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5 Tips for Stream / River Crossings | FE Active Hiking Tips

When you transition from beginner to advanced hikes, you'll start experiencing varied terrain types on the routes you follow. Whether this means steeper hills, rock scrambling or stream and river crossings, you'll be coming across some new obstacles you've likely never faced.

Unlike steep hills or rocky sections, water crossings may be the most intimidating. There are a myriad of things to consider when confronted by a stream or river crossing including those commonly asked questions: Do I leave my shoes on or take them off? Where should I cross? What if I can't see what's under the water?

FE Active Cloudbreak 30L Dry Bag Backpack in Hawaii
River Crossing with Cloudbreak 30L in Hawaii

These questions (and more) are excellent to ask yourself. When hiking and traveling - asking these important questions may be difference between life and death. Now we don't suggest crossing a raging river on your first advanced hike, so instead, this article, will focus on our Top 5 Tips that are geared toward "newbies" to help them navigate the world of stream and river crossings.

Tip #1 - Choose the Proper Route

Sometimes things are pretty straightforward. The route is laid out really well, a marked path shows you the way, and the route across the river is in the perfect place. Other times, this isn't the case. When choosing the proper location to cross a stream or a river, consider the following:

  • Is this location calm, or does is have quick moving water? Remember, calm water is always preferred.

  • Is this location in a deep or shallow section of the stream or river? Shallow sections make for better crossings

  • Is this location wide or narrow? Depending on depth, try and cross a narrow section of the river. If you need to choose however, choose shallow over narrow.

  • Is this location clear of debris? Rocks and tree limbs can either help or hinder your progress. They may provide something to grab onto, but if you can't see what's under the water, and they could snag you up or bruise your legs!

Tip #2 - Properly Balance Yourself

There are times where you can't cross the stream or river by stepping on rocks, and keeping your feet dry. If you find yourself getting in the water to cross, consider these tips:

  • If the current is strong, face upstream (the direction the water is coming from) and cross learning forward shuffling from the side as your make your way across. You'll be able to counteract the force of the water much easier when facing it head on.

  • If you have trekking poles, use them! Not only will they help provide you with balance, but you can use them to poke and prod under the water's surface to ensure your route is free and clear of rocks and branches.

Tip #3 - Pointy Rocks are your Friends

It may go against your instincts to go toward the pointy rocks and avoid the smooth ones, but when water is involved, you'll want all the grip you can get.

Smooth rocks act as a natural Slip n' Slide. Using them as a way to cross a stream or river may just be your downfall. Although pointy rocks may hurt more if you were to slip and fall, you may actually reduce your chances of this occurring by using them. Rough rocks have a much higher abrasive edge, which is good when you want traction and stability. Take advantage of this when crossing where it's slippery.

If you are crossing a stream by skipping from rock to rock, try and avoid rocks that are slightly covered with water. This thin layer of water may disrupt your ability to make proper contact with the rock and you could slip off as soon as you step on.

Tip #4 - Wear Shoes / Boots

If you are crossing a stream or river for the first time, you'll almost certainly think about taking your shoes off to cross. If the crossing is small enough, you won't question if you should or not. If you need to question it, leave them on. I'll say it again, if you question if you should take them off or leave them on, leave them on! Here's why.

  • If while you cross, you slip and fall, it's better to have the foot protection than not. You can always dry out your shoes afterward - you can't always hike back with an impaled foot.

  • Leaving your shoes on improves grip and allows you to use your total body weight when navigating the steam. If your shoes are off, chances are you'll step on something unpleasant and loose your balance, or it will prevent you from using your full body weight to your advantage.

Tip #5 - Put it in a Dry Bag

More often than not, we hike with a bag. Whether we put food, water, clothing or a FE Active Noosa Chair inside. When crossing a river, or even if it simply starts to rain, the contents of our bag are important. Traditional hiking bags may come with a cover that will keep items dry if it rains, but what happens if you are doing a stream or river crossing and fall in? The bag goes with you.

One of the biggest hiking revelations revolves around the bags we bring. No longer do we bring a bulky, fabric bag. Now all we bring are compact dry bags - big enough to hold all your gear, but light enough to not weigh you down.

FE Active makes two remarkable dry bags for hiking, the Huntington and the Cloudbreak. What you keep inside is up to you, but this is the perfect place to store a dry pair of socks or shorts (or even shoes) if you know you are crossing some water on your trip.

The Huntington

This 20L dry bag is the most compact and easy to transport of all our bags. An IPX7 rating means it can handle a downpour of rain or snow without even blinking. No need to fumble around with a cover if you get caught in a downpour, this bag is ready from the start.

Deep side pockets hold a bottle of water on either side with easy, while a carabiner and bungee cord allows you to attach gear to the outside - great for wet shoes, a yoga mat or a camping lantern.

The Cloudbreak

Perhaps the most popular of our dry bags, this 30L dry bag is IPX8 rated - the highest possible. With this level of waterproofness, you can even dunk or swim with your gear (completely under water) and your stuff will stay dry. Take that water crossings!

Eco-Friendly PVC makes this bag a smart environmental choice, while the external side pockets and bungee cords give you additional storage space beyond the 30L of internal space.

Final Thoughts

With these Top 5 Tips for Stream and River Crossing in mind, you are ready to start your #JourneyForward. As we begin to tackle more challenging trails, we realize that proper gear is vitally important.

Despite which gear you take however, common sense and the knowledge of when to cross, or when you turn back is what's going to make the real difference. Never attempt any water crossing if the conditions are unfavorable. The forces of mother nature have no mercy, so always err on the side of cation.

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