Full-Foot Fins or Open Heel Fins: Which Swimming Fins are Best?

Aug 29, 2022 | Snorkeling & Diving

Swimming fins are an important part of your diving or snorkeling equipment.

Here at Manta Ray Advocates, we strongly recommend wearing a mask, snorkel AND fins in the ocean for maximum safety.

Fins are the “engine” that can help you move smoothly when in the water, and they can propel you to safety if needed.

Whether you booked a Manta Ray Moonlight Swim with us or are looking at a different experience, you need to wear fins that fit your purpose.

Although the experience you’ll have with either type of fins while in the water would be similar, there is a huge difference between both types.

Open Heel Fins: Pros and Cons

Open-heel swimming fins (usually) need to be worn with booties. That makes them comfortable to wear, both in warm and in cooler water. When you remove the fins on shore, the booties give you a more stable footing – and they protect your feet while you walk. The fact that the heel strap is adjustable makes them ideal for most situations.

On the downside, open-heel fins tend to be more cumbersome; and a whole set is also a bit pricier than full-foot fins.

Full Foot Fins: Pros and Cons

Full-foot swimming fins get worn without booties, usually with bare feet (although some people wear socks to avoid friction). This means that as soon as you take them off on the shore, you have no additional foot protection.

Full-foot fins tend to be more compact than open-heel fins, which makes them easier to carry around or travel with.

On the downside, you buy full-foot fins based on your shoe size; they’re not adjustable.

If full-foot fins are not properly fitted, they can even slip off, and you don’t want that to happen in the open ocean!

Which swimming fins are right for you? comparison graphic (full copy to be found under the image!)

Characteristics of open-heeled fins (when worn with booties):

  • Comfortable in all temperatures
  • Stable footing & protection outside of the water
  • The heel strap is adjustable to your foot size
  • Downside: open heel fins are more cumbersome and pricier than full-foot fins.

Characteristic of full-foot fins:

  • You don’t need to wear them with booties – wear them with bear feet or socks
  • More compact (less cumbersome) than open-heeled fins
  • They’re cheaper!
  • But not adjustable: they’re based on your shoe size. And if they’re not properly fitted, they can slip off…
  • They don’t give you the additional foot protection that booties do when out of the water

When to Put On Swimming Fins

If you’re snorkeling from the shore, most people would put their fins on at the shore and shuffle towards the water.

A common mistake is to walk forward with fins.

The long blades are a tripping hazards and make it difficult to walk forward, so it is recommended that you walk backwards into the water.

We think it’s an even better idea to walk into the water with the fins in your hand, and putting them on once you’re waist- or chest deep in the ocean. It goes much faster and there is less stumbling around.

Our Recommendations for Swimming Fins

On our Manta Ray Moonlight Swim experience, we go into the water directly from a sandy beach. Stable footing or protection is not ultra important, so it’s fine to use full-foot fins to swim with us.

Same thing if you enter the water from a boat: properly fitted full-foot fins are a favorite for many tourists, as they are easier to carry around. We recommend the FINIS Long Floating Fins or (my favorite) the MARES Volo Race Full Foot Fins.

However if you’re going in from a rocky shore (think Hawaiian lava rock), we highly recommend wearing booties with open heel fins for a more stable footing. Especially if you’re scuba diving and carrying a heavy tank to the water, wearing proper bootings will prevent you from slipping and falling.

Note that if you come on a manta ray moonlight swim with us, it’s not essential to purchase your own fins as we will supply those in different sizes.

If you’re already in Hawaii and looking to buy local, we recommend you drop by one of the following:

Related reading

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE DIVING IN WITH THE MANTA RAYS

If you’re thinking about booking a manta ray activity, don’t miss our guide for swimming with manta rays in Hawaii. It’ll answer all your questions about equipment, prerequisites, safety, sustainability, and much more.

It’s a great FREE resource for anyone who’s getting ready to experience the manta rays firsthand.

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