Jun 2014

A Guide to Buying Scuba Diving Fins

By Mike Waddington

If there is one piece of your standard equipment that varies massively on both style and function, it has to be your fins, or often called by non-divers “Flippers”. The function of the fins is to help propel you through the water with ease. Without diving fins, you will find propulsion underwater very difficult, not impossible however you will use huge amounts of air and energy without them.

In the same way as selecting your mask, this is one of the pieces of equipment where comfort is the most important thing when looking for fins. If not more important, as badly fitting fins not only hurt they can actually cause blisters that can ruin an entire diving holiday.

There are two main pocket styles of fins out there, Open Heel and Closed Heel.

Open Heel Fins (AKA Pocket Fins):

Like I said before these require a pair of booties most of the time, although some sets are out there where you don’t need them. Because they normally need booties they generally have much larger foot pockets for your feet to into, and then an adjustable strap on the back so you can tighten or loosen them. Open heel fins are normally used for cold water diving, where the neoprene booties will offer thermal protection, but many warm water divers choose them because the booties help protect from abrasions and blisters. Also, a set of booties make it much nicer diving from the shore as there can be rocks, broken coral etc. in the shallows.


Closed Heel Fins (Full Foot Fins):

If you completed your entry-level dive course in warm waters then you would probably have used closed heel fins, and much of the time divers who learn in these will vow never to wear them again and are willing to invest more money on open heel fins and booties. Because the material shop rental fins are made of they can cause blisters. Rental fins are always heavy duty because of the number of divers wearing them and people often don’t look after rental things like they look after their own. This doesn’t mean that all closed heel fins are bad. Most are made from soft material that you wouldn’t even notice was on your feet. These type of fins are more suited to warm water as they offer no thermal protection at all. The downsides of these fins are that you cannot adjust them, and they are known to slip of people feet from time to time, especially when entering the water.


Once you have decided on your pocket style then you need to start thinking about the blade-style…

Paddle Style Fins:

This is what most people imagine when they think of a divers fin (as pictured above), simple in design and apart from materials and buckle style not much has changed over the history of diving. You get them in various levels of flexibility, the more flexible they are the easier they are move with your legs, however just because your legs are moving don’t think you’re moving through the water. The stiffer they are the more you will push through the water, however the more likely it is you might cramp up.

Split Fins:

The idea behind the split fin is that as you kick through the water most of the water is diverted through the crack in the blade, making kicking easier. The downside of this is that you also lose most of the power as well, making them very inefficient in a current. Another downside is that you lack the ability to make specific movements such as back finning. Many people argue that these fins are better than paddle fins and allow more speed and precision movement in the water, however, I had tried many and have never found a set that I found that to be true. I would recommend these types of fins to those with less mobility or those who get cramps easier.


Jet Fins (AKA Tec Fins):

Heavy-duty fins that will last you a lifetime, these fins are usually cut from a single solid piece of rubber so there are no parts stuck together, meaning there is nothing in there to break (although nothing is impossible to break) The only disadvantage of these that I have ever seen is the weight, often weighing in at twice as heavy as other types of fins. Because of how solid they are built they can deal almost all currents, however, they can take a while to get used to at first, better get practising cramp removal for the first few dives! They are generally shorter than other fins, but much thicker and wider. Most have holes or vents on them for the water to get diverted through. These are by far the most manoeuvrable fins, with a little practice you will be turning on the spot, back finning and diving in trim with ease!


And the rest:

Every now and then dive manufacturers come up with what may seem like a great idea at the time but normally ends up breaking or falling apart easily. For example, there are fins out there that you can adjust the flexibility of the blade. This may seem like a good idea but the mechanism behind this is a weak spot and breaks often, the parts are replaceable at a (usually large) cost. Also, these fancy gimmicky fins usually cost more than the rest.

Once you have selected a nice set of fins for yourself you need to make sure they fit you properly.

Open Heel Fins:

Select a pair of proper fitting booties, and put them on. Sit down and attach the fins, your heels should stick out of the back of the foot pocket by about 2 inches or so. Once the strap is tightened over the back of your heel, wiggle your foot around a little and see if it moves about at all. Next step is to raise your leg and try swimming a little, again if you feel your foot moving around at all you should try tightening them or switching size.

Closed Heel Fins:

Unlike open heel fins, these cannot be adjusted so the sizing is much more important, again start off by sitting down and slipping the fin on. Again try wiggling your foot about and see if it moves about at all. Now an additional step you can take with closed heel fins is to stand up, place your foot flat on the floor and raise your heel. Your heel shouldn’t slip out but it should allow for a little movement. If it doesn’t then you may find after wearing them for a while that they start to give you blisters. Remember that closed heel fins always slip a little bit and over time the material will stretch meaning they slip more and more

Here are some tips that may help you get more out of your diving fins:

With open heel fins, you should get at least two pairs of spare straps. I have been caught out before when a strap broke and needed to spend another $100 as I couldn’t replace the strap, I had to invest in a whole new fin set!

Even better than spare straps, try and find spring straps. Although more expensive and heavier these will last a lifetime, easier to put on and off and automatically adjust to your foot size. As well as being impossible to lose as they are permanently attached to the fin.

If you prefer the closed fin style but find you are getting blisters then it is defiantly worth investing in a set of Lycra socks. These are like booties but much thinner, about the same thickness as a cotton sock. They are cheap to buy and normally prevent any blisters from occurring.

Whichever you decide to go for remember the ultimate part of your decision should be comforting. If you need any help choosing a set of fins that are right for you please feel free to comment in the section below with any questions and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

‘A Guide to Buying Fins’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia