Is hiking with a gun a good idea?
Dreaming of hitting the trail for a long, really long, hike? In Ask a hiker, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, a record long distance hiker, answers your burning questions on how to do it.
I’m going to be hiking next year and getting my gear list ready. My family is concerned that I am having trouble on the trail and asks me to bring a gun. Should i?
Dear Gun Shy,
You’re not the only one wondering if you should be carrying heat on a hike – it’s one of the most common questions I get when lecturing across the country. My answer is always the same. It’s your choice, but you should be aware of how which trail you choose, your patience for complicated logistics, and your tolerance for the extra weight may impact your decision.
The first thing to consider is whether bringing a gun is legal where you will be hiking. Bringing a gun on a hike is complicated, as you’ll likely be traveling through a mix of federal, state, and local forests and parks, each with their own set of rules. For example, the Appalachian Trail crosses 14 states, each with its own regulations. TA also travels through national parks, national forests, state parks, and local parks, each with its own rules as well.
To carry a gun on the AT, not only will you need to obtain a permit for each state, but you will likely also need to obtain concealed carrying permits for each state, or at least for each state that is not covered. by the laws of reciprocity. The amount of extra forethought and planning it takes to carry a gun (on top of all the other hike planning you’ll need to do) is one reason Why the Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages hikers from carrying guns.
You will be responsible for memorizing all of these varied rules before setting off: as this National Park Service document on the Appalachian Trail explains, it is to the hiker know the different rules attached to each jurisdiction you will pass through and to adhere to it. While this is complex enough to be understood on a road trip, it becomes even more complex on a backpacking trip, where the boundaries between state, local, and federal lands are not always marked.
Even for those with the proper permits, having a gun can add logistical challenges to your hike. You may not be allowed to enter certain buildings or access certain services that you would like as a hiker. For example, even in national parks that allow firearms, you may not be allowed in the park shuttles. As a hiker it would be a bummer to see everyone else in my trail family getting on a shuttle bus to a restaurant and knowing I would have to find another way to get there. Likewise, some hotels, grocery stores, or equipment stores may have policies prohibiting having firearms in the bedroom. These aren’t total breaks – many of these location-based restrictions impact hikers with dogs as well. But it’s easier to find a kennel to transport your dog to a national park than someone who can transport your gun.
Some buildings, such as visitor centers in national parks, require visitors to “safely store your firearm in accordance with federal, state and local rules before entering the building. For visitors with a vehicle, it shouldn’t be a big logistical problem placing their firearm in a secure gun storage safe in the vehicle or locking in the trunk (as some laws allow. of State). But as a hiker, you will carry your life on your back. You won’t be able to take a bulky storage device with you. You will not have access to a locked safe.
Then there is the weight. Most hikers are obsessed with reducing the weight of their pack by choosing minimalist gear and carrying only what they need. Many hikers refuse to carry items they don’t use every day. A fully loaded Glock 19 weighs almost two pounds; even a lightweight, concealed carry pistol weighs well over a pound. And unlike a heavy tent or a pair of leather boots, if you decide you don’t want to carry your gun after all, it will be hard to send it home.
Finally, there is the question of whether you really need it. Despite how real perpetrators devour the murders on the Appalachian Trail, the actual crime rate on the long trails is incredibly low. Indeed, some studies show that being in nature correlates with less crime. As documented by the Appalachian Trail Museum, the trail sees 2-3 million visitors per year and has only seen 10 murders in 45 years. You are much more likely to be faced with crime in any major city in the United States than as a hiker, and you are more likely to die in a traffic accident than from any kind of danger on trails including bears, raging rivers or nature causes like heart attacks. If you need your gun, you may have a hard time using it: it’s hard to keep anything including a gun clean on the trail, and unless you hike 2 000 miles in a holster, your gun will likely be buried in your pack most of the time.
Consider if there is a lighter way to feel safe on the trail. The trail community is united and hikers often keep abreast of threats through an informal “neighborhood watch” program. Especially during peak hiking season, we are quick to report and share information on suspicious characters. These days, there is a lot of cell phone reception along many long-distance trails, making it easy to post on forums and report suspicious activity to authorities. Additionally, the Appalachian Trail employs ridge runners whose job it is to hike the same miles back and forth, watch hikers, and patrol the trail.
People often ask me if I carry a gun in case of a bear attack. It might make sense if you were hiking in a place like Alaska where bear populations are high and you might encounter brown or even polar bears. But when hiking in Lower 48, you are more likely to encounter black bears, which are more easily scared. Even in the grizzly country of the United States, most hikers choose to carry bear spray because it weighs less than many guns and doesn’t come with the logistical challenges of clearing and transporting to. across state borders. There is even proof that bear spray is more effective deter bears than guns, and it’s much easier to use – most hikers won’t have the skills to draw a pistol and hit a charging grizzly.
Ultimately, as a hiker, you have to decide with all your gear if there is a lighter alternative that will still perform the functions you need to survive and thrive there. In my opinion, this also applies to firearms. The vast majority of hikers find that they feel safe from wildlife and other humans by carrying other types of equipment, including knowledge in mind on how to dealing with suspicious humans Where dangerous wildlife. There is a lot of planning, preparation, learning, and skills that you will need to do before going on a hike. Most hikers find that adding a gun to their gear list can be more of a challenge than it’s worth.