Choosing scuba fins is a surprisingly complicated business for such an apparently simple device. But the seeming simplicity of fins is deceptive. There’s a lot that goes into engineering a great fin. Here are some guidelines for novice divers to help make it easier to choose.
Like shoes, fins have to fit well in order to be comfortable and function properly. Unlike shoes, you don’t generally wear socks to help adjust the fit and you aren’t usually somewhere you can change to another pair if yours aren’t right. So make an effort to get it right the first time.
Wash your feet and try on several pair, making sure there’s no sand or dirt on your feet during the trial. Sit on the bench and flip the fins up and down. The air won’t offer the same resistance as water, but moving your leg and ankle around will give you an initial impression. The fins need to be snug and seal well around the foot and for full fins the ankle. Snug, not crushing your foot. Fins that are too tight will impair your movement. Fins that are too loose will scrape the skin along the edge and within the boot. Sore feet shorten dives.
Fins have to be stiff enough to provide good thrust, but flexible enough to not wear out the leg muscles too quickly. Getting that balance right is a never-ending challenge for designers and divers, since every fin and diver are unique. One relatively recent approach to that problem has been the development of split fin styles. The traditional fin is a large continuous web about 16 inches long and eight inches wide at the tip though length and width variations are common and sometimes extreme. Split fins often have similar dimensions. but add a space up the middle of the fin.
Split fins make it possible for the diver to produce thrust with less effort, though they can reduce maneuverability. Turning is slower with some designs. So, for those underwater photographers who need to rotate quickly to snap that elusive fish, you’ll want to bring two pair – one traditional, one split – and compare.
One factor novices frequently fail to take into account when purchasing fins is buoyancy. Since they’re selected in air, you tend to forget about that. But buoyancy is an important issue in diving. Divers try to remain close to neutral buoyancy in order to reduce the fatigue of descending and ascending.
Many fins are designed to float, so that if they fall off they can be more easily retrieved at the surface. But, fins that are constantly pulling your feet up make maintaining neutral buoyancy difficult. Positively buoyant fins can be balanced out with ankle weights, but that’s one more piece of equipment to buy, haul and strap on. Not fun. Try to get info on the degree of buoyancy when researching your purchase.
Last, consider whether you want full fitting fins that rise up over the ankle, what sort of insert you want (booty or not), and whether a quick release clasp or regular heel strap is desired. All these convenience and comfort factors can help push you to one model versus another.