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(Anonymous)
Opinions on self defense. Threatened by hippie with machete on 03/16/2005 16:41:43 MST Print View

On my last hiking trip, my friend and I spent two nights in the Kalalau valley on the island of Kauai. It is an incredibly beautiful place with a nice eleven mile hike. It is also a popular place for people to live illegaly. Every year or so the Park Service raids the valley and arrests or evicts dozins of full time residents. While many are friendly back-to-nature types, some are a little disturbed.

After we chose our campsite we noticed a "pile of trash" nearby (maybe 100 feet). The next day my friend took a box of wheat germ from the pile of trash and poured some out for the birds in our camp. He left the box in plain sight. A few hours later a very angry (and homeless looking) man came to our camp with a machete. He said stuff had been stolen from his house up the valley and there was a pile of it nearby (refering to the pile of trash) and here was his wheat germ. My friend talked him down, but he was angry enough that things could easily have gone differently.

Since then I have wondered what would have happened if my friend had not talked him down. I know violence on the trail is relativly rare but I am considering carying self defense. I am an experienced gun owner with a consealed carry permit from the State of Washington but I never thought I might need to pack on the trail. Note: It is illegal to carry a firearm in National Parks--That is part of the reason I am asking. What are your thoughts on self defense. Do any readers carry self defense? What type.

Thanks.

Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
Self Defense on 03/16/2005 17:20:15 MST Print View

Don't get me wrong, I believe in the second amendment, but guns do no belong in the backcountry, no matter what the purpose. If you think a place is dangerous enough to warrant bringing a gun, do not go there. It's just asking for trouble and I'm sure you would be a lot more troubled about shooting and/or killing someone than you would be about not getting to hike a certain trail.

Having some self-defense isn't a bad idea though. If you carry trekking poles or a hiking staff, that would do pretty well. Maybe some bear (pepper) spray. An ice-ax even, if the season is early or late enough.

Maybe break out a lighter and squeeze alcohol out of your lil nipper for a makeshift flame thrower? Blind him by reflecting the sun in your compass' sighting mirror? Tent-stake punji pit? Guyline trip wire? Hah. Talk about multiple use.

Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
psychos on the trail on 03/16/2005 17:27:33 MST Print View

Oh, I just remembered a story my dad told me once. His coworker went hiking, I believe on the Mt. Townsend trail in the Olympics, and just before he got to the summit another group passed him on their way down and warned him of a strange man up there. So he keeps hiking, makes it to the summit, and comments to another hiker on what a nice day it is. The other hiker glares at him and says nothing, and then leaves down the trail. Soon after, my dad's coworker heads down, hiking pretty fast. He doesn't see the other guy anywhere in front of him though. So he hikes a little faster, and a little faster, until he comes to the conclusion the other guy must be running down the trail. When he gets back to the trailhead and over to his truck, he finds all the tires are slashed, and he has to walk another 15 miles or so into town. Ouch.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
there aren't really any good options on self defense on 03/16/2005 18:00:57 MST Print View

My first thoughts are that even after such a freaky experience, it is important to keep some perspective. Dangerous crazy people can be found nearly everywhere, and I don't think they are any more common in the backcountry than they are, say, in Times Square. In the developed world it is a lot easier to avoid trouble spots. In the developing world, trouble will generally find you. I've had lots of fun going places where, in retrospect, I was extremely lucky to get out without having been kidnapped or just killed for being an American who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Probably the best advice is not to travel alone anyplace where you think there might be trouble. There is safety in numbers, especially if the bad guy (and they are almost always guys) doesn't know how many there are. If you are traveling alone, don't let strangers know that you are alone.

The other advice is to get inside information. I wouldn't have a clue as to how to do this, say, in the Tetons or New Hampshire, and every area is different. But there always is a grapevine and getting plugged into it is a good way to avoid trobule spots. For me, places like the hiker camp at the entrance to Denali Park, Purple Point Campground in Stehekin in the North Cascades National Park, and the climber camp at Squamish Chief have all been great places to get inside information -- and since stories of weird people and trouble spread very fast, you'll hear them even if you are in those places only an evening or two.

I live on the east slopes of the Cascades near the Canadian border. In recent years there have been increasing troubles associated with the border, mostly centered around drug smuggling (I've heard, though, that during prohibition whiskey was smuggled through those same mountains, so there is kind of a romantic tradition here) and possibly smuggling people too. Over much of the cascades trails parallel the border on both sides, and in many places it is only an easy walk across meadows to cross the border. While the border patrol and the RCMP more or less patrol both sides (possibly with high-tech detection gadgets), the area involved is quite large and from a practical standpoint almost impossible to "secure". So my backyard might be crawling with clueless, paranoid dope fiends trying to make a quick buck -- that can't be good. In practice, I'm even more worried about drunken hunters thinking I am a deer during hunting season. Although I run that risk at home too.

So just keep it in perspective and get out there.


(Anonymous)
Trail self defense on 03/17/2005 14:42:07 MST Print View

There is a book on this subject that covers all the various options, mindset, and some legal ramifications. I believe it is called something like "Trail Safety" or "Trail Safe". Firearms can not be legally carried by serfs in National Parks, though I've noticed the rangers themselves are sure toting a load of firepower.

It's best to think of security in terms of layers and escalation of force. My first defense is stealth camping, low impact colors, and choosing times and places where I'm less likely to encounter others. I like to start my trips before weekends so that on weekends I am deep in away from trailheads and casual users. A small OC (pepper)/CS spray is a good tool because it can be used effectively while retreating, and outdistances knives and impact weapons. Even smaller sprays have stopped bear charges, but you never know if it's a bluff charge to begin with. But its no magic bullet. A determined wild man may only be slowed down by a defensive spray. If you have to use the spray, you had better be thinking about what you will need to do to escalate beyond that if it doesn't pre-empy the attack.

There are times and places where I have (legally) carried a defensive sidearm, but for backpacking the weight penalty makes it hard to justify. It's no different than any other objective hazard in the wilds, you have to choose your risk level and tool set relative to your assessment. I wouldn't backpack in Organ Pipe NM simply because one can't carry legally there, and the chances of running into desperate people or drug smugglers is too common these days. But if you could predict where you'd need such a grave tool of last resort, you could avoid those situations all together. The general rule of nature is that if you look like food, you will be eaten.

If you do carry, get some training and lots of range practice and always carry concealed. A lot of people are freaked out by the sight of a gun and unless you are a "public servant" with a badge they will get paranoid and weird.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
be realistic on 03/17/2005 18:15:27 MST Print View

Having a gun along is nice, and so is having an extra 20 lbs of water is case the springs run dry, and maybe a portable generator and TV and satellite antenna--but remember that this is the backpackingLIGHT forum and talk of heavyweight gear is not appropriate here, except to be disparaged. So unless your gun is very lightweight (please specify the weight, incidentally, including holster and bullets, and also indicate whether you performed any modifications such as drilling holes in the gun's handle), I don't think this is the right place for your question.

In any event, the main thing is to consider what could actually go wrong and your options. To defend against sticks and knives (or machetes), all you need is a stick of your own to ward off the initial attack, and then a good pair of legs to run away if the other guy is much bigger than you. Because you're reading backpackinglight, you will no doubt be wearing trail runners and so should be able to outrun somone wearing heavy boots. I see this as the most likely situation. Someone gets enraged because you bumped his gear in a shelter and goes for your throat. Parry the attack, then run away if the other guy is much bigger. Of course, he may destroy your precious gear that you left behind in revenge, but then look on the bright side--your packweight will now be zero!

For handguns at close range, whoever wins the draw wins the fight. So even if you are packing a gun, it won't help unless you can whip it out before the other guy gets his out. Self-defense instructors warn again and again of how difficult it can be to get to a gun when you really need it.

For handguns at a distance, just run. Very few people can hit a moving target with a handgun, especially in field conditions. Make sure to zig-zag and crouch down to make things more difficult. And by distance, I'm talking about 20 feet.

For defense against long guns and bows, a handgun might be of use. For example, suppose someone's coon dog attacks you and you fight back with a hiking stick. The owner gets *BEEP* off and points his gun at you. You might be able to jump behind a tree and pull out your handgun and thereby defend yourself, whereas without a gun of your own, you'd be dead meat, at least if the other guy is any kind of marksman.

My own experience is mostly in Europe, where I've been attacked numerous times by dogs. The worst incident involved a huge pit bull (at least 100 pounds) that charged from behind some bushes and then literally lept for my throat. I had only seconds to react, but this was sufficient to turn, point my trusty hiking stick at the dogs gaping mouth, and brace myself for the impact. The stick caught the dog on the front teeth or jaw. I heard some sort of crack, and it wasn't my stick (as I verified later) so I think I might have broken one of the dog's teeth. In any case, he trotted off immediately afterwards, wobbling a bit and shaking his head as if dizzy, then barked a few times (in a high-pitched and meek-sounding voice that was quite different from the throaty growl that had alerted me to his attack) when I was already some ways away. The owners of the dog were sitting on the porch of their farmhouse about 50 yards off, drinking beers and laughing the whole time. My guide book had warned about this location. Future backpackers, at least those wielding sticks, will perhaps have less trouble from this particular animal than me. (BTW I'm not a dog hater by any means, any more than I hate humans just because I run into vicious humans now and then.)

I wouldn't think of backpacking in either Europe or North America without a sturdy hiking stick as protection. But a handgun? I think that's overkill (no pun intended).


(Anonymous)
RE: Self Defense on 03/27/2005 16:31:20 MST Print View

I'll take the other side of this matter. I carry a titanium alloy framed, 5 shot, .38SPL+P Revolver and 5 extra bullets with me when I go backpacking. With holster, the total weight is 15 Oz. I save more than that with a closed cell pad over a Thermarest Trail inflattable. :)

Another hot topic issue is the cell phone carry in the backcountry. The two combined give my wife, who doesn't backpack, a sense of comfort and I a sense of security when out alone, miles from roads or other people. I know that those who might cause trouble are not likely to be found as deep in the woods as I hope we all get, but it only takes one crazed "hippy", in the deep woods to make it where you don't come out safely.

As was mentioned above, there is safety in numbers, but I almost always go solo. When in a group, I may or may not carry; it depends on the comfort level of those around, and is also often based on the fact that we will not be getting as far from the trailhead. My two main backpacking partners carry as well, so no worries there. With a couple others that I hike with, I either carry concealed, or not at all. It should be a judgement call based on you mature understanding of those you'll be with.

Also pointed out above was the fact that you need to be able to access whatever you carry, be it a gun, knife, whatever. If you are going to carry, be aware of others and their comfort level. Being able to quickly draw a weapon typically means belt carry, where a gun is easily visible. Often when passing through camps, trailheads, or near high traffic areas, I will hang/drape my cap over the handle of what I'm carrying. No one is ever the wiser.

Furthermore, there is no reason, if you decide to carry, do not do so legally. Obey all applicable local laws.


(Anonymous)
WOW... on 05/12/2005 10:19:23 MDT Print View

Self-defense trekking poles? Drunken hunters and angry houndsmen? "Guns do not belong in the backcountry"?!?

I gotta hike with you folks....


While I agree that you are almost always safer in the woods than in the city, I also believe we are each responsible for our own safety and well-being. Whether you choose to carry a firearm, pepper spray, "makeshift flame thrower" or simply hope for the best is a personal decision which should be given careful thought. And none of it is a substitute for common sense.

In regards to firearms, there are several models weighing less than 1# that are not only suitable for defense but are also quite accurate... if you are that worried about weight, why not carry less grub and supplement with trail meat? Nothing like some 'grouse-in-noodles' to make the tummy happy (for that matter an UL spinning rod is a nice addition as well--just don't try to fend off any crazy hippies with it). As was stated above, of course, obey all applicable laws while doing so.

It should also be noted that there are a variety of chest, belly and belt rigs that allow a handgun to be carried discreetly while allowing instant access--no reason to carry low on the hip like Wyatt Earp or hide it in your pack where it is useless.

Again, make an educated decision regarding the actual risk and plan accordingly--no one can do it for you.

Just my thoughts.


(Anonymous)
Re: RE: Self Defense on 09/13/2005 12:26:31 MDT Print View

I always pack a real knife, not one of those 1/3 oz multi-tools. I like to have a knife that will do what a knife is supposed to do: get you out of trouble when you need it. If I need to cut into a wet log to get dry wood in an emergency, defend myself from animals or people (knock on wood), or spread my peanut butter, a Barbie-sized knife is not going to cut it. I carry a lightweight Opinel folding knife: high-carbon steel and cheap. A real knife is one of the most useful pieces of insurance you can carry, on par with disinfectant and rope in my opinion.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
self defense on 09/13/2005 15:51:47 MDT Print View

I too have hiked in that paticular portion of the Na Pali trail. It is also true that there are many types along the trail and beaches that are what you would not encounter in other wilderness areas. My opinion is that I am more likely to encounter problems driving to a trailhead rather than experience problems in the backcountry. I don't carry a weapons becuase I feel that it is just not needed. I just can't imagine some crazed looney in SEKI 15 miles from the trailhead attacking me. As for survival purposes? I have everything I need with a small Leatherman. No paranoia from me.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: self defense on 10/14/2005 15:16:26 MDT Print View

Been there. Been shot at. Carried a gun (canoeing in *really* dangerous situations). Had hair-raising encounters... Mostly cycling and canoeing - where you are much more likely to encounter dangerous people than backpacking. Learned a little... a heirarchy of responses: 1) be alert; don't walk into trouble, avoid it; (sharp eyes) 2) run away if you can (fast feet); if that doesn't work, 3) fast thinking and fast talking, and if nothing else works, 4) fast fists.

There are a few other things that should enter into this debate. 1) Guns are dangerous at both ends; 2) As good cops know, having a gun makes a person chicken s--t, stupid and slow. Cop training is supposed to overcome that. Not trained? Forget the gun.(I'm not talking about combat range training here; that's just biomechanics. I'm talking about training your head.) Look, avoid, run, think, talk, and swing if you have to. Don't be macho. Cowardice can avoid a lot of trouble.

Michael Baker
(mcpacker)

Locale: Minnesota
Packing heat on 10/27/2006 14:01:16 MDT Print View

The only time I have ever carried a firearm in the backcountry was in defense of my country. The majority of the time a gun will end up working against you.

I will never pack heat has a civilian unless I happen to go on those rare hunting trips I take with friends.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
Re: Packing heat on 10/29/2006 20:27:42 MST Print View

There is a fairly recent story of a confrontation when a hiker wandered into a local's wilderness marijuana crop, the story said he used bear spray to get away. And, of course, I can't find a link to it anywhere.

J R
(RavenUL) - F
Re: Re: Packing heat on 10/31/2006 13:38:49 MST Print View

Its all about personal responsibility. If you dont think you need or training to make use of a firearm in the backcountry, dont carry one! Its none of my concern if you do or dont. If I choose to carry a gun in the backcountry, I will, I know me better than you do and Im a grown adult able to make my own life choices. Its none of your concern. I dont own you or your choices, and you sure as hell dont own me or my choices. Its about PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. The more people quit worrying about others and start taking care of their own *BEEP* business the better off everyone will be.

Michael Baker
(mcpacker)

Locale: Minnesota
Re: Re: Re: Packing heat on 11/03/2006 02:16:00 MST Print View

J R I was just saying what I have heard. I think people should just mind there own business also. You are right that in the end the only one you have to answer to is yourself.

I wont even get into what I do to protect myself. Not to sound paranoid but this is the internet and anyone can read what has been written. No sense in giving away my advantages.

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Re; Packing heat on 11/03/2006 18:54:33 MST Print View

I know, I know! You stab the enemy target with the metal spikes that have been implanted into the top of your skull! (Are they titanium tent stakes to lighten the totl load?)