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 '13 at 8:20
  • @Steed The (alleged) risk is hypothermia – gerrit Jul 2 '13 at 9:39
  • This may sound ridiculous, but what about a lightweight inflatable boat of some sorts ? – Sdry Jul 3 '13 at 6:46
  • @gerrit, fording glacier rivers is cold, but you are staying in the water for 1 minute, and feet take only a small percent of body surface. Never heard of people getting injuries from hypothermia when fording (if they are not washed away). To make it more comfortable, you can add a plastic bag between a sock and a sandal, this will hold water for a while. – Steed Jul 3 '13 at 7:33
  • 1
    @Sdry See outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/1782/566 :) – gerrit Jul 3 '13 at 9:59

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


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!"

  • 1
    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 '13 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 '13 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 '13 at 9:28

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.


  • 1
    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 '13 at 4:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.