Dressing for Texas canoeing with whitewater

I’m trying to figure out how to dress for a wilderness river trip with 60 degree water and air temperatures in the 60s/70s. There are some rocky class II rapids and a swim is quite possible, but the rapids are short and the river is small.

I have a 5mm Farmer John (Farmer Bill, actually) and some NRS “Boundary Shoes”, but that’s it. Can you swim in rapids wearing a paddle jacket? What about a drytop, any better for swimming? Maybe the drytop will prevent the water from flushing your arm pits a little longer?

There’s also a used two-piece NRS dry suit combination on sale. Too warm for normal Texas use while not even really dry?

Based on my experiences as a part of the Lower Yough “OC1 / OC2 swim team” you will likely be fine with the conditions as described. Back in the day a Farmer John with a fleece or wool sweater and a paddling top was par for the course. Now of course, you will need dry clothes that absolutely stay dry for camp.

Remembering that the same outfit worked just fine for a May trip on the Dog (North Shore of Lake Superior).

You can swim with a paddle jacket or dry top. About the only circumstances that would really impede swimming would be if you had a full dry suit and the neck gasket blew out, or you were wearing a bib with attached footies or ankle gaskets. In those instances, the suit or bib could fill with water and make swimming difficult. The weight of the water in the suit would not drag you down so long as your body was in the water, but it could be very difficult to get yourself up out of the water.

I used to wear a dry top frequently for whitewater kayaking accepting the possibility that I would get wet if I swam, which did happen a few times. But I found that is I was wearing layers of decent synthetic clothing or fleece under the paddling jacket or dry top I would remain as warm as if I was wearing a wet suit and after a few minutes, I would be about as warm as if I had been wearing a dry suit. So long as the outer garment is an efficient wind stop, your body will warm the water in the clothing pretty quickly, as if you were wearing a wet suit. If you are fully immersed for more than a second or two, I don’t think it will make much difference if you are wearing a paddling jacket or a dry top. Water will get in the dry top just about as quickly.

Two piece dry suits can work quite well if both the top and the bottom have tunnels and you know how to mate them together properly. A pair of dry pants that just has a wide neoprene waistband will not keep water out.

I would not have any reservations about wearing a farmer John style wet suit over a decent synthetic long sleeve top with a good paddling jacket or dry top for the conditions you describe.

Sounds like a dry top doesn’t provide much of an advantage over a paddling jacket when swimming in rapids. Then again, does a paddling jacket provide much advantage over a rain jacket? I’m already bringing a winter jacket for camp and a light rain jacket accessible when in the boat. The paddling jacket would be the third outer shell jacket!

I would opt to have at least a jacket that is reliably wind proof with velcro closures at the wrists and neck and a draw string at the waist to keep it reasonably snug on you if you need to swim. Most paddling jackets will serve quite well as rain gear.

A paddling jacket will tend to be tighter on you during an OBE than a parka with its wrist & (neoprene) neck gaskets as well as a tight waist chinch. If you find yourself portaging in heavy rain the wrist gaskets would be nice. I’ve several times wished I’d brought a paddling jacket in those circumstances. There is some point in keeping the inside of your rain gear dry for camp as well. As always, you have options.