Updated July - 2019
Choosing the right snorkeling fins, for your feet and how you will be snorkeling, can be slightly challenging because of all the brands and types. That is us at right, doing one of our fin tests in St. Lucia.
Comfort should be one of your top priorities, but it's also important to consider where you will be snorkeling. If the water entrance is rocky or sandy, or from a boat, or if there are strong currents, it will affect your fin choice. How stiff of a fin you get also depends on your fitness level and personal preference. Correctly fitting fins make all the difference for safe and fun snorkeling. Be aware that sizes on most fins are men's, so women generally need to subtract 1.5-2 US sizes. If you go by European (EU) sizes, they are unisex.
Not to worry though, on this page we will help you understand all of your snorkel fin options. We have used many different fins over the years, and our trip luggage is often bigger than we like because we regularly test new models. We will share which fins we like, in different price ranges, and important fitting tips. As you can see in the picture Galen took below of a group of very experienced snorkelers, there are a many snorkeling fin preferences.
Note: There are a lot of diving fins available we have not tested because we don't consider them appropriate for snorkeling. They are often very large, stiff, and heavy, made for propelling someone in heavy diving gear.
We recommend that all snorkelers wear fins. They are an essential tool for safety. If you get caught in any current and you are not wearing fins, you will have a much harder time swimming against the current and back to safety without them. And, since fins save your energy, you can spend more time snorkeling and explore more of the reef.
Note: Our suggestions come from hands-on experience. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you purchase from the links below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
One of the first choices you will need to make is if you want a full foot or open heel fin. Learn about the pros and cons of each below, and what we use.
A full foot fin wraps almost completely around a bare foot (see picture at right of some of our fins). Generally you do not wear any footwear with this type of fin, although a thin lycra sock can be worn to help prevent rub spots.
Benefits of Full Foot Snorkeling Fins
The reason why we have used these for over fifteen years, and continue to, is because they are comfortable, fairly compact in our luggage, and lightweight. The weight factor is good for the luggage, but we also believe it is an energy saver in the water. Kicking with heavy fins on is like hiking with heavy boots versus tennis shoes. The weight adds up on a long snorkel. Full foot fins are more hydrodynamic, making them easier to move through the water and therefore more efficient.
Drawbacks of Full Foot Snorkeling Fins
The major drawback to a full foot fin is when you are entering the water on a rocky shore. We never recommend trying to walk into the water with fins on. You are asking to trip and get hurt. So instead you need to wear either some water shoes, a neoprene boot, or flip flops when there are rocks or other hazards to your bare feet. And with full foot fins that means you have to take those shoes off once you have swum into deeper water, and then put on your fins. Then you need to attach your shoes to a snorkeling belt. It's a bit of a process, but easily done once you are used to it.
The other drawback is if you are snorkeling in cold water, you may get cold feet.
Some people also have bunions or other foot issues and find full foot fins uncomfortable.
Recommended Full Foot Snorkeling Fins (What We Use)
Full foot snorkeling fins are the type we use. For years we have had, and still sometimes use, full foot split fins that are no longer available, which is unfortunate. There are not as many split fins available as there used to be, and the ones that are we personally find too stiff, like the Atomic Aquatics Full Foot Split Fins.
The best full foot snorkeling fins we have tested, and what we both use now, are the ScubaPro Seawing Nova Full Foot Fins, also available at Dolphin here. These are expensive, but worth it if they fit your feet, and sizing them is tricky. They are made of Monprene elastomer, which is extremely durable and fairly lightweight, and more comfortable than the hard plastic often found on many fins. Monprene floats, which is an added bonus.
The theory behind their design is that they flex at the hinge point so
that the entire surface of your fin is at the correct angle to the
water, giving efficient propulsion. You can see in the picture below of Galen that the fins do in fact hinge at that point, and the fin blade remains relatively flat.
And they do have good propulsion, nearly as good as our old split fins, and we find they are very comfortable. They are not terribly stiff fins, which we like. Getting the right size is tricky with these fins. Galen's foot is a size 10 (43 EU), but wears a size medium in the Seawing Novas. Nicole is a women's size 8.5-9 (39 EU), but wears an extra-small. So Galen was one size smaller than the ScubaPro size chart indicates and Nicole was two sizes smaller. A full review of these fins is coming.
Another very good full foot snorkeling fin, at a little lower cost than the Seawing Novas, is the Mares Avanti Superchannel Full Foot Fin. They have a very flexible center area with channels that mimics split fin motion to some extent. These have excellent propulsion, and are not too stiff. But the foot pocket is both narrow and short in depth, and the side rails on the fins are a harder plastic. So if you have wide or tall feet, or bunions, they might not work for you. Galen had bad rub spots from the harder plastic areas and Nicole had issues with the depth of the foot pocket making them painful to get on and off. But we know of a few snorkelers who they really work for. The sizing was correct because we went by our EU sizes.
If you are looking for a very affordable, and very comfortable fin, the U.S. Divers Sea Lion Fins are really good. We used them for years. They are all rubber, so the foot pocket is super comfy. They are not terribly long, so good in luggage. Propulsion is not bad, but definitely slower than the fins above, which could be an issue in strong currents. They also float, which is great.
Open heel fins have a strap on the back that goes over your heel that keeps your foot in place, and the fins do not cover the entire sole of your foot. We have personally never found open heel fins to be as comfortable as full foot versions. But many people do.
Benefits of Open Heel Barefoot Fins
In addition to all the benefits of a full foot fin, these barefoot open heel fins are also shorter in the luggage because the heel strap can be tucked in.
Drawbacks of Open Heel Barefoot Fins
The barefoot versions of these have the same drawbacks as the full foot fins above, plus your foot is not fully covered, so your heel is exposed to rocks, urchins, and other potentially harmful things in the water.
Recommended Open Heel Snorkeling Fins - Barefoot Type
One of the most popular open heel snorkeling fins is the ScubaPro Go Travel Fin, also available at Dolphin here. It is a very high quality fin, made of the same super durable Monprene material as the Seawing Novas.
We have both tested this fin numerous times and it has pretty good propulsion for its size, and is not too stiff of a blade. After a long snorkel Galen had pain on the tops of his feet. And for Nicole the heel strap was constantly slipping off (Nicole is wearing the fins below in St. Lucia). But lots of traveling snorkelers swear by this fin because of its relatively short length in luggage. The Scubapro Go Travel Fin sizing chart was correct for Galen's feet, but one size too big for Nicole. Note there is another version of this fin called the Scubapro Go Sport Fin that has a larger foot pocket to be worn with a boot.
A really affordable and good option are the SEAC Zoom Open Heel Fins [?]. We have used these a bunch and they provide great propulsion, have flexible blades, and a surprisingly comfortable foot pocket. One nice feature is that the heel strap is adjustable for tension, so fitting is more forgiving. The sizing chart was correct for us. And they are compact in luggage. The fin material is not as durable as a higher end fin, but for the price it sort of does not matter. Great value. The only issue we had with these fins was that the strap kept slipping off Nicole's heel.
You can also buy open heel snorkeling fins that have a much larger foot pocket. They are designed to be worn with neoprene boots that usually have a hard sole. Many snorkelers choose this type of fin and shoe system.
The big reason to choose this type of fin is for water entrances that are rocky or full of urchins. You can walk out in your boots and then just put your fins on over them once you can float. You don't have to take the boots off and attach them to a belt. The boots can also help when climbing boat ladders with small metal rungs. They help with traction and comfort of your bare feet on the skinny rungs. Neoprene boots can also keep your feet warm while snorkeling in colder water. Additionally, for some people with bunions, or other foot health issues, the boots can provide more padding and protection from blisters and rubbing.
This type of fin has a much bigger foot pocket, which makes the fin bulkier and heavier, which is not great for luggage, or in the water. It means more water resistance when kicking, and more fatigue because of having to kick a larger and heavier fin; although many people don't find that to be much of an issue. The other drawback is that you need to find a combination of boots and fins that work together for fit and sizing. And we have seen that some footwear that appears comfortable when walking, can have rubbing issues when snorkeling, because your foot angle is pointed when kicking.
Recommended Open Heel Fins - Worn with Boots
We don't have personal experience with this type of fin. But, ScubaPro makes open heel styles of both the Seawing Nova (here on Dolphin) and the Go Fin, called the Go Sport (here on Dolphin). They are made to be worn with boots. The prices are higher for these compared to the full foot versions. And if you are a big strong person who likes a stiff fin, they make the Seawing Nova Gorilla Fin (here on Dolphin), which is a stiffer version.
We have not tried the open heel versions of these fins, but expect them to perform the same as the full foot versions. We don't know if the sizing of the open heel Seawing Nova is as difficult to get right as the full foot version is.
If your primary reason for buying a short fin is luggage size and weight, please think again. Short travel fins, body boarding fins, and fitness swim fins seriously lack power in the water, which is important for safety in a current. Many people we have talked to who have used them have regretted it. If you are a very strong swimmer you may get away with it, but will likely need to kick hard and use your arms to keep up with other snorkelers in a strong current.
Some open heel fins will fit in standard 22" carry-on luggage, depending on your foot size. And one friend gets her full foot fins into a carry-on by rolling up the fin's foot pocket (not possible with all fins). The Scubapro Go Travel Fin is a good short fin for travel, that still has good propulsion, as is the affordable and compact SEAC Zoom.
Just like you don't want a really short fin as a snorkeler, you also will not want a really long fin. Long fins are generally used by freedivers who want to conserve the most energy when going down deep. But those kind of fins are not great in shallower conditions. They are not made for efficient kicking on the surface, they lack maneuverability, and it's also much easier to kick coral underwater, which you do not want to do. Not to mention they are a pain to travel with because of their size.
Make sure they fit correctly. You want your snorkeling fins to be a bit snug, but not too tight. As your feet cool in the water they will shrink a little. So your fins will get looser in the water and slip more. So a little tighter fit is better than loose. You don't want a loose heel cup or strap. Nothing is more irritating than snorkeling fins that slip off when you are trying to kick hard. If you are going to use boots in your fins, get them first, and then try your fins with them. And make sure your boots are very comfortable and will not rub raw spots when you kick in them for an hour or more.
Pay attention to any areas where it feels like your fins or footwear are pressing hard against bones or bunions, particularly if the fin has hard plastic sides. If you are in the store point your foot and mimic a kicking action. If the fin or boot pinches, or rubs hard on any areas of your feet, it will only get worse when you repeat that action hundreds and thousands of times in the water. Find a more comfortable combination.
Rub Marks & Blisters
Moderate red rub marks on your feet from your fins or footwear are fairly common when you have not been snorkeling recently. It may take a few days for your feet to get used to your fins and boots again. But blisters and open wounds are not OK. Open wounds are very uncomfortable, and a potential source of infection. Don't let your feet get beat up. Travel with waterproof bandages, and toe tape, and be proactive in your foot care.
Fin Stiffness, Propulsion, Body Strength & Size
You might think that to get a lot of power and propulsion out of a fin it should be fairly stiff, so that you can push a lot of water. We have not found that to be the case. We like fins that are pretty flexible, and we go fast with them, without exerting ourselves very much. But here is the thing. Neither of us are really big people, with huge leg muscles. For us, a stiff fin does not provide efficient propulsion because we have to work too hard to push it through the water. It's like being in the wrong gear on your bike going uphill. So we feel that the best propulsion comes from matching your physical strength and size with the correct fin stiffness. To really dial that in it helps to try different fins in the water. You might be shocked how different they feel. The right fin makes all the difference in your top speed and comfort while snorkeling.