as by subject. Especially in a colder place, where one would be wearing some sort of closed shoe or boot (say, Lapland), how would someone wade a 30 or 40cm deep river/creek without flooding one's boots? In theory one could suck it up and hope for the boot/shoe to get dry, but that might take a long time, and at near 0C temps, it might be pretty unpleasant.

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    The answer 'take them off' is not on the table, there are places where bare feet are too much of a liability when wading. Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 21:53
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    What is "as by subject." ? Also, i suggest you edit your comment into the question.
    – Martin F
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 0:35
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    Agree, in cold temperatures you can very quickly lose feeling in your feet and it might make it difficult to walk securely on any kind of rock bottom. I would also be cautious about anything mixing unsteady footholds, strong currents and heavy packs - too easy to drown. 30cm is not a challenge, but not all fords end up as shallow as one believes. Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 0:35
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    The proper answer is - you don't! You walk heat into your boots after the crossing. Seems to me the most upvoted answers represent wishful thinking only, and the least upvoted makes sense. Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 1:38
  • @MartinF I take it to be a non-native-speaking way to say the more idiomatic phrases "as per the subject line" or more directly "see title."
    – Drake P
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 8:10

6 Answers 6


Water shoes

You really don't want to be getting your walking boots wet under such circumstances, nor do you want your socks wet. So rather than going barefoot, swap to some more suitable footware for the crossing.

The best bet is to take some lightweight "water shoes" also sometimes known as "swim shoes" they're the sort of thing wild swimmers wear when out in unknown waters. Lightweight, quick drying, no good for walking long distances but usually designed to have good grip on wet surfaces.

And a towel, always know where your towel is.

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    And a towel, always know where your towel is. Also: Don't panic.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 11:23
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    If you know where your towel is, what's there to panic about?
    – cjm
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 21:35
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    @cjm: Never underestimate human ability to overreact to a situation.
    – Vikki
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 18:33
  • @cjm That's where the Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses come in.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 14:10

If going barefoot is not an option, then basically 2 are left

  1. Waders. Preferred by fishers standing in water up to waist. Heavy, take a lot of place, and keep in mind, you will sweat inside.

  2. Sandals or running trail shoes. Take little place, light, choose one with good soles that will provide a good grip. Prepare for short cold shock and warming up your feet afterwards. It's still better than walking hours in wet trekking shoes.

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    Sandals are really so much better than barefoot if the water is not totally warm. Barefoot on cold stones is really unpleasant.
    – Jan
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 10:06

Carry a couple of tall, tough plastic bags. Put one over each boot and you can wade up to the height of the bags on your leg. You may get small holes in the bags from walking on them, but if you're careful you may be able to avoid that.

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    If you're lucky, river stones are rounded so it's on the bank you're most likely to pierce the bags. You need rubble sacks at least for this. They work as rucksack liners too, so this is an argument in favour of using 2 smaller liners rather than 1 big one. Also rubber bands or find a strap of some sort. You want your hands free
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 11:24
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    This is a bad idea. The bags are likely to tear or get holes (which will lead to wet boots in freezing weather). They’ll also have bad grip. Going barefoot or maybe wearing some lightweight shoes/sandals is really the best and most reliable option. The bags could be handy for making sure that stuff inside your rucksack stays dry in case you slip and fall into the water (will also provide some buoyancy).
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 8:52

and at near 0C temps, it might be pretty unpleasant

In fact it's only unpleasant for the first few seconds. Your feet warm up the water very quickly, and from then the boot acts like a wetsuit. I honestly can't think of many days I've been hillwalking in the UK and come back with my feet dry. In summer maybe, but not often between October and April.

The major problem with damp feet isn't cold, it's chafing. Cotton socks are usually a bad idea for hiking. Better quality materials (most notably wool; Smartwool socks are highly recommended!) stay comfortable even when they're wet.

If you're on a longer hike over several days, do pack several pairs of socks, and take every opportunity when you camp to hang up the wet pairs to dry. As good as Smartwool socks are, no-one likes the "slipping your foot into a dead fish" feeling of putting on wet socks.

The other issue which no-one's touched on is boots. If your boots are Gore-Tex, then they'll stay waterproof even when they get wet. If your boots are leather though, the wax gets washed away and then the "wetsuit" effect stops working. Use aqueous Nikwax (or whatever they're calling it these days) to reproof your boots every 2 days if they're constantly wet.

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    There are places it's possible to hike and only have to worry about stream crossings for wet feet, the traditional hillwalking areas of the UK aren't among them.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 12:45
  • @Separatrix Very much so. :) For non-UK hikers who've not been here, perhaps it's more accurate to say that you're constantly crossing small streams or areas of boggy ground; or the path becomes a stream when it's rained recently (which is most of the time); or not-infrequently the path actually is a stream because a flat surface is easier to walk on than the 45-degree hill on either side, even if that flat surface is under an inch or two of water.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 13:45
  • Dartmoor is a clear example where I rarely came back with dry feet from a day-hike because of sudden bogs. I tend to double up on socks, and in those days it was everyday ones (cotton or cotton blend) under wool or wool blend hiking socks. The wet hikes weren't the really long ones but I never suffered from blisters. Cotton will keep your feet wet for long periods, allowing the skin to soften. Even stopping and wringing them out is better than nothing if it's only once or twice in a day
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 15:31
  • ... but I tend to hike in boots that are waterproof to about 10cm deep, maybe a little more, so a path running with water is rarely a concern. Either that or something that drains freely, like cross-country running shoes or my bike shoes (hiking on bike tours)
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 15:33

If you're caught out without alternatives, this is what I've done at very slightly warmer temperatures. If you can plan in advance, other answers provide better options.

Take off boots and socks, put boots back on to cross. Keep your leg-wear dry. Zip-off hiking trousers have their use even in the cold, or roll the legs up.

After crossing, do what you can to dry first your feet and then inside your boots. Perhaps you've got dirty or slightly damp clothes in your pack, for example. Any scrap paper can be used to get a bit more out of boots, while tissues aren't worth using on boots, only feet. Pack towels will often get out quite a bit, then wring them out, then some more. With some of my quick-drying gear, using the zipped-off legs to dry out the boots, then zipping them back on to dry as I hike would be a good option.

Then put socks back on, and boots, and get going. You might want to wear plastic bags over your (inner) socks if it's cold or your boots are very absorbent. Even small flimsy ones will help, though they'd leak if you wore them over your boots for the crossing. I normally have a few in my hygiene kit, for example.


Another good option that no one has mentioned so far: Gore-Tex® (or any waterproof) socks. If the trail is really wet, sometimes taking boots off before each stream is not feasible. I've worn waterproof socks in the past, and just let my boots get wet. Waterproof socks are surprisingly effective at keeping your feet warm and dry.

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    How have you found them with water going over the top? I have Sealskinz, with a silicone grip/seal band at the top but have waded in anything deeper than them (I mainly use them on the bike)
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 16:01
  • Wet boots are heavy and provide very little insulation. Waterproof socks can’t prevent water from entering at the top. However waterproof socks could be an option if you are wearing lightweight shoes. Take off the socks before wading, wear the shoes barefoot, accept that the shoes will get wet, put on the waterproof socks afterwards so your feet stay warm and dry inside the wet shoes.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 8:54
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    You might want to clarify this answer to make clearer that the waterproof socks are to protect your feet from the boots after the river crossing, not during it. Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 4:38
  • @Michael waterproof socks under free-draining shoes, possibly with gaiters/shoe covers over the top is something I like on the bike in wet winter weather. A slight downside is that some of the insulation of my waterproof socks is on the outside of the membrane, so they still get cold when wet especially in the wind - but far less so than normal socks
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 14:23
  • @ChrisH: Yes, I also use them for bicycling (exclusively). They are lighter and less cumbersome than using neoprene overshoes. But even with Sealskinz’s silicone seal water enters surprisingly quickly from the top. Maybe I should shave or get more calf muscles :D
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 14:30

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