Patagonia’s Yulex Wetsuit Raises Expectations

From the Knights of the Roundtable to the Caped Crusader, our favorite heroes of all time have always realized the importance of donning the appropriate adventure suits before heading off on their epic quests. And while it is seldom that the suits themselves are responsible for saving the world in these fictitious tales, they have always played an integral part on every adventure.

For real-life action heroes, the appropriate suit is no less critical to their chosen pursuits of passion. For those adventurers whose quests lead them into the watery realms of the planet – from surfers and kayakers to stand-up paddleboarders and scuba divers – that has always meant wearing a suit made from neoprene. And while these wetsuits do a great job of keeping us warm and protected from the elements, they have never been a very attractive option for people with skin allergies or anyone else who happens to be concerned about the adverse affects the production of these suits have on the planet. But if you wanted to stay warm, you wore neoprene because from the time it was invented, it’s been the only option available. Until now.

Patagonia’s new line of Yulex wetsuits are created on the premise that it’s possible to produce a wetsuit that provides the kind of warmth and protection that surfers and other water enthusiasts need, and do it in an environmentally and socially responsible way. To come up with an alternative to petroleum-based neoprene, Patagonia worked with the Yulex Corporation to develop a natural rubber material made from the hevea trees. While it’s long been known that the rubber from the hevea trees is the best-performing alternative to neoprene, the demand for this rubber has resulted in widespread deforestation in developing countries as poverty-stricken communities clear-cut natural habitats and destroy native ecosystems to create fields of hevea trees so they can increase their production of this valuable resource.

Ramón Navarro and local picador talk story on havea. Finca Panama, Guatemala.
Ramón Navarro and local picador talk story on havea. Finca Panama, Guatemala.

To ensure that the demand for its products didn’t contribute to that problem, Patagonia found a source of hevea trees in Guatemala that were being grown on Forest Stewardship Council certified plantations. This certification is given by the Rainforest Alliance who ensures that all of the trees on the plantation are planted and maintained in a manner that doesn’t have an adverse impact on local ecosystems and that the rubber in the trees is harvested in a sustainable way. This certification not only protects native ecosystems, it provides financial incentives for local communities to maintain the health of their natural forests by providing a continuous source of employment for the local farmers who are skilled at sustainably harvesting the rubber from the hevea trees.

Once harvested, the natural hevea rubber is then shipped to the Yulex Corporation where it’s treated using a water-based purification process that removes more than 99% of impurities including the protein responsible for rubber allergies. This natural rubber is rated to be as strong and as warm as neoprene, but it does have some limitations when it comes to creating a long-lasting wetsuit that can withstand continued exposure to the elements. To overcome these limitations, the Patagonia Yulex wetsuits combine the natural rubber with 15 percent chlorine-free synthetic rubber that provide the elasticity, durability, and UV resistance that’s needed to maintain the longevity of the wetsuits.

Starting in 2017, all 21 of Patagonia’s full wetsuits will be made from this rather remarkable material. The wetsuits are available in a wide range of styles and thicknesses for men, women, and children and carry a price tag anywhere from $169-$529 depending on the style. And while it might be relatively easy to find cheaper alternatives, it’s impossible to find ones that are made with this level of social and environmental responsibility.

Patagonia's Yulex wetsuits are made from rubber sustainably harvested from FSC certified hevea tree plantations.
Patagonia’s Yulex wetsuits are made from rubber sustainably harvested from FSC certified hevea tree plantations.

As appealing as those elements are, they aren’t the only attractive benefit of the Yulex wetsuits. From the moment you put the Yulex suit on, you can feel the difference. While I don’t have a particularly acute skin allergies to latex or other materials, a strong mix of Irish and Norwegian blood means that my skin is about as sensitive as natural selection allows. Rash guards have always been a necessity for me with any wetsuit I’ve ever worn, but with the Yulex suit, there wasn’t so much as a hint of a rash even after wearing the suit for several hours.

It isn’t often that you can’t find a downside to a radical new technology that completely revolutionizes an entire category of products, but Patagonia’s Yulex Wetsuits might be one of those rare exceptions. From helping to provide jobs and protecting native ecosystems in developing countries, to reducing carbon emissions by using naturally grown and harvested materials instead of those created in a factory, Patagonia’s Yulex Wetsuits seem capable of doing it all – and doing it in a package that actually feels better next to your skin and doesn’t ask you to sacrifice any performance in the process.

It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to be a super hero to wear a suit that can help you save the world.


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