Six Tips for Whitewater Wading

This former Navy Seal shares his tips for fording wild water during the spring runoff.

wading whitewater
Upright Citizens: Don’t go it alone; balance better with a buddy.Brian Grossenbacher

1. Open Up
Cross at the widest point; this area tends to be shallower and less turbulent.

2. Spot Snarls
Keep an eye out for strainers—fallen trees or bushes that can entrap you beneath the water's surface—and never cross upstream of one. Crossing just downstream may grant you a brief reprieve from the current.

3. Mind Your Middle
Determining depth can be difficult, so use a trekking pole or makeshift wading stick as a gauge and for support. If the water level nears your waist before you reach the center of the river, turn back and find an alternate route.

4. Prep Your Pack
Before you cross, unbuckle your backpack, wear it on your front, and be ready to get rid of it before it can fill with water should you get dunked. I tie a long loop of lanyard to my pack so I can grab it if it drifts away from me, but it isn't attached to my body.

5. Do the Shuffle
Point your hips upstream and shuffle-step sideways. Take small, manageable steps and make sure that one foot is solidly underneath you before picking up the other.

6. Arm Yourself
If you're with a buddy, cross the river together. Link arms for better balance. If there are three of you, huddle up in a triangle with the heaviest man downstream, grasping one another's shoulders. The two men on the upstream side of the triangle should angle themselves so neither has the current directly at his back. When in doubt, choose an alternate path.

Hays, a former navy seal, says: Three legs (yours and a wading stick) are better than two, four legs are better than three, and six legs practically make a chorus line, but you'll get across safely.