For years within the backpacking community there has been debate about carrying a firearm on the trail. I myself have struggled with an internal debate both for & against the practice. In all my years in the backcountry, I have never had a run in with an animal (even the two legged kind) that required even a moments consideration to act with deadly force. I make the decision not to carry a weapon, long gun or concealed handgun, knowing that things can easily go sideways. It is a personal choice and I will likely continue hiking and backpacking without a firearm.
Having said that, I completely understand why one would carry a weapon in the woods. Far from help, predators of all types, ne’er do wells taking advantage of isolated areas for various illegal ventures all come into play. Geography plays a part too. If I was hiking the hills of Patagonia, Arizona, a stone’s throw from the US/Mexico border, I would absolutely sling my carbine. My intent of this blog is to just bring some considerations up if are considering bringing a firearm into the backcountry.
Assuming you are an existing gun owner or are going to make a purchase to arm yourself, I advocate doing the research on all federal, state and local laws. Educate yourself on the rules of law regarding not only ownership and carry, but use of the firearm in a confrontation. What you are committing yourself to is a responsibility that can far exceed anything you’ve taken on in your life to date. Ensure you understand how your travel plans to / from the backcountry will impact your decision to carry and know the rules in all parks you may be going into / out of during your trip. Since 2010, firearms rules have been significantly relaxed in National Parks, but there are still expectations on your conduct in the park. Ignorance is not a defense.
Safety goes without saying. You need to be able to safely manipulate the firearm regardless of being wet, dirty, tired and scared. Please don’t think for a moment plinking on the range with a .22 while following the four firearms safety rules makes you ready to carry a weapon in the backcountry. Assuming you have purchased a reliable, appropriate firearm for your need (I am not getting into type/caliber etc that is too expansive a topic for this blog) seeking out professional training is critical to make you “responsible” in responsible, armed citizen.
Learning how to operate your weapon safely under a level of duress (shot timer, peer pressure) in a class is a terrific start. Understanding both the weapon and your limits and true capabilities will also be a likely result by training’s end. Once training is received, practice in a safe, reasonable manner with the weapon you will protect yourself with and DO NOT watch Instagram “gunfighters” performing derring do. Brilliance in the basics and consistency is the secret to good firearms practice.
As backpackers, we love gear and firearms open you up to a host of gear needs for practice (hearing/eye protection, range bags, optics) and carry considerations. At the end of this article, I will provide a list of gear companies I believe are strong in design, quality and reputation for rifle and pistol use.
One thing I will discuss because it goes to employment is holster selection and method of carry. A rifle sling on a long gun is a given. From a simple adjustable carrying strap to a tactical two point, the sling on a rifle is akin to the holster for a handgun; absolute must for carry, practicality and as an aid in marksmanship. As for a holster, I am not a proponent of open carry at all. I understand the virtue of getting to your weapon in a “time is life” scenario, but you need to accept the fact that a gun draws attention and you do not want unwelcome attention when you are dealing with strangers in the backcountry. No reason to show what you are carrying to someone you don’t know. Also when you are carrying a firearm, any altercation you may find yourself in is NOW a “gunfight.”
Do not advertise that you have a gun and understand how to retain that weapon (again, go train) in a fight. Select a holster that is easily concealable and has a decent level of retention, but works with a backpack’s hip belt and will remain tight to your body to allow not only concealment, but comfort in hiking/movement. It is your choice for “inside the waist band” or “Appendix carry,” but I would advocate a strong side, hip holster or even a chest/fanny type rig like Hill People Gear sell. After your selection of carry method, ensure you practice with your choice both with a pack on and without. And always carry a small light with you to identify targets and background. Shooting a firearm is 100% visual.
The content above is simply a primer; a start to a longer conversation. Carrying on the trail, as in life, offers a host of complex considerations that should not be taken lightly. Understand the law, act in a safe, responsible manner and train like your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it. Do your research, think about it and practice.
Gear List (recommendation based on experience with the company):
● Range Gear:
○ Ares, Jones, Milt Sparks, Safariland Concealment/Soft Clothes
○ AWS, Ronin Tactics Duty/Military Style
○ Raven Concealment, Off the Grid, Safariland, GCode Kydex
○ Milt Sparks, Greg Kramer, Mitch Rosen Leather
○ Hill People Gear chest rig (haven’t tried this myself, but it’s on the list)
As with any gear “Buy cheap, buy twice”
Do you carry a weapon when hiking or backpacking? We'd love to know why or why not.
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See you on the trail and be safe.
Keep Hiking Forward!
Mike & Melanie!
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