Hannah MitchellBASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.
Founded in Cornwall in 2003, surf and outdoor clothing brand Finisterre has a long-standing connection to the ocean. With this connection, a profound sense of responsibility to protect the environments in which people use their products saw the brand test and launch their first Yulex wetsuit in 2018. Yulex is a pioneering new material alternative to Neoprene with a considerably gentler environmental footprint; while Neoprene production utilises a carcinogenic process involving petroleum, Yulex is derived from renewable, plant-based natural rubber and produced using a non-toxic process. By 2021, Finisterre had converted their entire wetsuit production line to Yulex Pure.
With the environmental credentials of their wetsuits in check, Finisterre looked to ways that they could open up their range to more people. As with most eco-friendly alternatives, Yulex still comes with a significant price tag attached, rendering essential safety gear for cold water activities unobtainable to many. In order to address this, Finisterre launched their Yulex wetsuit rental scheme in summer 2023, offering customers the chance to borrow a high-quality wetsuit from the range for a specific period of time – to either ‘try before they buy’, or to lessen the financial impact for those who may not require a wetsuit long-term.
Over the summer, I tried the new scheme on for size, along with a Yulex swimsuit from the brand’s range of available rental items. Whilst Yulex has been on my radar for a while now, I wanted to test it out for myself in the chilly lakes of my homeland to see how it compares to its predecessor.
Seamlessly rivalling (and perhaps even surpassing) Neoprene, the women’s Nieuwland 2e Yulex Long Sleeve Swimsuit provides the perfect amount of warmth for Summer surfs and Autumn-Winter dips, with softness, stretch and a bold ‘be seen’ colour that is perfect for lake swimmers.
2mm YULEX® natural rubber, ergonomic panelling, racer-back shoulder seams, low cut legs, robust YKK centre-front zip with zip guard
Allows for a wide range of movement
Soft and supple from new
Long sleeves and no legs means warmth without being restrictive
Flattering cut and bright colourways available
If I had to pick one – it takes a little bit of wriggling out of when wet!
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR
Wild swimming‘s not for everyone, is it? Whilst over the last couple of years I have come to understand – appreciate even – the therapeutic effects of dunking myself in stingingly cold water as the wind whips around and perplexed (but clothed) dog walkers look on from the relative safety of the lake shore, it’s definitely an acquired taste. The wild swimming epoch is undoubtedly now, but swimwear that provides warmth (and therefore a degree of safety) in the winter months is pricey, especially if you decide after one dip that the lobster tan isn’t your vibe. There’s only so much you can tell about an item from trying it on in a shop fitting room, so being able to try something out (albeit for a small fee) before committing to the spend, is definitely something I’m keen on.
I’m a semi-regular swimmer, and have previously managed to take my outdoor exploits as far as November before retiring until spring. Personally, I prefer not to wear a full wetsuit for autumn/winter wild swimming. I usually only spend a few minutes doing breaststroke in the colder months, and the faff of putting on and removing a full suit detracts from the experience a little for me – I like the simplicity of ‘skins’ swimming. That said, my ambition to swim throughout the whole of winter this year makes me think that a little more insulation might not be a bad idea.
In summary, I don’t really know what I’m looking for. A warm-ish, long-sleeved suit might well be a good starting point, environmental credentials are important to me, and being able to test it out beforehand would be very helpful indeed (can you see where I’m going with this?)…
my ambition to swim throughout the whole of winter this year makes me think that a little more insulation might not be a bad idea
Renting the suit from Finisterre was super-straightforward. You navigate to the item you want from the list of available rental suits on their website, there you’ll find a ‘Rent from £20’ button – rentals are organised through a third party system called Zoa. There is a minimum rental period of five days and a maximum of 30, and the cost includes a deep clean. Postage is additional, so add £5 to your total, although that does include a prepaid return label. Upon arrival, I did roll my eyes at the size of the box – we’re talking Amazon standards of gratuitous cardboard here, for one small swimsuit! I can only imagine that this is a standard size box that is used for all the suits in the rental range (my chosen suit is the least bulky), but this is definitely something that needs some consideration from an environmental stance!
The suit was an immediate hit. Bright, stretchy and ridiculously cool-looking. Yulex feels softer than Neoprene, and it’s lacking that particular smell too! I’ve never had any Finisterre clobber before, so I asked some of my more stylish friends who advised me to size up in swimwear. Given my ‘climber shoulders’, I went with a 12 to allow for movement when swimming – it’s perfectly form-fitting but not constricting, feels immediately warm and doesn’t chafe. The suit comes with a small black ribbon attached to the zip, which you are only supposed to remove after trying on. If your rental item doesn’t fit, you can get a refund provided you send it back within 24 hours of delivery and with the ribbon still attached. Upon reading Zoa’s FAQ’s however, it seems that this is minus the postage fee AND a £5 ‘restocking fee’, which seems a little steep. I’m also not entirely convinced that the ribbon is necessary – it strikes me as a use of resources that could be swapped out for something more sustainable, if I were to eco-nit-pick.
I’ve been swimming once or twice a week in this suit since the end of August, with a final test-run in Windermere last weekend when the thermometer was reading 12°c, though it has been used in lakes that generally read a bit colder such as Ullswater. On those days when the wind is biting and there’s a chilly drizzle in the air (so basically Lake District summertime), it has been a real comfort to have that extra layer of warmth next to my skin, and I’m astounded by how much flexibility and give the suit has for something so warm. The other thing that I found remarkable when compared to Neoprene, is how long it takes once submerged for the water to fully reach your skin through Yulex. Perhaps it’s down to this suit being new, but it’s a really gradual soak which I’ve found helps with acclimatising!
On my usual ‘to the buoy and back’ swims and leisurely floating on warmer days, I found the fabric to have plenty of give for arm movement in front crawl. The cut of the leg is just low enough to provide a bit of warmth and coverage, but ergonomic enough not to restrict movement from the hips.
The aesthetic advantages of this suit are twofold: firstly, the bright ‘flame/ink’ colourway is a welcome change from the usual black of traditional wetsuits and is particularly suited to lake swimming where boats are present, helping you to be seen. Secondly, it’s just so. Damn. Cool. I feel like the protagonist in an action film in this suit.
I’m astounded by how much flexibility and give the suit has for something so warm
WHO IS THIS FOR?
This is the only swimsuit option available to rent from Finisterre’s Yulex rental scheme, and I think it’s great that something a little more wild swimming-specific has been thrown into the mix with the surf-oriented items. Whether you’re a full wetsuit wearer or year-round skins swimmer is a totally personal choice and very much dependent on your appetite for the cold, and of course, your own competency in the water. What this suit offers to me however, is an extra layer of warmth that I’m hoping will take me right through the colder months with consistent weekly dipping.
It’s also been a real reassurance on those blustery, less-than-sunny summer days where dragging myself to the lake felt like a bit of a chore – helping me to get past the uncomfortable areas (bits, nips and pits, I believe is the phrase)! It’s perhaps not for the hardened skins swimmers, and maybe not enough if you prefer a thicker, fuller wetsuit, but it’s a really great middle ground.
THE RENTAL SCHEME
For those looking to try out surfing or cold water swimming for the first time, renting is a great way to work out what exactly it is you need before dropping your savings on a wetsuit. From an environmental point of view, the scheme is a great way for previous owners of Neoprene suits who are perhaps looking to make the switch to test Yulex out first. I’ve had a good few folk over the weeks ask me what I think about Yulex vs Neoprene, who are perhaps hesitant to invest in case it doesn’t offer the same level of warmth.
It’s a no-brainer for folk who just need a suit for a short trip, course or weekend activity but who don’t need anything long-term, and whilst I wouldn’t say it’s exactly cheap, it does serve a certain purpose when it comes to accessibility – enabling more people to try out activities that absolutely should not be the reserve of a privileged few.
WHAT STANDS OUT?
Softness and stretch
Yulex immediately has a softness that surpasses Neoprene in my opinion. The freedom of movement in this suit is exceptional, which is down to a combination of the fabric and ergonomic panelling.
I’m not suggesting anyone immediately throw away their Neoprene wetsuit, but Yulex should definitely be high on your list of things to check out when your current suit reaches the end of its life. Apart from its carbon-neutral, petroleum and carcinogen-free production process, it is certified deforestation-free too. Oh, and don’t forget to recycle your old wetsuit! Alpkit offer this program in the UK.
My only real basis for comparison is with a 2mm Neoprene wetsuit that I occasionally use to swim – this is just as warm but water soaks through slower (that could change as the material ages, however). The general consensus online is that Yulex is just as warm – if not warmer – than Neoprene.
It seems a little odd to note this as a ‘stand out feature’, but it IS apparent in the fact that it’s a relative unknown. Patagonia predict that their Yulex surf wetsuits will last 3-4 seasons with proper care, but you’d expect something that isn’t in regular contact with a board to last a bit longer.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Renting this suit for the minimum period will cost you £20. If you’re planning to use it every day in that period, I’d say you’ll likely get your money’s worth. At the end of your rental period, you also have the option to buy the suit at a discounted rate. Spoiler: I did exactly that. Now, for me this was very much a worthwhile investment as it turned out that the suit fit me perfectly and was ideal for my needs – getting to try it out made me much more confident in dropping the cash.
I paid the remainder of the retail cost of the suit minus what I had paid in rental costs. Given that the suit I trialled was brand new, this seemed fair. However, if the suit had seen a lot more wear from previous rentals, I would expect the price to decrease.
BASE BOTTOM LINE
The whole rental process was very smooth, reasonably priced and definitely is something I’d like to see more brands get involved with. Rental schemes for outdoor gear are a great addition to the movement towards a more sustainable and inclusive outdoor gear market, and despite the couple of minor sticking points for me (gratuitously large cardboard box and surplus ribbon), I think overall it’s a strong statement of Finisterre’s commitment to do better by the oceans.
The swimsuit itself is a dream – perfect for my needs with an aesthetic that I just LOVE. Assuming that Yulex has the longevity of its predecessor, it’s something that I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of for many years to come. The softness, stretch and insulation of the suit have me converted – if you’re looking for your next wild swimming or surfing wetsuit, give Yulex a try.