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April 2023 Issue
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Clothing grasp and solo river crossing methods

Lean into the pole and maintain two points of contact with the ground at all times Photo: Matthew Cattin

More supported river crossing methods.

You’ve decided a river is safe to cross and have found a spot to do it. But what sort of group are you with?

Do they all have packs; daypacks or tramping packs? Some may not have a pack. Others may have day packs that lack a strong enough structure for the mutual support method of river crossing. What do you do if you are alone?


Prepare for possible immersion. Have your gear, or at least your spare clothes, mobile phones and other electronics, in plastic bags or dry sacks. Put any loose items attached to the pack inside it. Do up laces and gaiters, remove hat and glasses, or put a tie around your glasses. Keep your footwear on so as not to be injured on rocks or sharp objects.

Clothing grasp method

In groups of two to six people, put the strongest person at the upstream end to break the water flow. Each person reaches across the back of the person next to them and takes a firm hold of the waistband or belt on their far hip. This provides a stronger grip than a bunch of material. If anyone is wearing a pack, pass your hand between the person’s back and the pack. Find the strongest hold between hip belt, pack strap, belt

or waistband.

This is not as strong as the mutual support method with packs. However,   you are each supporting each other and the people in the middle will each hold two people and be held by two people.

Cross with your body side-on to the current and keep the group in a straight line parallel to the flow. Take small shuffling steps; using your feet to feel the bottom. Keep your head up and conserve energy by allowing the current to take you in a slight diagonal direction downstream. Don’t unbind until dry land is reached.


If river conditions make you feel that support is necessary, it’s best to avoid crossing alone. If you know you’ll be facing a river crossing, try to go with someone – for example leave the hut with someone or arrange to wait at the river. It may be an option to wait for someone to come along so you can cross together.

If not, then find a strong pole to assist your crossing. There may not be a pole near the river,  so look for one in advance. The pole should be a bit taller than you, about 2m long. It must be strong enough to support your weight and be comfortable to hold.

Place the pole about a metre upstream. Hold it securely in both hands diagonally across your body. Lean on the pole to create a ‘third leg’. Move one leg at a time, pushing down on the pole when you move a leg. When both feet are secure, move the pole through the water, not over the water. Always place the pole securely before moving, always keep two points of contact.

If you need to go back, reverse your grip on the pole. Then turn upstream by rotating on your downstream leg until you’ve turned completely around.

Walking poles are not as good as a long, strong pole though they can be used for support in easier currents. Remove the baskets as they catch the current and can get trapped in rocks in the riverbed. Extend the poles fully. If you can, take the loops off and hold both poles in one hand for more support.   Otherwise hold them in the usual way. Only move one leg or pole at a time.

Heather Grady is an instructor with Outdoor Training New Zealand