Welcome to The Inertia’s definitive wetsuit review where we rate some of the industry’s best rubber so you can feel informed before purchasing your winter skin. We used a five-star rating system to rank each of our suits’ features. Here, we look at Patagonia’s R4.
Testing Location: Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Average Water Temperature: 47°F/8°C
Average Air Temperature: 45°F/7°C
Warmth: 5 Stars
If you’re anything like me, you to stick with what you know. I know, for instance, that a 5/4 neoprene wetsuit will keep me relatively warm over the course of a Canadian winter. So when Patagonia took the neoprene out of its rubber and created Yulex, a neoprene-free material derived from Hevea trees that’s a hell of a lot better for the environment, I was wary. Canadian winters are cold, and tried, tested, and true neoprene keeps me warm.
Patagonia’s new R4 Yulex suit is made for water temps of 38°–48° F/3°–9° C. With a torso/thigh thickness of 5.5 mm, a 3.5 mm hood, and 4 mm arms and legs, the R4 is just as warm, if not warmer, than a regular neoprene suit. After a three-hour session at a river mouth where the water hovered around 7° C, I was sweating. The suit is 100 percent externally seam-sealed, shutting out water and adding durability. This suit isn’t just hype. Yulex is warm as warm can be.
Durability: 4.5 Stars
Durability is tough to review without waiting a year. It’s difficult to know how long something’s going to last without actually waiting to see how long it lasts. But after a few sessions, the R4 looks as new as it did when it was… well, new. The seams are triple glued and taped with an interior seam tape and Patagonia’s wetsuit warranty is tough to beat. Add that to the fact that their suits have held up extraordinarily well in the past, we’ll give them 4.5 stars for durability. When properly cared for, Patagonia assumes the suits will last 3-4 seasons. The warranty “covers anything that appears to have failed under normal use, such as a blown seam, failed power seam seal or broken zipper. Warranty items are always repaired free of charge.”
Comfort and Flexibility: 5 Stars
In general, a warm wetsuit means a thick wetsuit, and a thick wetsuit means an uncomfortable wetsuit. But the R4 feels much more like a 4mm than it does a 5/4, especially across the chest and shoulders — which is where it counts. In the past, Patagonia‘s suits seem to have leaned more towards durability than comfort, but they appear to have found a happy medium. The thermal microgrid lining dries in a flash and makes slipping into it feel like slipping into a pair of fleece pajamas.
This is personal preference, but I generally don’t like a flashy wetsuit. My surfing’s average enough I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to it, and Patagonia’s understated, subtle branding is a breath of fresh air.
I spoke about Yulex, but it’s worth diving deeper: Patagonia’s suits are the only Fair Trade Certified™ suits. With 85 percent Yulex natural rubber and 15 percent synthetic rubber by polymer content, the natural rubber is FSC® certified by the Rainforest Alliance. And yes, it has a key loop.
Patagonia suits tend to be more expensive — the R4 goes for $549 — but as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
Overall: 5/5 Stars
Patagonia’s R4 Yulex is one of the best overall wetsuits I’ve used. It’s exceedingly warm, super comfortable, and flexible in all the right places. It dries about as fast as most of the other new suits. Yulex is decidedly better for the environment than other wetsuits and Patagonia’s warranty is one of the best on the market. The only drawback is the price, which is a little higher than some other brands, but if you’re in the market for a wetsuit that will last and keep you warm — the two most important aspects of a wetsuit — the R4 is worth the price.
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