How to Safely Cross a River

There are many times on camping and hiking trips where you may need or want to cross a river. This can often be dangerous even if the river is shallow and flowing slowly.

Crossing River Safely

Once the water is above your knees, things become even more dangerous. If there is an alternative to crossing the river, it’s best to use it. However, if there’s no other choice, make sure you know what you’re doing at all times.

Here are some tips you should find useful while crossing a river:

Find the shallowest point

When crossing a river by yourself, try and find its shallowest point and smoothest section of the river bed if possible by viewing it from above. Try to avoid boulders and submerged snags, etc.

Look for river bends

The safest spot to cross is the straight section between river bends. If you lose your footing the current may carry you to a bank at one of the bends.

Keep your boots on

When crossing, keep your boots on. It’s better to have a pair of wet boots than to cut your feet in the river. You might want to take long pants off though as they can increase resistance to the river’s current.

Make sure your backpack can be taken off quickly in case you lose your footing or if it becomes snagged. Remember, the backpack may also be used as a flotation device if needed.

A stick or pole can be handy

It’s a good idea to cross with a strong stick or pole that’s about 5 or 6 feet long to give you support.

Go diagonal

Cross the river diagonally downstream and take small steps to feel for the bottom. Don’t look down at the water flowing by you as it could affect your equilibrium. Keep your eyes locked on the other side and don’t grab at rocks as you may lose your balance.

Group Crossing

If there are several people crossing the river you should travel in a line across and each person should place their hands on the back of the person to the left and right of them, preferably on a strap or clothing. This will interlock everybody together.

Pack your belongings well

Make sure your important belongings are packed in waterproof areas of the backpack or use garbage bags for liners. If you happen to lose your footing and the river carries you away, release the backpack, but hold onto it for flotation.