Substance, Style or Streamlining? DIVE's Guide to the Top Fins
Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell’s guide to all the latest fins on the market, from the most basic to the most sophisticated high-tech models. Everything from those for absolute beginners to those best suited to demanding technical divers
There is such a broad selection of fins on the market that it can be difficult to know where to start looking, especially if you are about to make your first equipment purchase. An army of web ‘experts’ will proclaim that only their particular choice of fins is the ‘right’ fin to have, but fins are among the most personal pieces of dive equipment, and what may well feel right to one person may feel distinctly uncomfortable to another.
Like all footwear, be that boots or trainers, high heels or flats, fins are about comfort, utility and – very often – style and colour. A diver’s choice of fin will depend on the arena in which he or she will be diving and there are certain fins that suit certain types of diving better than others. In this feature we’ve split the categories into ‘entry-level’, ‘advanced’ and ‘technical’, but it should be noted that there is a great deal of crossover between those broad descriptions.
To continue the footwear analogy: flip-flops are great at the beach, hiking boots not so much, but they’re a better choice for hill-walking. A decent pair of trainers would be fine in either environment. The same is true of fins – some designs listed as ‘entry-level’ would fulfil the needs of many technical divers, and vice versa. Some of the ‘advanced’ fins may be suitable for neither.
Here, we’ve given fin manufacturers a chance to let us know what’s on offer for the coming year. The list is not exhaustive, and there may not be a great deal separating various different models other than the brand name, but that’s as important to many divers as the fins themselves. Just like shoes.
The entry-level category is aimed at those divers who don’t have a great deal of underwater experience beyond their beginner-level certifications. This is the type of fin that was probably used during training programmes, usually as part of the rental gear offered by the dive centre. Fins in this category are typically referred to as ‘paddle’ fins: fairly stiff with perhaps a few rubber channels, not a great deal in the way of extra features, and usually the least expensive.
This does not mean that they are only suitable for novices; indeed, they are multi-purpose fins that would serve many divers well in most circumstances. If you’re new to the market and not certain what to buy, it’s difficult to go wrong with a general-purpose paddle fin.
Aqua Lung Stratos ADJ £64
Aqua Lung markets the Stratos ADJ as ‘an excellent choice for divers entering the sport’, noting that it is also very popular as resort rental equipment, an immediate bonus point on any product’s resumé for both purpose and durability. The dual material of both blade and foot pocket provides rigidity and flexibility in the right places, and the quick-release buckle and strap are simple and ergonomic.
Sizes S, M, L/XL
Colours Black, blue, yellow, orange
Atomic Aquatics BladeFin £129
Atomic’s ‘Power-Loop Monocoque’ means that the top part of the foot pocket is actually part of a single structure which includes the frame rails running the length of each side of the blade. The lower half of the pocket – or ‘Power Plate’ – connected underneath, gives divers what Atomic describes as the feeling that the fin is ‘bolted’ to the foot. Vertical stabilizers on the fin tips keep the blade tracking in the right direction during kicking. The strap and side-clipped buckles rotate 180 degrees and are of the standard ‘pull to adjust’ design.
Sizes S, M, L
Colours Blue, yellow, silver, red, pink, purple
Cressi Frog Plus EBS £79.99
The original Cressi Frog has been a mainstay of recreational diving rental gear for years, and the Frog Plus is its latest evolution. Using three materials instead of two, the rubber foot pocket which is slung under the blade extends up the side rails, there is a dual density polymer for the blade and a silicone material for channels, which altogether Cressi claims to increase power and efficiency during both the up and down strokes. The Frog Plus EBS comes with either a rubber bungee strap (pictured above); older models with the standard buckle are still available.
Sizes XS/S, S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Black/white, blue/silver, black/grey, black/yellow, black/pink
Mares Avanti Superchannel £61
The Mares Avanti series has some of the most recognisable fins on the market, and there is little to fault them. The various channel designs allow for controlled deformation of the otherwise fairly rigid blade, allowing a higher volume of water to be displaced with every thrust. They will work in pretty much all conditions, and function across all kicking styles. The Superchannel is slightly more compact and a little lighter than the popular Avanti Quattro +, but comes in at a budget price. No-nonsense, rugged and multi-purpose, the Superchannel comes with a rubberised bungee heel strap as standard (ABS buckle versions are still available).
Sizes S, R, XL
Colours Blue, yellow, black
Oceanic Viper £47.99
A streamlined fin with a wide, central, flexible ‘power thrust channel’ that integrates seamlessly with the material of the generous foot pockets. The blade is of dual material construction, with the semi-rigid panels keeping the flexible channels from deforming excessively, along with the fairly wide sidebars that reinforce the blade and simultaneously prevent water spilling over the sides. Small ‘power vents’ on either side of the foot pocket help to reduce resistance while kicking. Lightweight for travel purposes, the Viper comes with a side-clip-style strap and buckle.
Sizes XS/S, S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Black, blue/black, yellow/black
Scubapro Wake £41
The Wake is described by Scubapro as ‘a no-frills and no-nonsense’ fin that’s perfect for travelling. It also has a no-nonsense price. The comfortable and lightweight foot pocket is integrated directly into the fin’s blade, which is a two-component design with a semi-rigid blade, sectioned with more flexible channels with vertical ‘power ribs’ and side stabilisers that help with thrust direction and draining water. The quick-release buckles keep a wide heel strap secure and can be opened with one hand. The anti-slip coating on the heel is useful when boat diving.
Sizes S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Black, blue, yellow, white, lavender (S/M, M/L only)
Seac Propulsion £61 / Propulsion S £84
A dual-compound fin with an integrated rigid frame, semi-rigid blade and soft-rubber channel inserts that allow for increased water displacement, with relatively wide side-rails that prevent water spilling off the blade and propelling it along its length. The blade is longer than most other paddle fins, at 68cm in the large size. Seac’s proprietary buckle system has a pinch clip which allows you slacken the strap rather than completely disconnect it. The ‘S’ version will arrive on the market in October and will include the more popular bungee straps as standard.
Sizes S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Blue, yellow, black, pink
TUSA Liberator X-Ten £44.95
The original Liberator was a popular choice for multi-purpose dive centre rental gear and the X-Ten continues along those lines. The blade is a single material without vents or flexible rubber channels, but ridged ‘dynamic stabilisers’ on the blade surface, with high-profile rails to channel water in the right direction. Standard pinch-clip quick-release buckles and an adjustable strap make this a good budget choice for entry-level divers and beyond.
Sizes S, R
Colours Black, blue, yellow
These are fins that have what the manufacturers call ‘more advanced technical features’. They often differ in shape and construction from entry-level fins, often with holes, splits, channels and so on which change the hydrodynamic capability of the fins. They may offer extra thrust, lighter weight or ease of use. However, they may not be suited to all divers in all circumstances. They might not suit a particular style of finning, or perhaps are too buoyant to be used – for example – with a drysuit, or may make ‘back-finning’ all but impossible. They are suited to divers with a little more experience underwater, who understand in greater depth (no pun intended) how their fins affect their diving but are not necessarily planning to venture into the technical arena.
Aqua Lung Slingshot £70.45
The Slingshot’s advanced design features power bands that are put under tension as you apply force on the downstroke which is released prior to the upstroke, effectively giving an added boost to thrust. This can be adjusted as you dive, with a dial on the fin that allows you to change how the fin responds. You can sacrifice a little thrust to ease the effort of finning, and vice versa, making it one of the only fins on the market which is adjustable in this manner. The semi-rigid blade is a composite of separate ‘elastometric’ materials, and the ‘mid-foot’ flex joint reduces strain on the ankles and toes. Anti-slip rubber pads on the bottom provide traction on slippery boat decks, and the simple press-torelease buckle is fairly standard and easy to operate.
Sizes S, R, XL
Colours Black/silver and blue/silver
Atomic Aquatics SplitFins £152 / Smoke On Water £190
Split fins became very popular in the early 2000s but were rapidly dismissed as gimmicks and unusable in currents – partly due to poor design and partly due to the fact that nobody knew how to use them properly. Used correctly, however, they can generate an enormous amount of thrust for a lot less effort than a paddle fin, and Atomic Aquatics has persisted with the design, aiming to take the best elements of the split fin to deliver a product that works, even adding a usage guide on the website. Multi-composite plastics through the blades, combined with proprietary power rails and stiff foot pockets add to the performance. The ‘EZ-LOK’ buckles allow for quick, single-handed fin release. Optional spring-heel straps are available.
Sizes S, M, L, XL
Colours Yellow, blue, royal blue, silver, pink, purple, and ‘Smoke on Water’ (right of picture, above)
Beuchat Aquabionic £129
The Aquabionic is based on what Beuchat calls Water Adaptive Responsive Propulsion (WARP) technology, ‘inspired by the biology of various marine mammals’. The blade is hinged and the central, flexible part of the fin has a series of channels that ‘allows the blade to accumulate a volume of water that is determined by, and proportional to, the effort produced by the diver’. Effectively, this is an energy storage and release system to aid the diver by increasing thrust with less effort. Tests by US Navy Seals resulted in reduced air consumption and energy expenditure by amplifying the thrust exerted by the diver. Designed for all kicking styles (including back finning), the Aquabionic comes with a spring strap as standard.
Sizes S, M/L, XL
Colours Black, red, yellow, pink, blue
Cressi Ara EBS £107.99
Unlike some other manufacturers, Cressi has decided to steer away from hydrodynamic vents and hinges and concentrated its design efforts on the blade itself. The ‘main feature’ is the polypropylene blade which reduces the weight of the fin to 850g in the mediumto-large size. Water channels are grooves in the blade material rather than additional ridges or flexible rubber inserts. The Ara is available in three degrees of stiffness, with the Ara EBS HB having a more rigid blade designed for ‘critical situations’ and strong currents, and the Ara EBS SB model having a much softer blade to reduce the effort involved in finning, at the expense of maximum thrust. The EBS strap is Cressi’s own take on the popular rubber bungee system, designed for ease of donning and doffing, especially with thick, even threefingered, cold-water gloves.
Sizes S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Blue, black, silver, yellow
Hollis F2 £115
Hollis is primarily a technical diving manufacturer but the unusual design of the F2 is targeted at all divers, of any level. The fin is injection-moulded monoprene, with a short blade for ease of packing and use in tight spaces. The vented blade reduces some of the strain of finning and is designed to accommodate all kicking styles. The steel-spring straps have angled mounts for comfort and have multiple mounting points to ensure the wide foot pockets are a good fit for different styles of boot.
Sizes S, R, L
Mares X-Stream £145
The latest evolution of both Mares’s ‘Channel Thrust’ and ‘Optimized Pivoting Blade’ (OPB) technologies. The X-Stream’s blade flexes close to the foot-pocket and has a more enhanced pivot point than the older Volo Power. The tri-material blade has a wide, flexible channel for thrust, surrounded by a series of vents which help to reduce turbulence during the fin stroke. The ‘riddled’ foot pocket has multiple perforations to reduce drag from what Mares refers to as the ‘parachute effect.’ Straps and buckles are of Mares’s patented ABS design – the buckles unclip and extend rather than fully disconnect.
Sizes XS, S, R, XL
Colours Blue, pink, red, black, white, yellow
Oceanic Vortex V16 £79
The Vortex uses Oceanic’s patented ‘propeller fin technology’. As the split deforms, channels in the ‘wings’ funnel the water towards the centre to increase propulsion, rather like squeezing the nozzle of a hose. Large side rails add rigidity to the oversized blades and Oceanic claims the V16 is 30 per cent faster when compared with ‘conventional’ fins. Pinch-clip buckles and a strap with a thumbloop are standard; spring straps are available as an optional extra.
Sizes XS/S, S/M, M/L, L/XL
Colours Blue/black, yellow/black
Scubapro Seawing Nova £145
Despite the distinctly odd design, the Seawing Nova (left) has won a number of awards. It is designed to maximize the thrust of a paddle fin with the ease of use of a split fin. The Nova has an articulated joint around which the blade pivots, and the extra-wide trailing edge adds extra propulsion, while ridges and winglets on the blade channel water in the right direction. It can be used with all styles of kicking, including reverse, and is suitable for the technical as well as the recreational market. The single-material, monoprene construction has been tested to one million kicks with no material fatigue. Grip pads on the heels reduce slip and bungee straps are standard. A stiffer ‘Gorilla’ version is available.
Sizes XS, S, M, L, XL
Colours Black, white, yellow, blue, pink, purple
Seac F1 £85 / F1 S £110
The F1 combines a series of panels with a flexible channel and integrated rigid frame to maximise thrust, while the lightweight and vented blade reduces the effort involved in kicking. At only 730g per fin, the F1 is among the lightest on the market, making it a travelfriendly design that does not sacrifice too much power. Grip pads on the soles cater to slippery decks. The F1 comes with Seac’s standard pinch-release buckle, and the F1 S with Seac’s ‘sling strap’ bungee, plus extra colour options.
Sizes XXS/XS, XS/S, S/M, M/L, L/XL, XL/XXL
Colours Black, black/red, black/blue (F1), black/yellow, white/pink, white/aquamarine (F1S)
TUSA Hyflex Switch £159
The Hyflex Switch is unique in that its angled blade can be separated from the foot pocket, reducing packing space for travel. The polyurethane blade is designed to give a ‘quick and snappy’ response to a diver’s foot movement, and includes Tusa’s ‘vortex generator’ – a series of six performance ridges situated behind the blade vent, which reduces water resistance during the fin stroke. A heavy-duty universal bungee strap accommodates five adjustable positions.
Sizes XS, S, M, L/XL
Colours Black, blue, yellow
These are fins that are geared towards the technical diving market, which often has more stringent requirements of fins than recreational diving. The material and design is usually stiffer, heavier, and more resistant to abrasion than fins targeted at the recreational market, so that they can be used in all environments, with all equipment configurations, and with the thickest and therefore most buoyant of exposure suits. Again, this does not mean the fins cannot be used by other divers, especially those who are learning to dive in cold water and many recreational divers enjoy using these fins.
Apeks RK3 / RK3HD £120
Designed with and used by the US military and coastguard, the Apeks RK3 is a rugged thermoplastic rubber fin featuring an oversized foot pocket to accommodate drysuit boots, with a spring strap for ease of use. The blades are short, wide and heavy, but vented to reduce resistance, and have grommet holes at either end to fit clips and carabiners to aid carrying them. The HD version is a higher density rubber for extra negative buoyancy. The RK3 weighs 1.19kg (in the large size) and the RK3HD 1.4kg. Voluminous foot pockets will accommodate all types of boot, but try them out with your own boots before you buy.
Sizes Medium, large, super
Colours Black, white
Atomic Aquatics X1 BladeFin £103
Following a similar internal design to the BladeFin, the X1 is shorter and stiffer with rigid, lower-profile side rails to reduce sideways drag, and has been specifically designed to cover all kicking styles – including frog, scissor, helicopter and back-finning – aimed at increasing manoeuvrability in tight spaces, and the overall utility required by technical divers. The foot pocket is taller and roomier to accommodate drysuit boots, and similar vertical stabilizers to the recreationally-oriented BladeFin keep the fin tracking straight. The Atomic EZ-LOK buckle system comes as standard, optional spring straps are available.
Sizes S, M, L, XL
Colours Blue, black, red, yellow, silver
Hollis F1 £129 / F1 Yellow Tip £149
Constructed from high grade, heavy duty rubber, the F1 – also known as the ‘Bat Fin’ due to the shape of the blade’s trailing edge – is Hollis’s outright commitment to the technical diving market. The generous foot pockets with angled strap mounts, and multiple mounting points for the steel spring straps cater for all sizes of boot, but at 3.5kg for a pair they are among the heaviest on the market and perhaps not as suitable for recreational divers as their lightweight F2 siblings. The special edition Yellow Tip aids visibility in low light conditions.
Sizes One size
Colours Black, black/yellow
Mares Power Plana £154 / XR Power Plana Tec £172
Negatively buoyant and designed from natural rubber, Mares’ heavy-duty tech fin is suitable for all divers, especially those wearing thick exposure or drysuits. The broad blade and large sidebars, combined with a length of only 55cm make this a compact, sturdy fin which will suit all kicking styles. The large vents at the base of the blade to either side of the foot pocket carry over from Mares’ advanced recreational fin designs, helping to reduce stress on the ankles and calf muscles. The full-foot pocket will accommodate most types of boot, and the bungee strap is made from the same rubber as Mares speargun slings, however, it is not adjustable. The XR Power Plana Tec version is slightly stiffer, with a spring strap
Sizes S, R, XL, XXL
Scubapro Jet Fin £120
The classic Jet Fin was first introduced 50 years ago and the distinctive design is recognisable the world over. The rubber construction is renowned for its durability, and the vents reduce drag on the upstroke and, more thrust on the downstroke. Among the favourites of technical, military and commercial divers, these fins are also popular with ‘old-school’ recreational divers. They have a wide variety of colour choices and one of the widest ranges of available sizes. The fins are available in classic black, with the original adjustable heel strap, or more colourful varieties with steel spring straps as standard.
Sizes M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
Colours With adjustable heel strap: black. With spring strap: black, white, olive green, yellow, pink, red, Camo
X-Deep EX-1 £125
Tech specialist X-Deep has evolved the traditional vented jet fin design, utilising an advanced polymer instead of rubber which means the EX-1 is not as affected by temperature. X-Deep makes the fin available in hard, medium and soft compounds. The hard is for dedicated technical divers, while recreational divers may prefer the softer compound as they master their finning technique. A neutrally buoyant version will be available for 2018. Foot pockets have been moulded around a variety of boots with a slightly softer compound around the opening to increase feel. Steel spring straps are standard.
Sizes L, XL
The advice that’s often given to people buying diving equipment is ‘Buy the best that you can afford’, which may be the case for gear such as regulators and exposure suits, but is less true of fins. A high-end regulator will work everywhere, but an expensive set of fins, for reasons of experience and diving environment, may not always be the best choice.
Some fins may not suit your preferred method of finning (assuming you have one), or may be too light or too heavy for your type of diving. Others might not be available in your preferred colour.
The first place to start – especially if you are a relative novice looking to make your first purchase – is to stick with what you know. If you’ve just finished a resort-based open-water course, for example, it’s likely that you will have been issued with a basic set of ‘paddle’ fins as part of the programme.
They are basic, inexpensive, hard-wearing (otherwise dive centres wouldn’t use them), and suit most people, for almost all types of diving and all finning styles. If you’re not sure where to begin looking, the general, all-purpose, entry-level paddle fin is an excellent place to start.
If you’ve learned to dive in cold water with a drysuit, however, then you may wish to look at heavier fins which will help with stability and buoyancy control.
Some fins are designed to reduce the effort involved in their use, but the trade-off is a reduction in power. The most powerful, stiffer fins tend to be harder on the ankles and calf muscles, although some of the more ‘advanced designs’ claim to make the best of both worlds. This may well be a factor for consideration based on personal physique, prior injury or the simple passage of time.
If possible, try before you buy. Most fins will cater to the basic up-and-down flutter kick, but once you’ve learned to frog kick, you may find they’re not so good. Back finning is useful for some divers – especially photographers – and mandatory for technical divers, but some of the lightweight ‘advanced’ designs make this impossible.
Open-Heel of Full-Foot?
Most dive professionals would recommend open-heel fins and boots. Traipsing over hot sand, rocks and sea urchins in bare feet with full-foot fins may prevent you from getting to the entry point, and the waters around even the warmest of tropical islands can be decidedly chilly at times. Boots protect you from the physical environment and offer thermal protection that full-foot fins cannot.
There is a variety of designs of straps and buckles, but elasticated ‘bungee’ and steel-spring straps are becoming more commonplace. It’s worth mentioning that some fins – especially those geared towards technical diving – have very voluminous foot pockets catering to large drysuit boots, so it’s definitely worth trying them on for size before buying. If you are going to be diving in a range of environments, check that the fins are adjustable for the different sizes of boots you might wear.
Sizing guides vary between manufacturers. Some will label their products as S, M, L, others as S/M, M/L, L/XL, some have Small, Regular and Large. It depends on your personal shoe size, naturally, but also on the size of the boots you are wearing. As a rough guide, you can expect the following sizes to be relevant, in this table based on a 5mm boot. There is no substitute for a proper fitting at a dive shop.