The Bottom Line:
Great fins with excellent propulsion that work well with most kicking techniques.
• Relatively lightweight (2.9 to 6.2 pounds)
• Available in small sizes
• Great propulsion for their size
• Fin straps thickness and length is not appropriate for the extra small size - buy Mares bungee straps
• Not available in black
• Stock buckles are complicated and breakable
Review: Why I Switched to These Fins
Since the beginning of my career as a cave diver, I have used the quintessential cave diving fin: the SCUBAPRO Jet Fin. Jet fins are excellent for frog kicking and make back kicking easy. I have tiny feet (US woman's size 5) and my jet fins looked like miniature models of the jet fins that all my taller and bigger cave diving buddies were using. The blades were much shorter, and they were not as wide as my friends' larger fins. Because I am so small, the size of my fins was never a problem. I am small enough to have less drag than the average diver, and I could swim just as quickly as everyone else. However, when I started carrying multiple stage tanks on my dives, my tiny fins were no longer sufficient to propel me efficiently through the water.
I needed fins that allowed me to swim efficiently with the greater drag produced by multiple stages. After testing several different models, almost all of which were too large for my foot size, I finally settled on Mares Excel Plus Fins. Theses fins have a longer blade than my old Jet Fins, and are designed to channel water in a manner that produces a large amount of thrust with each kick.
The switch from Jet Fins to Mares Excel Plus Fins took a few days, mainly because of the difference in buoyancy characteristics. The Mares Excel Plus Fins are not as negative in the water as my old Jet Fins, which threw off my balance a little until I became accustomed to their buoyancy. I felt like I had no fins on at all, and it was a bit unnerving. However, I knew the fins were worth getting used to from the very first kick underwater. I covered nearly twice the distance per a kick as I covered in my old fins!(This is not to say that divers should be swimming quickly, only efficiently. Swimming too quickly underwater can be dangerous.)
Do Mares Excel Plus Fins Work With All Kicking Techniques?
The Mares Excel Plus Fins work well for most kicks. For flutter kicking, they are much more efficient than my old fins. When frog kicking, they have a tendency to force my feet and legs downwards, which is unacceptable in cave diving, but with a little practice I was able to keep my feet up (in proper trim). The only kick that I find difficult in these fins is the back kick. The Jet Fins were a breeze to swim backwards in, but the greater flexibility of the Mares Excel Plus Fins makes swimming backward a bit trickier, although still possible.
More scuba fin reviews:
Available in Small Sizes
My favorite feature of these fins is that they are serious, heavy-duty fins available in extra small (XS). Many equipment manufacturers seem to be phasing out their extra-small sizes in favor of extra large, and extra extra large sizes. This makes sense given the greater demand in today's market for larger sizes, but small divers like me find it frustrating. Of the extra small blade-style fins that I was able to try out, the Mare Excel Plus Fins were by far the most versatile and comfortable.
Drawbacks - The Straps & Color Availability
The main drawback of the Mares Excel Plus Fins is the straps. The extra small fins come with what appear to be the same size straps as all the other sizes, which makes adjusting the straps to fit small feet difficult. The straps have a wider section which covers a diver's heel and keeps the strap in place. When I tighten the straps to fit my feet, the wider section of the strap is pulled into the fin's buckles, and the strap does not hold its position.
The closures on the buckles make donning and removing the fins easy. However, after only a few months I managed to break a small plastic portion off one of the closing systems (I am admittedly hard on gear). If you are buying the extra small Mares Excel Plus Fins, or if you are hard on gear, it is worth the extra money to invest in bungee straps which are available through Mares in a variety of sizes to match fin size.
One purely superficial drawback is the color availability. All the colors available (red, yellow, silver, pink and blue) are quite pretty, however the fins are not available in black. Some technical divers who enjoy the all-black aesthetic may find this obnoxious. The only color I could locate in my size in Mexico was red, which I am still adjusting to.
I would recommend these fins to friends and students.