Your fins are your main means of locomotion while you are snorkeling. They come in different sizes, shapes, lengths, materials and designs all of which come into play when you are deciding which ones suit your needs. Water temperature, comfort, fit and convenience are also going to be factors in your decision making process. There are some cold water styles, but since most snorkeling is done in warmer water environments, we will be focusing mainly on the temperate to warm water fins. In years past, it used to be pretty simple to select warm water snorkeling fins because they were only available in a non-adjustable full foot slip on styles that were worn bare footed. You will still see this style today but another design has since been introduced which is an open heel adjustable fin. You would also wear these with bare feet. The one thing you should be aware of with regard to both styles is that most of them do not work well if you have wide feet. In your research, take into account the distinguishing features of each style. These differences will be found in either the foot pocket or blade areas.
Taking your fins with you to your snorkeling destination never really used to be an issue. You simply packed them in your car or luggage and went on your way. Traveling with your fins is still not an issue if you are lucky enough to use land based modes of transportation. Air travel, however, has changed. The airline industry has been continually imposing stricter rules and regulations with regard to your luggage. Size, weight and number of allowable bags. These rules have caused travelers to re-think packing as well as what they will and will not bring. Taking your traditional length fins has now become a concern. Fin manufacturers have provided an excellent solution by introducing more travel friendly styles. The travel design fin has an overall length ranging from 15 to 23 inches and the weight ranges per pair are from just under 2 pounds to just under 4 pounds. You will find that they are easy to pack in your check-in luggage or you could even put them in your carry-on bag.
Reducing the length of the fins does have an affect on the amount of thrust you will get while you are kicking, but some companies have addressed this issue by making the blades a bit more rigid and even wider to compensate for the reduced thrust. The travel design should be used in areas that are suitable for snorkeling and are not intended for areas with strong currents or heavy surf conditions. Our favorites based on performance and price are the Oceanic Accel (pictured above left), the US Divers Trek and National Geographic Fit Fins. In addition to working well in open water environments, you will find that they are great additions to any pool fitness swimming. Please note that in your research you will see fins specifically designed for this activity. The blades are much shorter than the swim designs and are not intended for use in open water snorkeling environments.
This style of fin has a long history in the sport. The difference between this and the travel design is basically the length of the blade which make the can range from 24 to 26 inches. This measurement includes the foot pocket. The longer length of the blade does have a direct correlation to the thrust capability and the effort you need while kicking will also increase. Designers have compensated by using more flexible materials in the blades themselves which reduces some of the effort. Traditional length are suitable for a wider range of water conditions from calm to semi-choppy and in areas with mild to moderate currents. You will see some styles out there lengths greater than 26 inches but these are more for the professional free diver and should not be used for casual snorkeling.
With regard to the fin blades, you will see a wide variety of styles but you should be aware that they will fall into two distinct categories which are either the paddle or the split designs. You can explore these differences in our What are Split Fins article.CLOSED HEEL OR FULL FOOT
The closed heel is often referred to as a full foot or slipper style and is designed along the same lines as a slip-on shoe. It is worn bare footed and offers no thermal insulation which is why it is designated as a warm water design for use is tropical to temperate waters. The material used in the foot pocket is flexible for more comfort. They are sold by shoe size but, unlike shoes, will accommodate a one size difference. If you wear a size 9 shoe, then the fin would be marked a 9-10. At this point you also need to know that all fins are made and marked in male sizing. If you are needing the female size equivalents, they are all listed in our sizing charts. Those of you who have wider than average feet may also have issues with the closed heel styling as the foot pockets are built to accommodate widths that are most common for the foot length of each size offered. People with high arches may find issue with the closed heel design, this may be due to the part of the pocket that covers the top of the foot which is, again, designed for the average foot. The pocket may cause stress by pushing downward making the fit uncomfortable. But please read the description of the closed heel design listing before you purchase to see if the foot pocket is generous in sizing.STRAP OR OPEN HEEL
The open heel design is one that was originally designated as a cold water style which required the use of additional footwear in order to be used. The design of the foot pocket included an adjustable strap which allows for a more customized fit, but the foot pocket portion was usually made of a more rigid material. Wearing wet suit boots, water shoes or neoprene socks was required to prevent chaffing and irritation caused by the rigid material in the foot pocket on bare feet. Though known as cold water fins, these are also suitable for warm water use as well but appropriate footwear is needed. Common names for this style are strap, cold water, pocket and open pocket.
There is a warm water design that has been introduced which has been becoming increasingly popular with snorkelers. In this design you will notice that the foot pocket uses the same flexible material as is found in the full foot design. This is still a strap design but like the full foot is designed to be worn on bare feet. Having an adjustable heel strap means that the size range for a particular pair will be more generous than the full foot style. This is great if you are looking for someone whose feet are still growing. Be aware that there may be width issues as these are mostly engineered for average foot widths of your bare foot. These will not accommodate wetsuit boots or water shoes but may allow for the lycra or neoprene socks because they have no soles on them. You will see the bare foot strap fins more with the travel design than you will with the traditional length style.
There are also features that may or may not necessarily improve performance but for the most part are for convenience and added comfort. These are found with the open heel/strap fin styles. Easy to replace fin straps and quick release buckles would be some examples for you to consider. While you will see replacement straps that are labeled as universal or generic, this is usually not the case when you actually try to use them as replacements. Manufacturers tend to make their strap systems a bit more unique to avoid any patent infringements. If your decision is to purchase strap styles, it is wise to make sure that proper replacement straps are available should the need arise. Lycra socks are also an option to consider. These are used with the barefoot style and though they add no thermal insulation they are great for those with that are sensitive to rubber based products. Neoprene socks will add a measure of insulation which will help to slow down heat loss from your feet but they do require a little extra room to be available in the foot pocket. They should not be used with the full foot fins because of this. When choosing your pair it ultimately comes down to comfort and fit but knowing the differences in styles as well as how they are designed to perform is also important. We hope that we have educated you a bit but remember that our staff is there to answer questions that you might have.
By Roy Jamason
Updated Sept. 5, 2015