Should You Carry a Gun on the Appalachian Trail?

Ah, that old chestnut. This common question surfaces again and again — in online forums, in conversation with concerned loved ones, and yes, even right here on our dear little website. So, should you carry a gun on the Appalachian Trail?

The seasoned hiker’s answer is almost always no.

Firearms are heavy, and navigating interstate gun laws on the AT would be a nightmare. The hassle (not to mention the risk of an accident) far outweighs the likelihood of you needing protection on America’s most popular long trail, where crime is rare.

I have never hiked with a gun, even as a solo woman, and I’ve never wished I had one. The level of risk I face on the trail is low enough that I feel quite comfortable going unarmed.

But for the new backpacker (not to mention the contingent of cyber-hikers who haunt the comments sections of this type of article), I get why this answer doesn’t satisfy. Weighing risk includes contemplating the worst-case scenario. And in this case, the worst-case scenario is awful to think about.

“Don’t worry about it! It probably won’t happen” is perhaps too blithe a response to a complex and loaded question. So let’s take a closer look at the issue, shall we?

What are the actual risks on the AT, can packing heat even address those dangers, and what do you need to do to thru-hike legally with a firearm? Bear with me, sweet hiker, and you’ll find answers to all these questions and more.

Hike Your Own Hike, Bro

should you carry a gun on the appalachian trail: a hiker makes his way alone down the trail in sillhouette

First, the elephant in the room. We all know guns are a controversial issue in American society. Yet they are legal, and you have the right to own and carry one in all 50 states.

Hikers often say “hike your own hike,” meaning that at the end of the day, no one can decide for you how to hike or what gear to carry. You get to make your own call and do what works for you, whether or not that’s what everyone else is doing.

HYOH also means “butt out and quit telling other hikers what to do.” So in the spirit of HYOH, if you really want to carry a gun on the Appalachian Trail, you are entitled to do so, and nothing I or any other thru-hiker says can stop you (provided you go through the appropriate legal channels).

If you plan to carry, I beg you to get firearms training before the trail, lest you endanger yourself and others. Like carrying an ice axe without knowing how to self-arrest, a weapon becomes a liability if you don’t know how to handle it.

Know that packing heat will significantly impact your hike, and most thru-hikers don’t find it necessary. Before you go all-in, carefully consider whether and why you feel you need a gun on the Appalachian Trail.

Why Thru-Hikers Don’t Carry Guns: Trail Crime Is Rare, Guns Are Heavy

Picking on Peg Leg because she’s like the only Trek person ever to post a hiking + gun photo on the site. In case it’s not obvious, she didn’t hike with this gun, she just found it alongside the trail. Photo: Peg Leg.

In my six years as a long-distance hiker, I’ll admit that other hikers have made me feel unsafe a handful of times. But contrast that with my 30 years of generally being alive, in which other people make me feel unsafe on a semi-regular basis.

Not only is the trail no more dangerous than anywhere else, it’s actually significantly safer than most places. We’ve written extensively about the extremely low crime rates on the AT and other long trails compared to most US cities, so I won’t rehash that whole argument here. Here are some links if you want to read up on the subject:


Suffice it to say that crime on hiking trails is exceptionally rare and that statistically, you’re far more likely to get in trouble in civilization.

So if the risks of hiking without a gun are unacceptable to you, then you damn sure need to be armed in the plastic world too. If you don’t carry in regular life, why would you start on your thru-hike?

Gun ≠ Magical Anti-Crime Talisman

Recently, women have been debating online whether they’d rather be alone in the woods with a man or a bear — but what if you’re going to be alone in the woods with both men and bears? For anyone planning an AT hike, this is not a hypothetical question.

With no cell service and nothing but the thin nylon walls of your tent to separate you from the unknown, it’s normal to wish for a bit of extra security. Some hikers hope they will find it in a gun.

Yet I would argue that adding firearms to the men-and-bears scenario only makes the woods more, not less, dangerous.

A gun isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Having one could save you from a sticky situation, but it could also endanger you further if you’re not proficient with it or if it falls into the wrong hands.

Is it really better to be completely unarmed in that same sticky situation just to avoid the possibility of it getting. turned against you? I don’t know. I’m just saying having a gun isn’t some magic solution that grants you violent-crime immunity. You still need to be competent with the weapon and self-defense in general.

Situational Awareness

With or without a weapon, basic situational awareness is always your best defense.

I’ve packed up camp and left in the middle of the night when other campers gave me a bad feeling. Would I have stayed if I’d had a gun, secure in the knowledge that if those seven drunk guys came over to my tent, I could just whip out my sidearm and start murdering people left and right?

No. I would have left anyway because of course I would. I’m one 125-pound woman; avoiding a conflict with seven drunk guys is always going to be the better choice.

Maybe another hiker in that scenario would at least feel some peace of mind knowing they had the weapon as a last resort — if, for instance, one of those men had noticed me leaving and followed me. In this case, I think it again comes down to how much firearms training you’ve done. Are you proficient enough to handle yourself and the gun in a high-stress scenario?

If you’ve done that work, heck yeah, a gun could be a great choice for you. If carrying is what will make you feel safe enough to hike, or if you carry in everyday life and don’t intend to change that on your thru-hike, that’s your prerogative.

A Closer Look at Interstate Gun Laws on the AT: A Logistical Nightmare

should you carry a gun on the appalachian trail: image of dirt trail through grassy meadow with white blaze on a wooden post

Ed. note: The following is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. US gun laws are complex and changeable. Consult a lawyer if you intend to hike the AT with a firearm.

The AT passes through 14 states, and you must be aware of the laws in all of them. This is nontrivial.

 New York will be your biggest challenge as it has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country. To obtain a handgun permit, you must be a resident or employee of New York. What’s more, New York doesn’t recognize permits from any other state.

My understanding of gun laws as they apply to AT hikers is as follows (feel free to fact-check me).

1. Permitless carry is allowed in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

2. Open carry is allowed sans permit in North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but you need a permit to concealed carry.

3. You would need to apply for a resident or non-resident handgun permit to carry in Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (unless you already have a permit from a state that offers reciprocity in some of those states, of course).

4. As discussed above, you’re screwed in New York unless you live or work there. Good luck with that.

Because some states recognize each other’s gun permits (“reciprocity”), your mileage may vary depending on where you’re from. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the details of each state’s laws, which differ in their approach to open vs. concealed carry, your right to have a firearm in public establishments, etc.

Basically, it’s incredibly complicated. At a minimum, you should a) consult a lawyer and b) do your own research (please god don’t rely on only me for information on this topic, I am neither a lawyer nor a firearms expert), and c) skip New York unless you live there already.

Pros of Carrying a Gun on the Appalachian Trail

#stockphoto #notathruhiker #definitelymorethan7ounces. Photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

Level the Playing Field

Back to that discussion of the worst-case scenario. No matter how unlikely, if the unthinkable does happen, having a gun will probably be more useful to you than just relying on the power of positive thinking. Especially if you are a smaller person, a firearm helps level the playing field against a larger and stronger assailant.

Theoretically, just having the weapon on you could deter a would-be attacker before you ever have to use it. In the spirit of “hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” a gun fits right in.

Sense of Security

A firearm could give someone the confidence to tackle hikes they otherwise might not. The world can be an awful place, so I can’t fault anyone for having misgivings about their safety on trail or off. And many people carry with the idea of protecting not just themselves, but others as well.

I’m a big fan of people getting out on trail in whatever way works for them. Hiking the AT changed my life for the better, and I believe everyone should have that same opportunity. If this is what makes you feel safe enough to hike and you’re willing to do what it takes to carry responsibly, I can’t knock it.


Love it or hate it, gun ownership is a deeply held value for some Americans. Just as some women wear makeup for the entirety of their thru-hikes, some hikers might be loathe to leave behind a weapon that is part of their identity for a six-month stint. Is that a bizarre and problematic comparison? Yes, but it’s true nonetheless.

Cons of Carrying a Gun on the Appalachian Trail

Weight, Space, Money

Like any other piece of gear, a gun is an investment in weight, pack volume, and money. Even if it only weighs seven ounces (unloaded, which is about as light as you can go), ounces add up. It’s easy to resent seven ounces when you’re exhausted.

Once you’ve sent home all your spare socks, sawed off your toothbrush handle, and left your stove in a hiker box, are you still going to see that gun as essential?

Also (and let me be frank, I don’t know that much about guns), the lightest gun on the market isn’t necessarily the right choice for self-defense, even if it’s the right choice for your base weight. My understanding is that generally the lighter a gun is, the more recoil it will have, i.e., the harder it is to handle. In contrast, a lightweight gun without much recoil is probably also an underpowered weapon.

Regarding money, when budgeting for a gun, remember to factor in the cost of training and licensing/registration fees.

Guns Are Dangerous

I repeat: guns are dangerous. You need to know how to handle your weapon so you don’t hurt yourself or others accidentally. As our fearless leader Zach pointed out in a recent episode of Backpacker Radio, twice as many people die from firearm accidents every year as the number of people who have been killed by animals (grizzlies, wolves, snakes, etc.) in the last 50 years.

And while a gun could help in a confrontation, it could also be turned against you, putting you in even more danger.

Guns Are a Big Responsibility

You are carrying a tool designed to end human lives and need to weigh the implications of that. Are you willing to pull the trigger if the situation demands it?

Even if you are, carrying responsibly takes work. You need to be in compliance with local gun laws, which, as we’ve discussed, is hard to do as an AT hiker.

You also need to secure the weapon at all times and ensure it doesn’t fall into someone else’s hands. How are you going to do this when you’re living out of a backpack? I’m seriously asking.

(Forget about mailing yourself packages to the post office, for instance. You won’t be able to enter the building with a firearm, and it’s not like you can just leave it on the sidewalk with your pack while you’re inside. This is just one example of a logistical dilemma you’ll face as a thru-hiker with a gun.)

Guns Aren’t That Functional as a Wildlife Deterrent

orange bottle of bear spray; bear spray is an alternative to a gun on the appalachian trail

Bear spray is more effective than a gun for deterring aggressive bears. Photo: Kelly McDonald

Although most hikers consider bringing a gun for fear of other humans, bears are another oft-cited reason to carry. Yet this is faulty logic. Studies suggest that bear spray is more effective than guns at deterring dangerous wildlife encounters. It’s not that bears are immune to bullets or whatever: bear spray is just easier to deploy under duress and requires less skill.

Also, there are only black bears on the AT — no grizzlies. Black bears are almost never aggressive. Shouting and waving your arms around is usually enough to make them back down. Even on the CDT, which does have grizzlies, bear spray is a better choice.

Carrying Could Affect How Other Hikers Interact With You

Having a gun might make other Appalachian Trail thru-hikers more wary of you. It certainly would for me. I guess being more threatening is the point of carrying, but don’t be surprised if fellow hikers steer clear.

Beyond automatically singling you out, carrying might invite political debates, whether you like it or not. Guns are controversial.

“What other people will think of me” is rarely the criterion upon which we should base our life choices. However, since the community is widely considered one of the best things about thru-hiking, you should weigh how a gun could affect the social aspect of your journey.

On a related note, in some states, you won’t be able to enter many businesses with a weapon. And since, again, you need to secure it at all times, that might mean all your friends go out for dinner at a restaurant while you’re left behind to share a lonely ram-bomb and some pop-tarts with your gun. Sadness.

Almost No Thru-Hikers Carry a Gun on the Appalachian Trail

Keychain pepper spray (the pink thing in this photo) is a common inclusion in thru-hikers’ packing lists. Photo: Katie Melsky

The reality is that very few thru-hikers carry firearms. Whether to carry a gun on the Appalachian Trail is a debate that rages on the internet but is almost nonexistent in real life.

I’m not saying don’t carry because others don’t, but consider that the overwhelming majority of hikers don’t consider it necessary. Trail crime is rare, and the hiking community is tight-knit. Thru-hikers look out for each other.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages hikers from carrying guns for largely the same reasons I mentioned above.

Some trail users carry nonlethal weapons, like pepper spray, for self-defense instead. And again, situational awareness is still the most powerful self-defense tool in your arsenal, and it costs and weighs nothing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, figuratively but also kind of literally.

If you (or your loved ones) are uncertain whether you should carry a gun on the Appalachian Trail, I encourage you to spend some time on the AT and get to know other hikers. In person, not just online. You might find that you feel a lot safer out there than you anticipated.

At the end of the day, you can carry a gun on your thru-hike if that’s what you really want. If you’re highly competent with firearms, don’t mind the additional weight, and have a plan for securing the weapon and navigating interstate gun laws, there’s nothing stopping you from carrying a gun on the Appalachian Trail.

Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

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Comments 36

  • Mikeycat : Jun 10th

    I’m going to invent a carbon fiber wrapped titanium barrelled trekking pole rifle, so you can take down problem bears and escaped psychopaths, while always having your own protection within reach. Plus, it double duties for setting up your zpacks altaplex which cuts down on weight.


    • Evan Lerman : Jun 16th

      Living in Pendleton, Oregon when I bought a gun, the top was polymer and you could get it in any color you wanted the woman who sold it to me told me she bought the same gun a 9 mm for her granddaughter in pink when I called one of the volunteers one time Which was a lady in her 70s or 80s she said Evan you know not to call me on Wednesday. It’s my birdwatching day. They told me they were always going up into the mountains. Why rattlesnakes they were some pretty interesting people there.

    • Evan Lerman : Jun 16th

      Living in Pendleton, Oregon when I bought a gun, the top was polymer and you could get it in any color you wanted the woman who sold it to me told me she bought the same gun a 9 mm for her granddaughter in pink when I called one of the volunteers one time Which was a lady in her 70s or 80s she said Evan you know not to call me on Wednesday. It’s my birdwatching day. They told me they were always going up into the mountains. And we’re always armed with handguns Why ? rattlesnakes they were some pretty interesting people there.

  • Bob Kling : Jun 10th

    Only felt unsafe once on the trail in Pennsylvania. I had met a couple of young women backpacking the trail and we decided to hike to a shelter for a lunch break. Upon reaching the shelter, we found a group of young men had walked in from a nearby road and set up camp. Seeing the women they immediately turned their attention on them and the situation quickly became uncomfortable. I engaged the group in conversation, as we ate quickly and then the women left. I stayed behind for a short time to ensure they wouldn’t be followed and then continued to where I would camp for the night. I think when a gun is necessary for trail safety, it will be time to do something else.

  • Jon : Jun 10th

    I almost didn’t read your article because articles like this are typically highly-biased, accusatory, and factually inaccurate. I’m glad I did, because you proved my own presupposed bias wrong (on all points!). I have to say that, for a non-gun owner, you have given an absolutely well balanced, highly factual, and well thought through presentation. I find both your attitude and your reasoning refreshing!

    The only fact I’ll quibble with you is your 7-ounce figure. I can’t think of anything that’s not a toy that weighs that little — the gun that currently touts itself as the lightest 9mm on the market comes in at a full 16 ounces and that’s without adding the weight of the ammunition (another 8-9 ounces by itself, IF you don’t carry a(ny) spare magazine(s)).

    As someone who has carried a gun nearly every day for over 40 years, I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything else you said. I find myself at a point where when I go on trail my though is, “why would I leave behind something I carry every day” on the one hand and “what an easy way to shed 4 pounds” on the other…

    Well done.

    • Gary Edwards : Jun 17th

      This was a well written article on a subject that is always sure to get a wide and varied response. As to the minimum weight of an effective firearm, significant advances in ammunition over the last few years have changed that scenario somewhat. A .380 ACP, while still considered at the low end of the power scale, is also now considered to be an effective self defense round. Both Kel-Tec and Ruger make very lightweight semi-autos in this caliber but they both also carry a significant amount of recoil given their light weight. Therefore shooting these (much less a 15 oz 9 mm) is usually not a lot of fun and deters practice not to mention lousy aim on a followup shot. Along those lines Kel-Tec makes the P-32 in the .32 ACP round. (Think the original James Bond gun and also used by law enforcement in Europe for many years.) This is definitely a lowered power round, but still lethal and you have 8 to 9 rounds available with much less recoil. Unloaded it is 7.8 oz, loaded 10.25.

      Regardless it is useful to know that approximately 80% of the time (if not higher) of a gun’s effectiveness is what is called a “psychological stop” as opposed to a “physical stop” which is where a person is physically incapacitated. A psychological stop typically means no shots were fired but infers to an attacker that you are prepared and willing to engage and thus, leaves or goes somewhere else. (Note: that applies to human attackers, and not so much with animals who have no idea what a gun is. However the loud noise is often enough with them.). OTOH, one cannot be foolishly waving a gun around as a threat which in many locals, can find one in trouble on a legal charge called “brandishing”.

      The other side of the psychological coin is with the user and it involves a huge moral, not to mention legal, responsibility to actually pull the trigger. This is in addition to remaining proficient with a gun, meaning ongoing learning and practice that few adhere to. Given all the above, it’s probably not the best idea to carry on the AT and a pepper spray, preferably of the gel type, is probably a better option. Just my two cents.

  • Mark HOLDEN : Jun 10th

    No.You should always have a backup weapon, so at least 2.
    I’m not worried about how many through hikers carry guns.Im worried about the serial killers who do.

    • Red Bradford : Jun 11th

      Clearly Mark hasn’t spent real time on the trails or anywhere outside a war zone. Thanks for your service mate, but you’re not in a fireteam anymore.

      And if you’re scared of the spooky serial killers, can I recommend you lay off the podcasts? You’re more likely to get hurt taking a bad step in a river crossing dude.

      • Bill Appleby : Jun 14th

        Red –
        Obviously Mark was joking, Man. Don’t dismiss his humor. If you do, perhaps Reddit is a better place for you to post…IMHO.

      • Desmo97sp : Jun 14th

        As a handgun carrier for many years I find you comments insightful and your points almost entirely accurate. Your comments on gun safety and training are 100 percent on point. Federal law allows you to carry a weapon through every state in the union as long as your destination is to a state that allows carry. So even in the most restricted states such as NY you can potentially carry legally. My hiking days are limited to day hikes with my avid hiking wife but I carry in case more for of an encounter with a out of control rabid animal rather than a rabid human. Nevertheless I can protect wife and myself in either case. Thank you for your objectivity and insight.

  • TripleM : Jun 11th

    “Maybe another hiker in that scenario would at least feel some peace of mind knowing they had the weapon as a last resort — if, for instance, one of those men had noticed me leaving and followed me. In this case, I think it again comes down to how much firearms training you’ve done. Are you proficient enough to handle yourself and the gun in a high-stress scenario?”

    The problem in this scenario (as it is in so many others) is as you’re hiking and rock-scrambling along, with your loaded pack . . . where is that weapon? If it isn’t someplace that you can get to it quickly enough and quickly enough deploy it against your presumed attacker (while still wearing that loaded pack), then how useful is it, really, in defending you? For hikers who carry: do you strap it to your hip? Your chest?

    • Donna : Jun 13th

      Ruger LCP.

      My hiking pants have two pockets, one in each mid thigh.

      I keep my phone in the left pocket. I will let you guess what is kept in the right. 😉

    • Matt : Jun 19th

      This is a great question, and I feel like the market needs a good option. I carry a pocket sized pistol in my pocket. It is very subtle, and quick access. But it does weigh down my pants.

      I’ve put very little thought into it, but was thinking something to add to a shoulder strap that laid it across your chest.

  • IN : Jun 11th

    >>The reality is that very few thru-hikers carry firearms

    The reality is that if you carry a concealed firearm properly, nobody should know or even suspect that you do. You don’t strap an EpiPen or a bear spray to your belt in a visible manner, and normally nobody would even know if you have one. It shouldn’t be any different with the firearm.

    • Jakob : Jun 12th

      Oh, you should definitely have the bear spray on the outside of your pack, easily available. It won’t do you any good inside your pack.

    • Warden : Jun 14th

      I definitely carry my bear spray in a visible manner. Clipped to my packs sternum strap or if I start seeing bear sign, in my hand. I have been charged by a brown bear and they are so fast that you better have it very close.

      On the AT I didn’t carry bear spray and certainly not a gun. I only saw one black bear, but I was wishing for bear spray because of 2 instances of people at shelters that were obviously high as a kite (not thru hikers). I carried bear spray for much of the north half of the CDT. My only close interaction with a CDT bear (Yellowstone area) was when it came to my tent in the dark. Can’t do much with bear spray from inside your tent, but it sniffed my tent and then kept moving.

  • JadedFan : Jun 11th

    As a proponent for concealed carry, I thought this was a very well-reasoned post. Though I have given thought to carrying on the trail many times, I can’t think of a time that I actually did. I do, however, carry other non-lethal deterrents.

  • DANE Vincent OLSON : Jun 12th

    Legal or not. Never ever ever ever necessary.

  • Tina Louise Dailey : Jun 13th

    If you are trained for gun safety then yes a small 32.pistol or 9mm isn’t a bad thing to have with you , it’s like this , there’s a whole lot of bad ppl in the world that would love to hurt good people like you and me, it’s better to have the pistol and not need it ,than need a pistol and not have it. Not to mention, poisonous snakes , an yes I’ve been bitten by a copperhead an its no fun folks, so judge me if you want to,but poisonous snakes die around me. Cause I almost died, around the evil copperhead that chose to bite me

    • Mikael : Jun 15th

      Please tell me where you hike so I can be on the other side of the continent.

  • Scribbles : Jun 14th

    As an older female who has hiked over 7400 miles, mostly solo, I have felt “uneasy” only one time.
    I am a huge fan of HYOH so Hike On!

  • Joshua : Jun 14th

    Just a small additional to an even smaller group that are thru hikers aka dirtbags with badges =D

    The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is a United States federal law, enacted in 2004, that allows two classes of persons—the “qualified law enforcement officer” and the “qualified retired or separated law enforcement officer”—to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of state or local laws

    LE could carry across state lines without any restrictions, I have confirmed this with every state along the AT and even the three left-leaning states on the PCT.

  • SahmJuan Else : Jun 14th

    I read the article and comments.
    If done right, no one will know you are carrying unless you need to use your weapon.

    Personally, I carry a light saber. It is capable of slashing flesh, trees and jelly beans. When no one is looking I prefer halved jelly beans.

    I know no one will be pleased with my light saber which weighs about 3 pounds. So, I only bring it out when alone at night to slice jelly beans 🫘 or if a fellow hiker is in danger and BEGS for a knight with a light saber to save them.

    Having hiked for many years I have not had the need arise to save a hikerette in distress. My only regret was I was not present to save Stronghold from being stabbed to death by a crazed lunatic but alas omnipresence is beyond my capabilities. 👣👣👣👣👣

  • NJGB : Jun 14th

    Several yrs ago, asked bro. A veteran police officer, if I should carry a side arm. Am a skinny, white. “Older” female. His reply?
    A resounding NO!!
    He said: “ first thing an attacker will do is disarm YOU then shoot you with your gun! So no unless you’re a thousand percent ready to kill somebody totally dead ….Can you take me?( he’s a
    250 lb young man.

  • Scott Anderson : Jun 14th

    Very well-reasoned, objective, non-judgmental article. As a regular fun-toting fella, I never carry on trail. It’s a matter of statistics, as you pointed out.

    A lot of people think carrying a gun will magically deter crime and/or they will have John Wick skills when under attack. The truth is, your gun will be tucked away somewhere not very accessible and attacks are generally surprises by design. It takes the average cop over 2 seconds to draw and fire when they are ready for an attack and their gun is in their hip.

    Then, are you going to shoot someone who is potentially committing a misdemeanor assault?

    Even if someone is attacking you in the nightmare scenario and you kill him or her, you will be possibly charged with a crime and/or sued. Will you be able to prove it was self-defense? There are no surveillance cameras on the trail….

    IF you could get your gun out in time is doubtful. IF you take it out during a more ambiguous situation, you likely just escalated a harassment to a deadly force scenario.

    It’s such a huge responsibility and burden in response to a statistically remote risk, it doesn’t pencil out. If your motive to carry is in response to a hypothetical fear of attack (man or bear), there are more practical and effective methods to protect yourself and those steps will chip away at those fears.

    I carry guns every day and I think about deadly force encounters every day for my job and I never carry in the woods. I’m not sure if that helps but the cost/benefit analysis isn’t even close for me.

  • Bill Appleby : Jun 14th

    Well written article. I like that your opinions are not totally anti-gun. As a person who carries almost everyday, I wouldn’t carry on the Trail.
    I carry to counter a different kind of animal who frequents (unfortunately!) areas I sometimes have to travel through. Mostly in urban areas.
    As mentioned in your article, there are other options that I carry too. The non-lethal ones; such as pepper spray and tazers. A recent Reddit posting started by a police academy candidate who was going to be tazed and asked for advice, identified most LEO’s would take the 8-10 secs of tazer uncomfortableness over a blast of OC in the face. Trust me as a former instructor of OCAT training, you will feel those effects for 2-3 days after application.
    Just watch which direction the wind is blowing and if used in a shelter: no one will sleep in there for a few days!!

  • Greywolf : Jun 14th

    If your scared get training and carry make sure to bring cleaning kit and lube to properly keep your gun oiled NAKE SURE LOCAL FEDERAL LAWS do not ask do not tell if you decide to it is to KILL ONLY TO SAVE YOUR LIFE NOT TO SCARE NOT TO THREATEN YOUR LIFE IS IN IMMINENT DANGER if you pull for any other reason you do nit belong carrying a gun

  • RonG. : Jun 14th

    Having been born and raised on the east coast, I get your bias. Since the article deals with the AT, I have no arguments with the pros and cons, and the reasoning behind them all. Having said that; I fled NY almost 20 years ago, and moved to the free state of Utah. The article mentions animals found in the eastern states – and that’s appropriate since it was written with the AT in mind. However, the dangerous animals found in the western states are very different. We have mountain lions, moose, and packs of coyotes, along with black, brown, and grizzly bears. )And, don’t forget the mighty Pika… Okay, just kidding there.) Anyway, browse YouTube, and you’ll find some chilling videos of recent mountain lion encounters, even on popular trails around the Salt Lake City area. Therefore, I would much rather ‘deter’ a mountain lion from 100′ with a warning shot from a firearm, than to take my chances from 20′ with a can of bear spray! Keep in mind that a mountain lion can run up to 50 MPH, which means they can cover the effective range of most bear sprays in roughly 1/4 second. Additionally, if attacked, you MUST fight for your life or you will die! Again, I trust my firearm far more than I would trying to aim bear spray at a lion that has its jaws around my neck. I am mindful that we’re talking apples and oranges here. My intent was to point out that things change drastically depending on where you hike, and that changes the decision process on whether to carry on-trail or not. On the AT, I wouldn’t. In my playground – the remote wilderness areas of Utah and Idaho, I always carry my portable life preserver. To me, it’s well worth the extra 12.4 ounces (yes, I just weighed it with 7 rounds in it). That’s my $.02. As for everyone else: HYOH.

  • Dman : Jun 14th

    Extremely well thought out and unbiased article, and the posts are good as well!

  • Ren : Jun 15th

    Thanks for writing this! My husband was never concerned about things like this until we had our child. Now he feels perhaps something is necessary “just in case”. I think this article is well written and addresses the safety concerns he has. I will happily point to him the bear mace as a solution.

  • Grandpa : Jun 17th

    People ask me if I’m worried about meeting dangerous animals on the trail. I tell them I’ve met more sketchy people than sketchy animals, however I’ve met very few sketchy people on the trail.

    If in an area where bear spray is a good thing to carry, I’m sure a blast a bear spray in the face will deter sketchy people as well!

  • Brent Ramsey : Jun 17th

    An often overlooked benefit of packing heat on the AT is that you never have to barter for shelter space! I carried my suppressed HK SP-5 SBR (9mm) with two 30-round mags rolled up in my sleeping mat on my ‘22 NOBO. All I had to do was unroll my mat and you’ve never seen hiker trash scatter so fast! The shelter mice were even like, “Damn Son!” I’ll never forget the night I smoked a skunk at the Spiritual Life Center, NY. Didn’t even wake anyone up! My piece is smooth and quiet! I dare any serial killer to Phuq with me! I call it my luxury item. Rougarou Out!

  • Tad Phibes : Jun 20th


  • Kevin Bice : Jun 21st

    Excellent article, Kelly! I laughed out loud at the line about murdering left and right 🤣

  • Kyle Reeping : Jun 22nd

    Absolutely no reason to carry a gun on the Appalachian trail. I lived out in montana and calgary for almost a decade and I carried a gun… ONCE on my 1000+ miles of hikes and backpacking trips. I IMMEDIATELY decided that it was not worth the hassle. It was too heavy (even a compact .45 pistol), uncomfortable to carry with the backpack waist strap, and navigating the various state laws along the Appalachian trail would be nearly impossible. The ONLY reason to carry a gun out there was because of grizzlies (and perhaps moose) and even though I saw a few, never had any issues with any of them. Bear spray is a much, much better alternative, and is also effective on humans. There are no grizzlies along the Appalachian trail, and black bears are more afraid of you than you are of them. Just make noise while hiking and they’ll avoid you.

    As for being afraid of being robbed? Yeah I highly doubt you’ll see many people at all let alone people with malicious intent. (Criminals are nothing if not lazy and hiking the trail isn’t easy.) Even if you do, you’ll likely be carrying a long, very pointy walking stick which will make a great spear and likely be carrying a knife of some kind.

  • BF : Jul 18th

    I carry a gun frequently. When I hike I also take one. I think the advice to know your local laws is of course critical as you pass through state lines, and the advice that you can be legal to carry in every state is simply not the case. I also hike with an 8 year old since he was 4, so being able to handle any situation takes on some additional weight (he does not know it’s there).

    I would say that these days, social media based apps are a great resource to let you know about recent conditions at shelters etc. Problems with vagrants, partiers, etc is critical information that can help plan your stays. The awareness of not putting yourself into a situation where you’d need to protect yourself is gold.

    My two cents is that if you do carry, you are preparing for an exceedingly small possibility. Do you also carry a tourniquet , satellite messenger, and medical kit? A gun is a distant second to these. Keep in mind that the trail is nature, peace, and solitude 99.9% of the time. Keep that mindset, be safe and absolutely responsible, and HYOH.


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