River Crossing Information for Members


Most of the river crossings on our club trips are pretty benign, but all should be treated with respect. If a river is doubtful or obviously unsafe to cross then it is safer not to attempt to cross at all. Drowning is the major cause of fatality among trampers and can occur in less than 50 mm of water.

The silliest way yet found to cross a river is to go barefoot, tie your boot together round your neck, and carry a badly stowed and buckled pack. This way, when you bash your toes and fall, your boots will fill with water and hold your head under while your pack washes away as you struggle.

Most streams that we encounter can be waded solo, particularly with the use of two walking poles. It’s best to move feet and poles separately to maintain balance. For all river work, the contents of your pack should be in sealed waterproof bags or one sealed pack liner. Pack covers should be removed. Wear the waist belt closely buckled, but undo the sternum strap. Your pack will float you on your back if a mishap occurs.

If solo crossing fast-moving water, use one pole (preferably a long pole) only, on your upstream side, and lean on the pole into the flow of the water. Only move one support, leg or pole, at a time. If crossing on a rope stay on the downstream side of the rope and hold on carefully.

Solo crossing can sometimes be managed by boulder-hopping. This requires skill and balance more usually possessed by young people. If you can manage to do this, great. If you try and don’t manage, you are most likely to end up wetter and possibly more damaged than if you had waded through. Rocks in New Zealand creeks are often very slippery.

Rivers that are bigger, swifter, deeper, or with uneven or rocky bottoms are best crossed in small groups using mutual support. This is where stronger members of a group should make sure that no-one is left to cross by themselves if they are not comfortable with the idea. Packs should be as I said earlier; waterproof packed, waist band on, sternum strap undone. Stow walking poles out of the way. Get the group to form a line facing the river, strongest at the upstream end, next at the downstream end, others according to size in between. Groups up to about six work best, according to the river. Pairs are fine. Take a firm grip on the waist strap or shoulder strap of the person next to you so that you have crossed arms between you. If the river has a flat bottom, grip the strap on the side away from you – that is with arms behind backs, shoulders close together If the crossing is uneven, through boulders, rocks and holes then grip the strap nearest to you to allow for independent movement around or over obstacles in the stream. Whatever happens from there on, don’t let go.

Decide on an entry point and an exit point, making sure all understand. The upstream person is the ‘boss’ for the crossing, the downstream person makes sure that the group always stays in line with the current, Try to cross diagonally working downstream with the river flow. Talk to each other about how things are going, and if you need a change of pace or direction. Do not let off your grip until all group members are safely clear of the water.

Boots are the best footwear for river crossings. Good woollen socks will usually prevent your feet from getting cold if you keep moving, and gaiters will prevent gravel from getting into your boots. Some walkers prefer to have a change of footwear to avoid wet boots. If you do this, the river footwear should have a closed toe to avoid stubbing toes on stones and sticks, and to reduce the amount of sand and gravel getting into the shoe, which can be uncomfortable.

January 30 2018