Survival Skills

7 Tips To Safely Cross Creeks, Streams, Rivers, and Rapids



Over the river and through the woods, to the bug out location, we go…

But be careful, that first step can be a real doozy. If you're not careful and cross a river the wrong way it could really put you up a creek without a paddle.

Follow these 7 tips to safely cross that stream and make it to the other side.

Survival Skills: 7 Tips To Safely Cross Creeks, Streams, Rivers, and Rapids

Whether you're camping out or bugging out on foot. One of the most dangerous and unpredictable things you can encounter is a body of water. Even if it looks easy, as little as 6 inches of fast flowing water can sweep you off your feet and put you in a serious situation.  If you can, find another way around, a natural bridge, or a natural narrowing of the water that you can hop across, or a wider section with a slower flow rate. But if going around isn't an option these 7 steps could just keep you out of harm's way.

1. Do Not Cross Deep Rivers

Do Not Cross Deep Rivers | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
Even if it looks calm, a river with a thigh high water level can be incredibly dangerous dangerous. It could sweep you off your feet unexpectedly. Do not cross rivers with strong currents, your feet might get caught between rocks and boulders which might cause you to slip. The heavier baggage you have while crossing in the water, the more likely for you to capsize and lose balance. look for a shallow spot to cross and if you need a little help judging the  flow rate of the river toss a handful of leaves or dirt into the stream, this should give you an indicator of how dangerous the river really is.

2. Leave Your Boots On

Leave Your Boots On | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
Wear your boots while crossing — they have traction and protect your feet from hazards. You can also use light water shoes with traction but these can be easily broken. Purchase good sturdy boots you can use for any situation. It will save you from cuts or bruises while hiking and crossing rapids. Just be sure you let them dry out afterwards to avoid getting blisters or worse, trench foot.

3. Use Walking Sticks For Balance

Use Walking Sticks For Balance | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
If you didn't bring a walking stick or trekking poles with you, you can make one with minimum effort. Just grab any long branch of a tree — strong enough to support you. Keep your walking stick on the upstream side to ensure the current will keep the sticks in place. Put your weight into the current and against your walking stick while shuffling your feet sideways.

If you find yourself crossing fast waters, remember to face upstream. Be aware of your footing when crossing. Make sure you maintain two points of contact with the riverbed at all times.

However, if you're on the downstream side, don't use two trekking poles at once because the narrow tip might get caught between rocks and boulders which may cause you to lose balance. You can tie the other one on your bug out bag to keep it out of the way.

4. Unbuckle Your Bag

Unbuckle Your Bag | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
Before crossing a river, make sure to untie your waist belt or sternum strap from your bag. If you trip, your bag might pull you down because it can act as a catchment for water. However, if you have a waterproof pack or even a dry bag inside your pack, it can make it usable as a flotation device.  So if you do slip, it can help you stay above water  until you can catch your footing.  You just want to make sure that you're not tied to your bag, it's better to lose your gear than lose your life.

5. Wear Proper Clothes

Wear Proper Clothes | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
The ideal clothing to use when crossing streams or rivers are shorts or pants made out of a wicking material. Wearing regular denim or cotton pants can makes you exert more effort while crossing because they will absorb water and double (or more) in weight while crossing.. Always carry extra clothes to change into after fording a river to avoid chafing and possible hypothermia (which can happen with temperatures as warm as 50 degrees!).

6. Look Before You Leap

Look Before Crossing | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
Always be aware of your surroundings. The depth and speed of the water could change in seconds. Avoid crossing a river when it's raining as a flash flood upstream could trigger a rush of water before you even have a chance to react . If possible cross the widest part of the river –where  the water level is lower there and it's much safer to cross.

7. Wear A Personal Floatation Device

Wear A Personal Floatation Device | Survival Skills: Cross Rivers And Rapids Safely
Wearing a personal floatation device is highly recommended, especially when you are crossing knee-deep river. You can purchase a floatation device online or from your go-to survival gear shop. Choose a lightweight one that's easy to carry and pack. PFDs can save your life if you have no choice but to cross a deep river.


Learn how to cross a river with a rope by watching this video:

Whether you're bugging out or just camping for the weekend, your safety should be your top priority. Crossing a river is never a sure bet for safety, but following these 7 steps above should help you stay safe. As a bonus tip and one that's good to follow at all times and not just when crossing water is to never travel alone. Having a partner or traveling in groups could literally save your life (or theirs).  Stay vigilant and alert at all times.

7 Tips To Safely Cross Creeks, Streams, Rivers, and Rapids

Do you have some more tips on how to cross rivers and rapids safely? Share your survival skills and knowledge in the comments section below!

Up next: 9 Shipwreck Survival Skills You Should Know About

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