The water temperature on my home waters of Lake Superior seldom rises above 55°F. For most of the year, it’s much lower. It’s not unusual to have temps in the 30s even on the summer solstice. The warmest I’ve seen the big lake is in the 70s after unusually calm stretches of weather in August when the air temp reached into the lower-80s. It doesn’t stay that warm long. It can literally drop from the 70s to the 40s overnight. I’ve seen that happen several times when 5 to 6-foot waves mix the surface water with the colder water just a few feet lower. Because the lake is so cold, some sort of immersion protection is important. The choice boils down to wetsuits or drysuits.
Except in the middle of summer when I wear a wetsuit with a drytop, I like drysuits. Drysuits are easy to get into, you can adjust your base layers to account for the weather and if the suit has a good fit, it moves with you and doesn’t chafe – that’s not something I can say about almost every wetsuit I’ve worm. I see the value in high-end drysuits and my personal suit is a Kokatat, but many people can’t afford a Gore-tex suit. Mythic Gear is a company that wants to make drysuits more affordable for the market that can’t or won’t spend the $1000 for a high-end suit.
Over the last paddling season, I’ve tested Mythic Gear’s Matsu. The Matsu is a dead simple drysuit with features reduced to just those that are needed to make a drysuit. Mythic Gear made the suit from a 3-layer waterproof-breathable, nylon fabric in red. It has British-made latex neck and wrist gaskets, an across the chest waterproof zipper with a nylon and hook-and-loop fastener cover and Oxford-cloth drysocks. The only frilly feature is reflective piping. It’s pretty basic. Coming from a high-end suit, I definitely felt the missing features. It lacks an overskirt, pockets, protective neoprene over the latex gaskets, a Velcro waist belt, reinforcements on the knees and seat, and a relief zipper. But at $325 that’s expected, and when you think about it, it isn’t much more expensive than a set of waterproof-breathable rain jacket and pants.
Fit-wise I found that the suit did okay. The fit was small. I usually wear a large and ended up using a XL for the test. The socks were still tight despite the larger size. I wear a US11. The fit was loose but not baggy, except around the waist where it felt big. I found getting into and out of the suit more difficult than my regular suit. While I can’t put my finger on why I had difficulty getting the suit on and off, I suspect the zipper at the shoulder isn’t long enough. I found it was easiest to put my left arm in and then put my head into the suit without punching through the neck gasket, and then put my right arm in. Finally, punch my head through. Reversing this was the easiest way to get the suit off. There’s a bungee cord at the waist to help draw the suit into your waist. It helped make the suit feel less loose in the middle, but wasn’t necessary after I put on my neoprene skirt. On the water, the suit is loose enough that it doesn’t get in the way, but it doesn’t have the refined fit like my Kokatat does. I never experienced any chafing.
Under low to moderate exertion, the waterproof-breathable fabric seemed to move the moisture away from my body and kept me comfortable, especially on colder days. As the air temps moved in the 60s, I felt warm and started to wet out clothing. Under high levels of exertion, I often overheated. With water temps as cold as it is on Lake Superior, it’s easy to roll to cool off. After a particularly hard workout/rock garden session in 50°F air temps, I overheated so much that I had to hold a balance brace for several minutes just to cool off in the suit. While I might have overheated in my Kokatat, I could definitely feel the difference between the low-end fabric of the Mythic Gear suit verse Gore-tex in its ability to transfer moisture. When using the Mythic Gear suit, my layers were soaked out completely from sweat after high-intensitive paddling sessions. Again, that isn’t unusual after a strenuous paddling session, but it seemed more than I was used to from Gore-tex. This was less of an issue during winter paddles when the temps ranged from 15°F to 30°F. In those temps, it did a good job of keeping the heat inside and blocking the wind.
The most important feature of a drysuit is whether or not it’s dry. I’ve seen a paddler go into the water using a low-end suit that leaked. He didn’t have a good day during the training that we were doing. You don’t want be the person that’s wet in his drysuit. Not only is it dangerous and life threatening, but you increase the risk to your fellow paddlers who have to deal with your wet drysuit. The Matsu is dry. To test this I swam in the big lake, rolled many times and held long balance braces. After the first test of walking into the big lake, the suit kept my clothing completely dry. Moisture did build up while paddling, but it was primarily sweat.
It’s hard to come to a final conclusion on this drysuit. It’s dry. The fit is okay. The fabric doesn’t breathe as well as Gore-tex, but comparing it to a high-end Kokatat suit feels like comparing a four star hotel to a budget motel. They’re in different leagues and not really competing against each other. Both could achieve high ratings in their respective categories. If you don’t have the money to afford a high-end suit, you won’t buy a high-end suit. By comparison, the price of the Mythic Gear Matsu seems like a bargain. And that price could help put more people into drysuits. Just don’t expect high-end performance. If you only have $325 to spend, then this suit is for you.
Each year, Mythic’s lineup changes. You can view the current lineup here: Mythic Gear Drysuits
- Sobek: America’s lowest-priced drysuit. Breathable fabric, integral drysocks. SCUBA-quality gaskets and zipper. $280.
- Enki Relief: Identical to Sobek with the addition of a relief zipper. $349
- Kiwa: Enhanced breathability, sophisticated tailoring for greater comfort and freedom of motion, beefed-up drysock fabric for durability, reflective strip across chest for visibility, relief zipper, SCUBA-quality gaskets and zippers. $459
- Matsu: This is the suit I tested. It’s identical to the Kiwa except that it has no relief zipper. Mythic Gear is not making this suit for 2016 but they have some remaining in Small. $325
Further Reading: How to Choose a Dry Suit for Kayaking
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Mythic Gear Matsu on loan in consideration for review publication.