Your First Dive Gear: Fins
The first question when it comes to fins for scuba diving is full foot or open heel fins with boots. I recommend open heel and booties every time, and in fact I’m struggling to think of an occasion where a colleague has ever recommended anything else. I know some people who prefer full-foot fins but I really can’t think of any advantage they might have when it comes to scuba diving, with the possible exception of expense, but I think this is outweighed by the overall advantages of open heel fins and boots.
Full-foot fins provide no exposure protection which means that you can get cold feet in the water, and – bearing in mind that very few people have feet that match a shoe-size perfectly, or even have feet that are exactly the same size, any problem with the fit means that you will probably end up with blisters. Neoprene socks might help but fins with adjustable straps can be tweaked to fit to any size of foot.
Boots and open heel fins are also a distinct advantage if you’re diving from anywhere that isn’t a boat. If you have to walk across a hot, pebble-filled beach, or sharp rocks, or sea urchins to get into the water, then barefoot open heel fins will not work. Boots offer some protection from the environment. There was also that time when a diver accidentally trod on a stonefish… fortunately, he was wearing thick soled boots.
Some people suggest that they get more power from the closer contact between foot and fin with full-foot fins. Me, I say that the contact between the sole of a boot and the plane of the open heel fin generates much more power. I should also say that I know of no dive professional who recommends full-foot fins for diving in currents.
Make sure the straps fit your feet, which is not as exact a science as it sounds. Most straps are adjustable, with clips to unfasten them for easy removal, but it’s very easy to lose the plastic fasteners if you’re not careful. I’m a big fan of the Mares clip which lock and unlock without disconnecting anything – a bit like ski boots
There is a lot of discussion about spring heel straps which don’t need any adjustment at all, and they are indeed great if they fit correctly, but make sure they really do fit the size of your booted feet, otherwise they’re not great at all. I’ve met several divers who purchased spring straps without checking, and because of their foot and fin size, the springs were either oversized and too loose, or too small and too tight so we had to swap them for adjustable spares. Check in the shop. Wiggle your feet. Make sure.
The big discussion, of course, is what type of fins to use. Choose a comfortable, bog-standard set of paddle fins. People will tell you about split fins and jet fins and all sorts of hydrodynamic wonderfulness but – given this is an article about 'how to choose your first fins' – you can’t go wrong with bog standard paddles. They suit all finning styles, which is essential when you want to practice those different styles, and they are the mainstay of the dive industry. There are many alternatives and variations, but wait until you know what you’re doing until you spend money on something you’re not sure about