RDC test-dives 4 new full-foot kickers designed for warm-water diving. Which one will you want to pack for your next dive vacation?
Full Foot Fins tend to be smaller than typical open-heel fins, and they are much lighter, two characteristics that make them perfect traveling companions. They are also designed to be worn without booties, making them well-suited for warmer waters. So where are we going with this—let’s see, compact, lightweight, packs well, warm water—oh yeah, “Scuba Dive Vacation to the Tropics!”
Of the four new full-foots in this month’s shootout, one is a pretty traditional paddle fin design, a couple are modified paddles, and one is a split fin. Also, one fin is technically not a full-foot, but since it satisfies all the other requirements for a travel fin (compact, for use with bare feet, etc.) we threw it into the mix.
As a general rule, best full foot fins are lively kickers that can scoot you through the water at a much faster clip than an average open-heel fin. But just to make sure we aren’t talking a bunch of wazzoo, we grabbed our underwater speedometers, double-timed it over to the test pool, and ran each fin through a series of speed runs on our 50-meter underwater straightaway course (see Speed Run Rankings).
We’re occasionally asked why we test scuba fins for speed, since divers normally don’t use them to streak through the water column as fast as they can. The answer is, we’ve been testing scuba fins for years, and in that time we have seen a clear correlation between how fast a fin is able to move a diver through the water, and its overall performance. In other words, a fin that can crank out good speeds with a minimum of leg stress is much more likely to be a more powerful fin and a more maneuverable fin than one that’s sluggish on the straightaways or that strains your leg muscles at the slightest provocation. As divers who commonly have to contend with currents and long kicks, we find that having a fin that can deliver power and thrust without creating a lot of leg pain is critical to our ability to keep our fun meters pegged while we’re messing about under water.
So that’s why we test for speed. But we don’t stop there. After packing away our speedos, we normally board RDC’s test boat and head out to Anacapa Island for some ocean tests. But since these fins are full-foots and designed for warm water, and since the water off the California coast is anything but that, we decided to stay in the test pool for our ergo tests, figuring the warm water and calm conditions better represented tropical diving than anything we’d be able to find in the chilly springtime waters off our SoCal coast.
So test divers climbed into 3mm suits and tropical BCs and jumped and hit the water. Evaluating each fin on a dozen performance criteria, divers kicked and turned and stopped and backed up, simulating all those moves you normally make while diving the reefs of the Caribbean. Rating each fin in each category on a scale of 1 to 10 (see the Ergonomic Performance Chart), after a day in the water, speeds were averaged, scores were tallied, and test diver comments were recorded.
Read on to see how each fin fared and compared. Then, at the end of the reviews check out which fins made it onto RDC’s Favorites list. But don’t end your full-foot fin research there. After you get the run-down on this year’s best kickers, turn to our Top Gear section to read up on five more top-rated full-foots that have been propelling divers through the water for years, and are still available in most dive stores.
Best Full Foot Fins Reviews
The following full-foot fin reviews are presented in alphabetical order by manufacturer. RDC Favorites can be found at the end of these write-ups.
Aqua Lung Express – A Tad Stiff, But Pretty Efficient
The Express is the full-foot version of the Express ADJ we looked at last month. Its long paddle blade is made of a special techno-polymer alloy and attaches about midway up each side of the foot pocket. The area between toe and blade is filled with a rubber membrane called “Armadillo.” The side ribs and rubber inserts on the blade are made with elastomeric compounds to provide some elasticity.
Like its open-heel cousin, the Express full-foot is a pretty stiff fin compared to the other kickers in this go-round. However, you can turn on the horsepower and get some nice speed going without the leg pain you get from the open-heel version. In spite of its big blade test divers found the fin pretty maneuverable, and a good performer when using the frog and dolphin kicks. Being only slightly negative in the water, the Express feels light on the feet. However, it’s not the most comfortable. Test divers felt the rubber compounds used on the foot pocket were too thick and rather stiff. Also, the rubber inside the foot pocket is slick, so it made it feel like it was slipping off foot all the time. Finally, the sides of the foot pocket do not reach very high, making it feel kind of like “a pair of socks you can’t pull up,” as one test diver put it.
Bottom Line: The Express is a stiff fin but a pretty efficient fin. You can get some speed out of it, but it’s really more of a slow-kick fin for cruising the reefs. We didn’t find it to be the most comfortable fin around, but comfort, after all, can be very subjective, so other users may disagree. The Express is available in black with a choice of five trim colors.
Aqua Lung Hotshot – Size Isn’t Everything—Or Is It?
So what’s an open-heel fin doing in a full-foot review? Because the Hotshot, while it does use a heel strap, is not adjustable. It’s also designed to be worn on bare feet. Like a number of other Aqua Lung fins, the Hotshot’s short blade attaches to the sides rather than to the front of its foot pocket. These attachments are backed up by a pair of silicone power bands that offer two positions: one provides more blade flex, the other more feedback.
Aqua Lung offers the Hotshot in three sizes, which they say their research has shown to be sufficient for most feet. Our research, on the other hand, has consistently indicated otherwise. Case in point: of the six test divers involved in this round of fin testing, only two were completely satisfied with the fit they were able to get from the three available sizes.
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who can find a pair of Hotshots that fit, you will have a comfortable fin, with a super-soft foot pocket backed by an elastic heel strap with a large finger loop for easy donning and doffing. Performance-wise, for being such a small fin the Hotshot does a pretty good job of moving a fully-geared diver through the water. Most test divers preferred the first power band setting, which offered a more flexible kick and generated the fastest speeds. It was also found to be the most maneuverable. However, Position 2 had its fans too. Pick the one that best suits your diving style, or switch between them to suit conditions. It takes just a second to change gears, so to speak, and it can easily be done as you’re diving.
Bottom Line: The Hotshot is a great little travel fin. The shortest kicker in this go-round, it was the only one that we could fit into a carry-on bag. Our only complaint with this fin has always been its limited choice of sizes. In our opinion, if a fin is not adjustable, it has to be available in more than just three sizes. The Hotshot comes in green and now a vibrant pink.
Scubapro Jet Sport – The Perfect Reef Fin
Scubapro’s Jet Sport full-foot fin uses the same tri-material blade flanked by narrow rubber side rails that’s used on the open-heel version that we tested last month. The blade and soft rubber foot pocket are separate components; they connect via a pair of short braces that are supported by the side rails. This design concept, when applied to an open-heel fin, produces a pretty efficient kicker. However, apply this design concept to a full-foot fin and you create a real foot rocket.
On the speed course the Jet Sport full-foot scorched the competition, handily outrunning all comers. And it was able to grab the checkered flag while generating little to no leg stress. Its blade is actually stiffer than some fins we’ve tried; however, the design of the blade/foot pocket joint seems to knock the edge off of any potential leg pain. This was reflected in the ergo portion of our tests. The fin led the pack not only in acceleration, but also in the power versus stress category. When test divers slowed down and started using the fin like a normal diver would, they found the Jet Sport to be a very stable fin, one that really showed its stuff when using either the flutter or the frog kick. The fin turned out to be very easy to maneuver too. Test divers found it responsive in the turns, and it did itself proud negotiating tight corners and pulling off those minor moves that are required for getting around pristine reefs without hitting anything. Finally, the Jet Sport was rated high for comfort. The foot pocket rubber was found to be extremely soft, creating a nice, snug fit.
Bottom Line: Test divers were wowed by this nimble kicker. Fast and efficient, able to generate lots of power with minimal effort, the Jet Sport was dubbed the perfect reef fin. It comes in black with red, blue, yellow, pink and graphite trim colors.
Tusa FF-19 XPert Evolution – Light and Lively
The FF-19 XPert Evolution replaced the FF-9 XPert Zoom, Tusa’s first full-foot split fin that was introduced back in 2003. Like its predecessor, the Evolution is long and narrow and super light. It’s the only split fin in this group and it represents the category well. Its blade consists of thermoplastic ribs interspersed with a softer rubber compound, all flanked by tapered side rails. The combination produces a nice mix of blade rigidity and flex.
The Evolution is a real go-getter. It generates some pretty good speeds, it is jackrabbit quick when accelerating, and it can pump out some power without trashing leg muscles. It’s also a stable fin when you’re in turbo mode and very maneuverable when flitting about down among the reefs. Test divers found it to be light on the feet and nimble as can be, offering high performance at low cost when it comes to expending effort. As one test diver put it, “I could kick all day with this fin.” The Evolution’s foot pocket is made of rather thick rubber, which garnered test diver notice; however, while they felt it was not quite as flexible as expected, it didn’t really inhibit comfort.
Bottom Line: Fans of split fins should appreciate the Evolution. Lightweight and lively, the fin feels like a part of your foot. Employ a rapid flutter kick and prepare to cover some ground without breaking a sweat. It’s a simple, efficient fin and it’s not hard on your wallet, a good combination in our book.
When all the votes were in, Scubapro’s Jet Sport pretty much dominated this contest, racking up over twice as many “Favorite” points as its nearest competitor. No surprise, the Jet Sport proved to be a super-comfortable fin that was also powerful, able to cover a lot of ground fast, and nimble as can be in the tight places. The Tusa Evolution and the Aqua Lung Express tied for the second place spot; it came down to personal preference—half our test divers favored the flexy style of the splitfin, the other half preferred the increased feedback of the more traditional paddle. While the Hotshot earned good marks for its performance, the fact that only a third of the test team was able to get a good fit handicapped its chances in this competition.
I’ve been a diving addict since my 14th birthday when my parents took me to the Bahamas and had my first scuba diving experience. I’ve been an active diver ever since but in the last few years my focus shifted on sharing my thoughts and experience on diving gear, writing product reviews and gave up on organizing dive tours.