Several thru-hike trails have water-sections. For example, the American discovery trail requires crossing the Chesapeake Bay under the bay bridge (no pedestrians allowed). This is a 6km stretch of water that drops to 5C in winter. There is no? public transport across the bridge. Be wary of water currents in any body of water.

But how would self-supported group of thru-hikers cross it? A self-supported thru-hike is extremally difficult. Do not attempt without extensive training, preparation and emergency rescue measures.. That being said, for a self-supported trip you will have to carry all your non-disposable equipment for the entire duration so weight restrictions are severe.

  1. Inflatable kayak/canoe. Weights far less than any rigid hulled boat.

  2. In-situ construction: Make a single-use canoe out of reeds and other available materials. Probably a very dangerous and time-consuming way to spend your zero-mile day. Maybe just for the paddles.

  3. Wet-suits (or even dry-suits). Seal your gear in a bag with a trapped air-bubble for buoyancy.

A multi-use strategy

Ideally, the equipment used for crossing water is not dead-weight for the terra-firma majority of your trip. A wetsuit could double as an extra layer in very cold weather. A deflated inflatable kayak may also be used as a water-proof barrier for camping in wet areas.

What is the general aquatic strategy for a mostly land-based trek?

  • 1
    The discoverytrail.org site says "once you cross the bridge". Apparently there is an annual(?) run that crosses the bridge... if you timed it right. Sites say use uber or arrange a friend to take you across.
    – bob1
    Nov 11, 2022 at 7:30
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    In this specific case I would probably be generous with ethics and just call a taxi. Crossing without proper equipment is dangerous and having that equipment adds a lot of weight
    – Manziel
    Nov 11, 2022 at 8:31
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    In many cases rerouting to walk round is a the best option for a purist. Here Google reckons it would add about 100 miles, but claims you can't cross the Susquehanna downstream of Columbia, PA on foot even though PA-372 near Holtwood looks like it might be walkable. On a bike, to get an indication of the shortest unpowered route, you're still adding 60-70 miles
    – Chris H
    Nov 11, 2022 at 12:22
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    Swimming 6km is even difficult in warm water and without any gear...
    – PMF
    Nov 11, 2022 at 15:25
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    I just want to make very clear that if you wear a dry suit you should not have any intentionally trapped air for buoyancy. That is for dry bags ONLY. It is extremely dangerous and risks drowning to not properly burp a drysuit. Air can cause inversion holding you upside down under water, even with a PFD on.
    – noah
    Nov 11, 2022 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


Rather than normal inflatable canoe or other boat, there's a specific thing called a "pack raft" that's specially designed for this sort of crossing.

They're built without much of the attempt at rigidity that normal inflatables have, but rather with a focus on being light enough to carry in a pack until required.

  • They can go below 5 lbs and keep you out of the water so definitely a good idea. Nov 16, 2022 at 21:26

Out of those options inflatable boat is your best bet. Makeshifting something is pretty risky and relies a lot on your building skills, while 6km in a drysuit with gear(in a cold water) is straight up a bad idea.

  • Small update to my initial post: we've got an Outcast Fat cat from a local outdoor stores gritroutdoors.com last season and it's an absolutely phenomenal 1 man boat(plus fits nicely in our JL. Would definitely recommend
    – BrownT
    Jul 3, 2023 at 12:22

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