I have had wetsuits that zip up in the back for most of my life, and had never really tried anything different until recently. The change came when I was interning at Quiksilver in Huntington Beach not too long ago. I was offered a free Quiksilver Cell wetsuit and asked if I wanted a chest zip or back zip. Just to be different, I said I’d take the chest zip wetsuit. Now I’ve had plenty of time to use both styles of wetsuits and come up with just a few pros and cons to each of them.
What I like best about the chest zip wetsuit is the way it fits around the neck. It is really snug and does not leak water when duck-diving or getting slammed by waves. This helps keep you really warm. Also, because there is no Velcro or need to attach the neck together, it does not rash your neck. What I don’t like about the chest zip wetsuit is that it is a pain to get in and out of. The opening is about as wide as your shoulders, and makes it difficult to get on and even more difficult to get off. One other thing is that the neck is not adjustable, and sometimes a new chest zip wetsuit can be really tight around your neck until it gets worn in.
The best part of having a back zip wetsuit is that it is super easy to get in and out of. With the zipper going way down to your lower back, it allows the wetsuit to open up really wide. This helps a ton for getting in and out of it, especially when your hands are numb from the cold. The other thing that can be really nice is the adjustable tightness around the neck. You can attach it wherever feels best for you.
The downsides to an adjustable neck are that the Velcro attachment can start to rash your neck as it gets old and worn in, and it often can be ripped off or loosened by the waves and leak water down your back. That never feels good in the middle of winter.
If you haven’t tried both types of wetsuits, then I would recommend switching from what you would normally buy next time you need a new one. I personally prefer the chest zip wetsuit now that I have had experience with both. But I know people who have tried both and still prefer the back zip wetsuit, so it’s best to figure out what works best for you.