How should you carry a gun while hiking?

The following is an email response I sent to a student who asked me how to carry a handgun while hiking. In the state in which she hikes carrying a gun without a permit is legal.  If you opt to carry a firearm while hiking, this advice may be helpful.  Just make sure that carrying a gun is legal before you conceal carry while hiking.  Here’s the email I sent.

“I understand your desire to carry a firearm while hiking in areas where cartels and smugglers might be active.  I hunt often.  This requires me to do a lot of scouting during the off season.  Sometimes I hike secluded areas alone in order to scout for game.  I always take a handgun with me.  The gun is not for game, but rather for two legged pests.  Some of the areas I hunt have been used by “coyotes” as human smuggling routes, as well as by drug runners.  It did not used to be so, but it is a fact of life in these modern times.

Sometimes I meet hikers in those areas.  Sometimes I meet other hunters who are doing the same thing I’m doing.  Sometimes I spend a day or so in those areas and don’t see a living soul.  I generally carry a full sized handgun (1911 in .45 ACP or S&W .357 Magnum revolver) in a strong side hip holster using an old nylon gun-belt from law enforcement work.  This works best for me because it is comfortable to carry while hiking in the back country and my holster protects the firearm well and keeps dirt and debris away from the gun. The holster also keeps the gun secure so that I don’t lose it.  Using that mode of carry, I can often hike as much as eight or ten miles in a day in perfect comfort.  However, due to the mode of carry, it is very difficult for me to conceal the gun.  So I don’t bother trying.

When I am simply hiking, which I absolutely love to do, there are often many other folks hiking the same area.  In those cases, I find myself in greater need of concealing the pistol so that other hikers don’t freak out when they see it.  In those situations I generally opt for a slightly smaller gun and carry it in a purpose built fanny pack.  In my case, I either carry my Ruger SP-101 .357 Magnum or my Springfield XD-40 sub-compact.  The Glock 19 you mentioned during class would work fine for either type of carry option (holster or fanny pack).  You could look into a well crafted shoulder holster too.  I’ve never cared for them, but I have many friends who prefer them in the bush.

The mode of carry is going to be a comfort issue if you hike any distance. I have hunted for many years and had many friends carry side-arms in holsters that work fine while sitting in the car, at the desk or walking around the mall.  However, they have been extremely unhappy and uncomfortable after getting four or five miles back into rough country in the heat, cold or whatever.  This has largely been an issue of the gun-belt.  Two of my friends once gave me a ribbing when starting out on a hunt because I was wearing a gun-belt rather than simply strapping a holster to my pants belt, as they both opted to do.  By the end of the day, we had covered over eight miles in Mountain County.  They were both complaining about their side-arms causing them pain and discomfort all day.  Both men now use a strong side hip holster with a quality gun-belt.  Enough said.

Like the gun-belt and holster I use with a full sized handgun, the fanny pack I use when hiking is very comfortable, protects the firearm and still permits me easy and quick access to the gun if I need it. If you use a fanny pack, it is important to use one that is designed as a holster rather than just any old fanny pack you can buy at Wal-Mart. Likewise, if you use a strong side hip holster, you should select one that will be comfortable, protect the firearm, and allow you quick and easy access to the weapon if you need it. Remember, guns can get beat up pretty badly in the back country, as well as covered with dirt and other debris if not protected. You can find a million videos on YouTube that demonstrate a Glock firing when full of dirt, mud or whatever, but don’t you believe it!  Glock makes a fine weapon, but all guns will jam at some point if not kept clear of debris.  The key is to carry a quality firearm with a reputation for reliability and keep it clear of dirt and debris as much a possible.

Now that you have some idea of what to carry and how to carry it, I must stress that you research the local and state laws regarding firearms in the area where you hike.  Laws change significantly from state to state, but can also change from county to county and city to city.  They may even be different depending upon whether you are hiking on state or federal land.  In some areas, obtaining a hunting license may give you legal reason enough to carry a firearm while “scouting.”  In other areas, a hunting license may do you no good at all.  If you have a concealed carry license, make sure that your license will also permit you to carry a gun exposed.  Some do.  Others do not.  The basic message here is, do your homework before your carry a gun.

If you do your legal homework and select the right gun and gear, you’ll have a great hike and the security of knowing you can defend yourself against any would-be trouble-makers you might encounter, both four legged and two.”