TGO Gear Editor Chris Townsend discusses the options if you’re faced with a missing bridge or a raging torrent when walking in the hills


There are many bridges in poor repair – just because a bridge is on the map doesn’t mean it’s still there or safe to use. There are also many unbridged streams that can rise rapidly after heavy rain and become dangerous to ford. Here, TGO Gear Editor Chris Townsend shares 12 tips:

[1] Other options

Before deciding to ford a river check the map for a bridge. There may be one not far away.

[2] Be cautious

Stop, think and assess the situation carefully. If you’re not sure you can cross safely don’t try. People do drown in hill streams.

[3] Stepping stones

Stepping stones or boulders may seem a safe way to cross without getting your feet wet. Only use these if they’re not too slippery and not too far apart. If in doubt, wade.

[4] Pick your spot

If you decide to ford a river look for a safe place – don’t just wade in where the path crosses or where a bridge used to be (bridges often cross deep, narrow sections of rivers).

[5] Go shallow

Check the map and scout along the banks for wide areas where the river is shallower and may be braided. Several channels are easier to ford than a single one and you can prospect up and down gravel banks for the next crossing point. Before fording check that the bank opposite isn’t undercut and that the river isn’t deeper there.

[6] Technique

When fording undo your pack hip belt and sternum strap so you can get if off easily if you fall in. Cross at an angle facing upstream so the force of the water doesn’t make your knees buckle. Shuffle rather than stride and only put weight on your leading foot when it feels secure.

[7] Stability

Use trekking poles for extra support (make sure the sections are tight). If you have no trekking poles look for a stick to use as a third leg as having one makes a big difference to stability. Poles can also be used to check the depth ahead and the whereabouts of boulders under the water.

[8] Walk away

If it’s too dangerous to ford a stream work out an alternative route. Sometimes you can climb above a stream and cross its headwaters. At other times retracing your route may be the only option.

[9] Shoes

Don’t cross barefoot. The river bed is likely to be slippery and full of stones and rocks. Keep your boots or shoes on. Socks can be removed to keep them dry.

[10] Turn back

If the water is fast flowing and becomes more than knee-deep turn back as the force of it could easily knock you over.

[11] Cross in a group

Two people can cross with their arms linked, three can form a tripod. In a group situation, the strongest member of the party should be positioned at the front.

[12] Wait

If heavy rain has caused a stream to rise rapidly consider camping on the bank. When the rain stops the water may go down just as quickly.