There is nothing quite like hiking or backpacking in the great outdoors! Some of the best times in my life have been while hiking in the Smoky Mountains, West Virginia, Michigan and my home state of Ohio. And I’ve never taken a single hike without carrying a concealed handgun.

Reasons for Carrying a Concealed Firearm While Hiking or Backpacking

Hiking excursions can range from a walk along a well-traveled bike path to an extensive trip with a backpack containing food, water and shelter. Distances can range from 1 mile to many, even crossing state lines. The type of hike you take will influence your choice of concealed handgun to pack.

No matter the type of hike you’re taking, there are a number of potential reasons to carry a concealed firearm (there may even be more than one reason depending on the situation):

  1. For protection against predatory animals — even though such encounters are less common in the lower 48 states than they are in Alaska.
  2. For protection against predatory people. In most cases, this is a greater concern than the threat of dangerous animal attacks. For example, authorities have yet to catch the Appalachian Trail serial killer, as far as I know. Some hiking areas originate, pass through or are sited in areas with higher crime rates. Hiking anywhere in the American Southwest has become much more dangerous due to the movement across our border by drug cartels and other desperate criminals.
  3. For signaling or emergency foraging. Did you know there are still areas classified by the government in the lower 48 as “frontier?” Hiking and backpacking in these remote areas might mean needing to survive by foraging if lost for several days. You may also need to signal rescuers for help.
  4. For plinking or small-game hunting in appropriate areas. A good .22 is a great additional companion for these particular activities.

Concealed Carrying in Remote Areas

I’ve long believed in a simple formula to determine which handgun to pack on a hiking trip. The more remote the area, the heavier my choice of caliber. Since I, unfortunately, have never had the opportunity to hike in Alaska or those areas of the lower 48 where brown bears make appearances, my top-end caliber choices are the .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .40 Smith & Wesson, 10mm and .45 ACP. Of those caliber choices, the .357 Magnum and the .45 ACP are the two I carry most frequently. Alaskan trails demand a .44 Magnum handgun as the defensive starting point.

I remember one time I was hiking with a female friend in remote West Virginia. A pickup truck with dog kennels in the bed pulled up just as we were starting. The driver asked us if we had seen the hunting dogs he had let run. When we said we hadn’t, he took to eyeballing my friend. I moved in front of my friend, ending the peep show without incident. Though I saw a lever-action rifle in the back of his truck, I was confident I could get to my seven-shot S&W 386 PD .357 on my hip faster. Thankfully, it wasn’t needed.

Hiking and Concealed Carrying in Populated Areas

Where large wild animals are not present — such as on most bike paths or parks in more densely populated areas — handguns chambered in .380 ACP, .32 Magnum, .38 Special and 9mm are generally more than adequate. However, if you hike or walk in parks where you notice people walking pit bulls, you may want to consider carrying in the calibers I suggested for remote areas — especially if you hike with young children.

Which Gun for Carrying While Backpacking?

When choosing your concealed carry firearm, you need to consider the weight of the handgun and the distance of your expedition. Are you going for a walk down the street or backpacking for a few days (in which case every ounce matters)? A Glock, for example, makes a wonderful trail companion, especially in 10mm. S&W has the widest selection of trail-worthy revolvers and semi-autos available to cover you from Alaska to Florida. Ruger follows behind in a close second. Pick a weather-resistant gun that won’t make you uncomfortable because of its weight.

Holsters for Concealed Handguns and Hiking

I recommend that you stay away from any inside-the-waistband holsters for walks of more than a mile. This is where outside-the-waistband holsters shine. I don’t recommend an open-top holster in case you take a tumble. A good shoulder rig carried under an outdoor vest will keep the weight off your hip. The Bodyguard Belt I recently reviewed for the Concealed Carry Report would be a great option for shorter trips.

With a concealed handgun at your side, you will find greater peace of mind when hiking in the great outdoors. Make sure you are in compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations when you do.


BodyGuard Belt:
Smith & Wesson:

About Scott W. Wagner

Scott W. Wagner is a criminal justice professor and police academy commander from Columbus, Ohio. He has been a police officer since 1980, working as an undercover liquor investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, patrol officer, SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader. Scott is currently a patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. He has been a police firearms instructor since 1986 and is certified to instruct revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.