Going With the Flow: How to Tackle River Crossings Safely

Of the numerous hazards that hikers may encounter in the backcountry, rivers are too often overlooked. While seemingly not as threatening as steep, snowy mountains or desolate stretches of desert, rivers can pose the most significant dangers to hikers. Without experience, rivers can easily lure you into a false sense of security before, quite literally, ripping your legs out from under you.

Fast flowing rivers are powerful and can easily knock you off your feet and put you in a dangerous situation. The key hazards in rivers are obstacles that can trap you underwater such as logs or bushes (known as strainers), as well as waterfalls/cascades, and the cold.

When hiking in an area that you know will have challenging river crossings, it’s important to prepare yourself mentally and logistically. At each crossing, decisions will need to be made about where, when, and how to cross. This will inevitably add time and it’s entirely possible that you will be stopped in your tracks and need to turn around or take a significant detour to stay safe. It’s important to carry good maps showing side trails and escape routes, as well as extra food to provide the flexibility to be able to change your plans.

This post will outline the objective hazards posed by fast-flowing rivers, as well as the tactics and techniques to help you to cross rivers safely.


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