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Wetsuit Review: The Patagonia R3 front zip full suit

R3 line of wetsuits

Wetsuit Review

Recommended for 48-55 degree water

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 20 May, 2010 : - - The holy trinity in wetsuits are: warmth, flexibility and comfort. Then every few years there is some quantum leap in technology – from taped seams to zipperless to super-stretchy neoprene  – that helps us extend our sessions and generally keep us stoked about cold surf.

The most recent leap is to put a cushion of air between surfer and suit as body heat warms air more efficiently than it does water. Patagonia has taken this concept in warmth and really run with it by using wool to create a cushion of air and insulate the inside of their suits. The result is a suit that is very warm and feels quite different from other wetsuits. This is the biggest difference between Patagonia suits and the others on the market.

That thin layer of water that gets into your traditional wetsuit and is heated up by your body temp is always, understandably, clammy feeling. You are always wet. Your body is always expending energy heating that water. I’ve noticed in lengthy sessions in traditional wetsuits that the chill comes on after a couple hours. Not enough to keep you out of the water, but enough to feel it.


A different feel: Closeup of merino wool,

Wool and the comfy factor

The big difference I found in the Patagonia wetsuit was that it felt cozy on the inside, not clammy. I found that once the water got into the suit, it warmed quickly. Patagonia’s marketing angle is that the merino wool laminate is a better insulator than neoprene alone. And that the wool, laid out in grid pattern similar to other Patagonia weather gear, wicks water off of your body. After trying the suit in varied conditions, this appears to be the case.

The warmer insulation value allows the surfer to wear a thinner suit e.g. a 3 ml replaces a 4/3 ml suit. The insulation values of the Patagonia suite seemed strongest during long lulls, as the suit heated up to the point of becoming too warm. (At that time water was 52 degrees, air 65 degrees). During a beachbreak session with frequent duckdiving, (50 degree water, air 60) the suit was still plenty warm – to the point where I chose to forgo the booties. Something else to consider, having a warmer core means you can ditch the booties or hood at times.

Another benefit of a wool interior is that the suit dries very fast, allowing for more comfortable double sessions. The makers advise that you be gentle with the wool when pulling off the suit, don’t stand on rocks or rough surface, and use a change-mat or similar step-on area.

The folks at Patagonia claim that wool is naturally more odor-resistant. I’m not sure how the wool will mix with urine, whether it will hold that unfortunate stain/scent more than traditional neoprene or whether it will wash out easier. Your local shop salesperson can help you more with that one.


Dan Malloy : photo T. Davis



The other unique traits of a Patagonia suit have to do with its reduced-environmental impact construction – nothing groundbreaking as there are other ‘green’ wetsuits out there on the market. Patagonia uses high-quality limestone-based neoprene which is not petroleum-based and the suit’s construction blends merino wool with recycled polyester (the kneepads are PVC-free too).  If it’s important to you as a consumer that the few yards of material used to make your wetsuit are very kind to Our Mother Ocean, then this suit is a good bet.

Style & fit

In keeping with their ‘function not fashion’ philosophy, you’ll only find this suit in black. The lines and panels are really basic and understated – a refreshing change from some of the superhero models out there. The R3 front zip neck is designed to seal tightly to minimize flushing. I found the dual neck gaskets on the R3 front zip a bit restrictive. Everywhere else the suit fit snug and didn’t bind or suction-up on me. Check with your salesperson to make sure you choose the correct fit.


The suit looks really solid. With the last few suits I’ve had by other makers, you can tell where they will give out, usually in the neck entry area for front zips. The neck entry area on the Patagonia is rolled over and sewn while the high-stress points have an added fabric ‘tack’. The seams are glued and triple stitched. Overall the suit looks to be built really solid. Check with your shop person regarding the warranty.


This is an expensive suit, retailing at around $540 US for the R3 front Zip. Well worth it if you go through one suit each year and this one lasts for two or more. However, due to the nature of product testing, I haven’t had the suit for two years so cannot comment on how it held out. That being said, it does look like a solid suit.

Should you buy it?

Overall this suit feels very different from a traditional suit (think of wearing a sweater verses a nylon jacket). The feeling can take some getting used to, as on the first session the wool felt scratchy. But after a breaking in period (or I just got used to it) the suit felt comfy. The other thing to consider is price. If the sales person at your local shop can guarantee the suit will last a few years (with proper care of course) then it is a good deal. 

Some tech highlights

Internal silicone bar tacks
Triple glued and blind stitched seams
Limestone-based neoprene to increase durability
Lined with Merino Wool (softened without using chlorine)
Neoprene is Japanese neoprene with a 98% closed-cell ratio

Check the full list of features

Review video links
South Coast Surf Shop Review
Comparison by Surf Station Labs review with Xcel suit
Patagonia wetsuit features explained by Patagonia sales rep

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Isabelle Susini

Lucie Rey-Grange

Industry - Surfersvillage


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