Trekking: Ditch Neoprene With the Yulex Wetsuit
Man isn’t meant to stay indoors — our weekly “Trekking” column can attest to that. It’s a column dedicated to the adventurer inside of all of us, the one pining to ditch the office humdrum for a seven-week jaunt in the Grand Tetons, or fiending to catch some waves someplace other than the North Shore. One day we may highlight a new ultra-light camping stove or minimalist water filter, and the next you may find us getting wrapped up in a set of Norquayco’s handmade canoe paddles. Life doesn’t just happen inside the workplace and home, so get outside and live it.
From the beginning, manufacturing neoprene was never a sustainable process. The synthetic rubber — developed by an American chemist in the early ’30s — utilizes a toxic process that combines chlorine with butadiene, rendering the petroleum-based materiel as wasteful to produce as it is difficult. Conventional polychloroprene has become the go-to material when crafting wetsuit insulation given the product’s overall chemical stability and its resounding ability to regulate body temperature in frigid waters. However, Patagonia’s Yulex wetsuit ($529+) looks to maintain the insulating properties of neoprene without its heavy footprint on the environment.
Now, more than 80 years after neoprene’s initial debut, Patagonia has partnered with Yulex for a line of sustainable wetsuits. The Arizona-based company has been testing the waters with plant-based rubbers for nearly two decades, crafting sustainable materials from the guayule plant. The non-food crop, typically found in Mexico and the southwestern United States, requires little water and utilizes no pesicides, rendering the botanical resource perfectly apt for the company’s water-based separation process. Patagonia’s R2 and R3 front-zip wetsuits employ a 60-40 blend of guayule and neoprene, with the natural plant comprising the majority of the material.
The sleek, jet-black wetsuits are designed for temperatures as low as 48 degrees Fahrenheit, lined with recycled polyester throughout the torso and arms to ensure warmth and movement under the coolest conditions. A windproof Nexkin coating also reduces evaportative cooling, while maintaining durability throughout the suit’s lifetime. Both suits utilize the hypoallergenic and latex-free rubber, with triple-glued seams that are additionally blindstitched and internally tapered on high-stress areas to help prevent breakdown. The interior guayule lining is also more elastic and softer than traditional neoprene, making the choice for a more sustainable future that much more appealing.