On my treks, I often need to ford rivers — on my last trek (3½ day) I forded five, including four on a single day (not counting >100 smaller streams). My current practice is to take off my boots and put sandals instead, but this is a dangerous practice that several books and agencies strongly recommend against. Many rivers are glacier-fed and some are quite wide, so the risk for hypothermia is real.

Fording in Padjelanta
Njoammeljåhkå, Padjelanta National Park, Laponia, Sweden, August 2011. To ford two dangerous steps (flow and depth were worse than they might look), or to make a 40 km detour — that is the question!

The Swedish mountain associations recommend to tie raintrousers tightly at the boots, warning explicitly that crossing on sandals carries a real risk for hypothermia. Although my boots and raintrousers are reasonably watertight and good enough to keep me dry when it rains (at least when it rains with a Swedish intensity), they won't hold standing in a (quickly) flowing river for a long time. As an alternative, the Swedish language book På fjälltur: Sarek by Claes Grundsten recommends, and I quote (translation follows):

Alternativt kan du använda vadarpåsar som träs over skodonen.


Alternatively, you can use fording bags that are drawn over the shoes.

The book goes on to state that they are for sale on the open market. I can't find information about those vadarpåsar, though. What is a vadarpåse / fording bag and where can I buy one? This forum post recommends to leave yer boots on, bring two heavy duty contractor trash bags with you, one for each leg, procede with caution, but that sounds a bit scary as well (bad maneauvability). Are there any more suitable garments, preferably at least up to the waist¹, for fording rivers? Preferably lightweight that can be packed in a small volume.

Some issues are addressed at "If I have to cross an icy, flowing river, what are some ways I can cross safely?", but the answers there do not really address the issue at hand.

¹I'm aware that one normally should not ford rivers that are deeper than knee-high, but I think one could make an exception if there is almost no flow at all.

  • You should really check what's behind the claims that sandals are dangerous practice. It may be because it's cold (go fast and have dry sock/boots ready), because they are uncomfortable or can slip off (choose good model), because rocks may be rolling with the stream (it's the most serious claim imo, but the probability is low and no guarantee that boots are much better with this).
    – Steed
    Jul 2, 2013 at 8:20
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    @Sdry See outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/1782/566 :)
    – gerrit
    Jul 3, 2013 at 9:59
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    @fgysinreinstateMonica Here. For details see my track on Wikiloc. It was nine years ago, since then I've forded many more like this or worse, but I'm also more experienced and use better equipment such as a fording pole. I still wear sandals, but I keep my trousers and raintrousers on when it's cold (meaning always).
    – gerrit
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:25
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    Just a comment because I haven't tried this, but unless I decide that I'll spend so much time wading that waders are worth while, I'd probably go for sandals + neoprene socks + neoprene leg sleeves [not entirely sure about English term, German is Beinling). Since leg sleeves take their time to put on and off, leg wraps may be a good alternative - but I don't know whether anything suitable is available commercially. Sep 14, 2020 at 11:34
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX waders are made for fishers who spend hours standing in shallow waters, so I believe it's the best solution to the specific OPs problem Sep 17, 2020 at 21:18

5 Answers 5


These products may be what you are looking for, they are hip-height waterproof waders:

  • Both links are broken ):
    – gerrit
    Sep 8, 2020 at 13:41

A lot of this really does depend on the type of river - you seem to be talking about really quite big, cold rivers, and I'd question whether you should really plan to cross these by fording at all since they can be a big risk. Sometimes a long detour really is the best option.

Whether to take your boots off or not is really a trade off. I will also often put on sandals to ford a stream this way, though I've never forded anything as big as you seem to be describing and nor would I really want to! While there is a greater risk you may slip or twist an ankle without your boots on, if your boots get soaked (especially if we're talking about cold climates) then they're going to take ages to dry out, and may even freeze. That's going to be downright uncomfortable at best, and potentially frostbite / hypothermia inducing at worst. If it were me in this situation (and I had no other option other than to cross, I'd change footwear.

In terms of trousers - I generally wear shorts for this, since they dry off more quickly and don't weigh me down as much when wet. But again, practice will differ with big, cold rivers:

The Swedish mountain associations recommend to tie raintrousers tightly at the boots. Although my boots and raintrousers are reasonably watertight and good enough to keep me dry when it rains (at least when it rains with a Swedish intensity), they won't hold standing in a (quickly) flowing river for a long time.

I would agree with this advice, and perhaps wrap a few bags around for good measure (if they're available and I could do so without getting any loose bits in the way.) Yes, some water will still seep through, but you're fording a river where the aim is to get to the other side as quickly as is safely possible - you shouldn't be in there for a "long time!"

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    I can see your points, but they don't answer my question. Considering that a river is calm enough to ford (which may be only where it spreads to be 200 metre wide), I was specifically asking for something that the cited book calls vädarpåse and it claims is for sale on the market.
    – gerrit
    Jun 29, 2013 at 21:26
  • @gerrit They answer the main question as best I can - "What is suitable clothing for fording rivers." I don't know the answer to that particular sub-question, but if that was the main question you might want to edit the title as such!
    – berry120
    Jun 30, 2013 at 22:11
  • Aha. I have adapted the question title that I am specifically looking for special clothing, as opposed to makeshift bags.
    – gerrit
    Jul 1, 2013 at 9:28

Here is the setup I have used in my long (1-3 week) treks in northern Scandinavia:

For shorter crossings

(or if the water is warmer)

  • Good, sturdy sandals (e.g. Teva)
  • Zip off legs of your pants, or remove them completely to keep them dry
  • Keeping socks on can help some (but not a lot)
  • (Fording stick and/or trekking poles)

IMHO the risk from sandals is not actually directly hypothermia. The risk is standing in the middle of a stream, up to your waist, with 25kg on your back, and your feed just completely, utterly numb.

I had that happen to me, and it's very scary... (Not to mention that you'll be in a lot of pain before your feet actually get numb.) Since you will might not see the bottom of the river due to the current you're mostly reliant on the feeling in your feet to accurately place your steps. Loosing this feeling makes it very easy to loose your footing / slip and fall / twist or break your ankle, etc. All of which can be very dangerous in the wrong place.

Hypothermia might then be a factor after the fact, i.e. once you've fallen in and you and your entire pack are completely soaked...

For longer and deeper crossings:

  • Keep on hiking boots, including socks
  • Take of trousers to keep dry
  • Put on rain pants and tie them to the top of your boots (with some cord/extra shoelace/...)
  • Make sure the rain pants are a tight fit - if they are normally very "roomy" you can make them tighter artificially, by tying some strings/cords around your leg to keep them tight and snug.
  • (Fording stick and/or trekking poles)

I have tried the rain-pants-tied-to-shoes trick on multiple occasions - the biggest drawback is obviously that you will have to get your boots dry again over the next 1-2 days, but with good hiking boots and modern socks this worked out OK for us.

Once in the Rocky Mountains we walked in a more-than-knee-deep river for over an hour, since it was the only way forward with the valley sides being steep labyrinths of bramble and deadfall. The mentioned method (shoes + socks + rain pants) kept us reasonably warm while walking, as we made sure to keep us warm above the water level.

Of course it does not keep your legs dry, but this setup will work a bit like an improvised wet suit. The rain pants will trap a layer of water against your skin that will be quickly warmed up by your body heat. This water will then mostly stay there, since there is no easy inflow/outflow and will isolate you to the water outside the pants, which might be 4°C...


I have actually looked into this topic a fair bit in preparation of a Sarek national park crossing where we (correctly) predicted many difficult fordings.

Possible options basically include bringing various forms of actual wetsuit clothing pieces, such as socks/over-socks from neoprene, actual wetsuit pants, or the rubberised fishing pants.
--> These options are expensive and more importantly (with the exception of the neoprene socks) rather heavy. At the time we deemed the additional benefits not worth the drawbacks, but your mileage might vary.

I have also played around with trash bags, but to limited success: if you place them over your shoes they will rip at the bottom and water will come it quickly (unless you bring some crazily sturdy ones, which I wouldn't know where to get). And if you use them inside your shoes (i.e. protecting only socks/legs) then your shoes will get wet again, thus removing a bigger part of their potential upside.

  • I want to add that since 2012 or 2013, I always use a fording pole such as sold at fishing stores (I don't want to lean with 100 kg (hiker + backpack) on a single hiking pole), and found third "third feet" essential, in particular for glacial rivers that are opaque, as one can feel the depth of the next step before stepping there, and of course for the balance. I still ford on sandals, but I usually keep my trousers and raintrousers on nowadays.
    – gerrit
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:30
  • Of course, poles were so obvious for me that I didn't even mention them.
    – fgysin
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:31
  • But with one or two poles (I use one and lean on it such that I always have two "contact points"), you don't rely on the feeling of the feet anymore, do you? At least not exclusively.
    – gerrit
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:33
  • In the past I've used both two trekking poles and a single sturdy walking stick (which I had created from a dead tree). Single sturdy stick is what I would prefer, but since I normally bring two poles that's what I'm mostly going with... I always felt that bringing a separate fording stick was a bit of an overkill b/c of the weight.
    – fgysin
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:52
  • And yes, I use them in the same way you describe to "feel the ground ahead", but I still think that some actual feeling your feet goes a long way to place your steps safely... :)
    – fgysin
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:55

We are planning to do the Auyuittuq traverse next summer in Canada's Arctic where we must cross glacier-feed streem that can ve wide, deep and swift.

Respecting shoes to cross rivers, we are looking at three options and I would like your view on them.

A) the traditional combinaison of water sandals and neoprene sox. B) Sea kayaking boots. C) the NEOS River Trekker overshoes (voir http://www.neosovershoescanada.com/NEOS-River-Trekker-Overshoes-Non-Insulated-RTK7).

For options A and B, here is what we can see as the advantages :

· It works and tested it in 2011 while in Auyuittuq.

· It is ligth (aprox 1kg for the sandals and the sox)

· It is very durable (you can’t really perforate them the sox and, if so, you cant repair it easyli with sewing kit).

· You can use the sandals as camp shoes.

· You can have soft soles with a very good grip in wet rocks.

For the disadvantages of options A and B,,

· It does not give you a good ankle support.

· You have not protection for rocks mowing under water

· You spend a fair bit of time to put on and take off.

· If you keep them on between nearby rivers to reduce time for taking them off and on, you don’t have ankle support.

For option C, here is what we see as the advantages :

· You don’t need to take your boots off.

· You can really stay dry during crosings .

· You can use the overshoes in places where it is really wet to waterproof your boots..

· You ankle support is really good as you keep your boots.

· Your boots give you a very good protection for rocks moving under water.

· It seems very easy to repair a whole with Aqua Seal in the overshoes . Apparently, it is less durable than the heavy fisher pants but much more than the lighters (500 grammes) and cheaper Light Weight Waders from Wiggy’s http://wiggys.com/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=5.

· The soles of the overshoes look good but it is made with a hard material from Vibram (hence the durability) but my experience with Vibram soles are that it does not have such a great grip on wet rocks.

For the disadvantages of option C :,

· The overshoes are heavier at 2 kg

· They are 36’’ high and thus go at the higher part of the thighs and, except if you manage to add a good seal such as by attaching to it a drysuit neck gasket, water can get inside if you misstep or you must go into deeper water even without current. If so, you can quickly be in big trouble and go down.

Option C looks great. It may even be too good to be true. However, I find it surprising that no one talk about these overshoes for Auyuittuq. I am mostly worry about that last disadvantages and the hard sole grip. Most reviews come from hunters in Alaska and they may not have crossings with a lot of current.

If you got time, I would really like to hear your views on these 3 options.


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    Welcome; this would work better in the form of a question. Also you may want to consider splitting it in multiple questions.
    – ppl
    Sep 18, 2013 at 4:11

Many rivers are glacier-fed and some are quite wide, so the risk for hypothermia is real.

I doubt that. A river is at most a couple of degrees below 0°C. Suppose it takes 10 minutes to cross and it's knee-high. That will not lower your core temperature significantly. The biggest danger is feet becoming numb and you falling into the water, which can be mitigated by some diver's gear (neoprene socks).

But crossing icy waters barefoot is safe for <10min for a healthy adult. Source: I (and many Finns - I actually live in a warm climate) take icy showers and enjoy it.

  • In 2017 I crossed many glacier-fed icy rivers in Iceland and they were cold. I may have misused the word hypothermia when I posted the question in 2013, but even if it doesn't lower the core temperature much, standing knee-deep in fast flowing water (in one river my ankles were bombarded by chunks of ice) for nearly ten minutes is not a pleasant experience, and can be dangerous if the cold increases the risk of falling. I'm not convinced that a cold shower (which probably isn't at 0°C nor containing ice cubes) in a controlled environment is a useful analogy.
    – gerrit
    Sep 8, 2020 at 13:39
  • For canoe/kayak safety, I've learned the rule of thumb water temperatue in °C ≈ time in minutes you have in the water. The idea is that once you get stiff and cannot move in a very controlled manner any more, hypothermia is around the corner because you cannot reliably get yourself out of that situation any more. I've taken my bath where I had to make a hole in the ice - with and without sauna (and also in a glacier fed stream) and I can assure you it's a huge difference. Sep 14, 2020 at 11:25
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX your use case is for falling into water, which is not the OPs use case (only legs will be immersed, unless something goes wrong) Sep 17, 2020 at 21:22
  • @DanubianSailor: yes, but... a) as you say, unless something goes wrong - that needs to be considered in a wilderness tour. b) the primary concern with the kayak/canoe/immersion situation is not (yet) hypothermia (= too low body core temp). Already before that, the immersed parts of you get stiff, you loose sensory input and movement becomes uncontrolled. And that is true also for the feet and lower legs when fording, i.e. exactly those parts of your body that you need to work reliably for safe fording. (I do think that there's probably a bit more leeway, but I'd not rely on having twice... Sep 17, 2020 at 21:28
  • ... as long until my feet are cold, insensible and stiff because only the legs are immersed by a flowing stream). The idea is to be aware that this stiffening will make one slow, which will at best prolong the exposure. For immersion accidents, the thing is that you get very soon too slow to do anything meaningful to avoid hypothermia. Sep 17, 2020 at 21:32

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