Wilderness Basics

  • Take the time to thoroughly investigate well above and below where you want to cross. Make certain there are no waterfalls or swift rapids below, in case you stumble.
  • If the water is more than knee deep and very swift at the most favorable spots, consider turning back, outflanking the stream via a long detour, or waiting until the water flow decreases.
  • For steams fed by snowmelt, consider waiting until the early morning to cross—at that time, such steams may flow at far lower levels than during the heat of the afternoon.
  • Always wear shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks. If you'll be wading quite often, consider wearing lightweight boots with uncoated fabric panels and polypropylene socks for quick drainage; gaiters will help keep out sand and gravel.
  • Before wading try to estimate the stream's depth and toss a twig in to gauge its speed.
  • Loosen your pack straps and unhook the hipbelt and sternum strap in case you fall in.
  • While crossing, use a hiking staff, trekking poles, or a sturdy branch to help maintain balance.
  • Cross facing upstream and move sideways so your three points of support form a triangle. If the current is swift, choose a path that takes you diagonally across and downstream so that you won't have to fight the force of the water quite as much as you lift each foot.
  • If using a rope handline, never tie yourself to it—if you fall, the rushing water can hold you under—and always cross on the downstream side of the rope.


-- Adapted from Wilderness Basics, 4rd Edition by The San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club (The Mountaineers Books, $19.95, paperback).

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