Climate has been proposed conventionally as the primary factor that determines periglacial river activity (aggradation) and pattern (braided). This concept does not explain the rich diversity in river patterns and morphological processes in both the present and past periglacial environments: besides braided rivers and sandur, meandering, anabranching, transitional and deltaic rivers also occur. A first attempt is made to combine past and present periglacial river types with regard to their morphology, processes and environments. The processes that control river energy and morphology are discussed especially for periglacial conditions. This approach permits an assessment of the responses of periglacial rivers to climatic conditions and the modulation of the responses due to changes in the basin properties. Examples drawn from palaeo- and present-day periglacial rivers and environments demonstrate that there is no unique type of periglacial river but rather an azonal fluvial system with a number of periglacial variants.