Changing view with new generation masks

I wasn’t looking for a new dive mask when I sauntered into the Whitianga Dive Zone to deliver the latest Waterline mags. But I left with the best mask I’ve ever laid eyes on.

No one’s asked me to write this review; I just have to share my enthusiasm when I find products such as this, that really perform.

The Mares i3 Liquidskin.

It’s taken 50 years for this remarkable mask to find its way onto the front of my face, after decades of putting up with mediocre fit and dubious watertightness. From crusty old purge-valve dungers, to super low volume spearfishing specials, I’ve must have tried them all, with mixed success. Getting older and the odd face wrinkle hasn’t helped!

However Mares seem to have cracked it with this three-lens panoramic wonder.

It features moderate volume, a single lens across the width of the frame and butted glass side lenses each side. This means the field of view is vast, and the single main windscreen means there’s no distortion that is common with two-lens masks.  With the side panes it’s like wearing a bay window on your face.

The super soft silicone skirt is one of the few designs that fits my face well and doesn’t leak. The silicone closer to the frame is firmer, adding stability to the fit.

The side windows give an extra glimpse left and right, adding to the diver’s general peripheral awareness, alerted to movement and light changes in the far left and right quadrants.  It proved fatal for the moderate size kingie who appeared left of field on my first outing with the i3. Would I have spotted it with my old mask? Who knows, but the panoramic outlook must have helped.

It might not sound like a lot, but underwater it makes a huge difference to situational awareness and dramatically reduces that ‘tunnel vision’ effect of a dive mask.

I opted for the black silicone version, as I find the clear silicone allows too much distracting light entering the field of view, without offering any clear vision from those extreme angles.  The clear silicone is great for cruising around scenic snorkelling and looks flash with the colour range… but for hell-bent hunter-gatherers, the black skirt offers more focus, less distraction and better concealment.

The i3 proved one of the easiest of masks to equalise. Either the design, with small ribs around the nose or the softness of the silicone or both, means an easy nose pinch for those who need it.

I know many divers, especially those ‘advancing in years’ may be putting up with less than perfect masks, and some still persevere with the purge valves, believing that all masks leak and therefore you may as well have one with a blowhole in the bottom.  It’s like having a leaky boat and installing a bilge pump instead of fixing the hole. Well, that was my experience.  That has all changed and my diving is all the better for it.

I’d recommend the new Mares i3 is worth a try. Check them out at your local Dive Zone; there may be hire masks available for test driving.

And while you’re at it, check out the latest purge snorkels. They too have come a long way from the rattily gurglers of the old days. I slapped a new Mares Ergo onto my new mask (it would be rude not to) and found a new level of super-dry breathing to compliment the improved outlook.

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