Different Styles and Features of Scuba Fins

Scuba diver swimming under water.

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They may look funny and make you walk like a penguin, but scuba fins are highly engineered pieces of precision gear, and choosing the right type is essential to enjoyable, effective diving.

While fins for snorkeling and swimming may be made of rubber, plastic or a combination of materials, those used for scuba diving are usually high-quality polyurethane or polypropylene. 

Different fins are designed for different types of diving, so a scuba fin that is appropriate for gentle drift diving in the Caribbean may not work well for cave diving. Years of research have been devoted to developing different fin materials and designs to maximize fin propulsion while minimizing kicking effort. 

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Flexible or Stiff

Flexibility is an important consideration when selecting scuba fins. Some fins are extremely stiff, while others are quite flexible. Stiff fins are better than very flexible fins for frog kicking and work well for advanced propulsion techniques, such as helicopter turns and backing up.

For flutter kicking, stiff fins will usually propel a diver farther per a kick cycle than a similarly designed, more flexible fin. However, flutter kicking through an entire dive with very stiff fins can be exhausting.

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Closed Heels

Closed heel scuba fins have rubber foot pockets that completely cover the diver's heel. Closed heel fins are designed to be used without dive booties, and are comfortable on warm water dives. However, those who dive in cold water need fins that fit over dive booties to keep their feet warm.

Divers planning on shore diving, or on any dives requiring them to walk in scuba gear, may prefer fins that accommodate dive booties to protect their feet while entering and exiting the water.

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Open Heels

Open heel fins are designed for use with dive booties, so the foot pockets are larger than those of closed heel scuba fins. The foot pocket is made of a harder material, so wearing these scuba fins without dive booties is uncomfortable.

The open-heeled fins and dive booties combination is preferred by many divers, as the booties keep diver's feet warm and protect the feet while entering and exiting the water.

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Variations in Fin Strap Attachments

A feature to consider in open-heeled fins is the type of strap. A standard strap is made of a piece of flexible rubber that can be tightened and loosened. Some manufacturers have developed standard straps that can be unclipped to make them easier to put on and take off.

The spring strap is a tightly coiled, durable metal spring that stretches over a diver's heel. Spring straps are quite comfortable, and very easy to put on and take off. Spring straps can be purchased to fit most styles of fins.

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Blade Fins

Blade fins are made of a continuous piece of plastic or rubber. Design features such as soft rubber panels or holes in the fin help to channel water for a more efficient kick. These fins work well for both frog kicking and flutter kicking.

Blade fins, designed with varying degrees of flexibility, are generally used by divers who do not need to fight strong currents or swim quickly, and for those whose legs tire easily. Stiffer blades are appropriate for those who dive in strong currents and need a fin that can withstand the additional stress.

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Split Fins

Split fins have a large cut splitting the center of the fin into two distinct pieces. These fins are good for flutter kicking but do not work very well for the frog kick. The split in the center of the fin reduces the effort it takes to kick, while still providing a reasonable amount of forwarding propulsion.

Divers with joint problems or whose muscles tire or cramp love split scuba fins because of the reduced strain on the legs and feet. Split fins work well in conditions with little or light current but may require excessive kicking to fight a strong current.

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Snorkeling Fins

Some fins are designed specifically for snorkeling. These fins are very short, which makes them easy to kick and putter about on the surface. Balancing to stand in shallow water is easy with these fins.

While snorkeling fins are great for snorkeling, they will not provide sufficient propulsion for scuba diving because a scuba diver is wearing gear that increases his water resistance. A scuba diver using snorkeling fins will have to kick fast or hard to keep up with other divers.

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Turtle Fins

Short, stiff scuba fins are a classic design. Turtle fins are usually quite thick and are heavier than standard scuba fins. Used with the frog kick, these fins work well for technical diving and for advanced diving propulsion techniques, such as helicopter turns and backing up. A simple flutter kick with turtle-style fins will move a diver quickly but can be exhausting.

This fin's simple design is so effective that most scuba equipment manufacturers offer some version of the turtle fin, and many designs have remained unchanged for decades. Technical divers, such as wreck and cave divers, love these fins because they provide great propulsion but are short enough to avoid kicking the ceiling in smaller areas.

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Freediving Fins

Freediving fins are perhaps the least common style of fin seen on recreational scuba divers. Freediving fins are characterized by very long, thin and relatively stiff blades. Originally designed for breath-hold diving, these fins take a bit of practice to use but are effective for both flutter kicking and frog kicking.

Because of their long blades, freediving fins can move divers very quickly and provide strong propulsion.

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Colorful Fins

Scuba fin colors are not merely aesthetic. During a dive, brightly colored fins are easy to see and can be used to identify an individual. In low visibility, divers may prefer fins that are a bright color, such as neon yellow, which is easier to spot underwater than black or subtle colors.

When purchasing fins, consider a unique or bright color that is easy for dive companions to find underwater.

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Innovative Fins

Scuba manufacturers have developed some innovative fin designs. Some fins incorporate elastic rubber elements that add a bit snap to a kick and may increase kicking efficiency.

Some fins have an interesting wing-like shape designed to reduce effort and increase propulsion in both frog and flutter kicking. Other fins can be adjusted during a dive via a “gear shifting” mechanism to provide more or less resistance.