higher volume feels more spacious and can help folks prone to claustrophobia (especially with a clear skirt)
- Other notes: Purge valve may feel large on smaller faces. Folks with smaller noses may have more difficulty with the nose pinch
3. Vintage style: Aqua Lung Pacifica One-Window Purge Mask
- Price range: $$$
- Window style: Full faceplate (one window)
- Ideal face shape: Suits a wide range of face shapes
- Available colors: All-black skirt and frame
- Special features: High volume design and full faceplate offer a wide, unobstructed field of view; finger pockets allow for a two-handed nose pinch; very sturdy build
- Other notes: This mask is a favorite among commercial divers, some of whom have used this mask on hundreds of dives. If you find most modern low-profile masks uncomfortable, this could be exactly what you’re looking for! The two-handed nose pinch may take some getting used to, though
Summary: Dive masks with purge valves
- Purge valves in dive masks allow for hands-free clearance of water inside the mask
- Dive masks with purge valves are an option for folks who struggle with mask clearance and leaky masks
- Purge masks may also be useful for divers whose hands are often occupied (photographers, researchers, etc.)
- The major downsides of purge valves are that they can interfere with nose pinch equalization and can leak if not kept clean
- Ultimately, the most important thing about a mask is that it fits you well, whether or not it has a purge valve
How do you feel about dive masks with purge valves? Any major pros or cons I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!
More mask reading
How to Choose a Mask and Snorkel That Suits Your Face and Ability
What to Look For in a Dive Mask (Top 5 Quality Indicators)
What is a Low-Volume Mask? They’re Not Just For Freedivers!
No-Leak Dive Mask: How to Get a Perfect Seal
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Sky O. says
I bought my first mask and snorkel from someone leaving the island (Okinawa) for $10 in 1985. The mask is the Aqualung pig nose purge valve with black rubber skirt. It is extremely comfortable. In the 90’s I began diving and tried other “normal style” masks but they were very uncomfortable on my very high bridged nose as well as under my nose. I’ve had corrective nasal surgery and seem to be very sensitive at the very base of my nose. So the ugly pig nose works great for me, no problem pinching my nose. If I didn’t apply enough anti-fog juice, it’s easy enough to flood the mask, give a little shake to move the water across the glass then use the purge valve to clear. I even bought a more up to date style that has a purge valve, but it had a nose pocket and pulled up against the bottom of my nose. So I carry it with me as a back-up mask. I’ve been made fun of for wearing the antique mask but I don’t care – it’s comfortable. The mask was still going strong for me in 2005 – not bad for $10. It’s been packed away since then due to a series of unfortunate events but I’m getting ready to pull my gear out and take a refresher course, hopefully with my faithful pig nose mask. If not I will purchase another Aqualung pig nose mask.
Sarah Dungan says
Thank you for sharing your experiences with the Aqualung purge mask! And you’re right; the most important thing in a mask is fit and comfort. I can certainly see how the “antique” style full window would be a better option for folks with a high bridge, not to mention under-nose sensitivity. There’s a reason Aqualung still makes the “pig-nose” model after all; it is still an appealing option for many people. I personally think the more “retro” look is kind of cool anyways!
Purge valves do have their place commercial diving. Using a water jet, paddle scraper etc. letting go can be dangerous and stop your work. A purge valve lets you clear hands free. Remember most of the time your in near zero visibility, Example I worked for 30 minutes on a hull with a half flooded mask, because it was easy to just keep going and getting bumped hard a ton as I was clearing a shaft. One thing you need to know sport diving is that your exhaled air is moist and heated, so using many purge valves ends in a super fogged mask. Back in the day there was a pro purge mask with a wiper, though it was a cool idea and it never sold.
Sarah Dungan says
Very good point about the hands-free clearing benefit, and the down-side of fog build-up from exhaling (wow, I’m now picturing a mask with mini car wipers on the inside glass quietly squeaking as they slide back-and-forth 😂)! Thank you for commenting and sharing a bit about how purge valves can be useful for commercial divers too!