Open-Heeled vs Full-Footed Fins

Which Fin Style Is Right for You?

Multi-colored diving flippers in a row

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When purchasing dive gear, every diver will have to make an important choice when it comes to fins. Should you buy full-footed fins or open-heeled fins and booties? Open-heeled fins and dive booties are recommended for almost every diver, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each style. So, which type of fin is right for you?

What Are Full-Footed Fins?

Swim Fins

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Full-footed fins have soft, flexible foot pockets which completely surround the divers feet, including the heels. These fins are usually worn without socks or booties, but some divers like to use neoprene diving socks to prevent the fin from rubbing blisters on their feet. Full-footed fins are most commonly used in tropical or warm waters, where thermal protection is not a concern.

What Are Open-Heeled Fins?

Typical snorkeling equipment: snorkel, diving mask and swimfins.

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Open-heeled fins have foot pockets that are open in the back. The foot pockets are normally made out of more rigid material than the foot pockets of full-footed fins. These fins are designed to be worn with dive booties. The sizes tend to run larger than the sizes of full-footed fins in order to accommodate the extra bulk of the booties. Because dive booties vary in thickness and shape, it is essential to try on open-heeled fins with the booties you intend to use before purchase. Open-heeled fins are used in water of all temperatures and are essential in cold water environments for thermal protection.

Cons of Open-Heeled Fins

When diving with open-heeled fins, selecting the correct dive booties is essential. Some dive booties have internal seams, which may rub uncomfortably on a diver's feet and even cause blisters. Shoes must be fit properly to avoid pinching, but dive booties must fit both the diver's feet and the fins properly. This adds an extra step to the purchasing process.

The Pro and Cons of Full-Footed Fins

man legs with flippers diving into water

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  1. Fewer Pieces of Dive Gear: Diving is an equipment intensive sport, and each piece of dive gear is essential. Because full-footed fins do not require booties, a diver has two fewer pieces of dive gear to remember, which makes packing for a dive trip easier and misplacing a piece of gear on a dive boat less likely.
  2. Less Expensive: A diver who purchases full-footed fins does not need to purchase dive booties, which typically cost anywhere from $40 to $100 USD. Divers who have already spent a significant amount of money on gear may prefer full-footed fins for the savings.
  3. Less Adjustable: Most open-heeled fins come with an adjustable heel strap which allows a diver to tighten or loosen the fin. In contrast, full-footed fins are not adjustable. The foot pocket either fits or it doesn't. Divers with very large or very small feet may have a difficult time finding full-footed fins that fit properly.
  4. Less Protection: Divers who dive primarily from boats do not have the need for foot protection. For these divers, full-footed fins may be the simplest choice. However, those who make shore entries over rough surfaces, or need to walk geared-up to the dive site may prefer open-heeled fins and dive booties for the protection. Otherwise, divers who use full-footed fins may need to wear shoes to the dive site and then leave them on the shore while diving.
  5. More Difficult to Put on and Remove: Properly-fitting full-footed fins are quite snug; any movement of the fins may cause blisters. Squeezing your foot into the tight pocket of a full-footed fin may be more difficult than simply loosening the strap of an open-heeled fin and then tightening it once the foot is in place.

Consider Spring Straps for Open-Heeled Fins

Aftermarket stainless steel spring fin strap (

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Spring straps are flexible spring or bungee straps that are used in place of standard fin straps with clasps of buckles. Spring straps make donning and removing open-heeled fins incredibly easy and often hold fins more tightly in place that standard fin straps. Spring straps are available for most fin models.

The Take-Home Message About Full-Footed and Open-Heeled Fins

Britmarine Model A full-foot fin and a Britmarine Clipper open-heel fin

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Full-footed fins work well for many warm-water diving scenarios. However, if a diver plans on making cold water dives or shore entries, or simply prefers a more adjustable fin, open-heeled fins and dive booties are the way to go. If money if not a concern, we recommend purchasing open-heeled fins, dive booties, and spring straps.