Do You Need a Gun on The Appalachian Trail?

The only guns you need…are those rippling muscles earned from days of getting trail miles under your belt.  Seriously, you don’t need a gun on a backpacking trip. (You reading this DAD?)

Let me preface this by saying I am NOT anti-firearm. In fact, I freaking love guns. I’m an Army brat/farm girl who’s spent countless hours being instructed and trained to use handguns, shotguns, rifles, etc. A few years ago I picked up hunting and conceal carry. I have an extreme respect for guns however I also know they have a time and a place in which to make appearances. From various experiences I’ve had I can promise you that a backpacking situation is not one of them.

Let’s go over a few things here. Why would you want to bring a gun in the first place?

  • -Bear attacks
  • -Robbers/Rapists

Reason 1: Bear Attacks

People *ahem*DAD*ahem* point out the need for personal protection along the trail. ‘What if bears attack the campsite at night for your food’. While I can’t promise you won’t have crazy animal encounters, I can tell you that in my years of experience the number one way to avoid the problem is to not get lazy. Pack out your trash to avoid teaching bears to scavenge around campsites and no matter how tired you are, hang a bear bag. Yogi wants easy meals. He doesn’t want to fight for food and won’t run up and bully the pack from you like you see in Hollywood. If you do cross paths with a bear, the shy animals usually don’t take much convincing to run off.  (On the other hand, if you cross paths with a mamma and cubs, no matter how cute and fluffy they are don’t waste time and without running leave the area immediately, making sure to not separate of mom and baby).

Wildlife on the Appalachian Trail or any trail for that matter are –get this– …WILD. Statistically, most wild animal related accidents and attacks occur because some human was making not so smart choices, either to harass animals or to bait them in for photos or pets. The real Winnie the Pooh doesn’t want to be on your facebook page, nor does he want you to shower him with affection.  Usually this ends in people getting hurt and the animal culprit being chased down and eliminated by park rangers. Not only does this invade an animal’s habitat, but it leads to unnecessary depopulation. My point here is that you’re purpose in the woods is to experience nature, not to pet it or feed it.  If you can’t live without squishing something bring a stuffed animal (Or in my case, pack a beagle).

Reason 2: A Bad Crowd

“I’m not worried about the wild animals, I’m worried about the crazies out there!”

Sadly yes, there have been tragic stories of individuals who have run into tragedy on the trail. There have been murders as well as escape convicts, but I’d bet my money any day that you’re more likely to get mugged in a city than in the tightly-knit Appalachian community. While it is true that not every circumstance is avoidable, there are many things you can do to avoid bad situations altogether (Especially for girls who for some reason people still see as frail despite being mega-badass. Hiker girls can be scary tough, much more dangerous than bears!)

Just like planning any other trip, make sure someone knows your general location and ways to contact you. Be smart about who you’re travelling with and staying in groups of people whom you are comfortable around. Check in often. Try your hardest on your chillax days when everyone’s passing around a bottle of who-knows-what to keep your wits about you – hiking with a hangover sucks anyways. Trust your gut. If a situation feels off you’ll know it – trust your instincts. If you find yourself alone with a stranger giving you bad vibes, make a choice and take the appropriate action to keep yourself safe and comfortable.

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Gun safety is a valuable tool, but there’s compelling arguments against bringing a firearm on the trail with you.

Finally, what about the never ending statement “better to have it and never use it than need it and not have it”.

Again, this conflicts with my scouting mindset of ‘being prepared’ but think about it. Guns and ammo are heavy. Even if not, they’re dangerous and accidental misfires can happen. NEVER keep a loaded gun in your pack. That’s asking for injury. Also, think about the general population who doesn’t know much about guns. Guns inspire fear, discontent, and distrust. Even if not out in the open or displayed on your hip belt, guns make people uncomfortable. Who wants to hike with the sketchy person wielding a gun in the peaceful trail setting? What about conceal carry rules changing by states, parks, and various other places? If an emergency situation did arrive, what good would a gun buried deep in your pack do you anyways?

Your biggest safety net will be the people you meet and the relationship bonds you create. Hiker communities are unlike any others in the world and we look out for one another, that’s just the way it it. Use your brain, play it safe, and leave the gun at home.

(Did you get all that DAD?)

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One of my first handgun lesson’s years back. It was cold…

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Comments 24

  • Jeff : Feb 25th

    I’ve been hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, and any other outdoors related activity you can think of my whole life. And this is what I can tell you from my experience. When looking back on all my trips, the experiences I recall most vividly are the times I needed something I didn’t bring. I remember thinking the weather channel had said it wouldn’t rain, and then wishing I’d packed a poncho after it poured. I remember wishing I’d brought mole skin for my heels. I remember wishing I’d packed a bandada, or a better hat, or more sunscreen. But the one time you wish you had brought a gun, you may not live to wish you had brought it. I always carry a pistol or my 10-22 whenever venturing into the wild, or leaving my house for that matter. I would rather have something and not need it than need it and not have it. If you are so weak that the few extra pounds from a small pistol and a box of ammo outweighs increasing the chances of getting home to your family, maybe you should take up knitting. Those are my thoughts on the subject.

    Reply
  • Gus Mueller : Jul 14th

    The real question is, are you back in the sex game?

    Reply
  • Bud : Aug 12th

    Tell you what, let’s ask Meredith Emerson what she thinks. Oh, that’s right, you can’t because she’s dead. She was murdered on the popular section of the AT near the aptly named Blood Mountain. Not only was she murdered, she was beheaded. BEHEADED. It doesn’t matter how many “nice” people there are hiking, what matters is how many evil ones out to do you harm, and it only takes one. Don’t be arrogant or condescending, learn to defend yourself and carry protection. It’s your life. Don’t take the advice of some lame young writer who hasn’t faced a life or death situation like others such as Meredith Emerson. Her dog was of no use as Meredith was killed by blunt force trauma. Too bad she didn’t give Gary Hilton some blunt force trauma in the form of a bullet, she’d still be alive. https://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/emotionless-hilton-describes-killing-meredith-emer/nFB9j/

    Reply
  • Andrew Cocke : Aug 30th

    I’m a very amateur hiker/camper, in fact I wouldn’t degrade real hikers by calling myself one. But in my 35 years of existence I’ve been in various situations where a gun might have been handy… maybe. But I’ve never owned one, and thus never have had to use one. I have a couple reasons… If you have to shoot someone (a human) then you can expect a looooooong lengthy legal ordeal to play out, that may conclude with you in prison for the rest of your life, even if it was self defense…. guess the jury will have to decide. Even if you get off, the court cause will bankrupt you. Why? Because someone pulled the trigger instead of trying to figure a less violent way out of the situation. Any idiot can pull a trigger, but it takes a savvy cunning brain to think your way out of a problem. I like the challenge.

    I’ve walked many a mile in the woods and ghetto’s alike without firearms, and I’ve happened upon a few bears and gansta’s alike. I’ve never crossed with any of them… maybe I’m just lucky… dunno. In the woods or the ghettos, I just try not to appear like I have something they want.

    Maybe someday I’ll be eaten by a bear, but if I had to choose, I’d rather go that way than by being senselessly shot by some stranger in a shopping mall because he wanted to make a political statement. Personally, as I watch the news, I’m feeling more and more safer with the bears than with humans!

    Officially, if you want to carry a gun and you’re legally allowed to do so, that’s your business. If she chooses not to, that’s her business. Humans have survived eons without firearms, in much more naturally hostile environs than we have today. Yet somehow we managed to not go extinct. Despite the number of lions, tigers, and bears.

    Reply
    • NinjaMountie : Sep 1st

      Bro, I’m not supporting taking a firearm on the trail. However, if you’re going to refute it, use points that are true. If you are truly defending your life from an attacking person, you will not go to jail or be bankrupted by the “system.”
      Oh, and the next time you are being attacked by someone that has the intent to murder you, have fun using all your savvy and cunning to get out of it without hurting or killing the attacker.
      You are right about one thing, I wouldn’t, in the least bit, be worried about the 4 legged animals on the trail.

      Reply
      • Andrew Cocke : Sep 2nd

        Just to be clear, I don’t have and issue with guns, or people who carry them. I don’t get into all of this silly hype when there is a shooting and suddenly everyone wants to ban guns. (as if that’s going to solve anything)

        Rather I’m simply trying to imply that I don’t see the need for a gun in my life as it is currently. If I’m in a war zone, or a REALLY BAD area, that is practically lawless, then yes, I’d like a gun. But here where I live, it’s calm enough to where I don’t see the need to carry one daily. I understand random acts of violence happen even in rural areas, but if someone’s going to shoot me in the back, then it won’t matter whether I’m armed or not, I would have still gotten shot, because my attacker would have had the element of surprise!

        And if the whole world breaks down and turns into an anarchist war zone with no hope in sight, endless violence, famine, plague, riots on every corner…. then frankly I’d pray for death, that’s no world I’d want to live in. Aim for my head please.

        That said, on the trail, or anywhere else for that matter, if I’m involved in a potential violent confrontation, I look at it this way, if my accuser brandishes a gun in my face, even if I had a gun, to moment I reached for it, he’d pull the trigger anyway. Even if I managed to get a shot off, at best, we’d both just lay in the woods and bleed to death. It would come down to who’s the better shot?

        If my attacker does not have a gun, then I’m confident in my ability to hold my own.

        As far as my “true points”, well I’ll admit I’m no legal expert, or a lawyer, but I have seen plenty of cases where this is questionable. You just better know the law in your state… that’s all I’ll say about that.

        Reply
  • trail name Jabber Jaws... : Sep 17th

    Its only one man’s
    opinion to bring a gun on the trail or not… let me say I work in the ER and
    there are a boat load of wackos out there, 2nd my wife and I ran into a man about 35 on the
    AT just south of standing Indian area.. he spent or should I say he caught up
    to us at the shelters on two separate occasion and all he had in his book bag…
    yes book bag was booze, I don’t know how he did it.. but I will say his story
    changed from one night to the other who what and why he was out there, his last
    story was to ask for money so he can cab it to Ashville to live as a homeless
    man… so carrying a gun is a choice you need to make, I and my wife will carry
    one open one hiding in the pack… our choice…

    Reply
  • Mike : Sep 29th

    Great advise, I have carried a pistol on several backpacking trips and have been sorry about the brick I have strapped to my thigh, while I did feel better about having it, the extra weight has always been an issue, Think I might leave the old beast home next time!

    Reply
    • Ralphy : Feb 4th

      While I always hike with my brother, I have a trained pitbull who accompanies us, Raven the Exploration Canine. When she alone should make people think twice about harassing us, I have my little Mossberg 22 on a sling and my brother has his Glock 9mm, which is worth the 1lbs it weighs. We’ve met some real weirdos who after a few drinks by the fire, we had to show them they way to leave our tent set up and while this may sound cruel, sometimes I wanted them to come back as my pitbull has her own mini tent she carries and usually sleeps right outside ours by the fire and I pity the fool that tries to sneak back to do us harm. As for animals, a 22 or even the 9 won’t stop a black bear, but it’s enough to scare em off, and that’s the worst you will see in pa md and va

      Reply
      • Ralphy : Feb 4th

        Better need it and not use it yada yadaa

        Reply
  • Steve : Oct 19th

    Brittany says: “If you find yourself alone with a stranger giving you bad vibes, make a choice and take the appropriate action to keep yourself safe and comfortable.” Yes and what better way to do that is to have a gun. Not everyone one is a martial arts expert or trained in the military. Some people are elderly and just cant run away to the safety zone.Also about a gun accidentally going off is one of the dumbest things Ive ever heard. If this isnt a antigun article then I dont know what is.

    Reply
  • Bryan : Nov 30th

    I truly appreciate the sentiment of this article, especially in potentially alleviating some peoples’ overly-fearful concern for the wildlife while being in the wild. However, I can’t fully endorse the “assume nothing will happen/ try to outwit someone or something trying to kill you if something does happen” philosophy. Simple thing is, human beings have made it this far in history because we figured out A: how to provide for ourselves and B: how to protect ourselves. Look at basically any and all early american explorers, adventurers, cattlemen, cowboys etc… they all carried guns; not because the holster was a keen looking accessory but because S**T HAPPENS! I think a lot of people get all their cool gear and high speed low drag equipment together and never fully get their head in the mindset to understand that when you are out there you really are very vulnerable.

    DO NOT be scared and let your time out be ruined by fear but DO NOT let your life be ruined by being unprepared because you wanted to assume nothing will go wrong.

    However!!!! If you do decide to purchase and carry a gun PLEASE make sure you do so

    A: SAFELY! (practice practice practice)
    – Know how to safely handle your firearm in any and all situations
    – take some training courses to better prepare you for safely using your firearm in alert and less-than-optimal situations
    – KNOW YOUR FIREARM & HOW IT OPERATES!!!

    B: legally (research research research)
    – “Self defense” is not as clear cut as it seems
    -Simply “brandishing” your firearm in certain situations can land you in serious legal trouble

    If you are just personally against guns for some reason I still urge you to seriously consider your defense/prevention strategy in case of the rare deadly situation. Pepper spray/mace can be very powerful defense. Going as a group is a huge preventative measure to both animals and dangerous humans. Your FIRST line of defense is keeping your head on a swivel and never letting your guard down.

    Just ask yourself (whatever defense you may choose), what do you plan to do if someone or something approached you and made it clear that it/they intended to end your life? Ask yourself because it has, can, will, and is going to happen to someone, somewhere, at some point. Do you want your last thought to be “I can’t believe this is happening to me. what could I have done to prevent this?”

    Reply
  • Bill : Dec 31st

    I have been pondering this for a while now as I plan to start the hike in April. I own several firearms and retired military so no problem with having, owning or handling weapons. The question is how best to handle a threat on the AT. Here is what I have come to. Yes having a weapon would give a great piece of mind for an attacker. As far as a bear, unless you are carrying a 44 or 357, that 22 or nine mil is simply going to piss the bear off. So that precludes a hand gun on the trail. Now comes the other threat – a person looking to harm me. Well unless I have the weapon on my belt, I would be long dead before I stopped, and dug out the weapon from my back pack. So now I would have to have it visible at all times – and yes – several states including NY are not fond of people with concealed weapons even with a permit. I do not intend on 10 years as a guest of NY and the concept of what constitutes a concealed weapon is at complete opinion of the officer arresting you. Yes on those warm sunny days the weapon on the belt is not concealed – or is it? . Take a look at some past case law and things like your jacket covering even part of the weapon has gotten people severe fines and several weeks of jail waiting a trial on a concealed weapon. I thought what happens when the rain comes in. Am I going to now have to stop and figure how to get the poncho on and ensure the weapon remains visible. If you read both NY and CA law – the entire weapon must be visible from all angles – so what about the back pack.

    As you can see, I keep coming to the same conclusion that carrying a firearm risk seems far greater than the risk of an attacker – but – that risk still exist. So I did some blog checking and many have indicated hiking not only on the AT but the Colorado Trail and the PCT carried those large cans of bear repellent which for all practical purposes is an extremely strong pepper spray that (1) does actually stop bears , and (2) shoots up to fifty feet. AS most people shooting an attacker at 50 feet would most likely miss to start with, the attacker has the advantage. In the end I decided I will be carrying one of those on my belt instead – and yes – it still weighs a lot less than a Glock 9 mil with 19 rounds in the clip. So unless an attacker simply shoots me on site before I can even react, anyone that seems out of place and appears threatening will get a face full of spray. I would rather take my changes in a court – his word against mine why I sprayed him, because in the end, he was still alive to call the police to come and investigate and hopefully I will be three shelters down by then. If you like the idea – do not go get one of those tiny stupid purse size pepper prays – they are useless. Go the REI, Gander Mountain, Cabelas’, etc. and get the actual spray designed for real bear attacks – and if you happen to loose the bottle you are out only 50 bucks. JMHO – best of luck to all

    Reply
    • Jan Boynton : Feb 13th

      Bill, this seems like good advice!

      Reply
    • nikita : Mar 19th

      I absolutely agree. I am a target shooter with a concealed carry permit, a solo hiker, and I always carry when I backpack in my own state or others with reciprocity. I have a small fanny pack that I wear up front – holds my Sig while looking like just another piece of gear. (Keeping a firearm tucked away in a backpack is idiotic!) But I have bear spray for trips in other states and feel it’s a great substitute!

      Reply
    • Michael : Jan 28th

      Neve take firearm advice from someone who uses the term “clip” when referring to a “magazine”.

      Reply
  • G : Jan 13th

    Just a heads up, NY is not open carry. It must be concealed. LEO

    Reply
  • Devin : Feb 16th

    Yeah….I’m going to have to go with, why the hell not bring a gun. Better safe than sorry. You could be that statistic.

    Reply
  • Chuck : Mar 26th

    Your an idiot for holding that salamander by the tail. Dumbass.

    Reply
  • Old Veteran : Aug 9th

    What and when to carry? Your not hunting along the trail it self, you are required to be distance from the tail before taking game. What is your intentions, needs? A firearm is a tool, plan accordingly and that includes ammunition. You must maintain proficiency and receive proper training, or you maybe a bigger threat to yourself. Never carry a round in the chamber. if your a poor marksmen need more than two rounds to hit your target, you shouldn’t carry. “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”, plan ahead find out if there had been any wildlife or crime incidents recently along that section of the trail. If your backpacking along populated areas you can simply check online maps for any registered sex offenders in those areas and transit them. Shotgun is useful tool, slugs for bear, 00 buck for campsite security, bird shot for snakes, and flares. If your choice is a handgun it should be a large caliber, especially if loaded snake shot. Firearm in this scenario is a emergency item, much like a cell phone or field first-aid. Your not going to war, I’ve been to war. Backpacking are fun excursions. So have a safe fun trip. I also pack a taken-down fly/spin rod since venture off into WMA along rivers and lakes, I see more of need in that scenario.

    Reply
  • Bob Perry : Aug 11th

    GREAT comment’s!
    Especially old veteran….”your not going to war, I’ve been to war”
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Classic!
    I’ll be carrying 2 hand guns. And the weight won’t bother me. And if i need to use it, the other poor soul will hear it long before they see it……laws be dammed.

    Reply
  • Angie : Aug 30th

    I’ve been camping the AT my entire life and while I personally know people who’ve encountered bears, thankfully tjere was no harm done and for many youthful years I was disappointed I never did! The worst thing I dealt with was a family that let their kids roam free and they went through the few things we left outside the tent… But they were harmless, we carefully and quietly watched amused and nothing was stolen or damaged. I don’t think it is necessary, but I also believe it’s your right to feel safe however you do. And yes, unconcealed is going to most likely creep others out, and yes, there are horrible people out there and so if that’s how you feel, imo then take it everywhere cause it could happen anywhere.

    Reply
  • concealed carry class : Aug 9th

    Owsem post.

    Reply

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