Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best snorkel vests

Snorkel vests are flotation devices that can prevent dangerous situations out on the water. They can also make your snorkeling trip a more successful, memorable experience.

While some people choose to snorkel near shore, there’s much more to see out in deeper water. That’s where coral and seagrass grow, where smaller fish come to find shelter, and where larger fish come to hunt for smaller fish. But unless you’re an expert swimmer, you could run out of steam before you’re ready to head home. An inflatable snorkel vest can help you conserve your energy and enjoy longer snorkeling trips. Some snorkelers use life jackets to keep them afloat, but their extreme buoyancy can make it challenging to keep your eyes looking toward the ocean floor. With a snorkel vest, you can adjust the buoyancy.

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Never snorkel alone, even when using a snorkel vest.

Key considerations

Shape and style

  • Horse collar vests: Horse collar vests are made of one continuous piece of material with a hole for your head. You place it over the head and around the neck, and keep it in place with straps that connect around the waist and under the crotch. Once you have the vest on, you inflate it by blowing into the valve. The vest adds buoyancy to your toso and at the back of the neck.

    Horse collar snorkel vests best fit customers with average body proportions; people who have a larger chest or abdomen may find the inflated vest awkward. The straps may also be too short to accommodate some proportions. If you find one that fits your body shape, the crotch strap helps to keep this style in place better than other vest styles. Some people dislike this style, however, because it completely encircles the neck and can’t be removed quickly without deflating it first.

  • Jacket vests: These snorkel vests fit over the arms and shoulders like a coat, and fasten in the front with buckles or zippers. Like horse collar vests, these should be inflated once the vest is on. Good vests have an inflation valve that is easy to reach even when you’re wearing the vest. Some jacket vests include an air pocket across the back of the neck, but others only inflate at the torso. Vests that inflate behind the neck can keep your nose and mouth out of the water in an emergency.

    Since they fasten in the front, jacket vests may be easier for larger customers to use and adjust. If you choose a jacket vest, look for models that include a crotch strap. Otherwise, the vest may ride up, blocking your view and keeping you higher in the water. Customers who want to be able to get out of their vest quickly may also prefer the type that fastens in front.

Weight limit

Snorkel vests come in many sizes, from child to tall adult. Wearing a one-size-fits-most vest may detract from your experience, especially for anyone at the lower end of the weight range. Vests that come in different sizes may give you a better fit, but make sure you check your vest’s weight limit before you buy. Properly sized vests are almost unnoticeable in the water, while wearing a vest that’s the wrong size can put a damper on your trip.

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Did you know?
Most snorkel vests inflate and deflate in 10 to 15 seconds.

Snorkel vest features


A brightly colored snorkel vest makes it easier for others to spot you in the water, an advantage for many reasons. Many coastal areas require snorkelers to use dive flags to alert boaters to their presence, but it’s never a bad idea to make yourself even more visible. A fluorescent-colored vest is also easier for rescue officials to spot in an emergency. Finally, those in your snorkeling party will be able to find you more easily in murky water or under overcast skies.


Storing personal items can be a major concern when snorkeling. Some vests are outfitted with pockets to hold keys, money, and other small items. Some pockets zip; others are made with mesh and close using drawstrings. Measure to make sure your personal items will fit, and never store electronics like key fobs or phones in a vest pocket unless you’re sure that it’s waterproof.

Quick-release valve

You should always start your snorkeling session with a fully inflated vest, but you might want to release air quickly to dive after a sea turtle or eel. With some vests, you’re out of luck. Others let you quickly release air to rapidly decrease your buoyancy. If your skills and snorkel mask allow for this option, look for a vest that lets you make the most of both.

UV protection

The front of your vest should be made from tear-proof, durable materials like PVC, canvas, and polyester, but many quality vest backs are coated in neoprene or other UV-resistant fabric. This helps protect your neck and upper back from harmful UV rays while you’re mask-down in the water. These body parts are notoriously hard to reach effectively with sunscreen, and every little bit of coverage helps.


Some vests have reflective strips that can increase your visibility in the water in case of low light or emergencies.

A storage bag can help keep your vest safe from tears and punctures, especially if you’re packing it for a flight or cruise.

Snorkel vest prices

Inexpensive: You can find budget snorkel vests priced between $12 and $15. At this price point are horse collar vests that likely lack pockets or other value-added features. These are one-size-fits-most vests rather than specific sizes or colors. Many can support up to 220 pounds.

Mid-range: These snorkel vests cost $16 to $25 and come in a variety of colors, although they aren’t likely to come in different sizes. Most have a horse collar design, although you’ll find front-fastening models at the upper end of this price range. Some may have reflective strips or small pockets. These vests can support up to 250 pounds.

Expensive: The best snorkel vests range in price from $30 to $100. Most come in specific sizes, so prices can vary by size because these jackets use higher-quality materials. High-end vests may fasten in front or be the horse collar style. Many include pockets and may feature UV blocking and warming or reflective materials that improve your comfort and safety.

Expert Tip


  • Check to see if any pockets are waterproof before using them. Vest pockets may be safe for standard car keys but may not protect electronic key fobs from water.

  • Go light. If you’re packing your vest for a flight, look for a horse collar style that weighs next to nothing and folds down to the size of a small book.

  • Add a whistle. It’s a good idea to attach a whistle to your vest strap in case of emergency.

Other products we considered

We stand by our top picks in the matrix above, but if you’re looking for a front-fastening snorkel jacket, we like the looks of the Rrtizan Snorkel Vest. It zips shut and fits users who weigh from 80 to 220 pounds. It folds down smaller than the novel you’re packing for your beach vacation, so it won’t take up much space in your suitcase. Dedicated snorkelers looking for a high-end option should check out the Wildhorn Outfitters Jetty Inflatable Snorkel Vest. It’s highly adjustable and comes in a variety of sizes, with buckles at the waist to fit every body type. The vest’s unique design keeps you upright but easily accommodates snorkeling in a prone position.

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While a snorkel vest can help you float, it does not qualify as a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device. It cannot be counted as a PFD for legal purposes on a boat.


Q. Do I really need a snorkel vest?

A. If you’re doing anything beyond shoreline snorkeling, you should wear a snorkeling vest. Once you’re in water over your head, conditions can change quickly. Currents can shift, winds and chop can increase, and sea creatures can be unpredictable, too. Without some flotation device, there’s little you can do to adjust. Many factors can change without warning, and a snorkel vest leaves you in a much better position to respond. You can always let air out of your vest if necessary, but you can’t inflate a vest if you’re not wearing one in the first place.

Q. How much should I inflate my vest when I start snorkeling?

A. It’s best to inflate your vest fully and then adjust it later if necessary. Many people enter the water without blowing up their vest, planning to inflate it later if needed. Once you’re tired of constant swimming, or you’re having trouble staying afloat, it’s time to inflate your vest. Many situations can get dangerous quickly. We recommend blowing up your vest fully before getting into the water, then letting air out if you’re too buoyant or if you want to dive deeper later.

Q. I already own a life jacket? Do I need a snorkel vest, too?

A. Life jackets and snorkel vests serve different purposes. Snorkel vests don’t qualify as personal floatation devices, so if you’re taking a boat out to your snorkeling spot, you’ll need to have a life jacket, too. But once you’re in the water, a snorkel vest has many advantages. Snorkel vests make it easy to lie prone in the water, while a life jacket pushes you vertically, making it hard to see the ocean floor. It’s hard to dive below the surface wearing a life jacket, but you can adjust your buoyancy with a snorkel vest. And if the water’s choppy, a life jacket forces you to bob at the surface, which can lead to sea sickness.

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