There’s one thing that anyone who swims in cold water needs, whether they are surfing, swimming, or diving: a wetsuit. Don’t choose just any wetsuit though. Choose the wetsuit that is right for the conditions you’ll be exposed to. There are a lot of details that go into choosing the right wetsuit. One of those details is the wetsuit’s zipper.
A wetsuit with a chest zipper has a zippered cutout around the neck. This is the point where you’ll get into your wetsuit. You’ll then pull the neck part over your head so you can close the zipper. While wetsuits with chest zippers can be more difficult to get into and out of, they tend to be better at keeping water from coming in around the neck and seams. The colder the water is, the more you’ll appreciate that. Chest zippers can also make your wetsuit more comfortable since you won’t have a zipper rubbing at your neck if the material is tighter there.
Back zippers go down the length of the spine, offering a relatively easy entry and exit. That’s good news when you’re trying to put on something skintight. Because it can be tough to open or close zippers along your spine, back zippers often have a long cord attached to them to make it easier to open or close on your own (just make sure it’s secured before you get in the water so you don’t get caught on something). The downsides to back zippers are that they are more likely to let water in and they can restrict your mobility when bending forward.
Not all wetsuits have big zippers. Some only have a tiny zipper, a piece of Velcro, or elastic around the neck or chest area to close up the wetsuit’s point of entry. These effectively zipperless wetsuits tend to be lightweight and more suitable for warmer water than zippered wetsuits. The lack of a zipper allows these wetsuits to offer superior mobility, especially with the thinner material (3mm thick in the torso and 2mm thick in the arms and legs or thinner).
Wetsuits help you maintain a safe body temperature when you’re in cold water. That’s an important part of safe cold-water swimming, surfing, or diving. You’d be surprised how quickly cold water saps your body heat, leaving you vulnerable to hypothermia. Choose your wetsuit wisely, weighing the impact of each feature, including the zippers.
There’s more to choosing a wetsuit than just the zippers. Click here for SwimJim’s tips on choosing your first wetsuit!