Snorkeling vs. Diving Fins: What’s the Difference?

If you want to go snorkeling or scuba diving, you must have a pair of fins. They come in all different shapes and sizes. While the two types may seem similar, it is important to know that they are not the same. You can use diving fins for snorkeling and vise versa, but each type is optimized for the best experience.

The main differences in snorkeling fins and diving fins can be seen in the following chart:

 Snorkeling FinsDiving Fins
LengthShorter in length (15 to 20 inches long or 24 to 26 inches long)Longer in length (25 to 30 inches long)
DesignMost have a full foot pocketHas either closed or open foot pockets
PortabilityMore portable because of smaller sizeLess portable because of longer length
FlexibilityLarge amounts of flexible rubberIncreased rigidity
Thrust EfficiencyLower levels of thrust efficiencyHigher levels of thrust efficiency
BladesBlade type doesn’t necessarily matterDifferent types of blades to increase efficiency
Heel DesignFull-foot fins are idealOpen-heel design is more ideal
VentsVents are not neededVents can help with scuba diving
StrapsStraps are not neededHas standard straps or spring straps
BucklesBuckles are not neededQuick-adjust or quick-release buckles

Your knowledge of the differences between the two can aid in the purchasing of new fins. With so many different fins on the market, it can be hard to choose the right fin for you. The wrong fins can either make or break your underwater experience. 

Understanding the Difference Between Snorkel Fins and Diving Fins

There are many differences between snorkeling fins and diving fins that set them apart. You may use the two interchangeably, but you will get the best performance by matching the activity with the correct fins. Knowing the differences between the two can lower the likelihood of purchasing the wrong fins for swimming underwater. 

Length

Snorkeling fins tend to be shorter in length. This allows snorkelers to make smaller and more flexible movements when navigating the water, but they offer less propulsion. Because of this, you have to kick more furiously when using them to keep up. The added kicking creates extra whitewash and makes the shorter snorkeling fins a lot noisier. Shorter snorkel and swim training fins will usually float (my post) while heavier fins won’t.

Because they are shorter, the risk of damaging coral reefs when swimming near them becomes a significantly lower risk. Damage to ocean life occurs because beginning snorkelers forget about the added length to their bodies. Shorter travel fins are 15 to 20 inches long, but traditional ones can be 24 to 26 inches long. 

Longer snorkeling fins are more ideal for people who want more power and less noise. Longer fins are quicker, smoother, and stealthier than shorter snorkeling fins. We have another post on good long fins for snorkeling.

Design

Snorkeling fins usually have a full foot pocket. This eliminates the need for you to wear boots or socks with them.

Because snorkeling fins have a full foot pocket, they will be fully secured against your foot. This allows them to respond to your movements and your level of power immediately while you swim.

While snorkeling fins may not allow you to wear boots or socks with them, scuba fins can. They have designs with either closed or open foot pockets. 

With open pocket scuba fins, you can wear diving boots to keep your feet warmer when swimming in colder temperatures. Closed pocket fins cover your feet entirely, which allows your feet to retain more heat.

For a selection of protective socks for wear under fins, check out the site Snorkeling Recommended Gear page. Some snorkeling fins can be used with lightweight socks.

Higher quality scuba fins have integrated channels that allow water to move along the fin instead of against it. This allows you to move more rapidly. A split-fin design reduces fatigue while allowing you to move with more power. Scuba fins are also thicker and stiffer. Because of this, the fins are more durable, and they will offer more power to navigate more difficult courses.

Portability

Because snorkeling fins are usually smaller in size, they are more portable. They are also simpler to carry because they are made of lightweight materials. Snorkeling fins are more convenient to just pack up in a bag and carry them with you.

Scuba fins tend to be less portable than snorkeling fins because of the longer length. If portability is important to you, you could benefit from purchasing a pair of scuba fins made with shorter blades or lighter materials. If the length is too long, you would then be increasing the likelihood that you would have to leave them at home. 

Flexibility

Scuba fins are stiff and made out of heavier materials, making them more durable than snorkeling fins. They are rigid, making it difficult to bend them or force them out of shape. Scuba divers prefer a more rigid pair of fins because they are more powerful. This allows them to move all of their equipment more quickly underwater when swimming against strong currents. 

Snorkeling fins are more flexible than diving fins to make cutting the water’s surface easier. Kicking rigid diving fins going in and out of the water would be exhausting in comparison to using a soft snorkel fin. 

Some snorkeling fins are more flexible than others. It is important to consider how rigid you want your fins to be, but the amount of leg strength that you have can determine how flexible your snorkeling fins should be. 

If you have stronger leg muscles, you should buy expert snorkeling fins. They are great for surface snorkeling or even freediving because they will provide you with a lot of power with the increase in rigidity. For people with stronger leg muscles, flexible snorkeling fins may be too flimsy for the user, making them feel sluggish when they could be going quickly.

However, if you have weaker leg muscles, beginner snorkeling fins would be better for you. Even if you aren’t a beginning level snorkeler, the large amount of flexible rubber will allow you to kick for a longer duration of time. This will prevent your legs from getting easily tired. Buying a more flexible pair of diving fins will make the experience more enjoyable if you have weaker leg muscles, even if they aren’t as fast or powerful as the more rigid snorkeling fins. 

Thrust Efficiency

Thrust is essential when navigating the water because it is the force that propels you forward when your kicks produce a backward force. The level of thrust increases with more powerful kicks, which in turn gives you more acceleration and speed. 

Because scuba fins are designed to maneuver through the water with heavy equipment, they have higher levels of thrust to propel you with these conditions.

Blades

Since scuba divers dive further into the water, they swim to depths where there is more water pressure. Stiffer blades allow for a more powerful stroke while swimming. They also allow divers to have better efficiency if they are experienced, scuba divers. Stronger blades offer extra propulsion as well through the strong currents. 

They can even provide divers better maneuvering because they have control over their angle, pitch, and direction. There are different types of blades to choose from with scuba fins such as:

  •  Paddle blades without channels- These blades are more flexible since they don’t have stiff channels, but they don’t give you a lot of power. They are seen in traditional scuba fins, but can sometimes be seen in more expensive ones as well. These blades are ideal if you want a lighter feel with your fins. 
  • Paddle blades with channels- The channels on these blades can provide greater speed while diving. High-quality scuba fins typically will have channels. If they are designed properly, they can help your flexibility rather than harming it. They also can give fins structure to keep their rigid shape during the kicking cycle stages. 
  • Split fins- Split fin blades are designed to mimic the motion of a dolphin or whale’s tail that they use when swimming. They provide more efficiency to divers because one split fin will create high pressure while the other one will create low pressure. 

Deciding which blade to get on your scuba fin all depends on how much efficiency and power you are looking to have while scuba diving. 

Open-Heel Design

Scuba fins have an open-heel design to make getting scuba boots in and out of the foot pocket easier.

The foot pocket portion of open-heel scuba fins accommodates the forefoot portion of the scuba boot, so size is generally larger than your bare foot. Wearing boots and open heel fins allows more adjustability in sizing, as the rear straps can be tightened or loosened as needed.

Full-foot fins are a better option for snorkelers. They are lighter and easier on the legs when kicking. Since snorkelers also swim in warmer and more tropical climates, full-foot fins are the better choice. 

Vents

Vents help with drag and allow you to kick and thrust much easier. They also can increase efficiency. Some fins have vents between or in the blades. Without vents, you may end up pushing water out and won’t receive any propulsion. 

Foot pockets can produce a vacuum around your feet while swimming. This makes it hard to remove the fins. Vents allow water and air to pass through the foot to avoid this problem.

Since scuba divers go through heavier and stronger currents, they may want vents on their fins. Snorkelers don’t face these heavy currents, so they do not necessarily need vents. 

 

Straps

With open-heeled fins, it is important to consider what type of strap to buy. There are two different types of straps to consider with scuba fins:

  • Standard straps– These straps are made of a piece of flexible rubber. The flexible rubber strap can be either tightened or loosened. Some standard straps can be unclipped. This makes it easier to take the fins on and off.
  • Spring straps- Spring straps use a durable metal spring that is tightly coiled. This spring stretches over the diver’s heel. These straps are comfortable and are easy to take on and off as well. 

Using spring straps comes with many advantages over using standard straps such as:

  • Amount of adjustment needed– With spring straps, you would only need to adjust them once. Regular straps require more frequent adjustments to achieve the correct tightness around your heel as their dive boot compresses and re-expands during the dive. They also may need to readjust them every time they put their fins on or take them off. Once you install spring straps, you will not need to adjust them again. 
  • Easier fin removal– Some divers may find sliding the fin strap on and off the heel to be very difficult underwater. When wearing gloves, it is more practical to buckle and unbuckle the strap rather than sliding it on and off your heel. 

Repeatedly using the snap buckle to take fins on and off can wear the buckle out faster and will cause the straps to require more tightening and loosening. Spring straps can eliminate this problem. Some spring straps include a large D-ring pull tab on the heel. This makes it easier to slide your fingers into. This can be more ideal if you are wearing gloves.

  • Depth compression- As water pressure increases, your dive boot will experience compression. This effect can decrease the thickness of the boot’s neoprene. It will also cause your foot to slide deeper into your fin’s foot pockets. Using traditional rubber straps can cause the straps to loosen at depth even after the fin was a tight fit at the surface.

Because of this concept, many people will over-tighten their straps before scuba diving. This will lead to chafing, blocked circulation in the Achilles, and uncomfortable pressure points when diving. Spring straps are more capable of being stretched while diving than standard straps. They will naturally adjust when water pressure increases and fix itself depending on the compression and re-expansion of your dive boot while scuba diving. 

  • Durability- Spring straps tend to be more durable than regular ones. Standard rubber straps require you to repeatedly readjust them over time, so wear and tear is more likely. Every dive repair kit will have plastic buckles because wear and tear can happen frequently. 

Spring straps don’t need this repeated adjustment. These springs can withstand many pairs of fins and also hundreds of dives. They can avoid weakening and corrosion over time. 

  • Adaptation- Spring straps are adaptable to any open-heel scuba fin you may use. Many fin strap kits include multiple buckle attachments that can work with different post sizes. These straps may not have the larger D-ring, but using them will allow you to adapt them to any open-heel fin, old or new. 

Spring straps are more expensive than traditional straps, but many divers say that spring straps are worth investing in because they are more comfortable. 

Prolonged wearing can cause users to feel pain on the Achilles because of the pressure they put on it. This can be avoided by purchasing the correct size strap to accommodate your foot, boots, and fins. Straps can also have a wider-cushion on the heel area, so looking for a strap with one can also allow you to feel more comfortable when using spring straps. 

With snorkeling fins, a lot have a full foot pocket, so straps aren’t typically used; however, some snorkeling fins have an open-heel design as well, so straps may be used. It is not necessary to use straps when snorkeling because a boot is not needed. 

Buckles

The open-heel scuba fins have a variety of buckle choices as well:

  • Quick-adjust buckles– These buckles allow you to unlock the strap and also allow you to cinch your fin straps tighter by pulling on the end of the strap
  • Quick-release buckles– Quick release buckles use the quick-adjust feature, but they also can release the strap on one side to allow you to get out of the fin. They also will just click back on when you want to put your fins back on. 

Spring straps are an alternative to using buckles. They keep the spring snug while you slip your fins on and off. 

Since snorkeling fins typically have a full foot pocket, they don’t have an open heel concept. Since a strap is not needed, you also don’t have to worry about a buckle since you don’t have a strap that needs to be buckled and unbuckled.

Buying a Pair of Fins

Now that you are aware of the differences between the two, the process of purchasing a pair of fins will be much easier. You will be able to use the information that you learned to aid in the decision of which pair of fins you should buy. We have some of the best snorkeling fins discussed in another article, and check out our Recommended Gear for our top picks. You will now be able to have the best underwater experience possible because you purchased the right fins for it.


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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