Should I Carry A Gun When Hiking? | Hikers University

If you heard the news of the man who killed a hiker on the Appalachian Trail in 2019, you might be asking yourself, “should I carry a gun when hiking?”

It might seem better for your safety if you carry a firearm when hiking, particularly when you are hiking solo. However, this is far from the truth, and carrying a gun around.

When you bring a gun into the equation, you risk making a defusable situation a lot worse. Guns are great if you're up against a dangerous animal, but they’re rarely ever good to have around when hiking around other people. Plus, they are banned in several establishments.

Carrying a gun is only a good idea if you’re hiking alone in the wilderness and there are wild animals around. In this situation, you’re highly unlikely to come across people who might pose a threat to you, and even if you do, having a gun on you might not deter them. In fact, it might make them more aggressive.

We are outdoor writers who have been avid hikers for the past 25 years. We’ve definitely had our share of grizzly encounters and even creepy conversations with troubled individuals. With that experience, we’re in a good position to tell you all about whether you should carry a gun with you while hiking.

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Are You in Danger When Hiking?

We are not in any more danger on hiking trails and national parks than we are in the city. In fact, hiking trails are much safer, even despite the Appalachian Trail murder, which is an extremely rare event.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, about two to three million people hike on the trail every year with thousands making thru-hikes each year as well. However, since the year 2000, only three people have met violent ends on the trail. If you consider this number, the rate of murder on the Appalachian Trail is just around 0.008 per 100,000 hikers.

This means that you are 968 times less likely to be attacked with murderous intent on the Appalachian Trail than in any other place in the United States in general.

Why Carrying a Gun is a Bad Idea on the Trail

There are several reasons why carrying a gun while hiking is unnecessary and stupid and why it is simply very dangerous. Let’s take a look at them.

Guns Require Constant Security

If you are a responsible citizen, you know that carrying a gun means exercising the highest amount of security on your firearm at all times. On the trail, this can become nearly impossible.

Just consider hiking by an idyllic stream with a waterfall, and you decide to go for a quick swim. Who will look after your firearm while you are in the water? You can’t leave it unattended and you can’t bring it into the water with you.

What if you need to restock your supplies? Most businesses do not allow firearms into their premises. In many states, guns are not allowed in bars either so be prepared to stay without a cold beer after a particularly hot stretch of trail.

Guns Are Heavy

When it comes to hiking, particularly thru-hiking, it is important to weigh and check your gear. If your backpack is too heavy, you won’t be able to maintain a good speed and will get fatigued quickly.

This is why hikers spend months agonizing over the necessity of every item they need to pack. Adding a loaded gun to the mix adds pounds to your load and you might need to sacrifice some essential supplies to accommodate it.

Guns Increase the Chances of Deadly Accidents

If you carry a gun, you are at a higher risk of injuring yourself and others around you.

In 2020, a hiker shot himself in the leg during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park when he set his backpack down on the ground and accidentally discharged his gun.

That was the only shot fired in the national park in that decade.

The thing to keep in mind is that the shot could have accidentally injured or killed any other hiker who was with that man at the time.

Accidents happen all the time on the trail. When you have a gun, though, these accidents can easily turn fatal.

Guns Introduce Deadly Force Into a Situation

Guns can make a dangerous situation deadlier, particularly if they are turned on the owner.

Just consider this - you are walking on a trail and are ambushed by someone. If you are taken by surprise, you probably won’t have the chance to open your backpack, take out your gun, and point it at the assailant while you are trying to flee from them.

If in the unlikely case you did manage to pull out your gun in time, the chances of you taking aim and firing the gun so that it injures the assailant enough for him to stop chasing you are quite slim.

If you are able to injure him, you will get the time to flee to call for help or run away to a safe place. However, in the wilderness, help and a safe place can be miles away from you.

On the other hand, if you are unable to significantly injure the attacker, there is a high likelihood that they will overpower you and wrestle the gun away from you. Then, your gun will be in their hands and pointed right back at you, which is a less-than-ideal situation .

Escalating a situation from potentially threatening to deadly is not something you should contribute to when on the trail, particularly when you are alone.

Guns Make People Uncomfortable

For many of us hikers, the social aspect of hiking is one of the most fun and rewarding parts. You meet people from all over the world who can share their information and stories with you and make that time wonderful and thrilling.

However, if you bring a gun to the game, it won’t be the same.

We say from our own experience that when we see a person carrying a gun, we feel less safe, even though they may be a good person. However, we don’t know them and don’t know why they’ve brought a gun along. As a result, we’re always going to be incredibly uncomfortable around them.

In fact, we feel very intimidated and want to get away from their company quickly, and that is not conducive to making friends on the trail.

How to Stay Safe on the Trail Without a Gun

In any environment, being aware of your surroundings and anticipating the risks involved is the key to avoiding trouble and are the most effective measures for remaining safe.

It is essential that you do lots of research when you are planning on going on a hike. Find out as much as you can about the route you intend to take and take note of other people’s experiences there.

Keep an eye out for any threats to your safety, like bears and other wild animals, fire risks, weather, and people. Always stay alert on the trail and pay attention to the details of your surroundings as well as any people you meet on your way.

If your sixth sense tells you something is off, it is best to be safe than sorry and change your strategy to avoid any dangerous situations.

In fact, you can easily enroll in courses that can help you develop situational awareness when you are outdoors. This can be a much better investment of your money than buying a gun.

If you like to hike in bear country, it is a good idea to take a bear safety course and practice how to deploy bear spray effectively.

This can make you more prepared to deal with legitimate threats – bears or humans.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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