Scuba Diving Split Fins vs Regular Fins

There’s an ongoing debate between divers whether split fins or regular fins are better. Regular fins are also usually referred to as paddle fins, blade fins, or full fins. Historically, regular fins are what were the only fins available for diving and snorkeling.

Split Fins vs Blade Fins are available as open-heel or full foot variants

Even today many divers prefer paddle fins over splits. There’s no perfect answer and recommendation for a diver which kind to use underwater.

Split Fins vs Blade Fins: Which should You use?

No matter whether you get paddle fins or split fins, you can either get them with an open heel or a full foot. The Cressi Frog Plus Fins below are open-heel paddle fins similar to the Atomic Aquatics Open Heel Split Fins.​

Comparing regular and split fins

There are significant differences between the two types of scuba fins. Unfortunately, the ones that you’d first look at, like price, weight, stiffness, etc. are similar for both kinds of fins.

Example of Paddle Fins

Example of Fins with a Split

The usual argument you will hear about split fins is that they great in calm waters where they offer good propulsion. In stronger currents, they are not working that well for many divers.

Paddle fins overall can offer better propulsion and allows better control. Some also say that they have a better feel when using regular fins.

What is the Difference between Blade and Split Fins?

When you’re diving anywhere you will see that divers use either split fins or blade fins. The visual difference between the two is very obvious. The regular fin consists of one solid blade while the split fin, as the name suggests, is split down the middle.

When did blade fins come around?

Blade fins have been around since the 1940s. Split fins are a relatively new invention. The differences for the diver are experienced when it comes to propulsion efficiency and power and conservation of air during a dive.

Scuba Diver with blue blade fins

The propulsion power of regular fins is directly dependent on the strength of the kick. It’s pretty straightforward.

The harder the diver kicks, the more propulsion power is generated. This also allows an experienced diver to adjust the strokes to achieve a high level of control.

Splits – Why did they come about?

Split fins are more sophisticated. The split is designed to create a vortex which assists with the propulsion. Ultimately, it also should result in more speed.

Split Fins used by scuba diver

The second advantage with regards to the split fin is that on the upward stroke the water can pass through the split. The upward stroke does provide the least propulsion power so the upward stroke with a blade fin mostly requires energy that is not resulting in a lot of movement. The split fin allows preserving energy which can result in less air consumption!

Let’s have a closer look at the two types so you can make a decision about which kind to get for yourself.

Regular/Paddle Fins

Since the blade fins were invented, not much has changed in their overall design. The materials have changed and been replaced with stiffer and lighter materials. Originally, thick black rubber was used while today lightweight plastics are what make a regular fin.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Experienced divers get more propulsion power and with that higher acceleration rates out of them
  • Better precision movements as you’re able to control all aspects of the stroke; like pitch, direction, and angle
  • Maneuverability is higher as they allow for movements in any direction
  • The large cross-section of the edge allows for easy pivots

Cons

  • The large size of the blade can cause cramps in the calves due to the strength needed for the strokes
  • Recreational divers might need to specifically train their calf muscles to produce a good level of propulsion power

Split Fins

Split fins have a split down the center of the blade. You somewhat end up having two blades instead of one.

They are designed to act like two separate fins that twist independently with each stroke. This creates a vortex and results in more propulsion power with less energy.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • On upward strokes, the water can flow through the split reducing the energy needed and conserving air
  • The reduced power required to achieve propulsion reduces the stress on the calves, ankles, and knees – you won’t cramp up as fast
  • The two blades twist during each kick/stroke and basically act like a little propeller which results in more speed with less energy consumed

Cons

  • The lack of stiffness can make it harder to maneuver quickly underwater
  • Divers often don’t get good feedback from splits – they are hard to control and put in the proper strength
  • They are harder to use when you’re trying to make quick turns or spins as they are best for straight propulsion

Are Split or Paddle Fins the better choice?

There’s simply no straightforward answer. Fins with a split are easier to handle for the casual or inexperienced diver compared to blade fins.

They require less energy and also need less technique. Many divers that regularly dive and have more experience prefer the regular fins as they provide more power and are better for maneuvering.

Travel fins anyone?

Make sure you pick a specifically designed pair of travel fins when you dive travel. They are designed to fit easily into your suitcase. The fins are shorter but wider. Have a look at the ​US Divers Trek Travel Paddle Fin below!

Split fins are better for beginners?

Overall split fins will be better if you’re just starting to dive or if you don’t go very often. You will enjoy the benefits of requiring less strength and the reduced strain on your calves, knees, and ankles. It also will help you with oxygen conservation during your dives.

You want to match your fins to the type of dive you’re intending to have. If you’re going to dive in an environment with only little currents then splits are a great choice.

Paddles for Strong Currents?

In environments with stronger currents or for technical dives, you want to consider using blade fins. They provide a more powerful kick and propulsion and you’ll need the additional maneuverability and precision.

Final Verdict

Both kinds will get the average diver to where you want to be. It ultimately will depend on your comfort level with your fins and on what kind of dives you plan to take.

Check out reviews on fins as well as feedback from other divers that match your style and underwater environments. You can certainly also rent a few pairs of fins from a dive shop to find out which kind you prefer.

Split Fins vs Paddle Fins are used by scuba divers as both open-heel or full foot variants
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