river crossing

Crossing a river safely: this must be taken into account when foraging

If the hiking or trekking route crosses a larger stream or river without a bridge, the hiker is sometimes faced with a major challenge. The following article shows an approach to safe crossing: the so-called ford.

Whether a multi-day tour on predetermined paths or wilderness hiking – rivers are a frequent obstacle for hikers in the field. When crossing a river – the ford – the following principles must be observed in order to get to the other side safely.

Choice of ford

  • It’s best to get an overview from an elevated point.
  • Assess current: If the current runs on the opposite bank, another location must be sought. Current means, especially in bends, deeper water and often poorer visibility. It is better to cross from the outside in or between two bends.
  • Assess water depth and flow rate: In most cases, crossings down to knee-deep water are possible. If the water reaches up to the thigh, the critical zone is reached.
  • Note the water temperature: Long crossings can be unexpectedly difficult when the water temperature is very low. There is a risk of hypothermia!
  • Find river divisions: If the river divides, for example by small islands, it is better to ford in small sections than a large one.
  • Assess the bank: Is it safe and easy to leave the river at the planned location?
  • Search for alternative ford: Usually against the flow direction (upstream), but always with a view of the map.
  • Basically, if I am not sure that it works, I am looking for another job!
river crossing 2

Time of the ford

A good time to cross a river is in the morning. Rivers that are fed by glaciers or snow generally have less water in the morning. A crossing is then often easier. When fording, you should always keep an eye on the weather: precipitation sometimes rivers rise quickly!

Ford technique

  • Put on extra pairs of shoes to avoid drenching your hiking boots. Fast drying, light outdoor sandals are recommended. Crossing the river without shoes means there is a risk of injury, and you also have no secure footing. Crossing the river without shoes is therefore an absolute no-go!
  • Attach hiking shoes securely to your backpack (do not throw anything over the river!).
  • Open the hip and chest straps of the backpack (in the event of a fall, try to get rid of the backpack immediately!).
  • If the current is strong, cross / diagonally to the current.
  • Use trekking poles as a third and fourth position. Always three points as fixed points during the ford. One stick as a support against the current, the second for “feeling” the next steps.
  • Cross slowly and, if in doubt, turn around and try somewhere else.

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