Crossing Rivers and Water Shoes

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Crossing Rivers and Water Shoes

Viewing 17 posts - 1 through 17 (of 17 total)
  • Author
  • #3602182
    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Companion forum thread to: Crossing Rivers and Water Shoes

    Crossing rivers “ultralight style” – that’s when you simply walk through the water wearing your hiking shoes and keep walking on the trail once you get to the other side.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    To the ideal wet conditions footwear characteristics list I would add:

    • Minimal open-cell foam padding inside the shoe, which traps and holds water for a long time
    • Thin socks that soak up less water. Wool is more comfortable, synthetic dries faster.

    — Rex

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    For me, in some shoes, I can use really thin nylon socks (often sold as Men’s dress socks).  They are 1) as light as possible, 2) dry quicker than anything else, 3) last a long time – nylon is, IME, the toughest fiber used in any socks).

    But when I’ve spent the whole damn day crossing and recrossing a 38F creek about 80 times, then a nylon-poly-wool blend is a better “wetsuit” for my feet.  Neoprene would have been much better, though, because a loose weave socks allows that very cold water to flow right through.

    For me, in the Sierra, being cooled off my wet feet is a nice thing.  I gave up on blister-causing heavy, traditional boots in 1979 or 1980, so I don’t need my socks to protect me from my shoes.  Light socks in the summer and warm socks in the winter (or Alaskan summer) work for me.

    One more criteria:  Are your socks mosquito proof?  I HATE getting bit on bony parts of my body – somehow the bites are more annoying on elbows, ankles, etc.  It’s uncanny how a one-inch gap between my pants and socks attracts bugs when I’m wearing thin socks.

    Gunnar H
    BPL Member


    With this setup river crossings are no problems regarding blisters, but stretches of marsh-like conditions with a lot of particles in the water can be. Then I find that wool works better then thin nylon socks even though I generally prefer wet nylon socks instead of wet wool socks. And a proper water shoe is really better than most trail runners



    Locale: The Cascades

    “It’s uncanny how a one-inch gap between my pants and socks attracts bugs when I’m wearing thin socks.”

    That’s why I wear gaiters sprayed with permethrin. Keeps my ankles from getting bitten.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Like others here minimalist trail runners with mesh uppers and thin coolmax toe socks is my typical solution. Some other options I have played with in the last 20 years

    • Water shoes: didn’t dry significantly better than trail runners and generally didn’t have soles that provided adequate traction in mixed conditions.
    • Sandals: Well fitting could be used blister free, but many produced blisters where the straps contacted my feet. I had blister free experience using  Luna Leadville Trail except (and this is big) I seem to stumped a toe on every trip.  I have sometimes used Keen sandal’s with toe guard… which has worked reasonably well but the traction aren’t as good as my trail runners.
    • Neoprene socks: 2mm in moderate conditions has worked pretty well, especially when it’s a lot of wet crossing mixed with lots of trail dust because the dust (sandpaper) is kept away from my skin.

    Several years ago wrote done some of my experience trying to manage wet feet.


    Dale Emery
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    I tried the ultralight, crossing the creeks with my hiking shoes once.  It didn’t cause blisters, but it was the most uncomfortable feeling, and I hated it.  I had wet feet for three days. Never again.

    BPL Member


    I had wet feet for three days. Never again.

    Gotta have the right shoes or this technique will indeed lead to a miserable experience.

    Dennis Downing
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western USA

    I’m an older guy and have problematic feet and need the support of a more traditional hiking boot. I wear wool socks. My technique for crossing streams is to remove my socks and the insoles from my boots. Put the boots back on and cross. Then pour the water out, dry my feet with a bandana and replace the insoles and socks. The only drawback for me is the time consumed. The boots dry eventually but my feet are dry and comfortable. I tried wading with boots and socks once. Uncomfortable and I did get blisters.

    Mike M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    There are certain environs where wet feet are inevitable (the Bob Marshall in May comes to mind); between numerous stream crossings (30, 40, 50/day??) large and small, several snow covered passes and a high likelihood of rain- your feet are going to be wet and wet for the majority of the day.  They is a strong likelihood they are going to be cold too.  Thick wool socks (and if needed, even thin neoprene socks over thin liner socks) are called for.

    Airing out your feet during breaks, dry socks at night and the application of something that staves off maceration will all insure you remain blister free, even with wet feet for days at a time.


    BPL Member


    Locale: San Juan Mtns.

    Wow, how soft we have become!  Just get wet feet for goodness sake.  The creek is too wet.  The ground is too hard. The sun is too bright.  I’ll buy (and carry) something to fix all that.

    Thoreau is rolling over in his grave.

    I. Chhina
    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound, WA

    This is the perfect technique, regardless of footwear! Just take off socks and insoles.

    Monty Montana
    BPL Member


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Gotta agree with JCH.  Hiked the Selway River canyon in the Bitterroots during the monsoon season when all the intermittent streams were swollen (lots!) and I was wearing shoes inappropriate for those conditions.  On the advice of a well respected source I wore LaSportiva Ultra Raptors.  In other situations they were beyond reproach: supportive, good traction, etc.  But here they were a fail – the tongue was 3/4 ” foam and the lining also foam.  Since the water wouldn’t “pump out”, I resorted to spending 10 – 15 minutes squeezing out the water at each crossing.  I now wear the Astral line of TR shoes, which have minimal to no foam and ports along the sole for the water to pump out.  They look like Altras but are much sturdier!

    Matt Wells
    BPL Member


    Locale: Arnesby

    I’ve been experimenting with this for about 10 years (mainly in the UK and Europe). I’ve settled on a couple of options which see to work consistently for me, depending on time of year. In dry, hot conditions that require wet crossings I’ve borrowed from my Swimrun experience – I use VivoBarefoot Primus Swimrun shoes with a pair of Inov-8 All-Terrain socks. This set-up is excellent, it dries so quickly that I barely notice that my feet are wet and I’ve never experienced blisters. In wetter and colder conditions I use Inov-8 Mudclaw shoes and Sealskinz waterproof hiking socks. I take two pairs of socks so if there is any ingress of water into the sock I can change into the dry socks and the wet shoes have no impact on my foot-comfort. I’ve used this set up down to around -5 degrees centigrade in January on Dartmoor and been fine. If you don’t want to carry the second pair of socks, Sealkinz do a knee-length hiking version that turns the whole set-up into wellington boots, I find these too hot though.

    Worth Donaldson
    BPL Member


    Being a wet foot canoeist, I either go with wool socks or Sealskinz with Chota Boots. They do need to be modified. The laces and insoles need to be replaced with good old fashion boot laces and a good insole: otherwise, you will get foot slippage when the laces loosen. The insoles are multilayer and tend to move forward into the toe box. I would not call them ultralight but they do dry fast.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    The first time I backpacked Utah’s Coyote Gulch I used “Vietnam boots” and carried my Merrill Moab hiking shows. Not a good plan for a hike that’s usually 30% walking in water. Too much weight.

    The SECOND time I backpacked that beautiful stream I just wore my Merrill Moab ventilated mesh shoes and synthetic/wool blend socks. VOILE’! Comfort with far less weight. Live and learn.

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Thoreau lived a few miles from a town and had someone do his laundry for him. Don’t think he was so tough!

    Sealskinz for the win.

Viewing 17 posts - 1 through 17 (of 17 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools