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How can one cross a barbed wire fence safely?

Assumptions: Height of the person: 5.8 (172cm) Distance between barb wires is roughly 9 inches (20-22 cm), Fence is 4 to 4.5 (120-140cm) feet tall, not electrified. The guy is alone, hauling a backpack.

Lets not start getting into should one cross a barbed wire fence.

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    Lets not start getting into Should one cross a Barb Wire fence. But you shouldn't :) In the UK you'd be trespassing and therefore breaking the law. Walk along the fence until you find a gate or a stile. – user2766 Dec 7 '15 at 11:30
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    In the US you may or may not be trespassing. Public land is often internally divided into pastures with barbed-wire fences for the purposes of grazing leases but hikers are free to move between them freely. There are often gates at logical points, but an off-trail traveler may encounter fences they need to cross. – Jonathan Patt Dec 7 '15 at 15:22
  • @JonathanPatt: Your place sounds exactly like out place. – WedaPashi Dec 7 '15 at 15:36
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    It's not just internal divisions that get fences. You also sometimes see barbed-wire fences between parcels of public land that are administered by different divisions of the government. For example, the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes is on state park land, while the trail itself is on Bureau of Land Management property, with a fence between the two. – Mark Dec 9 '15 at 2:59
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Maybe barbed wire fences are built differently in different parts of the world - at any rate, nobody really mentioned the way that we as kids learned to cross them safely.

Crossing on top in the middle between two posts:
Most often barbed wire fences are not very tightly strung, especially if they're not very new - meaning that the individual wires will have some slack to them.

  • Go to the midway point between two posts (see on the schema below).
  • Press down on the top wire - either using a stick, or, carefully, using your hands.

This will lower the top wire for 20 cm easily, which should allow you to cross by swinging over one leg, then the other. Of course for a smaller person, or when confronted with a very high fence this could be infeasible. One possible way to cross in that situation is to cross between the wires by pressing down on the lower one, thus enlarging the gap. Otherwise you'll have to result to the methods in the other answers.

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FYI, this method was shown to me by the farmers who actually set up these barbed wires to fence of their mountain pastures. Seems they found crossing fences that way carried no/acceptably small chance of damaging the fence.

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I'd climb the fence at a post. First, place /throw you backpack over the fence as climbing with it on is significantly more difficult, especially if heavy.

Climb the fence, with at least one hand on the fence post and your feet one the wires, in between the barbs, as close to the post as reasonable. Being close to the fencepost minimizes the chance of you breaking the fence and is more stable. With your other hand either hold the wire, being careful not to grab a barb, or put both hands on the fencepost. When you are sufficiently high swing one leg over being careful not to catch yourself on the top barbs and place your foot in the fence on the other side. Either twist your foot around or put your heel in on the wire if you are less flexible. Carefully get your other leg over and climb or jump down.

This method is easiest for lowish fences where you can just take one step on the fence and get your leg over. I wouldn't do it for anything over about 4 1/2 ft as the top of the fence may get quite unstable when you put your weight on it at that height.

The disadvantages of this approach is that it is quite easy to catch your leg/crotch on the top wire and rip your trousers as you don't want to climb higher than necessary (climbing higher is less stable). Also if you feel you are losing balance don't grab the barbed wire, jump off. It may sound obvious but your natural reaction is to steady yourself and the wire is generally the most obvious thing to grab.

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    Oh, please don't climb over fences this way! It's hard work to put up fences, and it is frustrating whenever someone damages one. Climbing the fencepost puts pressure directly on the staples/nails/wires attaching the barbed wired to the post and can often result in the barbed wired coming off the post - resulting in a needed repair job (not to mention possible damage to the person crossing the fence). Damaging fences is a good way to convince a landowner/agency to deny/limit access to future hikers. – 243DRob Apr 9 '17 at 1:59
  • I'd advise against crossing this way. You'll be trusting your entire weight upon a single staple/nail! If that one pulls out while you're half way over the fence it can make for a very unpleasant experience. (I know of someone who once had to get stitches on their testies after an unfortunate barbed wire fence mishap.) – fgysin Apr 11 '17 at 7:30
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We're assuming here that each wire on this particular fence is strung 9 inches above the lower wire - and that we want to cross safely.

It is not safe to climb over a barbed wire fence. Neither is safe to climb a fence post. The first carries a high probability of being snagged on barbs and the second carries a high risk of staple/nail/wire failure, resulting in injury to the hiker. Both of these methods will also potentially damage the fence or the post. This leaves two methods for safely crossing the fence - between the wires, or under the bottom wire.

If the wires are loose enough to easily spread apart, then it is possible to safely cross between the wires:

Option #1 - Crossing between the wires:

Using both hands, lift all of your gear over the fence, one piece at a time (backpack, walking stick, etc.), and place or drop gently on the far side. Do this near a fence post so there is no danger of tripping over any of it when crossing.

Then go to the middle point between two fence posts where there is the most slack in the wires. Stand next to the fence, facing down the fenceline (so either your right or left side is nearer to the fence than the other).

Pick a wire that is just above the height of your hip - this is the wire to go under. You don't need to touch this one.

Firmly grasp the wire directly beneath that wire, with both hands, and push down. Don't push hard and don't put your weight onto it - just push it down a few inches to allow room to pass between the wires.

Cross between the wires:

  • Moving in a slow, smooth motion (remember, you're already bending
    forward to hold the lower wire down), lift the leg nearest to the
    fence upward, behind you (heel up, toe down), and gently swing
    the entire leg through.
  • Immediately lower your upper body (remember - already bent forward) to horizontal and swing through the wires.
  • Then follow with the second leg.

Just imagine bending forward and taking a high step to the side (by swinging the leg back and up) with the second leg following in an identical high step.

Remember to move slowly and maintain your balance. If a barb snags your clothing, stop, reverse directions and move back a few inches, lower that portion of your body a little more (or raise, depending on which wire snagged you), and try again.

If the wires are strung too tightly for you to easily spread them sufficiently to fit through, then you cannot safely cross between the wires. Then try option #2 below.

Option #2 - Crawl under the bottom wire.

Follow the fenceline, first one direction, then the other, looking for a low spot beneath the bottom wire. When you find one that you think you can squirm through, then lift your gear over (same as in Option #1 above), return to the depression, get on your belly, and crawl/scoot/squirm (whatever works for you!) under the bottom wire.

If neither option will work for you, then do not cross the fence! Look for a gate - while looking for a gate, keep your eyes open for a spot where Option #1 or Option #2 might work.

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Barbwire fences are designed to keep cattle in or out of a designated areas. Barbwire intended to prevent human traffic requires additional measures. As previously mentioned it it may or may not indicate a boundary for a traveling human.

Where the wire is not intended to halt human traffic there is generally a people/vehicle gate in near proximity to where people are expected to cross the fence. A person should go to, and cross the fence at the gate.

There are a number of legitimate reasons for crossing barbwire fences where no gate is present. Assuming you are in one of those situations, consider this.

Barbwire is strung tight for a reason, that is what makes it an effective cattle boundary. Stretching it to allow a human to pass between/over strands or using it as ladder to climb a post will alter its effectiveness at being a cattle boundary. That alteration can make the fence an ineffective cattle barrier and/or increase the chance that cattle will be injured by it.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

  • If the fence is used to contain cattle, there will be cattle who want to sample the grass on the other side.
  • An unassisted human can't cross a barbwire fence without altering it's cattle containment properties
  • A single person crossing may or may not make the fence ineffective, but some do, and several person crossing definitely will require fence maintenance to correct damage.
  • Stretching the fence to climb through creates a gap that will allow cattle to put their head through, this creates safety issues for the cattle.
  • Climbing the fence at the post tends to loosen and/or completely remove the staple that is holding the wire to the post.
  • It is not unusual for a barbwire fence to fail catastrophically during a human crossing.

When you cross a barbwire fence, you are assuming liability for damage to it. If you are not prepared to correct that damage, don't cross

Crossing a barbwire fence is kind of like dropping a glass bottle from shoulder height, it probably won't break the first time, but it might, and if you do repeatedly it will, and it will create a safety hazard that needs to be addressed before it causes injury.

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    While good information, this doesn't really answer the question of how to cross it. Stating that and why you shouldn't is legitimate, but still not an answer. – imsodin Apr 8 '17 at 18:09
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    @imsodin I think my answer does answer the question. 1. You can cross safely at the gate. 2. Any place else is not safe, you will damage the fence, which will create a safety hazard for the cattle (and possibly yourself). The extent of that damage and the risk of injury to yourself and the cattle is subject to many variables beyond the range of an answer here. – James Jenkins Apr 9 '17 at 11:23
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    Agree with James Jenkins. – M.Mat Apr 9 '17 at 14:47
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    I have built miles of barbwire fence and been around ranchers and crossing a fence on foot isn't a huge deal. Gates are preferable, but its not going to cause problem if one or two people go over or under or threw a fence. For the most part barbwire is an optical illusion to cattle, if they wanted to just go through it they can. – Charlie Brumbaugh Apr 9 '17 at 16:36
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    To generalize James Jenkins defense: OPs do not always know all the important ramifications of his questions; a good answer will point this out. A much more obvious example would be: "What clothing and gear should I take with me to hitchhike safely in the wheel-well of a transpacific airliner, but let's not discuss the downside of doing that". An answer that didn't discuss the downside would be irresponsible. In the barbed wire case, the OP may know the downsides, and know that they are less important in India then Europe or Northern Hemisphere, if so, the Q should include this info – ab2 Apr 10 '17 at 13:47
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The implications of trespassing and or damaging another's property not withstanding. One can spread the wires by placing a long enough stick between the top two wires and twist, this will pull the top and bottom wire toward one another increasing the gap to the wires below this pair. If there are four wires, you can repeat with the bottom pair.

The stick needs to be long enough to get "stuck" behind the other wires when you push it to perpendicular to the wires.

  • It could, which is why I prefaced the answer the way I did. – Escoce Dec 7 '15 at 15:40
  • This most certainly damages the fence. – fgysin Apr 10 '17 at 8:29
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I was taught during my Sea Cadet training days to remove my jacket or sweatshirt, and drape it over a strand of the barbed wire. Then knee beside the wire with the long axis of one's body parallel to the wire. Push down hard on the strand BELOW the one on which you jacket is hanging. You can see the barbs by your belly, and avoid them. Your back, which you cannot see, will be protected by the jacket from the barbs above.

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I would look for rocks or branches and build a makeshift ladder.

Whether going under, between, or over the wires, I would cover the wires with my fleece jacket.

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    The makeshift ladder may prove unsteady. However, covering the wires with a jacket is a good idea. – 243DRob Apr 11 '17 at 15:30

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