How to Choose the Best Scuba Fins
Fins or flippers, as they are also called, are some of the most important aids to swimming, snorkeling and diving. Once you have settled on a comfortable and efficient pair of fins, you will never want to be without them. Good scuba fins allow you to propel yourself through the water with a minimum expenditure of energy. This means that on a one tank dive you can stay below for longer and get around more comfortably. But how do you choose what fins are best when a visit to a scuba or dive store has on display dozens of different shapes and sizes?
There are two main criteria behind choosing a suitable scuba fin:
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect pair of fins and choosing them can be a very personal thing. Divers will discuss for hours what makes a good design and what sort of materials should be used. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice comfort for efficiency and vice versa. It all depends on where you are going to do most of your diving, how serious you are as a diver and how much you are going to dive.
Diving in warm water
If you are going to spend most of your dive experiences in the tropics, where the water is usually warm most of the time full foot fins may be the best choice, especially if you are a beginner diver. With full fins, your whole foot fits into the fin and there are no straps used to keep the fin tight. The reason why these fins are better suited to warmer water is that they are almost impossible to wear with dive boots. They are almost always used with bare feet or possibly, at the most, with dive socks. That means they are less useful and certainly less comfortable in colder water where dive boots are often mandatory.
The other disadvantage of full fins is that they are hard to use if you have to approach a dive site where the surface is rough or rocky. Because you are not wearing boots and only have bare feet, this can be an uncomfortable experience!
Full fins are often a perfect choice for snorkelers, where efficiency is less important. Full foot fins are generally cheaper, less robust and less powerful than the open heel fins described next.
Diving in colder water
Most divers opt for open heel fins when diving in colder water. These work by enclosing only part of the foot in the fin and then holding them in with a strong strap around the heel. Because of the open design they are much better designed for wearing a protective neoprene dive boot. If you are going to spend much time diving in colder water, you will need dive boots to cut down on thermal loss, which is surprisingly great at the extremities like the feet.
Even if you dive in the tropics or sub tropics, not all the water is bathtub temperature. It can get surprisingly cool in the water in the tropics, sometimes because of cool currents and sometimes because the best time for diving is in the ‘winter’ dry season when the air temperature is coolest.
It takes time to decide which open heel fin to buy because the variation in strap design and rigidity varies more than for full foot fins.
Split fins or paddle fins?
This is another choice and again it depends on how you dive and your personal preferences. Split fins are fins that have been literally split in two along the length of the fin’s blade. They provide a more flexible action and many divers find them a more comfortable fin to use as they put less pressure on your leg muscles and knees. They work with a different leg motion, based on a faster, but more effortless kicking style and gain some of their power from a venturi effect, a bit like a boat propeller. If you have had any problems with your knees or find a kinder action preferable, these may be the fins for you.
Paddle fins are more rigid and stronger, but take more effort. They are a blade shape and may be made from a variety of different materials that provide varying degrees of strength and flexibility. Divers who prefer to get a more powerful thrust from a fin tend to prefer the paddle design over a split fin design.
There are a number of other options available. Some paddle type fins have a hinge type design which allows the shape of the blade to be altered to suit the diver and where and what they are doing on a dive.
Open heel fins have different types of straps. The aim is to hold the foot in place without it being too tight or too loose. Some straps are fixed in place with buckles while others are more elastic and hold the heel in place with their elasticity.
How to select a comfortable fit
Once you have chosen a fin type based on the sort of diving activity you are going to do the most, you will still need to select the right size for your feet.
If you are going to buy full foot fins, you need to try on the fins with bare feet. The best fit is one that is neither too loose or too tight. You may find your toes poking out the space at the top front of your fins or you may not. These fins are easier to put on in the water when the water lubricates both your feet and the fins.
Open heel fins should be tried on wearing boots. Again, you should aim for a size which is comfortable. Generally, there is more leeway with these fins as you can tighten up the fins to fit the length of your feet with the straps.
Time to try them out!
Remembering that efficiency is the other side of the coin when it comes to choosing a fin, the best way to be sure that the fins are the right ones for you is to get in the water and try them out. With open heel fins, you want to make sure that enough of your foot is inside the fin to give you the power you need when you kick.
Good open heeled paddle fins or full foot fins should be neither too rigid nor too flexible. One way you can test them is to try and bend the blades over through ninety degrees while holding the end of the heel and the tip of the fin. If you can hold them over easily, then they are probably too flexible. If you can hardly bend them over at all, then they are too rigid. Note that this test is not useful for split fins as they are designed to be flexible.
If you take the trouble to spend time talking to experienced divers and your dive instructors as well as knowledgeable sales staff, you will not regret spending the cash on a good pair of fins. You will spend longer where you want to go, it will be much more effortless and you will do less damage to your legs and knees.