Cold-water surfers are regarded as nuts. We are often viewed as sadomasochists that expose ourselves to extreme conditions for the sheer fun of it. This may have been the truth a decade or so ago.
Times have changed. We now find a wide range of winter suits that can keep us warm and comfy for long sessions in cold conditions. I have had surfs where I managed three hours in the water, despite temperatures of three or four degrees and blistering wind. The extreme weather variables we have in Sweden place high demands on our wetsuits. So where best to put the Patagonia Yulex R4 hooded suit and R5 booties to the test other than on the open seas of the West coast.
The Model for this test - We must start by highlighting that the R4 is not the thickest Patagonia suit in their range, covering temperatures from 38 to 48°F. The R-classification from Patagonia goes up to R5, which covers a temperature range of 32 - 38°F (0 - 3 Centigrade). We collectively decided that the R4 could work for a number of reasons: the wind swells on the West Coast of Sweden generally offer choppy conditions with periods of five-six seconds, which means you stay warmer with all the paddling involved. So we went for the option (R4) that offered more freedom of movement for the body and opted for extra comfort with R5 booties.
What is really special with the Patagonia Yulex collection is they are not made from normal neoprene. The suits are made of natural latex collected from hevea plants grown in the Forest Stewardship Council, which are certified plantations in Guatemala. This could mean a big step in the right direction for mother nature.
My first encounter with the Yulex wetsuit was at the ISPO, which is one of the world’s biggest outdoor fairs located in Germany. True to their commitment to source and provide more eco-friendly products, Patagonia has been searching for over nine years to find better solutions to crude oil based neoprene. In 2008 they started a collaboration with Yulex and in Fall 2016 Patagonia finally launched what they claimed to be one of most sustainable wetsuits on the market. In the booth at ISPO it looked great, but does it work?
The struggle with winter suits - It is a completely different story to put on and take off a winter suit compared to a summer suit. The thicker the neoprene, the harder it is, especially to get it off when you are tired and wet. When we researched and read some reviews on the earlier Patagonia suits, we found that a few users had reported about a stiffer feeling and less stretch in the natural rubber compared to most common neoprene.
According to Patagonia, the 2019 editions of the Yulex collection are lighter, dry faster and are 20% stretchier. We do not have an old R4 to compare these changes, but the one we tried is in no way stiffer than suits from other popular labels we have used. The opposite in fact. One of the guys found that the R4 was the easiest to put on and take off compared to other brands. Still, we all agreed that the opening is very tight and you need to pull pretty hard to get your shoulders into it, it makes us question the durability.
The R5 booties are seven millimetres thick. Surprisingly, we found them very easy to put on and take off, comfortable and very flexible. What really struck us was that not one of us really thought about our feet during the sessions, even though the water was freezing. We all agreed that it is maybe this is what defines a good bootie.
Freedom of movement in thick rubber - Of course, there is no way to compare the freedom of movement you have with a light summer wetsuit or with surfing in boardshorts. When pitted against similar wetsuits of the same thickness, the R4 did really well. We found the suit to be flexible and offered an excellent range of movement.
Regarding fit and movement, it was the R5 booties that surprised us the most. Some may argue that rounded toe boots are not as good for the last touch of fine-tuning your carves. We tested both products whilst riding longboards and for that purpose, the round toe booties did a great job.
To be or not to be cold - The main purpose of a winter wetsuit is to keep you warm in harsh conditions. How did the Patagonia Yulex R4 perform? Remember that we gambled with trying the second thickest suit in the range and we opted for the thickest booties. In some way, it would be cool to have surfers that are not accustomed to cold water to carry out the test because all of us testing the gear are used to cooler temperatures. On the other hand, we have a lot of collective experience with different brands and types of wetsuits.
We are all really stoked with the performance of the R4 model, our gamble has paid off. The quality and attention to detail are impressive. The liner is very soft and warm to the skin, making it easier to persuade yourself to climb into your suit when the temperatures are threatening to freeze your fingers off. To add to the comfort levels, the suits come with taped seams to avoid getting neoprene rash.
The R4 performs at the top level and if you are used to fresher water temperatures or generally accustomed to the cold, then we strongly recommend this suit. If you want extra warmth, you still have the option to go thicker and get the R5 suit.
As for the R5 booties, we can sum up the review in a few words: we are in love! We didn’t even notice we were wearing them half the time. We felt comfortable for every surf session we had during testing. Nice work Patagonia.
- Fairly expensive, M's R4® Yulex™ Front-Zip Hooded Full Suit 580 euros, R5® Yulex™ Round Toe Booties 85 euros
- Tight opening to climb into the suit. We found we had to pull hard to get it over the shoulders.
- While stand up paddling we felt a slight restriction of movement on the back of our shoulders, but not when wave surfing (suit).
- Hard to turn the booties inside out for drying (I know, I’m one of the few that does this).
- Eco-friendly, a big step forward for neoprene.
- Very good warmth/weight ratio.
- Good snug fit.
- High quality, soft to the skin, caused no rash in any of the three testers.
- Stretch, good movement.
- Booties were very easy to put on and take off, warm and comfy with good grip.
- 1% for the planet https://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/one-percent-for-the-planet.html
Alvaro Susena, Kjetil Garhold, Fredrik Mollqvist, Linus Andersson
Disclaimer: Under new rules which we think are quite cool, we have to actually tell you how these test items got to us at the Bunker. We were sent the suit from the folks at Patagonia for free and we were not paid for this review. We have tried to be as honest as possible and Patagonia have had no control over what we decided to write. Not one bit, no sir. We like to remain honest, true and untarnished. Thank you for reading.