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Pro Tips: How to wade a river


Each year, anglers of all skill levels drown in wading accidents. In a swift current, something as simple as a slip or misstep can result in disaster. To help you avoid the worst, we’ve broken down a few key tips and techniques that everyone should employ the next time you step into a river.

Essential Gear

A wading belt is more than a recommended piece of gear; it is a necessity. A properly secured wading belt can help prevent waders from filling up with water in the event of a slip or fall. Without a wading belt, waders can fill with water in a matter of seconds, making an escape increasingly difficult.

A wading belt is a must-have for anglers going wading. Photo via Alicia Rossman

Cheeky's sister brand, Wingo Belts, manufactures Wading Belts in all sorts of outdoor designs. Check them out before the next time you step into your waders.

Another useful piece of equipment is a wading staff. A staff provides a third point of contact with the river bottom, which can greatly increase stability when walking through difficult water. When wading murky water, a staff is also tremendously helpful for gauging the depth before you take a step.

Go Slow

Take a broad stance, with your feet slightly wider of your hips for better balance, and bend your knees in an athletic position. Don’t shift your full weight into your next step until you’re confident you have a solid foothold.

Take your time and bend your knees in an athletic stance for better balance. Photo via Ben Rioux and Chris Bard

Move slowly in the water. Never cross your feet while wading, and never move both feet at the same time. Most wading accidents occur when an angler’s foot slips from under them. Keeping at least one point of contact with the river bottom at all times will help you recover your balance.

Know the river

Before stepping into any river, it’s important to understand the conditions. Sand and gravel bottoms provide the most stable and uniform walking surface, while mud and bedrock should be approached with more caution. Mud is a sinking surface, and it’s often impossible to know how deep you will sink until you take that first step. Bedrock, meanwhile, is incredibly slippery even in the best wading boots. Remember to move slowly, take a wide stance and never cross your feet.

Always know the river bottom and current speed before stepping in

When crossing a river, don’t fight the current. A slight downstream angle, as opposed to a perpendicular path, will make it easier to traverse and balance. Then, just walk back on the other side of the bank.