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I've been on a few beach vacations in the last few years and have discovered that I really enjoy snorkeling. I have at least three trips in the next year where I will probably go snorkeling (a few times per trip), so I'm thinking it might be economical to purchase my own snorkel gear rather than rent it at every destination.

I already have a snorkel mask, which was a gift; I'd like to get fins to go with them.

What type of fin should I look for that performs well for snorkeling and is easy to travel with? (I prefer being able to stick them in a carry-on, but that's not a strict requirement.)

In the searching I've done so far, I've noticed that the length of the blade varies quite a bit from brand to brand and style to style; how important is blade length for an occasional snorkeler? The shorter bladed fins seem to be recommended for people who want gear that's easy to travel with, but I have no idea if getting a short fin would make my snorkel trips more difficult or unpleasant in any way.

How do I evaluate different qualities to determine what's best for me?

  • full-footed v. with a strap

  • open toe v. closed toe

  • split blade v. solid

  • cost

  • length of blade

  • anything else?

Cost isn't really a factor, though I don't see a reason to spend $100-300 for "professional" fins at this stage of my outdoor adventuring.

  • Sorry, my knowledge doesn´t suffice for a complete answer. But I think, that longer bladed fins are made for divers, while the shorter blades would are more appropriate for close-to-surface use. They would be a better guess for snorkeling. On the other hand: the shorter the blade, the less the fins propel you. – Paul Paulsen May 19 '14 at 18:48
  • Laura a lot of things depend on the type of snorkeling/diving you want to do and water temperature. In warmer water closed heel fins are best as you do not need wet suit boots. Open/closed toe is personal choice. Split fins make for easier swims but less power, so speed vs comfort (less cramps). Longer blades normally means more efficient swimming, better speed, etc but do you need it are you diving deep or just wanting to swim on the surface. – AquaAlex Jul 16 '14 at 13:43
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Here are some things I've noticed in my relatively limited snorkeling experience:

  • Fins with straps are quite annoying. The strap never really holds well, and you already have enough problems being awkward with fins on that you want them to at least be secure.
  • An open toe will allow them to drain when you get out and the vent makes them easier to get on and off. The tradeoff is that they put a little uncomfortable pressure on the toes.
  • Long blades are really only necessary if you plan on swimming long distances. Most of the time they just end up being even more awkward, plus as you mentioned they're harder to travel with. In addition, I'd say that you can get more power from a well-secured fin than a long one, simply because you can kick harder.
  • You might also think about dispensing with the fins entirely. I've found them to be more trouble than they're worth unless I'm swimming long distances.

Depending on where your vacations are it might also be worth it to invest in a wetsuit, since relative to rental prices they don't cost very much. Of course if you're only snorkeling in tropical waters that's probably overkill.

Also, have you tried on your mask? I'm not suggesting that you look a gift mask in the snorkel, but you want to make sure it's comfortable and fog resistant and provides a nice wide field of view. It's essential that the snorkel have a dive option. In my opinion a nice mask is far more important than nice fins.

  • 1
    +1 but i'd add that you have to take in account, that your feet won't get sore, this ruined my holidays once. Since that time i recommend neopren shoes and fins with straps because this won't kill your feet as quickly – Jeredepp May 27 '14 at 9:20
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The first thing to understand is that fins are not strictly necessary snorkeling gear; I've often snorkeled without them. Fins compensate for not using hands while swimming. If you have an underwater camera and/or anticipate strong currents, you'll want to use fins in order to help you propel yourself along under water. Even if these don't apply, having fins makes the experience more comfortable since you can let your arms dangle by your side without sacrificing much mobility.

All other things equal, bigger fins are more efficient in the water and more of a hassle out of the water. It's possible to buy stubby fins designed for excercise and packing in carry-ons. On the other extreme, there are monofins used by freedivers. Unless you have specialized needs, just go for the traditional sizes which roughly double the length of your foot and aren't excessively wide. These provide more than enough thrust and don't require learning new swimming techniques. You're already committed to using some luggage space for the mask and snorkel; regular fins don't demand much more.

Growing up, my parents bought us boys fins with straps (i.e. open foot). The main advantage was that our feet were growing so fast we'd change sizes from one trip to the next. Straps, however, are fiddly. When I bought my own fins as an adult, I picked closed foot (full-footed) fins that fit my fully grown feet. As long as I remember to get both feet and fins wet before pulling them on, full-foot, rubber fins are a lot more comfortable. I also learned that open-foot fins are intended to be worn with booties for insulation or to protect your feet while entering the water. For most tropical locations, you won't need extra protection unless the shore is particularly rocky and rough.

I've never tried split fins, but I understand that good ones are more efficient than traditional paddle fins. For my money, I don't really need more propulsion than I get from my current set. But I'm considering investing in a pair for my wife since she isn't as strong a swimmer as I am. According to this guide:

Your leg stroke with a split fin is very different. Instead of long forceful strokes, you make much smaller, easier, and more rapid kicks in a split fin (sometimes called a flutter kick). You feel less resistance with this type of stroke, through the water, and through your fins.

The things folks don't like about split fins is that they don't provide as much feedback, because you don't push against the water as hard with them, and they are considered to be less precise for control of movement and position in the water. They are not supposed to be as good for back paddling, frog kicking, turning, etc. They are better for moving forward. But we have had no problems with them.

Finally, make sure fins fit. No matter how great a pair of fins are, they aren't much use if they don't feel comfortable in the water. Since your feet will shrink a bit when they get cold, prefer slightly too tight in the store to slightly too loose. Check the return policy of whichever retailer you plan to buy from and don't hesitate to exchange if you don't enjoy your first outing.

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Since most high-tech fins are made for scuba diving, you may want to consider wearing small 1.5mm neoprene dive booties with dive fins. This eliminates several issues with:

  • fin straps falling off your heels
  • chafing / blistering around your fins where they rub the skin
  • toes getting compressed in your fin in order to get a snug fit.
  • low selection in fin type when shopping for barefoot-fit fins

The downside is extra gear to tote around and ease of prep when getting ready to go. An additional upside is you get foot protection when you are getting in/out of the water.

You may also be able to use some aqua socks to achieve the same results, but beware of seams on the top where the fin may create pressure points.

  • Never had problems using fins without any footwear, so I disagree on this point. – Paul Paulsen May 22 '14 at 7:32
  • @Paul - I'm so glad you've never experienced that. I have had issues with blisters using my own fins without booties, so I thought I'd mention it as something to take into consideration. I just hope it helps someone else that might otherwise have a similar experience. – MrWonderful May 25 '14 at 5:54
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I'll say full boot (more comfortable, and you don't need to buy booties), open toe (for water and sand to drain), solid (more sturdy against accidental strikes), and on the shorter end of the models.

I found length to be specially important for maneuverability when snorkeling near riffs. Plus it's easier to put on/off, and it's not a burden during the whole trip.

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