Snorkeling Fins

Snorkeling fins (UK spelling: Snorkelling Flippers) can be purchased separately but are often included in a snorkeling set.  Snorkeling fins allow you to move through the water easier and faster when snorkeling.  Fins are worn on the snorkeler’s feet and basically work by the wearer kicking their feet in the water. This kicking against the water displaces water whilst providing forward propulsion which moves the snorkeler forwards, just like how kicking when swimming helps you to swim faster.  As snorkeling fins have a much larger surface area than feet the fins provide more “push” against the water therefore providing more forward propulsion which allows you to move forward much further and faster with each kick.  When snorkeling while wearing fins, you should hardly need to use your arms at all and would normally keep your arms at you sides and use the fins for all of your forward propulsion.

A lot of scientific study has gone into different fin designs.  For example more efficiency can be made by different shapes, sizes, materials used, edging to reduce drag, single or split designs, how the fin bends in the water etc.  Different fin designs are better suited for different purposes such as snorkeling, diving, freediving, body boarding and swimming as each purpose has different requirements.

If you purchase a snorkeling set that includes snorkeling fins as part of the package then you can be sure that the fins are designed for snorkeling.  However most fins designed for other purposes would provide much better propulsion when snorkeling than bare feet so if you already have some fins for another purpose you may wish to save some money when purchasing a snorkeling set by buying a snorkeling set with just a snorkeling mask and snorkel and use your existing fins.


Snorkeling Fin Options

 There have been many advancements with snorkeling fin designs in recent years and some radical different ideas have been released.  However, in this article we will concentrate on the two most common snorkeling fin designs available, namely Full-Foot Fins and Open-Heel Fins. 

Full-Foot Fins are worn like a shoe.  There is a flexible molded pocket the shape of a foot on the fin that the wearer puts their bare foot into.  This covers the full foot including the heel.  As with shoes, it is important for your full-foot fins to fit comfortably, otherwise you may get chaffing or blisters.  If they are too big for your feet they may even fall off while snorkeling.

Full-foot fins offer protection to the wearer’s feet from coral and stones etc when they are worn, but are not suitable for walking far onshore. 

An advantage of full-foot fins over open-heel fins is that they often weigh less so they may be more suitable for travel.

Many manufacturers make their full-foot fins in standard men’s shoe sizes and recommend that women order one size smaller to get the best fit.

Open-Heel fins have a pocket that the wearer slips the front of their foot into, but the heel is left exposed.  An adjustable strap is then adjusted to fit around the heel to hold the fin in place on the wearer’s foot.  Some open-heel fins, especially those made for snorkeling, are designed to fit directly on bare feet, but most open-heel fins made for diving are designed for the wearer to wear neoprene booties on their feet and then slip on the fins.  They can be worn without booties but a smaller size may be required.

Some advantages of wearing booties are:

  • The booties have a rubber sole that allow the wearer to walk on rocky areas or coral with their feet protected (handy to get to difficult snorkeling spots),
  • The wearer’s feet are keep warm in cooler water, and
  • The fins may feel more comfortable on the feet due to the padding on the booties.

An advantage of Open-heel fins over Full-foot fins is that one size can fit a larger range of foot sizes. 


Split fins Vs Paddle fins  

A very common and popular modern fin design is split fins.  These differ from the standard paddle fins (also known as blade fins) in that they have a split (or gap) in the middle of the main fin section. Snorkeling Split fins  Both types of fins have their advantages and disadvantages (and fans and critic’s), but the general points of interest are:

  • Split fins are easier on the legs and ankles, so may be better for snorkelers who get tired legs or have an injury or problem with their legs or ankles.
  • Split fins are often great for speed.
  • Paddle fins can give better maneuverability and positioning, especially at slow speeds, for things like photography and moving through tight areas like shipwrecks.
  • A lot of divers find paddle fins more capable of better thrust when carrying a heavy load or when in a strong current.

For the average amateur snorkeler I do not think that it matters too much what design you have, however if you have leg or ankle problems then it would be a good idea to try split fins if possible.