Allison Using an air tank and white fins while scuba diving

Scuba Fins vs. Snorkeling Fins: What to Look For & My Top Picks for Each

There’s a lot to demystify when it comes to picking out the right beginner scuba gear and, to a lesser extent, the right beginner snorkeling gear.

One thing that trips most people up (no pun intended!) is whether they really need scuba fins vs. snorkeling fins — what even is the difference, anyway?

​I’ve used snorkeling fins to scuba dive, and scuba fins to snorkel — in a pinch, it all works — or at least, it’s better than having no fins at all.

That said, especially when you’re dealing with currents in the open water, there are certain considerations when you’re deciding between scuba fins or snorkeling fins.

Having used both, both in the context they’re supposed to be used and in the “wrong” context, I’m here to give you my thoughts on an avid diver with 100+ dives under my belt… who always, always travels with my own fins!

​Yes, despite not traveling with a full scuba kit (I rent BCDs and regulators), I always bring my own scuba fins.

Allison and local divemaster in Fiji pretending to pray and meditate while in hover position, with Allison's white Avanti Quattro fins showing
My Mares Avanti Quattro + fins in action in Bligh Waters, Fiji — I was grateful for their extra power in Fiji’s currents!

By the end of this post, I hope you’ll understand why!

​I’ll also go over what scuba and snorkeling fins I own and how I feel about them, and alternatives in case the ones I prefer aren’t quite the right fin choice for you.

I’ll share my thoughts on the different kinds of fins (full foot fin, open-feel fins, split fins, short fins, etc.) and what kind of diving each is best suited for.

​What’s the Difference? Scuba Fins vs. Snorkeling Fins

Allison Green wearing white snorkeling fins to dive in Tahiti
Using my snorkeling fins to dive in Tahiti, where the calm waters meant I didn’t need super powerful fins

The short answer? The most important difference between scuba fins and snorkeling fins is what they were designed for and how that has impacted the design of the fin itself.

With snorkeling, you are typically mostly on the surface. You are often not dealing with strong currents, and you are hovering over a coral reef, occasionally duck-diving to explore a little more closely.

A snorkeling fin generally is rather lightweight because you don’t need a lot of power in your kicks. You can simply pitter-patter your feet and bam! You’re soaring across the water’s surface.

This is not the case with scuba diving, where you are often rather deep and under a lot of water pressure, which means you need a heavier, more propulsive fin to counteract the extra water pressure.

Remember = every 10 meters or 33 feet is equivalent to a full atmosphere of pressure — so at 100 feet / 30 meters, scuba divers are experiencing 3 times more pressure on their bodies than they are at the surface!

There also tend to be stronger currents when you are scuba diving in deeper waters vs. when you are on the surface, and having good fins here becomes a lot more of a safety concern. 

With snorkeling, typically the worst case scenario is that your fins don’t get you very far. 

With diving, bad or poorly-fitting fins can be a matter of life or death in extreme circumstances, like if you get stuck in a strong down current and the only way out is to kick your way out perpendicular to the current.

This will not happen often, but it’s important to be prepared for the worst case scenarios when you are diving and the stakes are simply much higher.

Another thing to consider when deciding if you need scuba fins vs. snorkeling fins is that scuba fins are typically designed to be used with dive boots.

This means they are usually open-heel fins, often with spring straps or other adjustable straps, so that they have some wiggle-room to accommodate different sizes of dive booties.

Flexibility (literally) is important here, as sometimes you might want a 3mm bootie and other times you may need a hefty 7mm bootie!

On the other hand, snorkeling fins can either be open heel fins or full-foot fins designed to fit over bare feet.

Lastly, there’s also free diving, which requires a whole different set of considerations for fins. At the moment, I’m not a certified free diver, so I won’t be giving much advice on this just yet.

The difference with freediving fins is that you typically want different materials (carbon fiber is the most preferred, though also the most expensive) and you typically need longer fins which help propel you down and up a lot faster — very important when dealing with apnea diving!

I hope this quick guide helped you break down the difference between snorkeling fins vs. scuba fins. 

At the end of the day, a lot comes down to personal preferences, and it’s certainly possible to dive with snorkeling fins, but scuba fins will definitely improve your diving, buoyancy, and air consumption by being a lot more efficient. 

My Favorite Diving Fins: Mares Avanti Quattro Plus

Allison doing a backroll entry into the water while wearing Mares white avanti quattro fins
Backrolling in Puerto Galera, Philippines wearing my Avanti Quattro fins!

This is a favorite not only of me but of a lot of divers as well as a lot of dive shops, so you might get the chance to try these out at a dive shop as a rental before you buy.

Having owned them and taken them on 50+ dives at this point, I’m definitely happy to sing their praises — they’re the perfect fins for recreational divers, though admittedly, they’re not the most travel friendly.

I like that these fins have an open heel design with a bungee strap that allows me to wear different types of booties or even just neoprene socks. 

Closed heel fins wouldn’t work well for me, because I do quite a variety of water temperature diving, including sometimes in cooler waters.

It’s a nice, flexible fin with a long fin blade, giving you a lot of control over your movement. 

The Mares Avanti Quattro has what they call “channel thrust” technology which is a fancy way of saying these are really versatile fins, with stabilizing straps that reduce ankle torsion, ensuring your ankles won’t get strained by kicking. 

The foot pocket is also well designed to be very propulsive, allowing you to deliver a lot of power to the fin blade with just a small movement. 

Unlike other fins with a shorter blade like the popular ScubaPro Jet Fin, you don’t need super strong legs and a mega-powerful kick to go quite quickly and far with these fins thanks to their longer blades!

There are some special high-tech tidbits about the Mares Avanti Quattro that deal with physics and quite frankly go above my understanding — they use all sorts of fancy words like “channel geometry”, preventing the “parachute effect”, “absorbing kinetic energy” and the “Superchannel principle”.

Frankly, it’s all Greek to me, but there’s no denying that these modern fins are great for new divers as they are easy to use, intuitive, and allow for a variety of kick styles, vs. other types of fins that really only excel with one type of kick such as the Jet Fin and the frog kick. 

Because of their long size and high-quality materials, these are a little heavy, at 4 lbs, but it’s still lighter than some other fins — and all with less effort? Win win!

Diving Fins Honorable Mention: ScubaPro Jet Fin

Divemaster in the Philippines doing a backroll entry while wearing ScubaPro Jet Fins
…. versus my divemaster dive buddy, who wore her Jet Fins!

I gave a few reasons why I don’t love the ScubaPro Jet Fin, but I know I’m somewhat alone in my opinion, because these are a really popular fin among divers.

The main difference is their shape and smaller size. They are just as powerful as long fins, but they require a different kick style to really get the most out of their use. 

If you like to frog kick, these are the best fins for you — a typical ‘flutter kick’ will not work well with these fins, as they are a bit too heavy and the length of the blade is not long enough to be conducive to that kind of kicking.

If you want shorter fins that pack well (despite their heavy 5 lb. weight!) these are the right pair of fins for you, provided you understand how these fins are a little different than other scuba fins on the market.

They’re a stiff fin, so they’re great for those with a strong kick, as they can propel you quite fast through the water with one little movement.

But if you’re not a super strong kicker, these fins can end up being extremely tiring for the uninitiated, so if you’re the type who skips leg day (me), you probably won’t love these stiffer blade fins.

​For those who do like a compact, powerful fin, Jet Fins are the perfect fit — I mean, this is the fin preferred by literal Navy SEALs, so you know they’re definitely capable of being quite powerful!

They’re also slightly negatively buoyant, so they’re great for drysuit divers and divers who tend to have “floaty feet” that impact their trim.

This is one of the most popular cold water styles for that reason, since their negative buoyancy and compact design makes them good cold water fins.

Best Snorkeling Fins: IST Speedy Snorkeling Fins

Snorkeling fins, mask, and snorkel on the sand in Moorea, Tahiti
My IST Proline fins, which I used both snorkeling and diving in Tahiti and Moorea

I bought these from my local dive shop at the insistence of the owner, who said they were good enough to dive with and the perfect travel fins because they’re extremely light-weight and not as long as dive fins, so they fit easily into smaller bags.

They also have an adjustable ankle strap, so they can work with booties or bare feet, as opposed to full-foot dive fins.

They’re also inexpensive, so they’re a great solution for casual snorkelers who just want to start their snorkeling journey and don’t necessarily need the absolute best snorkel fins on the market at the moment. 

Since these are lightweight and flexible, they’re best as warm water fins, since if you snorkel or dive in cooler waters you need something a little more structured.

Speaking from experience, they’re also comfortable enough to wear bare foot — I didn’t need any sort of neoprene protection for my feet when I used these fins diving in Tahiti and Moorea, Cozumel, and Roatan.

However, because these fins are on the light side, they don’t work very well for diving because they can lead to “floaty feet” which can negatively impact your dive trim, leading to possible back pain as well as less efficient air consumption.

Snorkeling Fins Honorable Mention: Cressi Pluma Snorkeling Fins

A blue and white and yellow striped fish seen on a Hawaiian reef

These snorkeling fins are made by a reputable, beloved Italian dive company, Cressi — they’re the brand I use for my wetsuits as I find them to offer the best price-to-quality ratio. 

They combine the best technologies for fins that were developed for freedivers and scuba divers — but then adapted it for snorkeler’s needs, since you don’t need to have as intense of fins when you mostly stay on the surface of the water.

The foot pocket on these is designed perfectly to stabilize the ankle, allowing for easy kicking with effortless kick power transmission. 

They’ve also smartly designed the foot pocket to be fully protected from the elements, so you don’t cut up your foot on shallower or rocky areas. 

Other fins expose your foot and make it more likely than you can cut your foot or sustain a minor foot injury. 

The fin is also specifically designed to be flexible with its supporting grooves and streamlined design, so it’s great for those who don’t want to kick super hard to achieve quick speeds while snorkeling.

What About Split Blades?

Every YouTube rabbit hole on the best diving fins has landed on the same result for me: split fins are just not a good choice.

There’s a reason why the most common type of fin is the standard single-blade fin — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix (split?) it. 

They simply don’t offer much power and there’s really no need for a split blade fin. They get fancy with it, using words like “creating a vortex” and promising “optimal speeds”…. but it just really doesn’t bear out, according to divers.

​When in doubt, I look at what dive centers off. I have never in my life seen a split fin offered.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a bunch of different open heel and closed heel flexible, long fins offered — that’s because these are the easiest to use for beginner divers.

While I see a lot of divers who own their own Jet Fins, I’ve never seen a dive shop offer these… probably because they’re not the best for all divers, but rather those with really strong kicks or those who prefer frog kicking to flutter kicking.

At the end of the day, different fins all have unique, different features: you’ll want to pick what works best for you.

If you want to focus on excellent propulsion, pick a scuba diving fin with a flexible blade like the Avanti Quattro.

If you want to focus on cold water fins or ones that are compact and good for cold waters as well as warm, pick a fin like the Jet Fin.

If all you do is snorkel and you don’t need to think too hard about fin choice, pick some simple paddle fins like the IST Proline or the Cressi Plumas.

They’re both inexpensive and will offer good performance in the water without weighing down your bag too much.

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