Choosing the Right Scuba or Snorkeling Fins

Choosing Scuba & Snorkeling FinsFins you say?  Any fin?  Not so fast!

I believe fins are perhaps the single most underrated piece of scuba gear.  Choosing the right scuba or snorkeling fins can be an overwhelming task.  We all understand the importance of having a good scuba regulator, for respiratory reasons right?  What about scuba fins?

Admittedly, I’ve been fortunate.  As a child, my dad outfitted me with equipment from his dive store.  Today, owning and running Seal Sports (my own dive store), I’ve had a lifetime of diving and have worked with every type of equipment for diving that is on the market.  Still, there was a time that I tended to overlook the scuba fins’ importance, as many people do today.

I can think of many situations over the years that educated me in the importance of having a good pair of fins, but here’s one example I think we all can relate to.  This particular story happened to be a bit of an eye opener for me.  About ten years ago, I was on a live-aboard, the Juliet, leading a sailing and diving trip through the Bahamas.  While on board, another scuba diver wanted to try my fins for a dive.  He wanted to see the difference between his scuba fin and mine.  So we switched fins for that dive.  Holy cow!  What a difference.  I was shocked at how adversely the fin affected my dive.  I was completely amazed by the difference.  All I could think about the whole dive was how this fin had to be affecting my dive buddy’s dives and he had no clue until now.  Upon surfacing from the dive, my buddy was equally amazed and ended up buying a new pair of fins after the dive trip ended.

As I mentioned earlier, I can see how one could easily shrug off the importance of scuba diving with a quality pair of scuba diving fins.  But, think about it… we’re underwater, breathing from a scuba tank that has a limited supply of air in it.  Owning a scuba fin that is designed in a way that relieves the stress of finning on the ankles, knees and hips, a fin that knifes through the water using various technologies to provide you with the greatest forward propulsion is important.  It results in a lower respiratory rate, so you breathe less air from your scuba tank.  All of which lends to a more relaxed and enjoyable dive.

How to Choose a Fin for Scuba Diving:

First, you need to decide what type of foot pocket design you want. There are two types of fins used in scuba diving and snorkeling, full-foot designs and open-heel/ adjustable fins.  Each has its own special purpose and works best for certain types of water activities.

Full-foot fins are essentially rubber or rubber-like shoes with fins attached.Full Foot Fin  They have a heel part and you simply step into them.  They are generally the most flexible and can be very comfortable, but you have to make sure they fit just right as there aren't any adjustments that can be made for a better fit.  Full-foot fins are primarily used for snorkeling and free-diving.  They are easy to put on and take off, and there is no need to wear booties.  One drawback is that the heel part can tear and that's the end of the fin.  Another drawback is the inability to wear the exposure protection, such as a pair of booties, on your feet.  The booties not only help keep your feet warm, but they also provide protection from the elements, like jellyfish, or protection for the soles of your feet during entry and exits into the water.  The booties also minimize any blistering that may be caused by slight slippage of your feet that can occur within the foot pocket.  Lastly, being size specific, only someone with that same size foot will be able to use the fin, minimizing the ability for other family members or friends to use them.

HotShot FinToday’s technology has enabled manufacturers to design very comfortable open heel fins that are still designed for the bare foot (for those diving in tropical warm waters and like the convenience), while still providing the adjustability of a fin strap.  These fins are smaller and lighter than the traditional adjustable fins making them great for travel.  The HotShot Fin by Aqua Lung pictured here is a great example of this.  This fin also features power-band technology that generates energy and great propulsion near the end of each fin cycle.  By incorporating such technologies you can reduce the blade size while minimizing the loss of efficiency.

Open Heel or Adjustable fins are more widely used for scuba diving.  They don't have a rubber heel built in.  Instead, there is an adjustable strap or a high grade stainless steel spring around the heel that keeps the foot in place.  Open heel fins are generally worn with diving booties which are pretty much mandatory when scuba diving in even moderately cool water.  This means that when you buy a set of adjustable scuba fins, you will need to try them on while wearing the neoprene boots or booties.

A big advantage to adjustable fins is that the straps can be replaced.  If a strap breaks,Open Heel Scuba Fin you don't lose the investment in a pair of fins.  Other advantages include the ability for a fin to fit a range of sizes.  I find that it’s not uncommon for someone to have one foot that is a slightly different size than the other.  The adjustability allows for this.  Open heel fins are generally more durable than full-foot fins, and they provide more thrust.  In order to do that, their blades are made using a number of various technologies and are usually larger, which are necessary to help push us through the water while wearing all of the additional dive gear we wear while scuba diving.  The foot pockets on these fins are oversized to accommodate the bootie worn on the foot.  The fin on the right is the Aqua Lung X Shot Fin, a new open heel fin offering technologies such as the Power Zone at the toe and an overall design that allows the power and thrust to be generated while minimizing stress on the ankles, knees and hips.

Fin design and technologies are your next concern when considering a fin purchase.  While all fins are designed to provide forward propulsion when snorkeling or scuba diving there are numerous designs and technologies to choose from.

At this stage it helps greatly to have an idea of your personal leg strength and aggressiveness as well as general use or type of diving you’ll be doing.  If you consider that your legs may not be as powerful as you’d like or perhaps you are suffering from a current or past injury of a leg, ankle, knee or hip then you might consider purchasing a fin that incorporates the Split-Fin technology.

Split Fin V-16 Scuba FinsThe nature of this design allows the split blade to give way during both the down and up stroke of your fin cycle reducing the amount of resistance felt through your lower extremities.  They produce a vortex-like effect that starts at the top of the split that speeds up and expands as it spins off the tips of the fin resulting in the energy to help propel you forward.  The split-fin design generally requires a bit of a shorter fin cycle than that of a traditional blade design for it to be most efficient.  On the flip side, if you power through the fin on a long fin stroke the fin lays open too far diminishing the effectiveness of the fin.  For example, a scuba diver who’s spearfishing and shoots a big fish… imagine how this split design will respond while the diver tries to rein the fish in.  The fin will lay open and not provide the resistance necessary to pull against the fish.  Therefore, the split-fin wouldn’t be the choice of fin for such activities.

One might consider a more traditional full blade design with today’s technologies ScubaPro SeaWing Nova Scuba Finincorporated into it making the fin lighter and more powerful with the right amount of blade stiffness and flex that fits the scuba diver’s strength and needs.  A good example of such fin technologies lies in the SeaWing Nova by ScubaPro pictured right.  You’ll notice this design has cut away much of the material between the end of the toes and the blade itself yet still allowing for a generous size surface area within the blade that cups (grabs) the water.  This results in one of the lightest fins in its class with huge power and control.

Hollis F1 Scuba FinsLet’s not forget that our fins are also our rudder in the water providing us control while scuba diving.  This need for control and directional propulsion brings me to another consideration when selecting a fin, which is your preferred method of finning.  For example, a cave or tec diver uses the frog kick technique to prevent the thrust of the fin from disrupting the silt on the bottom of a cave or ship wreck.  The wrong finning technique here could result in a no-viz situation on your way back out, so a fin similar to that of the F1 Fin from Hollis is designed well for this finning technique while providing foot pocket sizes that will accommodate a vulcanized rubber boot that might be attached to a drysuit that you’d wear on such a scuba dive.  Finally, there are fins designed by women, for women such as the Shot FX from Aqua Lung.  Fins designed for women make the selection process much easier if you find yourself in this gender.

Knowing how to choose a fin is essential.  The ability to glide effortlessly through the water as if you were meant to be there takes more than just some random fin.  It takes a combination of technology paired with your personal particulars to produce such efficiency, which results in a more relaxed and enjoyable overall diving or snorkeling experience.  I invite you to view the various fins in our online store and please allow us at Seal Sports to help you make an educated, one-time purchasing decision when it comes to your fins.  You’ll be glad you did!