In our July 2003 fin review, we told you how we took a dozen volunteer divers with us to test 30 models of fins on the current-washed reefs of Cozumel, Mexico. We kicked 116 pairs on speed courses and slalom courses and in real-world diving scenarios. Of the 30 models we tested, 12 were of the full-foot variety. As we said in last month's review, adjustable fins are fast, powerful and maneuverable, but they can't quite match the efficiency of full-foot fins.
Mares Plana Avanti Tre
|Mares Plana Avanti Tre|
This is one kick-ass fin. Fastest on the speed course, second fastest on the slalom course, one of only three fins rated "very good" in maneuverability, and a top performer in real-world diving.
Made of thermoplastic rubber and Tecralene, the Tre's blade is designed with a three-channel "avanti" system, hence the name. The center channel curves upward while the two side channels curve downward. Two stabilizers on the ends help to eliminate slide-slipping. This allows the fin to both torpedo you forward when running down an eagle ray, and provide efficient power in tight turns. This fin's very comfortable foot pocket is a bonus.
TESTER COMMENTS: "Nice overall feel ... comfortable ... turns easy ... good performing fin ... gets the job done."--John Wheeler "Even though fit wasn't perfect, it offered very good performance."--Vallorie Hodges "Great control ... great in the turns ... feels powerful." --Cathy Hamilton "Great fin ... stable and comfortable." --Chris Parsons
The Oceanic Caribe is the undisputed go-fast fin on the slalom course and one of only three fins to earn a "very good" rating for maneuverability. On the speed course, it's a rocket. Lightweight and nimble, this is a great open-water fin and an even better reef fin.
Incorporating a paddle blade with a pliable center panel flanked by polymer ribs, the Caribe puts out a lot of power for little effort. The fin is comfortable, effortless and propels you through the water like a rocket. It offers excellent acceleration and great cornering. Simply awesome.
TESTER COMMENTS: "I really like this fin." --Heather Carvey "A joy to wear ... feels like you don't have fins on." --John Wheeler "The perfect fin for everyday Caribbean diving." --Jeff Lovin "Best in show." --Scott Wertman "Lovely, lovely, lovely." --Polly Shaw "These fins are poetry in motion." --Cathy Hamilton
While not the fastest on the straightaways or the fleetest on the slalom course, the Velocity leads the pack in real-world diving performance. This small and lightweight fin seems to offer everything, from above-average blue-water kicking power to excellent stability to an effective nonskid sole. It is even easy to put on and take off.
The fin is designed with "power-enhancing vents," a series of holes in a flexible panel that runs down the center of the blade. During the fin stroke, water flow is directed through these holes, which helps to reduce stress on legs while accelerating water over the blade. This results in a fin that requires so little effort it sometimes doesn't seem like it's doing much, but in fact it's moving you right along.
TESTER COMMENTS: "The Venus Williams of full-foot fins."--Polly Shaw "Very fast, nice fit ... two thumbs up." --Erin Rechisky "Speed and power with little stress ... a great fin." --Jeff Lovin "Great control, great speed." --Cathy Hamilton
Oceanic Vortex V6
|Oceanic Vortex V6|
Made of a space age polymer called Evaprene, the V6 is lighter than most splits and has a stiffer-than-average feel, similar to a paddle fin. Many split fin fans prefer this combination of light weight and stiffness over the heavier, more rubbery blades found on most splits.
The V6 does just about everything well. It's the fastest split fin in this test group, and ranks among the fastest of full-foots when using the flutter kick. It's very easy to control while exploring wrecks or reefs. The only place the V6 slips up--literally--is its nonskid sole, which could use some more bite for walking wet boat decks.
TESTER COMMENTS: "Easy to control in tight places."--Vicki Durst "Excellent all-around performer." --Scott Wertman "Good little fin." --Chris Caka "Outstanding control." --Cathy Hamilton "Another fast fin." --Polly Shaw "Quick with both dolphin and frog kicks." --Heather Carvey
Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)
|Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)|
"Maneuverability" is this fin's middle name. The Twin Jet is quick in the corners and logs one of the fastest times on the slalom course. It runs mid-pack when using the flutter kick on the speed course, and is stable with good acceleration when chasing photo subjects and cruising over reefs. It's also extremely efficient weaving in and out of nooks and crannies.
The Twin Jet's flexible rubber construction (monprene) makes it comfortable. The black model is molded from a slightly stiffer compound than the lighter and more pliable cobalt and high-vis yellow models
TESTER COMMENTS: "An extremely comfortable fin designed for the discriminating diver." --Donald Victorian "A great performing fin ... very maneuverable." --John Brumm "A lot of fun ... a great fin." --Polly Shaw
Behind the Tests
Here's a case for wearing full-foots on your next tropical dive vacation:
- Full-foots are lighter--in some cases, as little as half the weight of adjustables (especially adjustable splits with thick side rails).
- Full-foots are more compact and easier to pack.
- Full-foots don't have dangling straps and are therefore more streamlined.
- Full-foots grip your entire foot more firmly, providing a more efficient transfer of energy from foot to fin blade.
- Full-foots don't require booties.
- Full-foots are cheaper--often costing half to a third of what you'd pay for adjustables.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to wearing full-foots. If they fit properly (as snug as possible without having them jam or squeeze your toes and cut off circulation), they can be slightly more difficult to put on and take off, especially in the water. Because you don't wear booties with full-foot fins, you'll be barefoot when you climb boat ladders and walk on decks, which can be uncomfortable. In cold water and when diving from rocky terrain, full-foot fins simply aren't an option.
When all is said and done, full-foots--thanks to their convenience, performance and price--are the way to go for tropical divers. One tester claimed that wearing full-foot fins is like having "lightweight wings" on your feet. On your next tropical dive vacation, take a look at what divemasters are wearing. You'll likely notice that most wear full-foots. Buy a pair for local summertime diving or snorkeling or for your annual tropical vacations. Heck, buy two pairs--they're inexpensive.
Full-foots in a Nutshell
Here's an interesting finding from our fin testing--while splits tend to show a slight advantage among adjustable fins, paddles have the advantage among full-foots. Four of the fastest full-foots using a flutter kick are paddles, and three of the five fastest full-foots using the frog kick are paddles. In slalom runs, four of the five fastest full-foots are paddles, three of which earned "very good" nods for maneuverability. In ergonomic tests, three of the five top scores are paddles.
Best of Both Worlds?
On average, full-foot fins deliver more speed than adjustables and probably cost you less energy, but the downside comes when you walk barefoot on docks and decks and climb boat ladders. Can you somehow have the best of both types? Is it possible to wear booties inside full-foots without losing their advantages?
We tried an experiment. Two testers wore booties inside two models of full-foots and made several speed runs. They had to use slightly larger sizes to accommodate the booties, but the fins seemed to be otherwise identical to the smaller sizes they had worn without booties earlier. In particular, the blade sizes looked the same.
The result? The speeds were virtually the same with booties and without, for both testers and both pairs of fins. Wearing booties inside the fins seemed to make no difference.
This suggests that eliminating the mushy booties is not the real reason for the full-foot advantage. Their light weight and the fact that they cup the heel are probably more important.
It also suggests that you could have the best of both types by sizing your full-foots to fit over a pair of booties. Use thin booties with minimal soles and high ankles so it's easier to remove the fin and leave the bootie in place.
We think the bootie-in-the-full-foot trick might be worth trying. If you try it, let us know what you think. --John Francis
Full-Foot Fins At a Glance
Fastest: Mares Plana Avanti Tre
Slowest: Dacor DXD
Fleetest on the Slalom Course: Oceanic Caribe, closely followed by the Mares Plana Avanti Tre and Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)
Clunkiest on the Slalom Course: Dacor DXD
Best Overall: Tie between the Mares Plana Avanti Tre and Oceanic Caribe
Worst Overall: Sporasub Variant Master
Missing in Action
More than 25 manufacturers were invited to participate in our fin testing. H2Odyssey's new Mach II Turbo was tied up in patent litigation, so we couldn't get a pair to test. International Divers and Tilos were willing and able, but logistical difficulties prevented them from being included in the round-up. Action Plus, Beuchat, Cressi-sub, Dive Rite, IST Sports, Omersub and Parkway were invited, but either chose not to participate or didn't respond.
Putting Faces with the Fins
Meet a few More members of our intrepid Cozumel fin test team:
Occupation: Philanthropy program officer.
Hometown: San Francisco, Calif.
Years diving: 5.
Favorite full-foot fin: A tie between the Aeris Velocity, the Mares Plana Avanti Tre and the Oceanic Caribe.
Polly Shaw spends her topside time working on energy efficiency and clean energy issues at a private philanthropy, projects that have her jetting off to places like the People's Republic of China where a postgraduate degree in Chinese law and Mandarin keep her ahead of the curve. When not working, Polly can be found jogging over the Golden Gate Bridge, bicycling Beijing alleyways and salsa dancing in Spain. Her favorite dive site of all time is a toss-up between the life-altering experience of her first ocean dive off Looe Key, Fla., and a dive on a sunken Russian missile launcher in the Caribbean.
Occupation: Software developer.
Hometown: Austin, Texas.
Years diving: 3.
Favorite full-foot fin: Oceanic Caribe.
As his nicknames suggest, Chris--or ChrisP, CP or Chrispy--can have fun just about anywhere, as long as he's under water. Doesn't matter if it's diving crystal-clear Cozumel or muddy Lake Travis, Chris will be there, strapped to his trusty back plate. Holding a degree in physics, Chris is NAUI Rescue and nitrox-certified as well as a PADI divemaster. He's also certified as a Scientific Diver (SSI) at the Aquarena Center in central Texas, the site of several important archeological digs and home to six endangered species. His best piece of dive-related advice? "For new divers," he says, "dive locally if at all possible. Don't get rusty--don't let too much time pass between dives."
Occupation: Petroleum chemist.
Hometown: Kenner, La.
Years diving: 15.
Favorite full-foot fin: Oceanic Caribe.
When it comes to diving, PADI divemaster Donald is a busy man. With more than 500 documented dives under his weight belt, he's a volunteer diver at the Audubon Institute's Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. He's also active in the New Orleans Bon Temp Divers dive club, and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. He has participated in REEF field surveys at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. His favorite local dives are any of the wreck dives off Pensacola, Fla. His favorite dive of all time? Punta Sur, Cozumel. When he's not diving, Donald logs 40 to 60 miles a week on local running trails.
Occupation: Scuba instructor.
Hometown: Killeen, Texas.
Years diving: 18.
Favorite full-foot fin: Oceanic Caribe.
Cathy's the all-American woman. Wife and mother, weight lifter, kickboxer and scuba instructor. Oh yeah, her husband Brian is a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division. When Cathy's not taking care of the home front, she's participating in underwater cleanups at dive sites throughout the South. She's dived in a variety of locations, but her all-time favorite underwater experience was at Columbia Deep, Cozumel, "diving with my fin test buddies." Cathy was amazed to learn during the tests the difference a fin can make in the comfort level of a dive. Her best piece of dive-related advice? "Buy equipment that fits you, and only dive when you are comfortable with the conditions."
...to the Brisas Cozumel Resort for assistance with hotel accommodations, Dive Paradise for tanks, boats and crucial logistical assistance, and Cetacea for the underwater slates used for test scoring.
Other Fins Tested
APOLLO SPORTS Uni
The new Uni takes the successful Bio-Fin blade and puts it on a full-foot pocket. The fin is stable on straight courses and corners well. All-natural rubber makes it soft and comfortable, although foot pocket sizing runs a bit large.
AQUA LUNG Caravelle
This new fin is lightweight and comfortable. The somewhat stiff thermoplastic blade is bordered with rubber for protection. It's stable at depth and a delight when using the dolphin kick.
While it doesn't burn up the test courses, testers tend to like the DXD. It's a very comfortable fin that offers very good acceleration, although it tops out relatively quickly. A better performer in open water than around reefs, the DXD has Optimized Pivoting Blade technology.
GENESIS SCUBA Navigator
The Navigator's somewhat stiff, longer-than-average blade produces very good power, speed and stability, but tends to be a little too much for close-quarter diving, especially for women.
MARES Volo Race
This sexy Italian fin offers substance and style. It has a comfortable foot pocket, and is stable and fast. It also provides great control in the turns--it's one of only three fins to earn a "very good" maneuverability rating. Like the DXD, it uses OPB technology.
SCUBAPRO Twin Speed
This new full-foot performs efficiently on test courses and in real-world diving situations. It's a comfortable fin--the foot pockets are cut low, like an Italian shoe--and provides very good acceleration and stability.
SPORASUB Variant Master
It's not just a fin but a fin "system," which allows you to mix different blades with foot pockets. This year, Sporasub submitted the Master blade, which is shorter than the Carbon we tested last year. Like the Carbon, the Master is best suited to free diving or open-water scuba diving. Its length makes it unwieldy around reefs and not very maneuverable.
For More Information:
|Full-Foot Fins: Features & Performance|
|PRICE||FIN STYLE||FOOT POCKETS||SIZES||MADE IN||WARRANTY|
|$49.95||Paddle||Open toe||7||Italy||2 years|
|$100||Split||Open toe||4||Japan||Limited lifetime|
|$40||Paddle||Open toe||6||Italy||2-year limited|
|$79.95||Paddle||Open toe||3||Italy||1 year|
|$70||Paddle||Open toe||5||Italy||2-year limited|
Plana Avanti Tre
|$59||Paddle||Open toe||6||Estonia||1 year|
|$89.95||Paddle||Open toe||6||Italy||1 year|
|$44.95||Paddle||Open toe||6||Italy||1 year|
|$99.95||Split||Open toe||5||Italy||1 year|
Twin Jet (Black)
|$138||Split||Open toe||5||USA||Limited lifetime|
|$65||Split||Open toe||5||Italy||Limited lifetime|
|$219||Paddle||Open toe||4||Italy||1 year|
|MOST IMPORTANT||MODERATELY IMPORTANT||CONVENIENCE ELEMENTS|
|POWER VS. STRESS||STABILITY||ACCELERATION||FIT & COMFORT||ALT. KICKS||SURFACE SWIM||DONNING/ DOFFING||NON-SKID|
Plana Avanti Tre
Twin Jet (Black)
|RATING SYSTEM: 5 = EXCELLENT 4 = VERY GOOD 3 = GOOD 2 = FAIR 1 = POOR|
Power vs. Stress. The perception of power produced vs. effort required.
Stability. How much the fins wobble, slice from side to side or hit each other during the kick cycle.
Acceleration. During an underwater swim, the ability to quickly pick up speed.
Fit & Comfort. Of foot pocket.
Alternate Kicks. Ease and effectiveness of frog and dolphin kicks.
Surface Swim. Both face-down and while on the back.
Donning/Doffing. Prior to dive, after the dive.
Non-Skid. The sense of security on a wet boat deck geared up while wearing fins.
|How Testers' Choices are Chosen: Scuba Lab Testers' Choices are based on adjusted scores for ergonomic performance (actual scores x 3 for "Most Important" categories, actual scores x 2 for "Moderately Important" categories, and actual scores x 1 for "Convenience Elements"), plus numerical scores for speed, slalom course times and maneuverability.|
|Full-Foot Objective Tests: Average Speeds|
|Flutter Kick||Frog Kick|
|3.1||Mares Plana Avanti Tre||2.3||Mares Plana Avanti Tre|
|3.0||Genesis Navigator||2.2||Genesis Navigator|
|Mares Volo Race||Mares Volo Race|
|Oceanic Caribe||2.1||Apollo Uni|
|Oceanic Vortex V-6||Oceanic Vortex V-6|
|2.9||Apollo Uni||2.0||Aeris Velocity|
|Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)||Aqua Lung Caravelle|
|Scubapro Twin Speed||Dacor DXD|
|2.8||Aeris Velocity||Oceanic Caribe|
|Aqua Lung Caravelle||Scubapro Twin Speed|
|2.7||Sporasub Variant Master||1.9||Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)|
|2.6||Dacor DXD||Sporasub Variant Master|
|Six test divers, using both flutter kick and frog kick, at an average depth of 15 feet, took the following fins on three speed runs (for the flutter kick) and two speed runs (for the frog kick) using specially designed underwater digital speedometers. The highest speed for each fin was taken from each diver, then averaged, to come up with the following speeds.|
|NOTE: When applied to real world diving, the difference of 1/10th of a MPH is insignificant. Speed data should be used in conjunction with maneuverability and ergonomic results for a complete picture of a fin's performance.|
|Full-Foot Objective Tests: Slalom Course|
|Time (in seconds)||Maneuverability*||Comments|
|39||Oceanic Caribe||Very Good||Extremely light and responsive.|
|40||Mares Plana Avanti Tre||Very Good||Very good performance.|
|Scubapro Twin Jet (Black)||Good||Soft but maneuverable.|
|41||Mares Volo Race||Very Good||Easy on the turns.|
|42||Aeris Velocity||Good||Good power, little stress.|
|Oceanic Vortex V-6||Good||Easy to control in tight places.|
|Scubapro Twin Speed||Good||A bit flimsy, but maneuverable.|
|43||Apollo Uni||Good||Maneuverable despite poor sizing.|
|Aqua Lung Caravelle||Good||Decent performance.|
|44||Genesis Navigator||Good||Powerful, but stiff for maneuvering.|
|48||Sporasub Variant Master||Fair||Not good for tight work.|
|49||Dacor DXD||Fair||Performs better in open water.|
|Six test divers, using a flutter kick, swam a figure-eight course in approximately 15 feet of water. While on the course divers' hands clutched weight belts or BC straps to ensure all maneuvering power was produced by the fins. Divers swam four circuits per fin using digital stopwatches. The fastest time for each fin was taken from each diver, then averaged, to come up with the following course times.|
|* Maneuverability is being defined as the ease of turning, as well as getting in and out of tight places using fin power; i.e. backing up, changing or reversing directions, using small fin movements.|