Firearms and Knives

Smith and Wesson

My Backpacking Handgun

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Backpacking with a handgun/rifle is a choice that you need to make based on your KSA’s, (Knowledge Skills and Abilities).  Knowing and understanding how to properly deploy any firearm requires you to train with it.  When I go wilderness backpacking I carry a Smith and Wesson (Model 329 PD) .44 magnum revolver.  I also carry on occasion my AR7 (.22 survival rifle), with me. I find that carrying a handgun reduces the bulk of carrying a rifle for protection. My AR7 is also compact and it makes for a good survival rifle.

Before you carry a firearm into a wilderness area please make sure that you are familiar with the type of firearm that you will carry, (handgun or rifle), and fire it at the range.  Become proficient in deploying it properly and accurately.  Make sure that you research the laws,  state and local, before you carry it with you.  I posted an article on carrying a firearm in a wilderness areas in Florida that you can read here on my website, (Backpacking with a Firearm, Florida State Statute).

Why Do I Carry A Firearm:

I carry a firearm into a wilderness area for the same reason many others do and that is for protection.  I do not carry it into a wilderness area to indiscriminately shoot it at different targets.  It is a defense tool for wildlife and humans who seek to do me harm. 

WILDLIFE:

There are various large species of wildlife found in North America that can pose a threat to you while backpacking. Those species may be Bears, (Brown and Black), Cougars/Mountain Lions, and Moose, to name a few of the larger species. These species for the most part will not bother you and you may never see them.    If confronted by these animals and an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death is likely then you will need to stop that threat.  A firearm used properly can do this.  A firearm that is not accurately deployed may also piss off and further anger the animal even more. 

A firearm that is under powered may also not affect an attacking animal.  You must also ensure that you also have the right caliber handgun with you on any adventure.  My three choices for handgun calibers are:

  • .44 Magnum
  • 10 mm
  • .357 Magnum

There are those that will carry a firearm other than the one I listed above. Those handguns can also be effective in stopping the threat and that will be based on your abilities to place rounds on target. A .22 caliber weapon is a great survival weapon and it can take down large animals with good shot placement.  I have also seen those individuals carrying air rifles into the field as a survival rifle.  Air rifles are good survival weapons for taking down small game, but I do not endorse them for protection against large attacking animals. 

Maybe in the future as they develop it may be a viable option for wilderness backpackers.  For those not wanting to carry a firearm then Bear Spray is a must and I carry Bear Spray on most of my adventures.  Bear Spray is an effective alternative to carrying a firearm and I also have posted an article on that topic here on my website, (Bear Spray vs. a Firearm).

HUMANS:

You must also consider that there may be individual(s) in the wilderness that want to do you harm.  We are seeing more documented attacks on backpackers in the wilderness. A firearm may deescalate the threat or put you on equal grounds with the individual(s) threatening you.  There was a tragic attack in May of this year, (2019), involving 2 backpackers that were hiking the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  They were attacked by a man with a knife.  One of the backpackers an Army Veteran with three tours in Iraq was killed and another severely injured.  That suspect, who had criminal history to include mental health problems, was caught.

It is unfortunate that that the violence we see in our urban areas is now spreading into the wilderness. Protection is something you must think about and if you do not carry a firearm have some type of weapon with you and have a plan on how to use it if you are attacked.  I have talked about and written articles about wilderness safety and safety devices such as a trip wire alarm system that I have posted here on my website, (Basecamp Perimeter System, How to Stay Safe While Backpacking).

My Choice Of Firearm:

I Choose to carry a .44 magnum.  A .44 mag will deal with most of the threats you may encounter in a wilderness area.  I also recommend, as I stated above, the .357 magnum and 10mm handgun.   The reason I like the Smith and Wesson (Model 329 PD) is for the following reasons:

Smith and Wesson 329 PD
  • It is lightweight, (A little over 25 ounces, empty). The frame is made of Scandium a strong and lightweight alloy, the cylinder is titanium another strong and lightweight alloy, and the barrel is stainless steel.
  • It is a .44 caliber making it sufficient to effectively deal with most threats in a wilderness area.
  • It is a Revolver, which means it has fewer moving parts and it can be more readily maintained in the field.

The 2 down sides for this revolver is that you do not have the round capacity as you would have with a semi auto handgun.  This revolver also has a kick to it that a semi auto handgun does not. 

Alaskan Chest Holster

My Chest Holster for my .44 Mag

CONCLUSION

Carrying a firearm is a choice that you will have to make.  If you do please make sure that you practice good weapon safety.  Having a firearm with you can give some a false sense of security if it cannot be properly deployed.  Make sure you choose a good holster and get some range time in with it. You can also practice at home, with an unloaded firearm, on quick and accurate deployment.  If you choose to carry a rife the same rule applies.