Front Zip vs Rear Zip Kayaking Drysuits

Front Zip vs Rear Zip Kayaking Drysuits

Simon Coward
7 minute read

Front zip and rear zip drysuits each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Drysuits aren’t cheap, so it’s a good idea to know the differences before you commit to buying one. This post looks at front vs rear zip drysuits, to help you decide which is best for you.

As a (very) long time whitewater paddler I have been fortunate enough to try and use many different bits of paddling gear. Since moving to Canada in 2004, arguably the most valued piece of kit I have owned have been drysuits.

From long personal days of creeking and playboating to back to back (to back) days of teaching, staying dry and warm has always been a priority. The many quality drysuits I’ve used over the years have made sure of success while on the water.

This short article elaborates on the pros and cons of front entry and rear entry drysuits, pulled from countless hours of experience over the years both paddling on my own time, and teaching. I will also list some of the other, less common, drysuit entry options.

 

Front Zip Drysuits

front zip drysuit

Front Zip drysuits were where it all began and still remain the most popular option on the market today. A front zip suit simply refers to a drysuit where the entry to the drysuit is through a zipper on the front of the suit (typically running from shoulder to opposing waist).

Some current examples of front entry kayaking and paddlesports drysuits are:

In my experience over the years (both personally, fitting customers, and discussions with other paddlers), I have listed below the Pros and Cons of Front Zip Drysuits

 

FRONT ZIP DRYSUITS PROS

  • Very easy to undo and do up on your own
  • A simple, proven system that has been around for well over 30 years
  • Easy to do a visual check to make sure the suit is completely ‘zipped’ up
  • If paddling in ultra cold water, it is easy to pour hot water on the front zip to ‘de-ice’ and get out of the suit. You laugh, but that is a real thing in winter Canadian paddling.
  • As long as your suit is sized correctly it is super easy to get in and out of a front zip drysuit (if the suit is too short you will have to work on your neck compression exercises to get into it though)

 

FRONT ZIP DRYSUIT CONS

  • The main downside is front zip drysuits often ‘bunch’ up under your PFD and it creates a bit of a constricting feeling. This results in a bit of an overall lack of mobility.
  • Depending on the suit design, the front zip can get a bit lost in the double tunnel*, making it a bit awkward to access.

double tunnel front zip vs rear zip drysuit

* DOUBLE TUNNEL: an additional layer in the drysuit that allows the paddler to put the spray skirt waist in between the drysuit itself and the outer layer. This helps prevent water getting into the boat through the skirt waist.

 

Rear Zip (Shoulder Zip) Drysuits

double tunnel front zip vs rear zip drysuit

Rear zip drysuits are certainly not new to the drysuit world, though I believe they came along sometime well after the initial front entry drysuits hit the market in the 1980’s.

Popular across other drysuit types (ie. scuba diving, wakeboarding etc), rear zip drysuits have become a staple for many paddlers. As with any design option they come with their unique set of benefits and challenges. Check out my thoughts below.

Some current examples of front entry kayaking and paddlesports drysuits are:

 

REAR ZIP DRYSUIT PROS

  • The best part of rear/shoulder zip drysuits is there is no bunching under your PFD, which often reduces mobility. I find it feels like I am paddling in a drytop rather than a drysuit.
  • I find (generally) it is easier to get your head through the neck gasket in a rear/shoulder zip drysuit than a front zip one.
  • If you have good shoulder flexibility they are quite easy to do up and undo (see video below)

 

REAR ZIP DRYSUIT CONS

  • If you have limited shoulder mobility, it may be difficult putting these drysuits on. I’ve had surgery on one shoulder and the other is coming up soon. It is on the entertaining side for others watching me try and do a shoulder zip up, and a bit of a mix of painful and frustrating for me. 

  • It is a little harder to visually check that the zipper is all the way done up.

 

Other Drysuit Entry Options

lower back zip drysuit

Although front and rear entry zippers are the most common, there are other options and designs out there. These include:

Leg Zip

These typically go from ankle to ankle up and down the inside of the leg. These remove all bunching and additional material from the torso. My experience with these has been limited and a little leaky (Bomber Gear drysuit). In fairness I believe Peak UK uses this system and they make nice drywear

Lower Back Zip

This is more like the front zip setup but in the rear. This system is implemented in the Mustang Womens Helix CSS Drysuit. Some of our female River SUP paddlers swear by this system for ease of entry, exit and comfort.

Switch Zip

Exclusively built by Kokatat. The SwitchZip system connects the upper (drytop) and lower (drypant) together with a zip system that goes all the way around the waist. A fantastic option for those looking for the versatility of a drysuit that can be used as a drytop. They are a little finicky and in my time using one I had more than one day where I ended up leaky through my own user error. With practise and attention to detail this system is as dry as any zip system

 

Front Zip vs Rear Zip Drysuit Summary

So that is a quick rundown of the different types of zip options on kayaking and paddlesports drysuits. There are multiple options because paddlers don’t come in one shape or size. All these options are super high quality, tried and tested, however some will work better for you than others.

We would love to answer any questions you have regarding the different zipper options on paddlesports and kayaking drysuits. If you do have any questions please feel free to contact us by any of the methods below.

 

Shop AQ Outdoors Drysuit Collection

 

Related Drysuit Content

Kokatat Drysuit Buyer's Guide

Womens Meridian vs Icon drysuit post (front vs rear zip)

Best Paddling Drysuits Buyer's Guide

About the Author:  I am a 40 something year old Australian now living in Cochrane, Alberta Canada.  For the past 12 years I have been an owner of AQ Outdoors / Aquabatics.  A proud father of 3 kids and husband to Nikki. I have been into the outdoors for as long as I can remember, family camping and surfing trips as a kid graduated to a lifelong passion for most things outdoors. Whitewater paddling has been a core part of my life over the past 24 + years. My twenties were spent chasing hard whitewater all over the world, much of my thirties spent learning to teach it and now I love getting out in whitewater with my family whenever I can.

 

 

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