Personal Safety: Are Throwing Axes the Ultimate Trail Defense

What is on Trail that Necessitates Personal Safety?

As I get closer to our next long distance hike, I find myself listening to Backpacker Radio more and more. On a long drive home with my husband (and hiking partner), we listened to the recent Q&A episode and were fascinated on the discussion of carrying guns on trail for personal safety. The information was balanced, compelling, and approached through a sensible lens. I thought about why people would want to carry guns and came to the following conclusion:

  1. Safety from Wild Animals
    Hiking along the Appalachian Mountains, and Green Mountains you seldom come across dangerous wildlife. Black Bears and various snakes do have the means to defend themselves. Along the Pacific Crest Trail however you must also consider Mountain Lions, Cows (one of my husband’s biggest fears), and maybe a Grizzly Bear north of the I-90 (albeit very unlikely).

  2. Safety from People
    This is applicable to hiking anywhere. As a 6’2″, 260lb male human I tend to not attract attention from people who may wish to do harm. This is not the case for many hikers who have negative experiences from humans during their lives in and out of the back country.

I recently learned, that as a US permanent resident that I could in fact apply for a permit to buy a firearm, though as mentioned during the podcast, people should really know how to use a gun before they carry one, and I have no intention of carrying one as I find them scary. This left me wondering about alternates for safety. The following article is my pitch as to why Throwing Axes could be that alternate.

These Throwing Axes have many sharp edges

The Many Uses of Throwing Axes as Tools

Throwing axes are a popular way to spend time letting off steam, and bonding with friends. It’s great to learn how to aim at a target, score points, and beat your husband in friendly competition. These axes are generally one handed, small, and lightweight. Axes of this type often have a sharp blade on one side, and a sharp point opposite to that. Some axes even have a sharp point below the handle so if your technique lacks, there is still a chance to make contact with your target.

Personal Safety

Practice makes perfect in self-defense skills

As hikers, we want to minimize weight in our packs, and maximize the utility of our gear. Did you know that some throwing axes come with built in bottle openers!?! I’ve never carried glass bottles that require opening on a hiking trip, but each to their own. One of my pet peeves on the trail is when you have food in your teeth and can’t get it out. Who carries floss when they hike? Not me. I can however use the sharp point on a throwing axe to remove any debris.

Personal Safety

I love that clean teeth feeling after a good axe-picking session

When you hit snowpack and need to traverse icy slopes a throwing axe could easily double as an ice axe too. With several sharp points and a good handle you can feel safe in your footing.

Throwing Axes as Defense from Wild Animals

Axes have utility in long or close range, especially if a grumpy kitty surprises you.

https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/yoursafety_mountainlions.htm#:~:text=Wave%20your%20arms%20slowly%20and,but%20not%20directly%20at%20it).

NPS image of a Mountain Lion

Of course we want to deescalate conflict with wildlife according to the National Park Service by the following measures:

If these measures do not meet our expectations and the pissed off puss acts with aggression and/or approaches you then you step up your safety measures:

  • Appear as intimidating as possible by making noise, waving your arms, and letting the Puma know you are not dough that needs to be kneaded
  • Finally, and the most relevant part, throw things at it. ‘THROW THINGS AT IT’! Throwing Axes! It’s literally in the name.

The advice says to begin aiming at the body to avoid escalation with an injury to the eyes of the cantankerous cougar. This is where your hours of practice at the range will help. Moving targets may also be a challenge, but that is why it’s throwing axes and not throwing axe.

Personal Safety

Know how to spot a Mountain Lion in the back country

Finally, if it gets within your personal space and attacks, you need to fight back. Pistol whipping a Puma will be wholly unproductive, but close combat axe wielding is another story. Especially when you can look as menacing as this:

Mountain Lions will shake when they see my personal safety measures!

I’ll hold off on commenting about self-defense from people as it’s none of my business how people decide to feel safe, but I do know that bear spray isn’t just for Bears, and duct tape, a trekking pole, and a throwing axe make a great Halberd.

What About for the ULTRALIGHT Hiker?

The cousin of the throwing axe, with a smaller and lighter setup is the trusty Throwing Knives. If you want to keep your LighterPack data the talk of the UL bros and brosettes, then perhaps these pointy blades are for you.

Knives have a variety of uses too outside of personal safety. Imagine tucking into your rehydrated beans with your multiuse Spork (or perhaps Spknife would be more appropriate), picking your teeth clean, and then securing your guy lines with your knifey tent pegs.

Personal Safety

Throwing Knives as the UL alternative to Throwing Axes

Throwing knives requires the same amount of practice to build strength and accuracy as a throwing axe, but for the animal lovers out there, shouldn’t cause such egregious wounds.

Reflection on Personal Safety on Trail

As hikers, we will all have our level of comfort when it comes to carrying forms of protection. I acknowledge that it is important to feel safe and to be educated on the dangers that face you in the backcountry.

I also recognize I’m pretty terrible at throwing axes, so I may take the strongest form of personal safety as a British Person: A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE DEMANOUR.

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Comments 8

  • Julie : Apr 21st

    Funny, brilliant and informative !! This may take axe throwing to the next level, whilst I don’t hike it is 10 minute walk to the shops so who knows !!

    Reply
    • Aidan : Apr 21st

      Thank you Mum. You never know what the pigeons and squirrels are thinking these days! Best be prepared. X

      Reply
  • Bubba : Apr 22nd

    Points on all sides? You’ll poke your sleeping pad. 😉

    Reply
    • Aidan : Apr 23rd

      Now I didn’t think of that! :O Now I’m questioning everything!

      Reply
  • Greg laubach : Apr 23rd

    No, no, no. This is such a bad idea. The chances of you killing an attacking animal, and not just one that is charging are slim to nil. You are likely just going to injure it, which is cruel. Best case scenario is that it will heal, most likely it will die either of infection or starvation, due to the fact it cannot hunt or scavenge successfully. An injured animal is now MORE dangerous to everyone in its area, also if it can’t obtain food easily, due to the injuries you have inflicted, its going to go after easier sources such as the Idahoans in your Ursack. Use a Bearcan everybody, you dont have to worry about getting hit in the eye by a rock you just flung over too low of a branch and it keeps rodents out.

    The Meateater crew, PROFESSIONAL and well armed hunters, deterred a charging brown bear on Afognak island, near Kodiak, home to the largest bears on the planet w a trekking pole, Black Diamond, for those of you who are curious. This bear had to be within around 3′ of the person, plus arms length, as that is the approx avg length poles are at, depending on body height. Why a treking pole? It was the closest, easiest thing at hand.

    In order for axes/knives/guns/bear spray to be effective they need to be kept at the ready, on the hip or chest. Just as some people are afraid/nervous around guns, some may also be around a bandolier of axes/knives. As pointed out with all the sharp edges, 3 in the case of axes, you are highly likely to hurt your self with a mishap from a slip or due to tiredness, or ruin your survival equipment. By which I mean tent or h2o filter, you can get by w a flat pad or a holey sleeping bag.

    Whatever tools, meaning bear spray, axes, knives, guns, we choose to use to protect ourselves and others with in the backcountry, we need to practice using them to feel confident, which it sounds like you do, but just as one wouldnt target practice w a gun, one shouldnt hack up a tree stump in camp, both violations of LNT ethos.

    All that said, just carry bear spray, its effective on bears, cougar, rabid raccoons and I imagine perverts also.

    Happy hiking
    Greg

    Reply
    • Aidan : Apr 24th

      Thank you for your well researched and articulate comment on my post. I love that trekking poles are a great way to help keep the distance between us and animals. I don’t hike without them so they’ll be my number one choice too!

      Reply
  • Old guy : May 15th

    Back in the day (sorry, again, I’m an old guy), before bear spray, I backpacked the northern Rockies (mainly Montana) with a 357 on my chest. What an insane waste of foot/pounds/miles. Testosterone poisoning is my only excuse. Your article makes me feel better about those years. Why not haul a King Arthur sword with chainmail in case we encounter a dragon on the trail? Who knows, you might encounter a renassaunce fair along the way!
    After 50 years in griz country I’m comfy with bear spray combined with trail buds who know how to use it if I become “trail treats” in an incident.
    Thanks for the entertainging article.
    Cheers!!!

    Reply
  • Old guy : May 15th

    Back in the day (sorry, again, I’m an old guy), before bear spray, I backpacked the northern Rockies (mainly Montana) with a 357 on my chest. What an insane waste of foot/pounds/miles. Testosterone poisoning is my only excuse. Your article makes me feel better about those years. Why not haul a King Arthur sword with chainmail in case we encounter a dragon on the trail? Who knows, you might encounter a renaissance fair along the way!
    After 50 years in griz country I’m comfy with bear spray combined with trail buds who know how to use it if I become “trail treats” in an incident.
    Thanks for the entertainging article.
    Cheers!!!

    Reply

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