Do You Need Snorkeling Fins to Snorkel?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. While working overseas I obtained my advanced PADI diving certificate and when needing to fly within the day I go snorkeling instead. Snorkeling in particular has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. At the time of writing I have tried and reviewed both ways of snorkeling in the Pacific Reef of Guam. 


When going into a new activity like snorkeling, you may wonder if you need certain equipment besides your mask and snorkel to actually be prepared when jumping into the water.

There can be a benefit for both so let us really dive in to see whether needing fins or not will make or break your snorkeling adventure.

Do you really need fins or flippers to enjoy snorkeling?

It is not absolutely necessary to bring or purchase fins to enjoy snorkeling. How there can be strong advantages of having fins, there also are some minor drawbacks to consider when heading out into the water. Safety being a major key, always consult weather and current conditions before snorkeling without fins.

Will having or not having fins really decide your adventure experience? 

Are Snorkel Fins an Absolute Necessity for Snorkeling?

It really depends on where your trip is and what you want to accomplish when snorkeling with or without fins.

If you are going to calm clear waters, and the coral or habitats are closer to the surface of the water then you may not even have to worry about snorkeling with fins.

However, if things and locations are up in the air for your destination, it will behoove you to have the option to add fins to your snorkeling adventure, especially if depth and current are an issue.

If you decided that you will bring along snorkel fins to your adventure, what type of fins do you need?

Snorkeling Without Fins

Snorkel with fins
#1

There are pros and cons for snorkeling without fins that many do not consider depending on where their water adventure is taking them.

From personal experience, I have more than enjoyed my day in the ocean without fins especially when there is greater visibility and an abundance of coral with a low water depth.

Your feet are more than capable of providing enough buoyancy and propulsion for you to explore your surroundings.

If the shallow ends of the water have coral or any other spot with an abundance of sea life then there would not be a need to include them as well.

Pros for Snorkeling Without Fins

Whether you are planning to spend the majority of the day or a few hours at the shoreline, it is one less item to bring and keep up with. 

Most folks do not wear shoes or boots while snorkeling, therefore you would not get any chafing or sores on your feet from kicking with fins.

  • I have personally had to deal with sores and chafing from fins and it really hampers your experience.

Diving in calm waters gives less current for you to combat while moving around, preventing the need for fins.

Less likelihood of damaging coral; it is extremely easy to damage coral while wearing fins.

Easy to walk around; walking around with fins is quite awkward.

You save some money; depending on where you go, fins can be quite expensive, especially if you are purchasing fins where you’re adventuring.

Less accidental collisions; some snorkel spots will be very crowded, and not having an extra 1-2 feet of fin attached will prevent bumping into others.

Cons for Snorkeling Without Fins

Coral hurts to walk on; despite how easily coral breaks off your skin gets very soft while swimming and the sharp edges of coral scrape through very quickly

Strong currents keep you near the shore

Your adventure is kept near the surface since you cannot dive deeper in the amount of time you can hold your breath; the average amount is 1-2 minutes.

Red Cross

Snorkeling with Fins

Like many will tell you, there are quite a few advantages of snorkeling with fins.

I have my own pair of fins that function as decent diving fins as well as nice snorkeling fins. 

They have their good and bad points as well, so head down and check it out for yourself.

Learn: How to Find the Best Snorkel Fins

Pros for Snorkeling With Fins

Underwater Snorkeler with fins
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Deeper dives for better views and water life; since you only have 1-2 minutes underwater being able to go deeper to check out that sea turtle or clown fish really makes your day.

Ability to deal with a stronger water current; still be sure to always check your whether conditions before heading into the water

Walking around on coral or rough water beds; not all water is smooth comfortable sand, most spots worth snorkeling have coral and the works since that is where the sea life lives.

Flexibility and speed will allow you to whip around and keep up with sea life moving around with you.

Energy conservation; it takes much less effort to move around just like the fish you are on the prowl for.

Keeping afloat is easier; most fins float which give you a slight edge on buoyancy if that is an issue for you.

Ability to stay out longer; since you are conserving energy with fins you are and to stay in the water longer without tiring out.

All around safer; as mentioned before your feet are protected however in an emergency like dangerous sea life, riptide currents, or rapid storm conversion you are able to maneuver and get back to shore quickly.

Cons for Snorkeling With Fins

Possible collisions with other snorkelers.

They can be expensive; especially if you purchase them last minute where the location usually spikes up the prices.

Depending on your skin you may need to buy fin boots to prevent chafing.

Chafing; even with fin boots you may still come across sores or develop rashes from the friction of the fin or boots rubbing against your skin constantly.

Space; they fill up your bag really quick, and with some types of fins you will need to buy a whole new bag to even fit them inside.

Breaking coral; it is so easy to break off coral while kicking around or walking to the spot your attempting to reach.

They can be smelly; if you do not rinse them off properly after use they can start to get an old ocean smell.

Proper sizing; if you are not going to a dive shop or store that allows you to try them on before you buy, then you are going to run into issues with proper sizing which could lead to chafing

Types of Snorkel Fins

Now that you have decided if to include your fins into what you will wear when snorkeling, let’s go over the types.

I have conglomerated 6 basic types of fins that you can look for when and if you decide to include them into your snorkel gear.

Snorkel fins can range scales for your needs in comfort, sizes for travel, ease of use, and functionality.

Traditionally, fins range from 24 to 26 inches, while other short travel fins can range 15 to 20 inches long.

Some of these design features within the types run together in functionality, so it is important to know which benefits you are looking for and what style suits your needs best.

Below are the types and the benefits or negatives (if any major concern is applicable).

Traditional Snorkel Fins

Traditional Fins

These are what typically comes to mind when someone thinks of snorkeling.

In a typical tourist area, these are what come inside the mesh pack along with a mask and a snorkel.

One thing to remember is they can be somewhat large so keep this in mind when packing.

Paddle Snorkel Fins

Paddle Fins

These fins are single blade, come durable, and usually stiff.

These make it easier to maneuver within a confined spacing.

Most importantly give a higher snorkel safety factor if there is a chance that a current is involved within the water.

Travel Design Snorkel Fins

Travel Design Fins

Read: The Best Snorkeling Fins for Travel

As the name suggests, these fins run smaller in size making them easier to fit into either your luggage or beach bag.

Given they are small however, they lack in power and are more suitable for calmer waters.

Closed or Full Foot Snorkel Fins

Closed Foot Fin

These fins fit over your foot like a boot.

They typically weigh less than other fins categories.

Best for use in warm waters since there is no thermal protection around the foot.

Given that it fits like a boot, it is imperative that you get a proper fitting for these and consider that if you have high arches, these may not be comfortable.

Open Heel Snorkel Fins

Open Heel Fins

Best use in cooler waters since the use of thermal water booties can be utilized.

Best used with booties or wet socks to prevent chafing.

Adjustable strap gives more use over time, but still need to be sized accordingly to your own foot.

Split Fin Snorkel Fins

Split Fins

Not as stiff as other fins.

The flexibility of these makes it easier to kick reducing fatigue and chances of cramping.

They tend to be longer in length at some points make them a good hybrid fin to scuba dive as well.

Be mindful that the longer length will make them more difficult to pack.

Summary

It is dependent on your trip if you are going to need fins while snorkeling; be sure to weigh the pros and cons before deciding to go without.

Safety is the main concern with any adventure you take, so be sure to review the weather for the day and understand the currents of water at your location.

If there is any current that you think you will be swimming in, even light, it is highly recommended to bring fins with you to ensure your own safety in a precarious situation.

I personally use an open heel split fin that has been sized to my foot with booties on; this was ideal for me since they bring both benefits for snorkeling and diving so if needed I only had to bring a single pair.

The type of fins that you decide to use, if any at all, will entirely depend on what your major needs are; hopefully this list brought you a base understanding of what you should be looking for when you make this decision.


[Sources and References]

Parkes, Michael J. “THE LIMITS OF BREATH HOLDING.” Scientific American, vol. 306, no. 4, 2012, pp. 74–79. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26014330. Accessed 23 Mar. 2023.
“Swimming, Boating, and Water Safety Tips.” Canadian Red Cross, www.redcross.ca/training-and-certification/swimming-and-water-safety-tips-and-resources/swimming-boating-and-water-safety-tips/holding-your-breath-underwater. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

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#2 Image by Bettina Nørgaard