Why do Wetsuits Zip in the Back?

Why do Wetsuits Zip in the Back?

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From enthusiasts to professionals, people have been donning wetsuits for decades. As a result, its shape and design have transformed over the years.

Even the placement of the zipper has changed. Yet, why do some wetsuits zip in the back? Read on to find out.

A Dive into History

The father of all wetsuits invented the first neoprene wetsuit back in the 50s. Hugh Bradner, an American physicist and diving enthusiast, had his design rejected by the U.S. Navy, but two notable legends took notice: Bob Meistrell and Jack O’Neill.

Meistrell took inspiration from Bradner’s research on the neoprene suit and proceeded to build his empire, Body Glove. He soon set up his headquarters in Redondo Beach.

Jack took this same step and founded O’Neill, another popular brand for all things water sports.

Traditional Makes Sense

Wetsuits range in three formats: back-zip, front-zip, and no-zip or zipless. The most popular to this day is the original zipper-in-the-back kind. And why wouldn’t it? Given its tenure on the market, it’s the least costly and the most available across the world.

Plus, the design has proven effective for nearly a century. On the whole, it all boils down to preference.

The perks

Two of the biggest advantages of having a zipper in the back of your wetsuit would be price and accessibility.

If you do a quick Internet search, you’ll quickly notice the obvious price difference between a back-zip, a front-zip, and a no-zip wetsuit. The former is slightly more affordable than the other two.

Another perk is that the large zipper on the back makes it a lot easier for donning or doffing; two terms commonly used for putting on and taking off a wetsuit. In a way, this also means that back-zip wetsuits are generally roomier.

The downsides

As with all things, there are a couple of disadvantages to donning a back-zip wetsuit.

Lack of flexibility is a key factor. Zippers found on the back of a wetsuit are often rigid to help keep the zipper in place as you’re diving and swimming. The stiffness also helps maintain the suit’s tight fit.

Nevertheless, it’s that bulkiness that tends to slow you down and can even feel uncomfortable, especially for beginners.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you can reach your lower back to pull up the zipper. Even though there’s a medium-length cord attached to the zipper, some find that reaching behind them to zip up their wetsuits can feel awkward.

Read my article – Are Wetsuits Hard to Put on?

Different Features of a Wetsuit

Take a look at some common features all wetsuits have in common.


Naturally, the Pacific is quite chilly. Your best bet is to stick to a wetsuit that’s no less than 5mm, like the affordable Flexel 5mm full wetsuit.

The same applies to much of the northern part of the east coast. However, a 3mm-thick suit, like the O’Neill Men’s Psycho One 3/2mm, will do exceptionally well throughout the year in southern waters.

Full-length or shorty

In most instances, you’d be wise to keep a full wetsuit on hand. Deep waters tend to be cold and chilly. Also, you might come across corals, which can get prickly or downright dangerous.

The only time you’d find yourself in a shorty is in the open waters of the Atlantic, near the equator, in relatively shallow waters. The water there is warm enough and there aren’t many corals or barnacles to encounter.

Donning Your Wetsuit

“Let’s get donning!” you hear your diving instructor say. You pick up your wetsuit and think, “How do I even get into this thing without tripping over?”

Not to worry. It’s not that difficult to jump into your wetsuit. These steps will help you walk through it.

  1. First, pull the inner lining at the waist level out so that you can wear your wetsuit like you’re putting on your pants.
  2. Putting on socks makes it easier for your legs to slide in.
  3. Then, once you get your toes out of the other end, fold the seam and push your leg through.
  4. Next, unfold the seam, flatten any creases along the leg, and repeat on the other leg.
  5. Now, you can easily pull the wetsuit up to your waist and take off your socks.
  6. Move to your arms by sticking in one and then the other.
  7. Work the creases and raise your arm over and across your head.
  8. Pull the hood over your head and secure it under your chin.
  9. Next, grab your wetsuit at your lower back with one hand and zip it up with the other.
  10. Finally, reach for the velcro and strap it.

How to Care for Your Wetsuit

Easy as it might be, there are things you should avoid to keep your wetsuit in top shape. Proper maintenance will keep your wetsuit fresh, comfortable, and presentable.

Zipper care

Beeswax will keep your zipper from rusting or malfunctioning. No need to use chemicals or complicated mixtures!

Wash away

Your wetsuit is bound to come in contact with salt. So, make sure you rinse it with cool freshwater inside and out.

With regular use, it’s a good idea to use mild soap to prevent destroying the bindings. Experts recommend soaking it in baby shampoo or baking soda.

The sun bakes

Neoprene is easily damaged under extreme heat. Thus, avoid drying your wetsuit under the sun.

Your best option is to leave it to air dry. Make sure it’s thoroughly dry before storing it so it doesn’t stink up the closet.

Wrapping up

With all the choices available for divers, whether you’re off the east coast or the banks of Redondo Beach, the reason why wetsuits zip in the back is to make donning and doffing easy and quick.

Yet, choosing to have a zipper either in the front or back or not at all boils down to your preference and budget.

Nevertheless, no matter which type you opt for, make sure you choose the right thickness to maximize comfort. You’d be glad to take the time to match your wetsuit’s thickness to the temperature where you plan to dive.

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson, a scuba diving enthusiast from San Diego, has spent over a decade exploring the underwater world across the globe. Sharing his passion through captivating stories and informative articles, Jack aims to inspire others to embark on their own scuba diving adventures and uncover the ocean's hidden treasures. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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