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How dangerous is thru-hiking?
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Stuart Burke
(burkest) - F

Locale: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 08:09:41 MDT Print View

Does anyone know safety statistics about thru-hiking the trails of the triple crown. I am preparing for a CT/CDT hike in Colorado this summer and I have gotten a lot of questions about my safety (last night I was told by a co-worker that if I did not carry a gun on my hike I will die). I tell people that hiking on established trails is less dangerous (in terms of mortality) than driving a car. Am I right to think this?

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 08:35:08 MDT Print View

Sounds like someone who is afraid of living. Do they carry a firearm at work? Seems like it's at least a risky as being on the trail.

My gut is that hiking is less dangerous than driving a car but I don't have hard data. Since the number of people backpacking is pretty small compared to the population of the US, a few random deaths could make hiking look more dangerous. In the vast majority of cases a gun would not have helped.

I would say that in general, I find people in the back country nicer and more friendly than I do in civilization. The "crazy" people have been met were pleasantly crazy rather than nasty / dangerous crazy.

I would have thought aldha or pcta would have something systematic... but I didn't see anything after a quick scan. Maybe someone can turn up a completely lists. My memory of deaths on the the long trails in the last 10 years has been:


(1) couple hit by a drunk driver
(2) heart attack
(3) Getting lost in snow... there might have also been some section hikers killed in falls or river crossings.
(4) there might have been one suicide... though the suicide might have been after the person came off trail and I heard about the suicide while doing a section hike.


(1) There have been a 2-3 murders. All were women I think. All where killed near towns by people who were not on the trail themselves. This sort of thing could just as easily been a car jacking or home invasion.


Edited by verber on 03/25/2008 15:19:50 MDT.

Matt Brodhead
(mattbrodhead) - F

Locale: Michigan
dangers of thru-hiking on 03/25/2008 09:07:30 MDT Print View

You'll be sweet. I think you're more likely to have a tree fall on you... or choke on your morning meal.

Dylan Skola
(phageghost) - F

Locale: Southern California
Of course there's the case of John Donovan on 03/25/2008 11:29:29 MDT Print View

thru-hiker on the PCT.

Here's a thread on these forums about it

Backpacker did an article on it, and it was discussed extensively on Whiteblaze:

"On May 3rd John was following a couple of hikers into a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that still had significant snow pack. He had been literally following in their footsteps since they were breaking trail. At some point, these hikers told John they were leaving the trail. They intended to skip this section at this time because the trail was too hard to follow with the snow pack. They were using a compass and map, they were experienced with this section of the trail and they were equipped with ice picks, serious hiker crampons and poles. John had none of this equipment, no compass and wasn’t very good with a map. Nevertheless, John apparently continued on. On May 4th a major winter storm blew in over the mountains, bringing more snow and sub-zero wind chill temperatures."

Apparently he lost the trail, ended up trapped in a gorge down the north face of San Jacinto and probably died of hypothermia.

It's an interesting story, with two other lost hikers being saved by the contents of his backpack a year to the day later.

I've also heard of a handful of fatal falls on the PCT, by thru-hikers and section-hikers.

In the grand scheme of human activities it's pretty safe if you use your head.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 11:58:33 MDT Print View

> I was told by a co-worker that if I did not carry a gun on my hike I will die).

Is your co-worker a hiker? No? I didn't think so. Before my thru-hike I got lambasted from all angles about my safety but rarely was it from anyone who spends any time in the woods themselves.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 12:09:37 MDT Print View

The following appeared in a recent posting on yahoo's "hiker" group.

"If you judge safety to be the paramount consideration in life you
should never, under any circumstances, go on long hikes alone. Don't
take short hikes either - or, for that matter, go anywhere alone. And
avoid at all costs such foolhardy activities as driving, falling in love
or inhaling air that is almost certainly riddled with deadly germs...
Insure every good and chattel you possess against every conceivable
contingency the future might bring, even if the premiums half-cripple
the present. Never cross an intersection against a red light, even when
you can see that all roads are clear for miles... In your wisdom you
will probably live to a ripe old age. But you may discover, just before
you die, that you have been dead for a long, long time." -Colin Fletcher

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 14:09:27 MDT Print View

"If you are afraid of what might happen, just stay in bed, pull the covers over your head, and wait to die." Jobst Brandt

Edited by greg23 on 03/25/2008 14:10:22 MDT.

Stuart Burke
(burkest) - F

Locale: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 14:29:15 MDT Print View

First off after re-reading my post I want to emphasize that I am not looking to start a gun debate here, I was just surprised by the comment my co-worker said. And you are right Sam he is not a hiker.

Mark thanks for the response about deaths on the PCT. I remembered most of those but I was not sure if there were more I did not know about.

To rephrase my original question, how do we know that thru-hiking is safe since we are so exposed to the subject? Most people feel driving is reasonably safe because it is something they do every day. I have read many trail journals and trip reports so thru-hiking seems safe to me because it is something I have read many accounts of people being safe throughout their whole trip. And I genuinely feel that I will be safe on my trip but it would nice to have some data to help ease the concerns of my family members (I know I will never convince everyone what I am doing is safe). I thought that if someone had the stats that it might serve as an unbiased judgment of the safety of thru-hiking.

john flanagan
(jackfl) - F

Locale: New England
re hiking safety on 03/25/2008 15:10:03 MDT Print View

While unable to provide stats, I second Jim's answer. Unfamiliarity breeds concern; I have a little anxiety before every solo hike in new territory - fear of the new and unknown. If you rank hiking relative to driving, flying, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and any number of other activities, I have to believe that we have less to fear in the woods and mountains than on the streets, skies or slopes. Maybe just wishful thinking on my part...

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 03/25/2008 15:13:07 MDT Print View

Stuart, You will die if you do not carry a gun on your hike. Likely shot by a jealous lover near the century mark. However, the hike will be safe.

Where are emoticons when you need them?

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 03/25/2008 16:14:02 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 11/20/2014 14:53:54 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: safety. on 03/25/2008 17:01:16 MDT Print View

The most important thing you can bring along is your brain -functioning. And listen to it often - like when it says eat, eat. If it says someone is weird, listen to it and get moving.

Your inner sense can guide you well, if you listen to it.

Having said that you cannot predict if you will be ok. You might fall, get lost, go down a swollen river or simply get tired and bored. You never know. You could walk out of your home tomorrow and disappear. So you take chances and enjoy life.

And gents? "but in general i'd say that those kinda "ya need a gun to be safe!" comments mostly come from people who don't backpack, especially not the way WE all do!" - Some of us DO carry firearms when it is legally allowed. Do I have to have it with me? No but I prefer it. Having said that I follow the rules quite carefully based by state and where I am hiking. And if ya all haven't noticed, I pack light. Carrying doesn't mean heavy.

Go for your hike and just remember..listen to yourself and don't take chances you needn't take ;-)

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 03/25/2008 22:15:06 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 11/20/2014 14:54:59 MST.

G Dup
(lococoyo) - F
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 05/25/2008 22:25:45 MDT Print View

I've heard the same kind of comments IRL about the need to carry a gun hiking etc so many times it just gets old.

I think its funny the way guns get caught up with the 'macho guy' scene. Its one thing if you're having a family BBQ in polar bear country, selling crack in Dade County, or shooting children in the Middle East, but most people who feel the need to carry a gun for protection just reek of insecurities. Be a man and have the confidence you can handle your sh it. Or maybe i'm just not man enough to be packing on the PCT.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Dangerous thru-hiking on 05/26/2008 18:52:17 MDT Print View

Always trust your gut feelings. I have never met a bad person on the trails, maybe a few LONE WOLFS-to each is his/her own. Crazy and bad people live in the cities. Crazy or bad people are not in shape to thru-hike. Again- always trust your gut feelings.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 05/26/2008 18:56:29 MDT Print View

Hey G Dup, you need a gun just to drive a car in Dade County! ;)

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 05/26/2008 20:26:41 MDT Print View

I never sold crack, but Dade county should require a handgun to get a drivers license.

It was rough when I moved there in 1993 and it's only gone downhill since then.
On a lighter note, St. Lucie county is a day trip from Miami and one thing I liked about living there is that their park system supports many parks and trails in the area. Of course it's rare to hit any elevation higher than 30 feet above sea level in that part of the country, there are many enjoyable hikes to spend your days (or nights, where allowed).

Tim Olvey
(tolvey) - F
Re: Re: How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 06/04/2008 21:46:54 MDT Print View

Stuart, I'm in CO and have made the decision to not carry a projectile tool when backpacking. Truely one could save the day, or night, and give a considerable amount of security comfort in the mean time but in my opinion the risks are so small that there is no way to justify the weight. Additionally I agree with the comments on trusting in Mind and find that I much prefer the freedom of backcountry travel without the serious responsibility of carrying not to mention the legal headaches. Stay in the alpine..less critters, build a fire, throw a rock, climb a tree, run free. Besides there's nothing like hearing a "Huff" in the night to make you feel alive....hope I don't hear one =]

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
How dangerous is thru-hiking? on 06/05/2008 10:00:56 MDT Print View

My memories of my CT thru-hike from a couple of years ago easily ID the biggest danger as lightning. Expect it pretty much every afternoon, and since a healthy chunk of the trail, especially in the southern sections is above treeline, be ready to head downhill quickly if a thunderstorm heads your way. Whenever possible, arrange to be below treeline by ealry afternoon.

Beyond that, the biggest danger in thru-hiking is how addicting it can be, pushing the importance of jobs, girlfriends, and every other facet of life that prevents more walking far into the background.