Once just an outfitter for the Navy, Special Forces, and rescue teams, Mustang Survival has pivoted to also offer gear to recreational consumers. And now, it’s got gear for women too.
Mustang Survival has been making PFDs and paddle gear for nearly 50 years. Though it’s only been making recreational gear for the past 2-3 years. Before that, it outfitted everyone from Navy SEALs to commercial fishermen. And now, its gear trove includes a full women’s line, including a women’s-specific drysuit.
The Helix Dry Suit, which comes in two models, is the brand’s cure for those who paddle or work in winter and shoulder seasons.
We tested the new drysuit last fall and this winter to see how it performs in a variety of weather and water — and, of course, to check out the women’s fit and some of the suit’s unique features.
Helix Dry Suit: First Look
A bit about the brand: Mustang Survival is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a team of female designers and female athlete ambassadors worked on this women’s line.
This means (1) the brand really dialed in this suit for cold-water performance and (2) had female designers and athletes across a variety of sports (sailing, paddling, rafting) vetting the suit before it came to market.
As a lanky, curvy female paddler, I was beyond excited to test this suit. Yes, it has some standard features you might find in other drysuits, but the fact that it was specifically designed for women, from scratch, was a huge draw.
“Nothing says ‘you don’t belong here’ like a whole section of men’s clothing options,” said Vanessa Fors, Mustang’s women’s product line manager. “The launch of this collection is our way of ensuring that well-fitting apparel is not another barrier to entry.”
Given that this was the brand’s first entrée into women’s gear, we appreciate that it spent a lot of time in the testing phase. The design process — from initial design to focus group testing to final design — took 18 months, plus a few more months to come to market.
When I asked Fors what the most technical part of the design process was, her response was pretty cool.
“The zipper took years,” Fors said. She’s talking about the smooth, one-handed helical zipper design, which might be my favorite aspect of this drysuit.
I’ve worn a lot of drysuits and wetsuits in my life, and they’re always a bit of a chore to put on. This suit’s crossbody zipper makes putting the suit on more like donning a jacket. You just zip it up. On top of that, it’s obvious the backseat location of the zipper was designed with women’s backcountry bathroom habits taken into consideration. Bless.
A note on fit: I am above average height for women (5’8″), usually a size small in pants. But this is a full-body suit. Because of my height, and wanting to leave room for any layers underneath, I tried a size medium.
The suit fit great in the chest, shoulders, and arms. And the reinforced and articulated knee pads fell in the right place. The length from the hips down might have been a hair long on my frame, but otherwise sizing was spot on.
- Features: Helical zipper, removable suspenders, neoprene wrist cuffs, drain holes at collar and wrist gussets, removable contoured knee pads and adjustable straps at knees and ankles, Closed Comfort System Exoskin collar, waterproof pocket
- Fabric and waterproofing: Marinespec four-layer fabric with 500-denier CORDURA seat, knees, and soles
- Zippers: Waterproof YKK Aquaseal zippers
- Sizing: S-XL
- Price: $1,099
Mustang’s Comfort Closure System: Better Than Latex
Besides the unique design, fit, and performance of the suit overall, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its callout feature: the Comfort Closure System. Instead of a stiff latex collar that sticks to your neck like superglue, Mustang designed this suit with a soft and adjustable Exoskin collar.
The two-layer Exoskin material is slightly more pliable than latex, and it has a cinching cord, toggle, and Velcro tab for adjusting and securing the collar in place. Why did the brand stray from traditional latex here?
“With the two closure styles, we wanted to have two [options] for different types of users,” explained Fors. “Finding the right closure style was a fine balance.”
For consumers like experienced kayakers and rafters — or those in drysuits for long hours of the day — the Comfort Closure allows you to vent sweat and heat when not in high-moving water. During activity, you can cinch up the collar to create a slightly-more-comfortable-than-latex watertight seal. For more recreational paddlers, the standard latex closure is a (cheaper) option that will get the job done.
Helix Dry Suit: Overall Impression
If you can’t tell from my cheesy grin in the photo above, this drysuit was a blast to test. More importantly, it worked during intense activities that require an unrestricted range of motion (packrafting, paddleboarding). And it was comfy.
My only feedback for the brand was reinforcing the soles of the feet just a bit more. I’m not talking about the exterior fabric, but instead adding thicker or extra cushioning on the soles.
It’s worth noting that Mustang Survival did add EVA foam pads to the articulated knees on the drysuit. And in my opinion, having something similar for the feet would be awesome. That being said, the exterior fabric on the soles and seat has been plenty durable in my testing so far.
If you’re just starting out in paddlesports, this suit probably isn’t for you. It’s certainly not cost-effective for the occasional need. But if you’re a woman who’s frequently on the water, Mustang’s Helix suit is worth checking out.