4) Entry Systems
Your point of entry in a wetsuit is known as the “entry system” and plays a large role in the overall function of the suit. Over the years we have seen different entry systems come and go as wetsuit manufacturers search for the perfect balance of flexibility, ease of entry, and a watertight seal. In the end the chest zip wetsuit has risen to the top as the most popular entry system for surfers, while the back zip holds a strong second place. Of course all entry systems exist for a good reason, but after trying a few different entries you may find you have a preference for one over another.
Zippers are an important part of an entry system. There are different quality zippers, and generally when you pay more you’ll get a long-lasting, stronger zipper that is easier and smoother to zip up. Between the zipper and your skin, wetsuit manufacturers generally add a thin layer of neoprene to keep excess water from coming in direct contact with your skin.
A commonly overlooked but important part of all wetsuits is the drain hole. These drain holes are built in to drain the excess water that can find its way in through the entry system.
Types of Entry Systems
The chest zip is the most popular entry system among surfers. Although there are small variations on this entry, the traditional chest zip wetsuit features a short zipper that is either straight across your chest or slightly angled. On some entries you have to start the zipper which can make it a bit tricky to get in and out of especially with cold hands, while other entries already have the zipper started and you simply pull it to zip the suit shut. A few other things you’ll find on this type of entry is some way to lock the zipper via a snap button, as well as a cinch cord that will make the entry tighter and less prone to flushing.
Back zip wetsuits feature a longer zipper that starts in the lower back and zips up to the back of the neck, where it is secured by an overlapping Velcro collar. The zipper on this entry is always engaged and has a long pull tab which allows it to be reached easily to zip up or down.
Also referred to as zipperless, this entry is basically the same as the chest zip, minus the zipper. Zip free suits are found in higher-end performance suits with ultra-stretchy neoprene which tends to allow for a fairly easy entry even though the hole you get in through is smaller. Another nice benefit of zip free is you won’t ever have to deal with a zipper breaking.
Mod and Mutant Entry by O’Neill Wetsuits
This entry is similar to a chest zip, however it has two zippers, one in front, and one in back. This allows you to completely detach the closure to attach an optional hood, or the collar to allow the suit to function and feel like a regular non-hooded wetsuit.
How a Wetsuit Entry Affects Flexibility, Warmth, Durability, and Fit
It may not be as big of a deal these days because wetsuits are getting so stretchy that it’s harder to tell, but we all can agree on the fact that zippers don’t stretch. That’s why you’ll find that a zip free wetsuit will be the most flexible. Chest zips would be 2nd on that list because they have a shorter zipper that is placed in an area of the suit that doesn’t need to stretch as much, while back zippers are longer and hinder flexibility a bit more.
Chest zip & zip free entries are generally considered to be warmer than back zip due to their being less prone to flushing. However, if you end up getting a back zip suit that fits really well flushing can be a complete nonissue, and many companies like O’Neill have patented back zip entries designed to keep water out.
Entry systems aren’t going to play a huge role in durability, however, we have seen suits get roughed up by the Velcro which is used in most back zip entry wetsuits. This can be avoided if you take care to not let the Velcro touch the neoprene. Another thing to think about is the quality of the zipper used (if there is one). Higher-end suits will have more durable zippers. Broken zippers are the worst because you have to send the suit in for warranty and wait for it to get back.
You aren’t going to experience a better or worse fit based on the type of entry you choose, however some entry systems may be easier to get into than others. For instance if you have a broad chest you might find it impossible to get into certain chest zip or zip free wetsuits, which might lead you to think the suit doesn’t fit. If you could get into the suit, it would probably fit pretty well, though.