Whether you're snorkeling for the first time or go on snorkeling vacations regularly, investing in a quality pair of fins can make your experience more enjoyable. Not only will you save money on rentals at the resort, you'll also be guaranteed a comfortably fitting pair of fins well adapted for your snorkeling adventure. Some fins are better suited for snorkeling than others, however, so you should learn about the different fits and shapes before making a purchase.
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Snorkel fins differ from scuba fins in that they're smaller and more lightweight, since they need to propel only your body, not your body with a heavy tank attached. The biggest difference in fin varieties is in how they fit your feet. Full-foot fins have a rubber slipper at the back into which you insert your entire foot. Open-heel fins cover your toes but contain a strap at the back for your heel, rather than covering it completely. Many snorkelers also wear booties with open-heel fins to protect their feet from rocks and coral. Snorkeling fins also come in a variety of designs, including the basic paddle design; fins with a split down their center for faster speed; or more intricate designs, such as the long blade fins.
Choosing the best fins will depend largely on your own preferences and what sort of snorkeling you intend to do. Simple full-foot paddle fins are the most economical choice for the casual snorkeler in deep water, though you'll want to ensure they fit well to avoid blisters or having them constantly fall off your feet. Open-heel paddle fins are a bit more expensive but might be ideal if you're snorkeling in shallow water, because you'll be able to remove your fins when walking but still have booties to protect your feet from rocky surfaces. Split fins will let you move more quickly in the water but are less maneuverable than paddle fins. While long blade fins will let you move the quickest, they're also bulky and are likely to hit and damage coral, so you should avoid using them while snorkeling.
You'll get the best snorkeling fins if you shop at a local dive or scuba shop. Big box retailers carry many reliable brands, but you'll be less likely to find a trained salesperson who can help you find the right fit. Though full-foot fins have sizes corresponding to shoe sizes, you should always try them on to ensure a comfortable fit. Regardless of the design, you should test a fin's flexibility. Hold it by the end where you put your foot and shake it up and down to ensure the fin flaps easily. A rigid fin makes it difficult to propel yourself in the water, particularly if you are a beginning snorkeler. You also should look at full snorkeling sets, which include fins, a snorkel and a mask, as they can save you a few dollars.
When comparing specific brands, snorkeling enthusiasts at Tropical Snorkeling recommend starting with the U.S. Divers Sea Lion Fins, an economical, basic full-foot fin that travels easily. U.S. Divers also offers a low-cost basic set that includes a snorkel and mask. If you want to spend a bit more, you can look at the Aeris Velocity full-foot fins, a paddle fin that also has some splitting to emulate split fins, or the powerful Mares Avanti Superchannel full-foot fins. For a split fin, Tropical Snorkeling suggests the thin, lightweight Tusa Xpert Zoom full-foot split fins.