On these forums, we tend to value the judgements and opinions of others with experience. Here are some of mine over a 30 year span.
I've used both pepper spray (actually OC & CS combo) and a handgun defensively a few times in my life and will carry both wherever I assess the cost-benefit ratio meets my situation. That's why I am reluctant to suggest that what works for me is a solution for others; arguing from the specific to the general is a logical fallacy.
In the general case handguns are universally adopted as the most effective equalizer invented for self defense (surprise use, close quarters, low collateral side effects) by those who go in harm's way. If you know a priori where you might need one, you could simply chose not to go to those places. I've never known anyone who is attacked who had a gun wish they didn't have it (meaning under their immediate control); but many who have been caught unprepared have all wished they had access to a gun when things went bad. I've had the good fortune of learning from other's hindsight, and the bad fortune of finding myself in places where I needed it.
In the case of pepper spray, it has for me stopped attacking dogs successfully on bike tours when nothing else worked, and as a pedestrain convinced a gang of four club yielding youths to disengage and retreat even though they had successfully beat a companion to the ground and were inches from taking my head off with a baseball bat. The spray failed to disable, but had the effect of tipping the odds away from an easy beat down and grab and run robbery. This occurred in a high crime urban neighborhood in broad daylight, in the open, in a park a stones throw from my house. The same dudes had been friendly or at least neutral in the past. The police advised me not to file a report since they would then have to charge me for having the illegal pepper spray.
I also once armed myself with a pepper spray (legal now)to investigate noises in the back of a restaurant I worked in only to be rushed by 2 masked armed robbers with revolvers. Fortunately they never saw the spray or an aggressive posture on my part or they likely would have shot me. I credit a street smart sensei who taught real defense tactics as well as traditional martial arts with my non-threatening approach and distracting concealment/compliance motion. Lying face down on a can of pepper spray on a concrete floor for 10 minutes is damned uncomfortable but beats get center punched by a .357 at 6 feet. They got away with thousands of dollars and were never caught. The restaurant hired an armed guard the next night. This occurred in a very posh suburban neighborhood with low crime.
In the use of a handgun, the simple (implied?)display of a sidearm stopped the attack which began as an interview or conversational diversion. When the two predators simultaneously encircled me and flashed knives and threatened me, a legally carried handgun became my first option because of prior experiences with pepper spray failing to stop.
This occurred in broad daylight in a parking lot of a Scottsdale shopping center in a nice neighborhood with somewhat distant witnesses who were oblivious to the fact that an attack was imminent, was attempted, and thwarted. No shots were fired, no police reports were filed, no stories ever made the news. I'm not even sure the attackers saw the gun, as the draw motion and my demeanor alone was enough to get them to retreat to a van and drive off. I didn't get the plate because I thought they might be going to get a gun and I stayed behind the cover of the car I was behind. Had either one cleared that car I was prepared to fire, but thankfully it didn't go that way.
In discussing the assault with a Scottsdale police officer, I was commended on my 'level-headedness' but advised to get a bigger gun in case I needed to shoot to stop, which the officer informed I was justified in doing as soon as they displayed deadly weapons in that manner. Nothing I didn't already know, but movement to cover was a higher priority than target acquisition, though I was boxed in between the cars and their encircling would have prevented escape. The whole thing was maybe 4 or 5 seconds but seemed like minutes. Some cops who wear body armor often talk and act more like cowboys than the average civilian, but the law also gives cops more room for error. My retort was that a bigger gun would be left at home protecting the inside of my safe anyway. There is only so much a small framed person can carry. That's why I subscribe to this website. So theoretical superiority or utility is trumped by actual practice.
One can argue statistics all they want, or consider pathologies of failure or likelihood of successful outcomes ad nauseum, but when one is confronted with a predatory criminal, the only expert at that time and instant is you, the choices you made that lead you there,and the choices open to you from that point forward. Armed civilians are less likely to shoot innocent bystanders than police because the curcumstances are totally unambiguous and the courts hold civilians to a higher standard than cops. I've yet to meet a woman who wasn't sure of a rapist's intentions in the moments before the assault. Some times the gap between intentions or being controlled or disabled allows for a decisive, defensive response if one is prepared.
When the criminals don't know who is armed, those who don't carry get free rider benefits. Wherever carry laws have been relaxed in the US, violent crime has reversed its upward trend and non-confrontational property crimes tend to increase. I doubt this generalizes to the trail, but it might. One or two well publicized accounts of successful trail self defense might provide the lesson.
Adrenalin is a double edged sword. In my experience, being a thrill junky, I've never found it disabling in the instant of defensive need, but the after-effects leave me shaken, drained and nauseous. Social conflict seems to stress the system more than catching air or crashing.
Personal safety is a personal choice. I know I can free solo certain grades and ratings of climbs safely, I know I can get fast and effective SAR response, and I have never had anything fall on my head or smacked my head on the crag. But in a vertical environment I always climb with a rope, wear a helmet, and back-up my anchors. One can argue the effectivness of anchors on ice, but in a fall a manky ice screw beats no protection at all because it just might work. Anyone who suggests that another climber's protection habits are paranoid, worthless or dangerous is always welcome to climb their own climb.
Similarly with fire extinguishers. An early first response with the right safety tool pre-empts a flare up from becoming an incident. We don't suppose that anyone with a fire extinguisher would run into a burning building.
Similarly the hundreds of thousands of legal gun carrying US citizens aren't cowboys or hot-heads, TV and yellow journalism notwithstanding. You don't hear about successful gun defense much because countervailing force usually defuses the situation. Polls of violent convicts shows they most fear confronting a scared, armed victim.
Most violent gun deaths in the US are associated with the drug trade. Poverty doesn't cause crime. Murder rates in the US peaked in 1929 and dropped during the depression with the repeal of alcohol prohibition. This has little to do with trail predators however, but depending on your commute to the boonies might be a factor in someone carrying an appropriate tool for their own safety.
The posts on this topic have been civil and constructive (excepting many cliches and strawmen building) for the most part. People might want to know that many people do carry sidearms on trails in the US, and you will likely never know by their look, style, or demeanor under normal peacable circumstances.
Whether or not the young woman could have made good use of a sidearm in her instance can never be known. As for me I know what I am capable of and have never countered anyone who didn't provide unmistakable provocation. I've also withdrew from a few similar circumstances, but as I get older, running from the lion becomes less attractive of an option than outsmarting it with technology and tactics. Avoidance is the best tactic. Avoidance comes naturally from situational awareness, and for me situational awareness is an even higher priority when I am armed. Your mindset may vary; void where prohibited by law.