In many cases crossing a bridge in the backwoods, or for that matter, any bridge rarely results in bridge collapse or serious injury. That doesn’t mean you can’t employ a safer way to cross a bridge when hiking, especially if it is located far from help. Below are a few ideas that can be implemented to help avoid potential injuries.
Cross the Bridge One Backpacker at a Time
If you are hiking in a group, consider crossing the bridge one backpacker at a time. Below are a couple reasons why crossing the bridge one hiker at a time can be beneficial safety wise, and could potentially prevent catastrophic bridge collapse.
- If the bridge has a structural weak point, which is certainly possible with older bridges in the backcountry, crossing the bridge one person at a time will keep the weight to a minimum and lower the chances that any weakness in the structure will not be compromised while you are crossing it.
- If the bridge does happen to fail while being crossed and the backpacker crossing it is injured in the process, the other hikers are more capable of helping by either a) providing first aid to the injured hiker b) calling an emergency line for help c) hiking out to find help. If on the other hand the entire group crosses at once (like in the video below) and the structure fails, everyone in the backpacking party may be injured resulting in a much more dangerous, life threatening situation when it comes to making it out of the trail safely.
Unbuckle your backpack before setting foot on the bridge
This bridge safety tip is especially important if the bridge you are crossing is over water. As I’m sure you can imagine, falling into deep water with a a heavy laden backpack (or any pack) strapped securely to your back could quickly result in drowning either through the weight of the pack preventing you from swimming back to the surface or from some strap, buckle, or other item attached to your backpack becoming snagged on a rock, branch or other object in the river preventing you from reaching the surface in time.
By unbuckling the straps to your backpack, and if possible carrying the backpack with only one arm through the strap, you save yourself crucial time and eliminate potential dangers should the bridge collapse or should you fall into the river with your pack on. I’ve come across a number of “bridges” while hiking that were essentially logs over a river, or a smattering of rocks/stones that you could hop from one to another before eventually making it to the other side. In both cases it probably wouldn’t hurt to be unbuckled, but depending on the balance required in these types of crossings, I might well want to keep both arms in the straps to ensure a sudden change in weight distribution doesn’t occur. Balance is obviously key to crossing a river by means of a slippery log or shifting stones, so the last thing I would want while trying to navigate a balance intensive crossing is for their to be a sudden shift in weight.
Some video footage of 4 French Backpackers experiencing a catastrophic cable bridge collapse in New Zealand. The French hikers were tossed violently off the bridge and into the river below. Thankfully all 4 backpackers survived the accident.
If you have a bridge crossing safety tip you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. Cheers.