If you’re new to snorkeling or diving, you might not realize that there are different types of fins that can make a big impact on your performance in the water. You might be thinking, how big of a difference can there be? A fin is just a fin, right? Unfortunately, you will be in for a nasty surprise when you’re in the water and you’re struggling to get any thrust.
That is why we recommend you purchase your gear from a dedicated dive shop if you’re inexperienced. You can ask the employees for advice and recommendations on what dive gear to get. Otherwise, you could accidentally purchase a fin designed for scuba diving when you actually plan on snorkeling, or vice versa.
The main differences between snorkeling fins vs diving fins are that SCUBA fins are generally stiffer, longer, and bulkier. You could say that SCUBA fins are more heavy-duty, and for that reason it can generate more thrust when kicking. This comes at the cost of needing more powerful kicks, which can tire you out if your physical condition is not up to par. Lastly, SCUBA fins tend to be open-heeled because they are often worn with dive boots.
Snorkeling Fins vs. Diving Fins: The Main Differences
As a general rule of thumb, SCUBA fins are around 25-30 inches long, and snorkeling fins around 20-25 inches. There is some overlap, but SCUBA fins are usually longer.
The longer a pair of fins are, the more thrust you can generate with it. That’s not saying that you cannot generate sufficient thrust with a shorter length fin, but it is more efficient doing so with a longer fin. Snorkelers don’t need to have long fins because they aren’t wearing as much gear and don’t move around as much along the surface of the water.
Learn more about the differences between short fins vs long fins here.
We keep using this word, thrust, but what is it and why do SCUBA divers care about it so much? When you produce a backward force with each kick, thrust is the force that propels you forward in response. In other words, the stronger your kicks (the backward force), the stronger and faster you are propelled (or thrust) forward. In other words, if you want to move quickly, you need more thrust!
With all of the heavy gear that SCUBA divers need to wear, they need as much thrust as possible or else they will not be able to move efficiently. When you are deep underwater with a SCUBA tank and dive weights strapped onto you, a bulkier and longer fin is necessary so that you don’t travel at a snail’s pace. (I wanted to make a turtle joke here, but turtles are actually quite fast underwater).
Unfortunately, you need some powerful legs in order to drive that force. You don’t really have a choice if you plan on SCUBA diving. But if you’re snorkeling, wearing a SCUBA fin is just making your snorkeling experience cumbersome and inefficient. Inexperienced snorkelers who mistakenly purchased SCUBA fins will struggle to even kick their legs in the water.
Due to how tough they are to use, moving efficiently with SCUBA fins requires practice. There are other techniques that divers utilize other than the standard flutter kick to move precisely through various environments.
For instance, SCUBA divers may utilize the frog kick to navigate through wrecks or caves (or to SCUBA fins are significantly stiffer than snorkeling fins. In addition to the heavy SCUBA equipment, SCUBA fins need to be able to generate enough thrust while withstanding the water pressure at deep depths.
Snorkeling fins are designed to be flexible and soft which makes swimming along the surface a breeze, however it will not hold up deep underwater to deliver the thrust needed for a SCUBA diver to travel efficiently.
Snorkeling fins can be open-heel or closed-heel whereas SCUBA fins are almost always open-heel. Snorkelers have the luxury of choosing whether they want to wear a dive bootie or not. Dive booties can protect your feet from chafing, and thanks to its neoprene material it can also keep your feet warm.
Dive booties are worn with open-heel fins and closed-heel fins are worn as is. The open-heel design makes putting on the fin easier, especially since they are worn with dive booties and thus a few extra millimetres of space must be accounted for. Furthermore, the strap on open-heel fins may compress or loosen based on the water pressure.
Since SCUBA divers are at depths far deeper than snorkelers, they are exposed to colder water and need more insulation! That is why they must fully protect themselves, and they do so by wearing a full wetsuit, dive gloves, dive booties, and diving fins
Additionally, SCUBA divers also need the booties to protect the bottom of their feet once they’re travel across the sea floor). Some other kicks are the reverse kick to move backward, or the helicopter kick to change directions in place.
out of the water and walking over the rocky beach.
Next, the sole of the foot pocket in SCUBA fins are much more rigid than snorkeling fins. The inflexible foot pocket is necessary to accommodate the thick, rubber-sole of the dive boots and to maximize thrust with each kick.
Lastly, most snorkelers will vacation in a warm, tropical destination like Hawaii, so they have no need of extra insulation from dive booties. A full-foot snorkeling fin will be a better choice since they weigh less and can be worn as is, so you don’t need to purchase and bring along an extra pair of dive booties when traveling.
Can You Use One Type of Fin for Both Activities?
Knowing these differences, perhaps you would still rather use a SCUBA fin for snorkeling or vice versa. You might be thinking that if you both snorkel and SCUBA dive, you can save money by using a pair of fins for both activities. Technically, you can and no one is stopping you, however it is not recommended.
Instead, what you’re looking for is a kind of hybrid fin. That is, a fin that is stiffer and longer than the average snorkeling fin, but not so long and stiff that it is cumbersome to use when snorkeling. It needs to fit just right. If you only dive in shallower, tropical water with calm currents, you might be able to get away with using one pair of fins for both activities.
For additional articles on snorkeling fins, we recommend you check out our guides on the best travel fins and fins for wide feet. If you really want to save money, you can even try snorkeling without fins.