On or off trail, a hike can cross water. In late summer, it’s easy to ford a stream, but in early summer or after a heavy rain, that stream may look more like a rushing river, so be prepared.
When you ford water, you’ll get wet and cold. If the weather is warm, you may want to wear shorts so you don’t have to deal with soaked pants, or consider water-proof boots like these. Be careful when you cross. The shallowest stream has slippery rocks that can land you in the water with a sprained ankle, and cold water will feel even colder on bare feet. Since you don’t want wet boots, carry a pair of sport sandals or water mocs for fording. They’ll be warmer than bare feet and provide traction on the streambed. Consider a carabiner to clip your boots to your pack.
Assess the stream before you cross. Look at the current, and determine the depth. Check downriver for obstructions, because if you do fall, that’s what you’ll be swept into. Avoid crossing where the current is rapid and there are boulders or logjams downstream from you. Check your map for a better crossing, or find a high spot where you can see up and downstream. If the water is past mid-thigh, only cross if the current is slow, or you’ll be swimming.
Once you’re ready to cross, trade your boots for your crossing footwear. Unclip your pack’s hip belt and loosen the straps; a secure pack can cause you to drown if you fall. Cold water may make you want to rush, but take slow short steps and feel your way with your feet. Find the lowest footing so your foot won’t slip farther down. In water past your knees, use a walking stick or trekking poles to help keep your balance, but put most of your weight on your feet for stability. Don’t try jumping from rock to rock. A wet rock is a slippery rock, and a group of rocks poses a danger to your bones, including your skull, if you fall.
Once you’re out of the water, take off your shoes and dry yourself with absorbent clothing, like this cotton shirt . If the water evaporates, you’ll get colder. Use a pack with a waterproof pocket to store wet clothing separate from dry items. And now you’re ready to hike to the next ford!
(Sources: Molvar, Erik. Hiking Olympic National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures. Edition: 2. Globe Pequot, 2008 , http://dogparkwisdom.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/fording-streams-with-dogs/ , http://www.secretsofsurvival.com/survival/cross_rivers_streams_and_rapid..., http://www.mountainzone.com/how-to-articles/viewproarticle.asp?aid=512&p... )