Crossing rivers and streams when hiking can be one of the most dangerous things you’ll do. From getting swept away to simply falling and getting wet in cold weather it can kill you. Here are a few tips for crossing fast moving streams and rivers. Of course, it doesn’t have to just be “fast moving” to be dangerous as deep water and under water currents can get you too.
Find a Safe Place to Cross – Just because others have crossed at a certain point doesn’t mean it’s the safest. This is most often the case, but not always. You may have to travel several feet to several miles up or down stream to find the best crossing point. If you’re in a place like Alaska with huge snow melts and often without trails looking for the best place is a must. The widest section of a stream or river is most often the most shallow and slowest moving.
Unbuckle your Waist Belt – This is an easy one to forget, but if you fall into fast moving or deep water while hooked to your backpack you’ll be pulled down with it. Imagine trying to undo your chest strap and your waist belt while being pulled downstream underwater.
Use Hiking Sticks – Or any stick you can find. This will provide support and allow you to test the water in front of you before you make the next step.
Avoid Rapids – Never cross in rapids. Even if the water isn’t deep rapids are very strong and can easily pin you between rocks on the bottom.
Keep Your Gear Dry – In the case that you do fall or your back gets wet you want to ensure that your extra clothing, food, electronics, sleeping bag, and other gear is dry. If you’re miles from civilization wet gear can kill you. Before you cross remove your boots and tie high on your pack. I like to keep an old pair of Teva style sandals for river crossings and for loafing around camp.
Photo by Moresheth