At a casual look, grass with a bit of surface water on it can look very similar to a potentially deadly marsh, and in many rural places there can be lots of both after it's been raining! In dry weather it's easier to spot, since most wet ground will be somewhat marshy.

When it's been raining though, is there a good way to tell the difference other than to put your foot in and see?

  • Not an answer per se, but if you have even the slightest indication that the area ahead may be low lying and boggy, keep near to a fence. This has probably saved my life at least once when it turned out the route ahead (already in a boggy area) was actually a small river entirely covered by overgrowth. The fence I ended up using to drag myself out was setup straight across it.
    – Sirex
    Aug 8, 2012 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


You can get a lot of the way towards understanding which ground has a good likelihood of being marshy from full use of Ordnance Survey (or equivalent) maps, and looking at the type of rock in the area you will be hiking.

Good quality maps give a lot of detail around topography, so you can look at slopes and heights near watercourses etc. If you are on a flood plain you have a reasonably high likelihood of marsh, whereas a steep slope will not be.

Being aware of the type of rock around you will help a lot - limestone country will probably not give you marshland, but poses a higher risk of sinkholes etc as it is very porous and easily eroded.

Looking at the type of plants growing around you will help - bullrushes, reeds etc. are an indicator of waterlogged ground.

Some maps even mark marshy ground - which helps:-)

  • 1
    +1 for the point about vegetation (which I was going to post as an answer). Dryland grasses can't survive in waterlogged ground. Clumps of trees (versus no trees or an even forest) are also an indication that the ground between them is wet.
    – kdgregory
    Jul 28, 2012 at 13:01

Some additions to the answer above:

  • Try to walk near bigger trees (no marshland there)
  • Avoid water
  • Use a walking stick or just a stick of wood (you can even use it in case you would have to cross something or help with going up/down or just as help with walking).

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