The best way to ford a river

Knowing how to ford a river or fast-flowing stream is an essential skill for wilderness hikers.

There’s a fine line between fording and swimming a river. Here are three easy steps to help you get across a river safely.

Determine the best place to cross

The first thing to do is determine the best place to cross, rather than just plunging right in where you meet the water’s edge. Scope the river by walking along high points on the bank, looking out for snags, holes, surges and debris.

Any fast-flowing water above knee-height is potentially dangerous, so be careful where you choose your crossing point. Avoid high banks and look for look for a spot that is wide and shallow, with feasible points for entering and exiting the water. Avoid crossing on the high side close to a waterfall or rapids in case you slip and fall in, or at narrow choke points where the current is strongest.

Prep your gear

Ensure your backpack is sealed and watertight, putting particular emphasis on sealing any electronic gear. You can try to seal your kit with air inside to give the pack some buoyancy. Reduce resistance by removing any baggy clothing. Strip down to your underwear or swimmers if necessary, as you don’t want the current to grab your clothing and unbalance you.

Before entering the water, consider slightly loosening your belt, shoulder and sternum straps on your backpack, so if you do end up in the water you can quickly unbuckle your pack. If your pack is too loose it can be a hazard.

Cross carefully

Use walking poles or sturdy sticks for stability. Enter the water facing upstream, but cross at a slight angle in a downstream direction, not straight across. This means you are not fighting the current and can focus on using your poles for stability. Place your poles in front of you, bend your knees and lean into the waterflow, taking small steps or even shuffling.

Test your footholds as you go, before committing to shifting your total weight. Don’t take long strides as you could quickly lose your balance and get into difficulty.