Mares diving equipment -- snorkeling, SCUBA

To the outside observer, the foundational equipment from any sport — be it a bike tire, a canoe paddle or a snorkeling mask — appear unchanged from year to year. But anyone close to the sport sees the new designs, the incremental gains and every subtle product improvement manufacturers make.

I’ll have to admit to being in the former camp when it came to snorkeling equipment. The decade-old mask and fin setup I am used to did the job well enough, and I saw no need to investigate purchasing new gear.

Enter: Mares, an Italian manufacturer of snorkeling and diving gear. The company opened my eyes a bit by putting a pair of its Volo Race fins on my feet and a new X-Vision mask on my face for a test swim into the depths of a lake just a couple miles from my home.

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The Volo Race fins, which are mid-range flippers made for recreational diving and snorkeling, tackle an efficiency problem Mares says plagues many competing products. According to the company’s tests, traditional flippers push only a small portion of the water they move in the direction of motion, wasting a swimmer’s energy.

To overcome this inefficiency, the Volo Race fins are designed with alternating stiff and supple rubber channels the company says pushes water more consistently and accurately off the end of the fin.

Testing them out underwater, the fins did feel more reactive than the old set I’m used to. Both upward and downward kicks moved me evenly through the water.

On my face, Mares’ X-Vision mask provided nearly 180-degree peripheral vision with its oddly-angled lens. The fit was nice, too, as the X-Vision’s strap puts tension on the mask’s rubber skirt, not on the rigid frame like with most traditional models.

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The X-Vision mask adjusts easily with its push-button buckles. It weighs a mere 6 ounces and fits into a small pocket. For people with glasses, Mares can add corrective-vision lenses to the X-Vision’s glass.

Price: Volo Race fins, $89; X-Vision mask, $79.
Contact: Mares, 1-203-855-0631, http://www.divemares.com.

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