Underwater Motion: Choosing the Best Scuba Fins of 2020

Swimming with dolphins, rays, whales, and even sharks is one of the most exhilarating experiences on Earth. Don’t get left in their wake by a pair of crummy fins that tire your legs out and make you suck your tank dry faster than necessary.

The fact is, not all fins are created equal. Different construction materials and fin designs have a huge impact on how efficiently you are propelled through the water. Finding the right pair of fins can mean the difference between tired, sore legs, and catching one-of-a-kind pictures of a barracuda.

5 Best Scuba Fins - Comparisons

Best Scuba Fins - Reviews

Atomic Aquatics Split Fins

I have to admit when I started this article the Atomic split fins were the first pair of fins that came to my mind. In the dive fin world, you typically have a blade fin or a split fin. Split fins differ from blades in that they create a propeller type motion in place of the push or jet motion of blade fins.

The design of the Atomic fins strives to bridge the gap between split and blade. The high-density rubber is molded into a thick cylinder that lines the outside of each of the split blades—in effect, the outer edges of the fins create the push thrust of a blade fin while also creating the propeller motion of a typical split fin.

Together, the two types of motion make kicking and moving in the water almost effortless—I have been diving for 14 years and with these on, I can easily move faster than almost any of my dive buddies. As an instructor and dive master, I love that these fins make sure that none of my divers can easily escape me.

Better than the speed is that I can go on longer dives because I am not burning through air fueling my tired leg muscles. I do a lot of beach diving, and I love that I don’t get exhausted during my surface swims. The added EZ-LOK buckle system is the simplest way to clip and un-clip the fins when getting in and out of the water.

I have been a user of the Atomic split fins for over a decade, and they still look pretty darn good—granted, they show some marks and scratches from a few errant kicks over the years, but they are just as strong and powerful as the day I started using them.

The fins do have their drawbacks, though—while I love to dive with these fins, traveling with them can be a pain in the butt. These split fins arelong and when I have them next to other divers’ fins I feel like I am wearing clown shoes. In the water this a great feature, but when I packing for an international trip, the length means I can only take my large dive bag, which is sometimes inconvenient.

The other problem is that I have to have boots with a thicker sole. Left to right, the fin pocket is great, but top to bottom it is a little tall for a boot with a thinner sole. I like the thicker sole for cold water beach diving, but I would really like to have a thinner boot for the tropical water of the Caribbean.

What we liked

  • Great thrust with little effort
  • Easy to take off
  • Durable and long lasting

What we didn't like

  • Long and hard to pack
  • Foot pocket is large top to bottom
Mares Avanti Quattro Plus Open Heel Bungee Strap Fin

Mares is a top name in the scuba industry, so you know a fin made by this company will surely carry you places. Mares didn’t reinvent the blade fin with the Avanti, but the addition of the “Channel Thrust” ribs help the center of the fin to catch and push more water with each kick—and morewater movement means more forward movement with less effort.

The fin is made from thermoplastic rubber-tecralene® that is rigid along the sides of the blade and has a flexible center. As the center yields to the water resistance, the sides keep the fin form and allow the channels to force the water flow along the blade. The combination of these features creates a strong and consistent thrust with every kick with less effort than a traditional blade fin.

The other feature that I loved about this set of fins are the bungee straps—putting fins on and taking them off isn’t difficult, but having the bungee straps makes the process so much quicker. The only downside to the bungee straps is that they aren’t adjustable.

The problem with these fins comes in the fit. They seemed to run a little large compared to other fins I have tried. There isn’t a good middle ground for the sizes, so I elected to stay a little large so I could comfortably fit both my warm water boots and my dry suit boots.

Another thing that the traveling diver should know is that these fins are about 15 inches long and weigh two pounds each—taking these along on your trips means you may have to leave behind an extra swimsuit or two to avoid going overweight on your baggage. 

What we liked

  • Superior blade power
  • Bungee fin straps
  • Comfortable while kicking

What we didn't like

  • Sizes run large
  • Fins take up a lot of bag space
IST Rubber Rocket Scuba Diver Fins, Military Special Ops Gear

Anytime you use the word military in a product, you are immediately setting a high bar and inviting scrutiny—but these IST fins welcome the challenge. Another variety of the tried and true blade fin, these puppies are all about getting the job done with little frills.

What make the IST fins different from other split fins are their tapered blade tips and open vents. The vents allow water to flow efficiently over the blade of the fin, and the tip directs the water directly behind the fin to make sure your effort is transformed into powerful forward motion.

These finsare made from thick and durable rubber that will help them stand up to any abuse you throw at it. The thicker rubber also allows the fin to retain its blade shape as you push through the water, and makes sure you don’t lose forward momentum due to a floppy blade.

What seems to be the common issue with fins are the straps—given the quality of the build of these fins, I was disappointed with the straps. IST offers an upgrade to their spring straps, but the included straps almost felt like an afterthoughtdesignedto encourage purchasingthe upgrade.

The other problem with these fins is their thickness and weight. I am not in the military, and while I appreciate solid build quality, using these in the water took some getting used to. I am more accustomed to more flexible fins that feel lighter in the water. That being said, the amount of water pushed by these firm blades is impressive.

What we liked

  • Open vents make fins efficient
  • Very durable
  • Excellent thrust per kick

What we didn't like

  • Included strap is flimsy and poor quality
  • Heavy in the water, and in bag
SCUBAPRO Jet Diving Fin with Spring Heel Strap

In my diving career Ihave been in the water with divers who have been involved in the sport since the 1970s, and many of them still swear by the first pair of Jet fins they purchased way back when. Their reason for loving the fins in that they are simple, and they still work.

Scubapro is known as a leader in the equipment industry, and has stuck with these fins, with almost no change, for over 50 years. The Jet fin is constructed of thick and durable rubber that is all but bulletproof. The vents formed into the rubber direct the water along the fins to decrease resistance and increase thrust when kicking.

The originalJet fin was a solid black piece of propulsion power with a rubber strap, but Scubapro has added several colors to the line-up since then. I am a fan of the visibility of the bright yellow fins, but you can also pick up a pair of camo-colored to satisfy your inner hunter. They have also added a spring strap to replace the original rubber strap.

Jet fins do come with a learning curve, though. Being as thick and stiff as they are, they don’t flex like a regular pair of fins, and the first time in the water you definitely feel the stiffness—but once you learn to kick properly, you will be flying through the water.

The other issue is the weight for travel. Together these fins weigh almost six pounds, taking up a considerable amount of your allowable weight for travel.

What we liked

  • Tried and true for 50 years
  • Great thrust and power
  • Thick and durable (may just last 50 years)

What we didn't like

  • Takes time to adjust to stiff blade
  • Very heavy at 6 pounds
Cressi Pro Light Open Heel Diving Fin Frameless Mask Snorkel Set

The Pro Light from Cressiis one of the best fins out there for new divers. “Pro Light” isn’t just a name, these fins do feel light and easy in the water. Divers just getting used to kicking through the water using these fins will find a high degree of forgiveness that won’t cause pain or fatigue.

The Pro Light has strong polypropylene blades and soft elastomers (thermo rubber) for the foot with protective inserts. These rubber materials mean you get a solid and durable fin with plenty of flexibility. The blade of the fin actually starts in the foot pocket and increases the efficiency of each kick.
Experienced divers will like these fins for the light and easy kick they provide. When I am not diving professionally, I like to meander slowly along the kelp forests and rock reefs around my home. The kick feels natural and easy. While not super-fast, these fins won’t wear you out.

The major con with the Pro Light is that the foot pocket size is hard to match. My wife has average size feet, but the pocket of her XS sized fins is still a little too big. The strap is nice and easy to adjust, but she has to cinch it down pretty tight to feel like the fin fits her ok.

The other downside is the strap clip. I have found that the Cressi clips are a little unreliable and difficult to manipulate. The sides of the clip are hard to compress, especially with a gloved hand. Cressi has an elastic bungee strap available that helps deal with this problem, and I definitely recommend the upgrade.

What we liked

  • Great fin for beginners
  • Easy to use and comfortable
  • Good power for being so light

What we didn't like

  • Foot pocket runs large
  • Strap clip is hard to manipulate

Tips for Selecting the Best Scuba Fins

1. Full Foot vs. Open Heel

Each pair of fins we featured in this articles open heel with an adjustable strap, but you likely have seen the full-footed variety as well. Full foot fins look like a fin with a low-cut shoe attached. All of the fins we chose are open heel for two reasons:

Versatility – If you are like me, you like to have gear that works in almost any situation. Full foot fins may be lighter weight and work well for tropical waters, but you can only use them in warm water, whereas the adjustable strap on the open heel fin allows you comfortable fit with a neoprene sock or boot that will keep your feet warm in colder weather. The open-heel variety is usable in any diving, instead of just tropical water.

Protection –The cold isn’t the only reason to wear a dive boot. Using a set of fins with adjustable straps allows you to wear boots that will protect your feet and ankles from corals, rocks, or other debris. You will also have the advantage of having a good pair of shoes for in and out of the water. I love being able to walk comfortably on boat decks and beaches without having to worry about slipping or stepping on rocks and hot sand.

2. A Proper Fit

Fitting a pair of open heel fins is a simple, but vital process. For the majority of fins, all you need to do is sit down and place the fin onto your booted foot (make sure you put your dive boots on first) and tighten the strap until the fin is snug, but not too tight—it’s a good idea to let a few inches of your boots protrude from the fins’ foot pocket.I usually use the three-finger rule; you want your first three fingers to fit between the foot pocket of your fin, and the back of your boot heel.

After the fin fits properly, kick it around as if you are swimming underwater, pointed toes and all—the kick should feel natural and not cause discomfort in your feet or legs.

Go Forth and Kick Freely

Whether you’re gazing at corals or chasing down seahorses, the right fins will keep you skimming the seafloor in comfort and ease. Each of these fins will allow your adventure in almost any water, any time of the year—they are all made of high quality, durable materials that will keep you diving for years to come.

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David Valle

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!