There are a lot of ‘either/or’ questions that those who take part in water sports ask in relation to wetsuits. Rent one or buy, oil-based neoprene or limestone based, and the subject of this article – should you use a wetsuit with a front zip, or one with a zip on the back?
A poll a few years ago showed that front zips were people’s favorite, however, because this is an element of a wetsuit that is very much down to personal preference, you could argue that there is not really a right or wrong answer to the question. Instead, it is a case of weighing up the pros and cons of each of the two types of zip, and then choosing the one with the most ticks in your plus column. Let’s look further into a front zip vs. back zip wetsuit.
Why Zips are Critical to Your Wetsuit
Before looking at each type of zip, it may be useful to take a quick look at why zips are so important to the use of wetsuits and the way in which they perform when you are using them in water.
Wetsuits are normally made from neoprene which is a flexible and durable material whose properties make them perfect for use in water. They allow a tiny amount of water to ingress and this water forms a layer between your skin and the inside of the wetsuit. It this layer which insulates and keeps your body from getting too cold.
This process fails when too much or too little water is inside the wetsuit. This can happen if you are wearing a wetsuit that is too tight, too loose, or if it has tears or punctures. When the zip does not properly close, or there are flaws in any of the stitching and seams related to the zips, this can also compromise the effectiveness of the wetsuit
Care and Maintenance of Zips
Zippers are designed to be opened or closed in a straight line, so, when opening or closing a zip on your wetsuit, you should look out for any kinks next to it which may cause snagging. If this happens do not try to force the zip as this can pull the slider completely off the teeth. Even worse than that is the possibility of tearing the neoprene material.
Given that wetsuit zippers will be predominantly used outdoors there are plenty of ways that they can become dirty. Keeping zips clean helps them to last longer and work better. After use in the sea, rinse them with fresh water to prevent salt deposits corroding them. Also check for dirt trapped or caked on the zip, and wash zips with warm water before drying them.
Lubricating your wetsuit’s zip should keep it moving smoothly although be very careful what you use. Candle or bees wax are ideal, and at all costs avoid spray lubricants whose chemicals can damage your wetsuit’s neoprene beyond repair
Advantages of Front Zips Over Back Zips
Flushing is the term used when excess water enters the wetsuit and compromises its insulating properties. With a front zip, there are fewer gaps in the suit; therefore, the issue of ‘flushing’ does not occur as often. Back zips are prone to allowing water to rush in.
Although you may have to tip your head forward to see it, you can easily open or close the zip yourself, without needing a buddy behind you to do so. Obviously with a back zip, unless you have long or really flexible arms, you are going to require someone else to zip up and unzip for you.
The back of a wetsuit with a front zip is a single section of neoprene material. Obviously where there are back zips the neoprene is split into at least two sections, rather than just one. A single piece of neoprene should be more flexible than multiple pieces and for this reason it makes maneuverability in the water much easier.
With front zips, there tends not to be any Velcro required around the neck section of the wetsuit, whereas with back zips there will be. A front zip therefore means no potential for any irritation around your neck nor the need for worn out Velcro having to be replaced when it wears out.
This last benefit of front zips won’t really apply if you have short, or even no hair, however, if you have long hair, read on. With a back zip, there is always the possibility that your hair can get caught up in the zip, especially when it is open, and someone is trying to close it. Not only is it annoying, but it can be very painful too.
Advantages of Back Zips Over Front Zips
Wetsuits that have front zips are generally harder to put on than those with back zips. This is because the opening that a back zip provides is much larger than with a front or chest zip. Someone wearing a wetsuit with a back zip may need someone else to zip it up; with a front zip, you might need someone to help you get it on, in the first place.
Back zips usually allow for room around the shoulder area and therefore people who use feel their movement is less restricted around that area, than it is with a front zip. This can make a major difference to your enjoyment if your water sport or activity requires your upper arms to be totally free to move about.
Velcro fasteners at the top allow you to adjust the collar of the wetsuit as how tight or how loose it is around your neck. If you can live with the possibility that it might irritate occasionally, then this is a great benefit in terms of making your wetsuit feel comfortable and fit you 100%.
On the whole, wetsuits with back zips tend to cost less than those with front zips. If budget is not a consideration, then go for the type you like best. However, if cost is an issue then you will find that back zip wetsuits will generally be more affordable.
With so many advantages that each type of zip can offer you, it is nearly impossible to say whether one is better than the other. The major benefits of wetsuits with back zips are that they are easier to get into, albeit you may need someone to pull the zip up for you, and they cost less than front-zipped wetsuits
With front zips, these allow your wetsuit the most flexibility when they are being worn, and you are less likely to experience flushing when wearing a wetsuit with a front zip. Ultimately it will be a case of you weighing up the pros and cons of both front and back zips and deciding for yourself which of them suits you most when using a wetsuit.