Camping & Survival

Throwback Thursday: Best Guns and Gear for Hiking

best guns for hiking

I have been hiking, camping, and hunting practically all of my life. I suppose the term “spelunking” might also apply to some of the caverns I’ve traversed. I have usually had a firearm with me, unless I was overseas, and generally not felt in any danger from assaults. The weather, injury, and cold are more likely to be a danger.

Just the same, there have been times when I was glad to have a firearm. Beginning the research on this report, I found only a dozen or so murders along the Appalachian Trail during the past 45 years. That isn’t many, but is pretty important if you are the one at risk, and there are many more trails and open areas around the country, including the Adirondacks and the Rockies.

Firearms While Hiking?

There is cause for concern. As an example, one of the sick monsters I read about during my research shot two men on the trail and is now out of prison after 15 years. If that isn’t motivation for you to carry a firearm, I don’t know what is.

Folks traveling in pairs have been killed. In a particularly tragic case not far from my home, a young woman was murdered by a dangerous ex-con. The woman was skilled in martial arts. Her dog was later found wandering the trail. While a canine is an excellent warning system or alarm, very few are useful for protection, and if they are formidable against humans they are often too dangerous to have around the family. A hardened human can kick a 60-pound dog to death, and you as well. That leaves us with the firearm. We’ll also look at other means of protection.

If you have not mastered fear, a weapon simply attacks the symptoms, but it is good to be armed or prepared.

Hiking Tools

First, we’ll go over some gear/tools. I think that a good hardwood walking stick is a great advantage on the trail. I don’t always need a walking stick, but when I do, I need one badly. While it helps me walk when I limp due to old injuries, I have some skill with the stick. Study the cudgel and you may have a line of defense.

My own walking cane was handcrafted by my son and his family. It is of hardwood, has a blunt striking area on one end, and has striations for handling. There are also Norwegian runes honoring his heritage. This is a great tool and one I must have, and even if you do not have old injuries or a weak knee, the staff or cane is a great aid on the trail.

Reach is better than any knife. That said, a good knife should be carried on the trail. A hatchet or axe should be handy as well, for gathering firewood and perhaps building a hasty shelter during a downpour. There are many things that should be carried on the trail and most of them will be more important than guns for hiking almost all of the time. But if you need a firearm, you need one very badly.

Smith and Wesson .22 LR Revolver and Pistol
These .22 caliber handguns may be among the best guns for hiking.

Firearm Considerations

There are a couple of concerns. First, will you store the firearm and use it for camp defense or carry it on the belt ready to go? Where will you hide or store it when swimming or sleeping? Either way, you will be humping the gun through the wild and weight is already a concern. I think that it makes sense to have the gun ready for action and carried in the clothing, on the belt, on a harness, or in the pocket.

The threat profile is important. You won’t be plinking with the gun, it is illegal to fire a gun on most parklands. Be certain to check, but it is legal to carry a gun in a national forest. So, the obvious intent of the law is for personal defense.

The extent of the journey is also a consideration. I have no problem with packing a heavier gun for a short duration. If spending weeks outside, then every ounce has to count. Another consideration is just how good a shot you really are. I don’t say that lightly.

Many handguns, perhaps most, are useful for no more than a threat to deter an attack unless you are skilled. A lightweight, but powerful and accurate handgun is a gem. When in the wild, a firearm of any type can be a comfort. I am amazed at times of the places I grew up loving, that appear scary to those who have seen too many horror movies!

An old camp, an old house, and the deep woods call to me. Just the same, I am not going to explore old towns! There are perhaps a dozen old mining towns completely deserted and bare in the south, while the ones in the west are better known. The ones in the south are now in forests and you sometimes see a hint driving down a main road. Knowing humans as I do, it is an even bet these towns have some residents. Whether hiding out or simply members of the hobo or train-hitching hippy class, they are antisocial and don’t live by the rules that we do. Leave well enough alone.

Cane, Knife and Pistol
A sturdy cane or walking stick, the Buck/Tops CSAR folder, and a light handgun may be welcome companions on the trail.

Trail Gun Choices

If the threat is dangerous animals and humans, then the firearm must combine power and accuracy, but then a lightweight is a big problem. Accuracy can make up for power. My own threat profile includes humans and feral dogs. Not far away, a bobcat bit seven people. Since it was not captured, all had to be treated for rabies.

A good quality .22 caliber rimfire is a choice. If you can shoot, the Smith and Wesson Kit Gun has been an outdoors standard for over 100 years. With a four-inch barrel and fully-adjustable sights, the little Model 317 Kit Gun .22 LR is a great outdoors companion. Weight is a feathery 11.7 ounces. With anything that needs to be shot, shot placement is everything. If you prefer a self-loader, the Smith and Wesson M&P 22 Compact carries 10 rounds and is nearly as accurate as the Kit Gun revolver. Mine has never failed and offers good accuracy. It is heavier than the 317 at 15 ounces, but still a lightweight.

Small Guns to Consider

Another couple of small guns for hiking that are worth mentioning, require the user be skilled in their use, like all firearms. The Bond Arms Derringer isn’t your usual derringer. The Bond Arms is reliable and safe to carry fully-loaded by dint of its transfer-bar ignition system. I have watched a video of the great Bob Munden hitting a steel plate at 65 yards with the Bond Arms .45 ACP.

It isn’t exactly a Winchester miracle, but the product of an athlete and great shot who knew his guns. I am able to duplicate the feat at 20 yards. Practice is needed, as the two barrels do not strike to the same point of aim. The Bond Arms Derringer features useful sights and a decent trigger. It is safe if dropped. It is available in serious defensive calibers. It is a minimal handgun certainly, but if defense at intimate range is the primary concern, it doesn’t take up much room.

three handguns, two revolvers and a pistol guns for hiking
Your firearm choice must combine power with accuracy.

Combination Options

Next up, are some of the most useful combination personal defense and outdoors revolvers, and you may already own one. The Smith and Wesson J-Frame .38 Special is one of my favorite all-around revolvers. With a set of hand-filling grips and enough practice, you will be able to defend yourself well at modest range. The .38 Special is a hard-hitting cartridge with the proper loading. As an example, when in the wild, I often load the Model 49 with the Buffalo Bore 158-grain Outdoorsman. At 1,000 fps or so, it kicks, sure, but it also gives you a chance of stopping a large animal with good shot placement. The Smith and Wesson 640 Pro .357 Magnum with a slightly longer barrel, excellent grips and night sights is a real advantage. These are good guns for hiking.

There are others. If I really thought I would need a gun, I would carry something larger, but the odds are low. I always carry the pistol concealed unless hunting. Everyone has guns during hunting season. When on a trail, some folks don’t know the difference between good guys and bad guys. A concealed handgun gives you the element of surprise and the bad guys won’t cave your head in just to get the gun. Use a secure holster, perhaps with a thumb break, and practice the draw.

Bond Arms Derringer
This Bond Arms Derringer has much merit for emergency use. The short barrel is for backup use and the long barrel is for field use.

Large Guns to Consider

Almost 100 years ago, a famous outdoorsman was camping in Montana. He returned to camp to find his rifle and all of his gear stolen. It was inexplicable, he wrote, and he had never seen such a thing happen and he never tracked down the thieves. He would have sworn no one was in the area for many miles. He spent a week feeding himself and a companion with a Colt SAA revolver and the small knife he had on his person. He used that knife to make a hasty shelter and slept in a bed of boughs.

Buffalo Bore Ammunition
Buffalo Bore’s Outdoorsman loads are ideal for outdoors use and are great to use in guns for hiking.

Conclusion: Best Hiking Guns

Without essential gear, it was a struggle simply to get home. Take care with your choices and be certain you have a good walking stick, a knife or two, first aid gear, emergency food, and protection from the elements. And maybe a little pistol just in case. Perhaps a four-inch barrel .357 or a 4¾-inch barrel SAA .45 would be an excellent safety net if you can carry this weight. Guns for hiking aren’t for everyone, but carefully consider your needs and they just might save your life.

What are your favorite guns for hiking? Why? Let us know in the comments section below!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (33)

  1. Lake County Examiner: Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, March 24, 2021/Letters To The Editor

    Best general-purpose handgun

    For a general-purpose handgun consider Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver: “stainless steel”, 5 shot swing out cylinder (double-action), with 4.2” barrel and target sights for the citizen owning only one handgun. Versatile for “self-defense/house protection/concealed carry”, as a kit and trail gun for the outdoorsman/ sportsman, and for urban metro vs. wilderness rural use. At 30 oz. unloaded lightweight (for the hiker, backpacker, trapper), yet heavy enough to handle the .357 Magnum. Loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter ammo (next to a .22 or .32) practical for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse (for the campfire skillet), for dispatching vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle with a head shot. Loaded with CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or snake load of No. 9 shot highly effective in killing rattlesnakes. Readily and instantly accessible in reach via a nightstand, dresser or bureau drawer, or next to a sleeping bag inside a tent is very comforting armed security to have, especially at night!

    This handgun would also be great for a long-haul trucker, or hay hauler, to carry. Even for the motorist traveling on a road trip. Yes, bear in mind being broken down, stranded, and having to spend the night alone in your vehicle. This .38/.357 revolver combination along with an Atomic Beam Flashlight, survival knife, fresh drinking water, food, toilet paper, shovel, matches, wool blanket, etc. could certainly take back the night.
    Even for a woman it’s smaller frame and size would still fit her smaller hands. And firing .38 Special ammo in this *.357 Magnum could still be handled by a female. Double action revolvers can be improved with aftermarket combat rubber grips.

    I recommend reading, “Meet Ruger’s SP-101 Revolver: The Ideal Gun For Self Defense”, by Kyle Mizokan via the April 2019 issue of The National Interest.

    James A. Farmer Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County) Long Live The State of Jefferson!

    *.357 Magnum revolvers will chamber and fire .38 Special ammo, but not the reverse. Also….”SP-101 Like Physics, Only Practical” by Law Officer for January 3, 2009 is well worth reading.

  2. Hill People Gear. Best backcountry carry options, EVER. Their chest bags are near perfect, and can be hung on backpack harnesses, vests, etc.

  3. Taurus Tracker stainless 5 shot in .41 Mag., in a shoulder holster that allows quick access even if wearing a heavy backpack.

  4. Glock 20 if I’m really expecting trouble, but one that slips in a pocket is a Kahr pm45. That little gun impresses me every time I take it to the range.

  5. At 68 years old, I have hiked a good part of every state out west where big bears, big cats, big moose, big rattlers, and big bad guys can be found. I carry a Ruger Blackhawk 44 magnum with Garret Hammerhead cartridges. I wear it cavalry style (grip forward) on my strong side so I can draw with either hand. Oh, and I have all 6 cylinders loaded because it’s safe to do with a Ruger unlike a Colt!

  6. For hiking near my home in Pine, CO or any range with similar fauna (black bear, cougar, coyote, elk, deer, dogs) and the prospect of two legged predators, my Ruger 1911 lightweight Commander with 230 grain hardball is what I shoot best, carries easily and can stop any of those threats if needed. If I go deeper into the mountains where I may need to worry about moose or griz, I have a heavier Springfield thats upgraded to 460 Rowland.

  7. I live in and explore out West in the Rockies. Honestly I do not understand why you’d go into the mountains without at a minimum 9mm. Yes, 2 legged predators. Illegal grows, now meth labs as well. But, we get Mountain Lions and Moose in our yards much less in the wilderness. Been stalked several times that I know of so I’m sure a lot more where I was clueless. Too many threats to list are possible. Yes, you may never need it but when you do there is no substitute. I’d recommend minimum .40, 10mm, .44, .45, etc. 9mm if that is what you got. The .22 is for plinking rabbits.

  8. Thank you Mr. “Roberts” for that roller coaster ride of an article. Thank goodness your Chief suggested you use a pen name. I wouldn’t want any one to know I wrote like that either (especially as a former Peace Officer). I am grateful that it took you 20 years to get demoted from Lieutenant to Sergeant. Most of us could do that in 20 minutes.

  9. Around where I live there are bobcats and some black bear in southeastern Ohio. Usually I’m packing my Ruger Gp100 4.2” carrying Remington 158gr sp with 2 speed loaders on my belt. if I’m heading into West Virginia I usually go with my Glock 20 in 10mm carrying Underwood 200gr. Hard cast and 1 spare mag. I always carry a can of bear spray as well.

  10. Now, why would anyone want to take a gun on a hiking trip?? Nobody needs a gun. Just go out and enjoy nature. Just Kidding! I carry my gun or gun(s) on every hike.

    A lightweight .22 is fine if you want to hunt rabbits and squirrels along the way for camp meat. Lightweight ammo means you can carry a lot of rounds. Fifty round of .22LR fits nicely in a shirt pocket and could last a long, long time and feed the camp for many days.

    But for serious self defense, my favorite caliber is .357 magnum. For my purposes, this round has the best power to weight ratio for ammo and gun. When RV camping, the ability to pair a handy 3 inch revolver with a 20 inch lever action rifle is awesome. This is also a good combo for deer hunting when traveling light.

  11. As a couple others have mentioned, a chest harness is the way to go. It is always accessible, well balanced on the body, and many will accommodate different firearms.
    I can’t imagine hiking all day with a gun on the hip anymore.
    What i carry depends on location and perceived threat. In camp, usually my EDC G19. On the trail, G20. If I’m in cat country i load fast xtp’s. Bear country, hard cast lead.

  12. When hiking, I carry a Python 357 for protection against known bear and cougar in the area. What cartridge might you recommend?

  13. The Taurus Judge Public Defender is a lightweight 5 shot revolver that shoots .45 LC and .410 shot shells. From bear to two legged threats to snakes, this weapon can do it all and they even make speed loaders for them. Not super fast but they keep the various rounds in one place and you can load any combo you want for multiple threats. Clearly a close in weapon which is a likely scenario for hiking. I have tested the .410 shotshells at a safe distance from a typical rattlesnake strike and found that #6 was the best spread with multiple hits on my snake target.

  14. Not a disagreement but a slight tweek. As a backpacker, I want to keep things as light as possible. My favorite hike/backpack gun is a Ruger LCR which comes in right at just one pound. Instead of .22 LR I have been carrying the LCR in .22 WMR. Not much more weight but a lot more energy. And now I am switching that up to .327 Federal. Carrying .38 special is just silly. The .327 Federal allows six rounds in a very compact package, and energy pretty close to .357 Magnum at just barely over a pound.

  15. I have a few first one is the kel tec Pmr 30 30 rounds of 22 magnum should deter any bad gu and their friends . The second is the Ruger 327 magnum light weight and six rounds should be enough last but not least is the Glock 19 gen 4 small compact and 15/16 rounds of 9mm adopted by the US ARMY Rangers how can you go wrong

  16. The best gun I’ve seen and tried, at least for me, is a Ruger SP 101, 2 1/2 bbl, .357 magnum. It shoots .38 SW Spec, and all the ,357s. It is somewhat heavy but worth it. With practice I found that I could hit a man size sillhouette (or however it’s spelled) target 3 out of 5 times at 90 yards, further than you would normally shoot. I did put bigger, finger formed grips on it to fit my hand.

  17. I prefer camping and hiking with my Taurus judge. They now have polymer versions that may be lighter, however if you get used to the weight and feel of a loaded revolver it isn’t an issue. The judge allows for shot shells of your preference in 410 or a 45 long colt. I usually keep two 410 and 3 45’s in the cylinder.

  18. I have two guns that I would consider to be trail guns, in that these are guns that I take with me every time I go into the woods, which is as frequently as I can. There is seldom a weekend that at least one day is spent out in the woods, or should I say, the deer lease.
    The first one is a Government Model 1911, very similar to the one I carried many years ago in the Army. The biggest difference is this one has fitted parts, is accurized and sports Crimson Trace red laser grips. For the woods, the magazines are loaded with Golden saber rounds. I am most likely to use it out there if we see any feral pigs. But, stranger things have happened.
    The second one is a gun that has been mentioned not all that long ago on one of these blogs. It is a .22 LR North American Mini-derringer. I have it on a lanyard that I can hang around my neck and put it in my shirt pocket. As it is a single action, I carry it with the hammer down on a half click, between the rounds so there is no danger of an unintentional discharge. I have had that gun since the mid to late 70’s and it is a very good snake gun.
    Speaking of snakes, if anyone is interested, I highly recommend snake chili. Lots of recipes online. Rattlesnake works best but if you can get a couple of nice thick copperheads, they will work. Cottonmouths are seldom big enough to get the amount of meat needed, and in my opinion, there is no way to get it to be palatable, somewhat like possum, in that respect.

  19. I encourage anyone who spends time hiking in the woods to get a Concealed Handgun License.

    I usually carry my Charter Arms Mag Pug (.357 mag) revolver while on the trail, but after years of research have found that the the .357 cartridge needs at least a 4″ barrel to get the maximum effect of this potent round. The larger .45 Colt or .44 Special are better suited out of a shorter barrel. I will carry my heavier Taurus Judge Public Defender with either 000 Buckshot or 255 grain .45 Colt when I’m more concerned about what I may encounter in the woods.

    If hiking grizzly country you need to start with at least the .357 with 5″ or longer barrel or 44 magnum or larger. The .45 Colt or .44 Special may not be enough.

    I would leave the .38 special and 22 long rifle at home unless that’s all you have.

    Semi-auto pistols are good if you are highly skilled in getting that first shot off quickly, but that basic 9mm may not be enough for that one shot to stop whatever is coming at you.

  20. I carry a S&W M&P Shield 40 cal with integral lazer. Easily concealable and light enough and powerful enough for most needs. The lazer makes for quick target acquisition, and it holds 7+1 FMJ shots with a very positive safety preventing any unwanted actions that could happen during a fall. I have never pulled it on a person, but it was in my hand when a cougar stalked my partner and myself on a hike in the Cascade Mountains. The cat did finally abandon us…

  21. Great article. Appreciate the detail and big picture of all essential gear. I’m outdoors a lot and it’s very rare that you need a gun on a hike. When you do though you’re glad you have one. In 30 years or so of hiking I’ve needed it twice and been attacked once without it when I was younger.
    There was one time where a wired guy and his dogs came out of nowhere and threatened me and my wife saying things like we are out of cell range here and no one will hear you yell.
    The last time and only time I’ve ever needed to fire my gun my family when my kids were small and I were stalked by a bear. I’ve been around countless bears do all the precautions etc not easily scared. This bear had it in mind to attack us. Having the gun kept us all calm instead of panicking as we knew I could defend us. We all made it out safely. I reported the incident to fish and game when in cell range later.
    I wholeheartedly echo your sentiment that the outdoors are wonderful and almost always completely safe. I also believe that carrying a pistol saved my life or my family’s on two occasions.
    I also used to carry a 22 but with the bear I had a 45 and since then I have always carried the glock 30 with FMJ ammo.

  22. I carry a Glock 23 40. and sometimes a Ruger SP 101 357 both of which I feel the most comfortable with, also with a cross chest carry for even weight distribution.

  23. Since you mentioned 22LR specifically, consider the Ruger LCP II. I acquired one and love it! It is small (roughly the size of my palm), holds 10 rounds and is available in 380 if you want to pack more punch. Plus, it is accurate, easily carried/concealed and light.

  24. Glock Model 20 (10mm) for bear country otherwise your regular EDC rig will suffice.

    Though am confused why the Author recommends a .22, do they consider squirrels to be a threat?

  25. .22 WMR in a 4″ revolver could be an ideal “KIT” or trail gun for most hikers. Found that a HERITAGE .22LR/.22 WMR an inexpensive alternate to the RUGER Single Six. Remember that a former Texas Governor had to use his own Ruger .380 to stop a coyote attacking his dog? That was near Austin, not in the wilds of the open range.

    However, for two legged critters, a .38 or 9mm is a better option. Seems we are seeing more of those type of attacks near large cities than coyotes.

  26. I agree with your advise. I have camped and rode horses in the Appalachians as well as the Rockies. I like to carry my 22 mag Kel tec. It is light, holds 30 rounds and I carry two fully loaded mags. But when I ride in the Rockies, there are larger creatures to worry about. I usually carry a 44 mag Ruger revolver on my belt. I purchased a Taurus Judge with a 6.5 inch barrel , that shot 454 Caswell; just in case we ran in to a bear. But it was over 4 lbs, and uncomfortable to carry, even on the saddle. So I sold it and went back to my 44 Mag revolver. If I have to carry a weapon on my saddle, it will be a
    45-70 rifle. Thanks for your article and stay safe.

  27. I have been section hiking the A.T. and my surrounding local mountains for a number of years. Throughout my experience, I can assure you that 2 legged creatures pose a greater threat then 4 legged creatures in the wilderness. With that being said, I have always carried a Glock 20 on my side loaded with the hard hitting Buffalo Bore cartridges. I know that it can be a bit heavier then most but the 10 mm is such a great round and the Glock provides enough capacity to lose a few rounds before getting your bearings to make that accurate shot and so you won’t have to carry multiple mags with you.

  28. Consider the S&W:Mountain Gun”in 45Colt,44Mag,357Mag.Lightweight.
    My two preferred revolvers=Ruger GP100 4″357Mag[158gr cast or jsp] or the Redhawk 5.5″ 45Colt [300gr cast];for an auto=Glock 30 45ACP[230gr jhp or cast].Heavy they are,but utterly reliable.A smatchet by Boeker is also a nice tool.
    ..course one has evade the hoplophobe bureaucrats.good reason to avoid Canada.

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