Going hiking and camping is one of the most fun things you can do to enjoy the outdoors. The feel of the sun on your back and connecting with nature, there’s nothing quite like it. Maybe you go out with your friends or family and bond.
Most likely, we all have memories of being out in the woods with our family or hiking the mountains. These times can’t be replaced for kids or adults.
One of my favorite memories as a kid was camping with my dad at a Boy Scout event. It rained the entire time, and it was miserable. But, I was with my dad, and I still loved it—rain and all.
Whatever your reason, we all know that to go into the wilderness safely you need to be prepared. Common items you must bring include:
- Fire starting tool such as flint and steel or waterproof lighter
However, most websites do not list a gun as something you need to bring. As with most firearm topics, looking into this issue gets heated pretty quickly. There are people who would attack your decision to carry while out in nature.
If it is legal within the area—see the question at the bottom of the article—you have every right to carry. Why would you want to? Let’s look at 6 reasons why you need a gun while hiking and camping.
6 REASONS TO CARRY A GUN WHILE HIKING AND CAMPING
There are more reasons out there to bring a gun on your next trip into the great outdoors than these six, but here’s a place to start. Read on to see what could be out there and why you may want to carry.
These reasons are important in making your decision, but they may not be your only thoughts on the issue. Make sure after reading this list to also read the sections following on gun safety, laws, good guns for hiking, and alternatives. Enjoy!
This is probably most people’s number one fear when spending time in the outdoors. While bear encounters are statistically small, it does happen. If this is something you’re afraid of, carrying a gun to ward off potential bear threats may be enough reason for you to carry.
Bears can be found in North America with larger populations being found in the Northeast, Midwest, Western, and Southwestern regions of the United States. Bears have been sighted in smaller amounts outside of the ranges as well.
The most common bear in the U.S. is the black bear followed by the grizzly bear. Black bears can reach up to 5 feet while standing and weigh up to 400 pounds. Grizzly bears can reach up 6.5 feet while standing and weigh up to 800 pounds.
These aren’t something you want to meet in the wild. Statistically, there is only an average of three fatal bear attacks per year in the U.S. But even this statistic proves that it does happen.
Having a gun can make you feel safer in such a situation. If you ever did come across a bear while hiking or camping, here are some recommendations by the National Parks Service when encountering a bear:
- Identify yourself by talking slowly and waving your arms
- Stay calm and stand your ground, continuing talking in low tones
- Pick up small children
- Make yourself larger, find higher ground
- DO NOT give the bear food
- Walk sideways away slowly if the bear is stationary
The National Parks Service also details what to do in case of attack. If attacked by a grizzly bear, play dead until the bear loses interest. If the bear does not lose interest, fight back by hitting the bear in the face with whatever you can.
When the attack is by a black bear, DO NOT play dead. Attack back by striking the head with anything you can. It’s in these instances of attack that a gun could come in handy. However, until it reaches that point, firing may escalate the situation.
Related Reading: The 3 Best Bear Defense Guns and 9 Smart Ways to Help Make Your Campsite Bear Proof
2) WILDCATS & OTHER PREDATORS
On top of bears, there are other types of predators and animals out in nature that could cause problems for you on your hiking or camping trip. Wolves, coyotes, snakes, alligators, and mountain lions are among the most common predators seen in the wild.
Again, like bears, your chance of being attacked or killed by one of these animals is very low, but there have been instances in America where these things have occurred.
Many people suggest a gun is unnecessary to protect yourself from these animals. These people suggest that preventative measures and leaving the animals alone will do the trick and keep safe. They are right…and wrong.
The best way to avoid dangerous situations is to clean up food after yourself, stick to defined trails, and leave the animals alone. However, there is always a chance that these measures may not work.
When threatened, the best choice is to stand your ground and try to scare the animal off. If that fails, officials tell you to fight back in almost all animal cases. Here is where your gun comes in handy.
Carrying guns for protection from animals in the wild is just like carrying for protection at home. You don’t want to use it, it’s a last resort, but you are prepared.
This is the reason I carry a gun, especially while hiking. Imagine you’re on a trail walking up a mountainside. You went by yourself, so you could enjoy the solitude of nature. You stop at a cliff side to enjoy the view.
The ground gives way beneath you, and you roll to the ground dozens of feet below. When things settle down, you check yourself for injuries and happily find that you’re in one piece. But when you look up towards the trail, you notice there is no way to get back without traveling far off the trail.
You should to stay in one place and wait for help. If you brought a whistle, you need to blow it periodically to ask for help. You also need to stay warm, dry and keep yourself energized with food and water.
You’re a prepared explorer, so you probably brought enough provisions for a while, but if the trail isn’t well traveled it could be awhile before anyone comes to help. When you’re out of food, what do you do?
You should always research what is safe to eat in the area you’re hiking and camping. But if you can’t find those things to eat, you may need to turn to hunting. Without a gun, hunting is left to expert woodsman and trappers, but, with a gun, you can get what you need.
Emergency situations aside, check local and state laws for hunting recreationally while hiking and camping.
Related Reading: Getting lost in the wilderness
4) SECURITY FROM OTHER PEOPLE
Like at home, if you live in an area where you are uncomfortable walking around without protection, you can feel safer if you’re carrying a firearm. On the secluded trail or camping spot, many people feel uncomfortable about how far away authorities can be.
If you encounter someone suspicious or threatening and you manage to get a call out, it can take authorities hours to reach you depending on how far out from a town or city you are. During this time, you and your family are on your own. You may find that carrying a gun can make you feel protected from this kind of situation.
You’re much more likely to be hurt by weather or environment than by another person, but it has happened. On the Appalachian Trail, 11 people have been murdered since 1974. You need to decide what you can risk and how to protect yourself.
As with carrying in populated areas, carrying a firearm is a big responsibility and discharging a weapon should not be taken lightly. Safety for yourself and those around you should always be at the front of your thoughts.
5) JUST BEING PREPARED
We’ve all heard the expression, “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This sentiment is simple and not based on fear, but it’s completely justifiable.
If the local and state law permits you to carry and you want to, then do it. Some people always bring a satellite phone even on the smallest trips because they are afraid they won’t be able to reach out when they need help. Statistically, they won’t need it, but they still bring it.
It’s the same way with guns. For many—especially those comfortable with guns and gun safety—the firearm is just another tool to use in emergency situations, and they don’t want to use it. It’s OK to just want to be prepared for any eventuality.
6) TARGET PRACTICE
Depending on where you’re hiking or camping, you may be permitted to use guns recreationally for target practice. Twice a year, my family goes camping on large acreage we own and one of the things we do is practice shooting.
Taking the time to practice not only increases your marksmanship skills but also enhances your safety with these powerful weapons. By learning the ins and outs of your guns, handling becomes second nature and you make safety a habit. Of course, target practice with friends and family is just plain fun, too!
As always, when using and carrying guns, be sure to check local and state laws for what is allowed.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How do I safely carry a gun while hiking or camping? – If you’re hiking or camping involves a lot of climbing and rough terrain, I recommend keeping your gun in a very secure over the waistband holster with good retention. You should keep the chamber empty to prevent any misfirings.
Rough terrain and moving beyond walking can cause your firearm to slip out. Also, keep extra ammo in a plastic or otherwise waterproof bag. Make sure to carry another waterproof container for your gun in case it rains.
If you’re hiking or camping trip involves mostly short trips walking, feel free to carry how you would normally.
What does the law say about carrying in the wilderness and at parks? – In National Parks, you are allowed to carry guns. However, remember that local and state laws can trump federal law, so—even in the middle of a national park—the law can change if you cross state lines.
Look into the laws of the area you’re hiking and camping.
Related reading: Gun Laws by State: The Complete Guide- 2018
What kind of gun should I take? – To a certain extent, this is a matter of preference. If you’re going out for a one day, something as large as a shotgun or rifle won’t be much of an impact. Go with what you’re comfortable with.
As many hardcore hikers will tell you, every ounce counts when you’re out on the trail for days or weeks at a time. Imagine you’re carrying your backpack stuffed with water, food, and other supplies with a sleeping bag on top of that. A common suggestion for long-term hikers is that your pack shouldn’t weigh more than 20% of your body weight.
A .30-06 rifle comes in around 9 pounds usually. If you weigh 200 pounds, you can carry 40 pounds for your pack. Your gun alone is taking up 23% of you carrying potential.
You may want to switch to something smaller. I suggest a handgun, specifically something like a .357 revolver. This guns weighs little but can pack a punch when needed.
What should I use if I don’t use a gun or want a non-lethal method in addition to a gun? – Bear spray is recommended by many parks officials and can be used against all animals effectively. Bear spray can be bulky at times, so another option is pepper spray. These can come in a handgun shape for ease of use and carry.
By now, you’ve probably made up your mind about whether you want to carry a gun while hiking and camping. Whatever you decided, good for you! It’s your right—if the law allows—to do what you feel comfortable with.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article and can now give people 6 reasons why you need a gun while hiking or camping. Make sure to be safe out there.
Have fun, and keep on shooting!