Do you really need fins for snorkeling? This is a disturbingly common question I see on Reddit and Quora. Snorkeling is an activity that gets more popular among vacationers every year. That means every year, countless people are going to try snorkeling for the first time in their lives. Of course, when trying any new sport you’ll have a lot of questions…
But folks, asking whether you need fins for snorkeling is kind of like asking if you need poles for skiing. I mean, technically you can do without them, but you’re not going to be safe or comfortable.
You need fins for snorkeling because they allow you to swim efficiently without over-exerting yourself. They give you the power to overcome currents and waves, and the control to navigate around coral and wildlife. In some cases, fins will also give you a bit of extra buoyancy.
No, I don’t care how strong a swimmer you are. Swimming in the ocean is not like swimming in a pool. The ocean can toss you around like a rag doll if it wants, and your snorkeling site won’t have neatly defined shallow and deep ends. There likely won’t be an area you can stand in at all!
To be properly responsible for your own safety, the safety of the other guests around you, and the safety of your surrounding environment, you need fins. Period.
What makes fins better than just your feet?
The surface area of the fin means you can exert more force on the water with each kick. These physics allow you to swim for extended periods without getting tired. Fins are a mandatory component of a proper snorkeling kit not because they allow you to move faster (though that’s certainly true), but because they allow you to move more efficiently.
Snorkeling fins allow you to be deliberate and precise about your movement and position in open water environments.
Related post: How do Fins Work? The Physics of Finning!
Your primary goal as a snorkeler should be to safely and comfortably observe the beautiful underwater ecosystems around you while also respecting those ecosystems. You will not achieve that goal unless you can move through the water in a controlled and precise manner. Sorry, flutter kicking and freestyling as if you were in a pool lane just won’t cut it.
Here are 5 critical ways that fins give you an advantage while snorkeling:
1. You can use a frog kick with fins
Many folks make the mistake of believing that fins are all about power and speed, but that’s not true. The biggest advantage fins give you is control.
When it comes to control, the best thing about fins is that you can frog kick with them. This is by far the most efficient kicking technique to use as a snorkeler… even though you may never have heard of it!
The flutter kick is the go-to choice for almost every casual snorkeler because it’s all they know. Simply move your legs up and down in short, rapid strokes, right? We learn this kick in our first swimming lessons as kids. The frog kick, on the other hand, is much more like the whip kick used in breaststroke.
The frog kick looks a lot how it sounds. Rather than continuously moving your legs up and down opposite each other, both your legs move together in a wide “clap” that displaces the water between your fins out behind you. Your rhythm is one of push and glide, not constant kicking.
Not only does this useful kick save you energy, but it also keeps your fins away from coral and sand below.
Related Post: How to Kick When Snorkeling (It’s Not a Flutter Kick!)
2. You don’t need your arms to swim with fins
Regardless of whether you’re finning with a flutter kick or a frog kick, your arms should not be doing anything! The surest sign of a newbie snorkeler is the constant hand-waving and arm-flapping.
With the right fins, you can maintain control even through strong currents and errant waves. But with the right fins, you can also quietly and gently observe reef fish, corals, and other animals without harming or disturbing them. With a few flicks of your ankles, fins allow you to pivot in place, turn corners, and even move backwards all with your hands loosely by your sides. No frantic arm flailing or turbulent kicking necessary!
Of course, mastering this kind of control takes practice! That’s why it’s important that you take the time to work on your finning technique before going on your snorkel tour. Ideally, you can practice at your hotel pool or a calm beach. With a bit of focus, you’ll soon get a feel for how to control your movements with your legs and feet, not your arms.
3. Snorkeling is not cardio exercise
Snorkeling is a very chill and relaxing activity. While floating calmly and gently at the surface you can get long, detailed views of the intricate reefs below you. The snorkel keeps your viewing uninterrupted by the constant need to raise your head out of the water to breathe.
Snorkeling fins are supposed to help you streamline and reduce your body movement. You’re not supposed to simply put them on and swim the same way you would without them (e.g. like lane swimming in a pool).
Keeping yourself afloat and in constant motion with continuous kicking and arm waving is antithetical to snorkeling. Some fins designed for snorkeling even have a bit of extra buoyancy. This feature not only means a lost fin won’t immediately sink to the seafloor beyond your reach, but will also aid your floating position.
Floating is one of the first skills you were taught in your swimming lessons. By keeping your body flat and horizontal at the water’s surface (good trim), you won’t sink. In saltwater, you even get an extra buoyancy boost! If you haven’t swum in a while, definitely take some time to revisit this essential skill in a pool before your trip. Many folks make unnecessary movements with their arms and legs for fear of sinking. It’s worth reminding yourself that even if your body is perfectly still, you won’t sink while in a proper floating position.
However, some folks just naturally have low buoyancy. If you have a slight or muscular build (lean), you may find it difficult to stay afloat even with proper surface trimming. Alternatively, folks who have more shallow breathing can be less buoyant and struggle with floating too. If that’s you, then consider investing in a snorkeler’s vest! Unlike life vests, these comfortable, low-profile vests are self-inflatable and designed to help you maintain a proper floating position while snorkeling. Snorkel vests are also a great choice for anyone who isn’t confident in the water.
4. Snorkeling fins will fit in your luggage
While getting to go on a tropical vacation is awesome, flying there is often anything but! These days, it seems airlines will do almost anything to squeeze an extra buck from travelers. This is certainly the case with luggage! To avoid checked baggage fees, I try to travel as light as possible. That way, everything I need for my trip will fit in a small carry-on rollaboard suitcase.
Watersports are notorious for creating copious amounts of extra luggage. But that’s no excuse for not bringing along a pair of snorkeling fins!
Thankfully, if you’re snorkeling then you don’t need to bring an entire suitcase of SCUBA gear with you. Unlike a bulky pair of long open-heel SCUBA fins, a light pair of snorkeling fins with short blades can fit in your carry-on luggage.
Related Post: SCUBA Fins vs. Snorkeling Fins: What’s the Difference?
If you really don’t want to travel with your fins, then please rent a pair. I’m not generally an advocate of renting snorkeling gear. However, if this makes the difference between snorkeling with vs. without fins for you, then yes, definitely rent!
5. Snorkeling fins can save your life
Last, but certainly not least, the thrust efficiency you get from a good pair of snorkeling fins can sometimes save your life! Even the calmest lagoons can occasionally experience strong currents and large waves. Should you get caught in a rip current or freak wave, your fins will ensure that you 1) aren’t already tired from kicking barefoot everywhere, and 2) that you have the necessary power to fight it. If your fins are a bright color, then they will also give you some extra visibility in case you get separated from your tour group.
In short, with all the important comfort and safety benefits that snorkeling fins offer, there really is no good reason not to use them!
So don’t be the one person on your tour churning up a storm of bubbles, scaring the fish away, and ruining everyone else’s visibility! Or else, if you do get taken out to sea by a current, maybe your fellow snorkelers will decide it’s for the best!
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