Maintaining security of your firearms is likely the most important aspect of firearms ownership. Having a firearm fall into the wrong hands — any wrong hands — can result in tragic and life-altering events. While you likely get into a good routine at home in terms of secure storage, it is somewhat harder when you’re traveling since you’re operating outside of your normal security and defensive measures. This is especially true when camping.
It has been a while since I have been camping. Actually, it was 18 years ago when I camped with friends in their well-appointed trailer camper. The last time I camped in a tent was approximately 30 years ago at a state campground. Prior to that, I spent many years tent camping in the Boy Scouts. These days, “camping” consists of spending a day in the great outdoors and returning to a hotel room equipped with a shower, a flush toilet, a clean bed, a big-screen TV and pizza delivery. My days of sleeping in a tent are long past, but I have done enough camping to provide some advice on carrying and securing a firearm while doing so. And really, much of what you do as part of your daily carry and security routine applies to camping as well.
The Ultimate Goal
The ultimate goal in securing your handgun while camping is to have it safely available to you should you need it in an emergency. There are multiple threats in the great outdoors. Just take the story below, for example.
Not long ago, I read an account of a grizzly bear attack in Alaska, where one of two men was killed. One of the men was well prepared, packing along a 10mm Glock pistol. However, when the bear attacked him, his Glock was secured on a pack under a tree. He was unable to get to his gun. His buddy did manage to get to the Glock but sadly didn’t know how to operate it. It sounds as if the Glock was carried without a round in the chamber. Attempts to get it running failed, and no shots were fired. The gun owner died, but his buddy managed to escape. The outcome likely would have been different had the Glock owner kept his gun on his person.
- The safest place to keep a handgun at all times while tent camping is on your person. This includes while sleeping. It’s the easiest way to prevent theft. Keeping it on your person is especially important in bear country, as the previous story illustrates. Your handgun should be kept CONCEALED if you are camping in a less remote campground with a lot of other people sharing the area, and your holster should have a solid retention system. Remember that human threats remain the highest risk, so a “bear-stopping” handgun isn’t needed in most places. For example, the Appalachian Trail has sadly become notorious for dangerous characters lurking along it. When you camp, you usually have no idea who will show up as neighbors. If you are uncomfortable or unable to wear your gun while sleeping in a tent, you can secure it in a soft carry pack that can be quickly “ripped” open for access. Sleep with it on the same side as you keep your home-defense handgun.
- While camping in trailer, RV or cabin affords more security than a tent, the doors are often less sturdy than the doors on your home. Here, a handgun can safely be kept close at hand, just as you do at home. If you must leave any firearms at your campsite, make sure to have them secured through bolted-down locking devices in the camper or RV and camouflaged as much as possible.
- If you are tent camping and can’t take a firearm with you, your vehicle is the best location to secure your firearm — again with a bolted-down locking device. Never attempt to hide it in your gear. Camping in remote areas gives thieves a much longer time to ply their trade unobserved. You have no watchful neighbors or alarm systems like you do at home.
Camping in the great outdoors is a time-honored tradition and American pastime. Just remember it takes a little more planning and commitment to keep your arms secured yet readily available.
About Scott W. Wagner
Scott W. Wagner has been a law enforcement officer since 1980, working undercover in liquor and narcotics investigations and as a member, sniper and assistant team leader of a SWAT team. He currently works as a patrol sergeant. He is a police firearms instructor, certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. Scott also works as a criminal justice professor and police academy commander.