What to Pack for a Snorkeling Trip

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I love to snorkel but I live in Arizona. So for me, going snorkeling means packing everything up and heading off to some faraway land. The task of packing used to cause me a fair amount of stress, but now I think I pretty much have it down to a science. Here’s what I pack for a snorkeling trip.

pack for a snorkeling trip

What to pack for a snorkeling trip will depend on where you’re going, what type of snorkeling you’ll be doing and how lightly you need to pack. Image credit: Greg Todd

Snorkel, Mask and Fins

If you’re not an avid snorkeler or if you prefer to pack lightly, you may choose to rent your basic snorkeling equipment when you reach your destination. Many snorkeling tour operators will also provide you with these items. (Their website usually tells you if this is the case.) But if you want to ensure that you have equipment that fits and is in good repair, I advise taking your own. You can get a decent set that includes all three pieces for about $70US. That sure beats getting stuck with a leaky mask or fins that don’t fit.

pack for a snorkeling trip

By taking your own fins you can be assured of a good fit. However, they do take up a lot of room in your suitcase. You may choose to just rent them at your snorkeling destination. Image credit: Greg Todd

Biodegradable Sunscreen and High SPF Lip Balm

Sunscreen and lip protection are self-explanatory, but let’s take a minute to talk about reef and ocean health. The chemicals and oils in regular sunscreens pollute the water and can actually kill coral. Be a conscientious traveler and take time before your trip to find biodegradable sunscreen (it can be difficult to find). Some national aqua parks actually require it and will confiscate lotions that are not biodegradable.

Swim Towel

Bulky beach towels are not practical to pack for a snorkeling trip. Chances are they’ll get soaked on the beach or boat and won’t be of any use anyway. For under $20 you can get an ultra-absorbent chamois swim towel that folds up as small as your fist.

Swimsuit, Cover-Up and Rashguard Shirt

You’ll obviously pack a swimsuit and some sort of cover up, but I also highly recommend investing in a good quality rashguard shirt with high SPF protection. When you snorkel, your upper back and shoulders are constantly out of the water. Even if you have a good tan or have slathered on a ton of sunscreen, you’re likely to burn in this area. Wearing a rashguard shirt virtually eliminates that risk.

pack for a snorkeling trip

Even if you have a fantastic tan and use lots of sunscreen, a rashguard shirt will provide further protection against sunburn. Image credit: Greg Todd

Water Shoes

If snorkeling in shallow water, fins may be prohibited due to possible coral damage. There may also be times when you have to walk a few yards into the water to board the snorkeling boat. So when you pack for a snorkeling trip don’t forget your water shoes.

Mesh Bag

If you’re going to be doing any shore access snorkeling you may want to consider getting a cheap mesh bag with long handles that you can wear like a backpack while you’re snorkeling. I use it for my water shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen so I’m not constantly worrying about them being stolen from the beach while I’m in the water.

pack for a snorkeling trip

Instead of worrying about your sunglasses and water shoes getting stolen when you’re shore access snorkeling, try this trick. Use a mesh bag as a backpack and take your valuables with you in the water. Image credit: Greg Todd

Underwater Camera

This isn’t a must-take item, but if you don’t have one you’ll probably regret it. Like a lot of techy items prices have come down in recent years and they’re very affordable now.

Zippered Beach Bag and Waterproof Wallets

Taking a beach bag is obvious but the best ones will have a zipper to allow you to completely close the top. I’d also suggest getting a couple waterproof wallets for your cash, room key and credit cards. You can even put your watch or cell phone in them, but be sure you get a high quality product and know how to close it properly so it doesn’t leak.

Mask Defogger

Some snorkeling tour operators provide this … some don’t. I carry a small bottle of gel that I’ve had for years! If you don’t want to buy any you can make your own for nearly nothing. Just dilute liquid dish soap or baby shampoo half and half with water. You can also just use your spit, but for me, that technique doesn’t last long and I’m continually having to “reapply!”

Diving Gloves

Some areas prohibit the use of diving gloves because they tend to make snorkelers and divers be less conscientious about not touching the coral. But when they’re allowed, I wear them. I’ve had my fingers bitten by aggressive fish before and that’s not fun.

Cheap Sunglasses

When I leave my hotel room for a snorkeling trip I leave my good sunglasses in the room safe and take a cheap pair of the drug store variety with me. Beach bags get thrown around or sat on all the time on a snorkeling boat so you don’t want to risk getting your good shades lost, stolen or broken.

Hat and Hair Ties

You’ll need a hat with a decent sized brim to protect you from the sun on the boat. I recommend one that ties under the chin so it doesn’t blow off in the wind. Then, regardless of being male or female, if your hair is long enough to put in a ponytail – do it. There’s nothing more annoying than hair floating around in front of your face interfering with your snorkeling view.

Large Water Bottle

Even if the tour operator says they provide water, I suggest taking your own large bottle. That way you’ll have plenty to rinse the salt out of your mouth after each snorkel in addition to keeping well hydrated.

Things You Could Pack for a Snorkeling Trip, but I Don’t
  • Wide-Toothed Comb – For combing your wet hair when you’re finished snorkeling.
  • Wet wipes – To clean the salt from your face and hands.
  • Rain Jacket – To protect against (cold) ocean spray on your way to and from your snorkeling sites.
pack on a snorkeling trip

When considering what to pack for a snorkeling trip, you’ll need to know which essentials (from the photo above) you can access at your destination and which you’ll definitely need to take yourself. Image credit: Greg Todd


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57 thoughts on “What to Pack for a Snorkeling Trip

  1. Jolynn

    I love this. Great tips. David and I went snorkeling a couple of times in the Bahamas but we haven’t done it for years. This makes me want to go again. Thank you.

  2. Marc

    Wow, a lot to pack. I have never done snorkeling but always wanted to to. I have a trip planned to Srilanka and I am snorkeling. Thanks for the post and the info.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Marc – Keep in mind that I am an avid snorkeler who has all of her own equipment. As I mention in the post, a lot of it should be available at your destination. I haven’t snorkeled Sri Lanka yet … please let me know how it is!!

  3. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    That is a great list. I can’t swim, so I will never be on a snorkeling trip, but this will help people who are planning one.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      That’s too bad, Robin. But believe it or not, I’ve done some fantastic snorkeling in water only about four feet deep!

  4. Rachel

    What a great post! I haven’t ever been before but I’ve got a trip planned in May, and this is a great list to help me start collecting the stuff that I’ll need. Some of the equipment I’ll rent, but I think I’ll be picking up a lot of the stuff on this list, too!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Ana – It’s a wonderful sport that anyone can do. When I was in the Dominican Republic I saw a little five-year-old boy snorkeling in the open ocean.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Tara – The only people I have seen who don’t love snorkeling are those who panic at the thought of breathing underwater. If you can get past that mental hurdle, anyone can do it.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Debbie – A lot of this stuff you can do without. I just take it all because it makes my life easier … I always have what I need.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I used to as well! But I’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s just second nature to throw them in.

  5. Elizabeth O.

    I really miss going to the beach and I can’t remember the last time I went snorkeling. Thanks for the list, I hope I could use it later this year!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I’ll admit, Claudette … it was a little scary the first time I tried it. But after five minutes I was hooked!

  6. Shaylee

    I haven’t done a lot of snorkeling but I have been a couple times and these are all definitely necessities! I have also learned the hard way to bring some gravol with me for the boat ride over haha

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Amy – Don’t let it overwhelm you. Many of these items can be rented. And if you won’t be going shore snorkeling, some of them won’t be necessary at all.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Tiffany – Buy yourself an inexpensive mask and snorkel and give it a go in your bathtub … honestly! Once you get over the panic of taking your first few breaths with your head under water, you’ll be good to go!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Absolutely, Marianne! In the US, the islands off the Gulf Coast of Florida are good for beginners, and in Mexico there are many places with sheltered harbors or lagoons. Xel-Ha outside of Cancun is a great place. The turtle farm on Grand Cayman also has a pool with turtles and fish that you can snorkel in. Anywhere where the water is relatively shallow and protected from waves would be good for beginners.

  7. Vi Dotter

    Great share – I do not know anything about packing for snorkeling, so I love the input of an experienced person. Funny how we know things to impart but it can be so difficult to recognize in ourselves. Thanks again!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Vi – That is so true! We are each unique databases full of eclectic knowledge without even realizing it.

  8. Derek Mcdoogle

    You mentioned that if you’re not an avid snorkeler or if you prefer to pack lightly, you may choose to rent your basic snorkeling equipment when you reach your destination. My sons have been waiting for our island vacation for a long time and they want to go snorkeling. Do most tour companies have specific places that they like to take tourists? Hiring a snorkeling tour might be a good option.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Derek – Yes, most companies do have specific places they take tourists. They will also generally have alternate places in case the water is too rough at their regular sites. Unless you have access to an area where the snorkeling is good (and safe) right off a beach, I recommend using a tour company. And keep in mind, since there will be at least three of you, you may be able to negotiate a little discount.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I never pack for any trip without a list. I usually take a bunch of stuff I don’t use, but that’s far better than having to search for it (and pay higher prices) when I’m on vacation!

  9. Finley Moreira

    My wife and I would love to go on a snorkeling tour, but we haven’t ever been before. It was really interesting to me how you mentioned that sunscreen that isn’t biodegradable can actually have a very negative impact on coral and overall ocean life. We’ll be sure to find biodegradable sunscreen so that we can protect our skin as well as the ocean we’ll be snorkeling in.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I don’t know where you’re from, Finley, but you can actually snorkel at a few places in the US. South Florida and San Diego are a couple. It’s not as good as in the Caribbean or Oceania, but it might be a good first outing for you and your wife. Good luck!

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