Tales From The Trail: Carrying A Weapon
In March 2013, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail alone. I hiked North-Bound. My hike started on Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ended on Mount Katahdin, Maine. I began on March 26th and ended on September 30th. There are many stories from my 6-month long trip. This is one of them.
“Do you carry a weapon?” This was the most surprising question I got when I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I was asked many questions during my trek, but the weapon question bothered me the most. What is it about hiking that makes people think that one is in constant danger? I can tell you right now that there was no need for me to carry any weapon my entire 6-month hike. The only thing I categorized as slightly dangerous was my pocket knife. And I used that for cutting cheese. I never thought about carrying a machete, a gun, or even sunscreen.
Hiking is not dangerous. At least, you do no experience danger that requires you to bring something for protection. The dangers hikers face are basic. I experienced most of them on my hike. I got injured from carrying too much (more on that point later). I got dehydrated. I fell every day. I had friends that caught Norovirus. I met someone who left because of a tick bite. But my safety was never in jeopardy.
Did I see a bear? Yes. I saw a total of two black bears. The first one was when I was hiking with a group. I was leading and spied a bear approximately 20 feet away from us in the woods. It was on its hind legs, paws perched against a tree. I stopped and pointed it out. We talked about how cute it was, and we moved on. The second time, I was walking alone. A bear crossed the dirt road I was walking on. It didn’t even see me. If you don’t agitate the bear, the bear will do nothing. Black bears are common on the AT, and much less aggressive than other bears. Usually, the only reason one will charge is when it’s protecting near-by cubs. Even in this rare situation, it would be pointless to try and search for a weapon to ward it off. The only other reason a bear would attack? If you didn’t hang your food in a tree and instead keep it next to your tent. Mice were more of a nuisance to me than bears ever were.
Weight is a key factor in any long-distance hiking trip. Hikers get touchy on the subject of pack weight. We carry everything on our backs. Extra pounds can be a death sentence. I had to take an extra week off because I carried too much at once. The average weight of a gun is just over one pound. Unloaded. A machete weighs over two pounds. I was carrying an average of 25 pounds. Why would I want to waste my precious pack weight on something I will never use? I would rather spend my weight ration on things like a jar of peanut butter and a pack of cookies. The heaviest thing I was willing to carry was my tent, which was about 4 pounds.
Lastly, the hiking community is a tight-knit family. During the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, there are thousands of people hiking. It is impossible to go through your day without seeing someone. With that many people around, it’s hard to feel unsafe. Once you join the hiking community, you become part of a club. That club guarantees someone will always have your back. Later on in my hike, I spent the majority of my day walking alone. However, I had formed a bond with other hikers who always had a meeting plan. We agreed at the beginning of the day where we were going to end our day. No matter how late I was coming into camp, I knew that there would be someone there to greet me. On the rare occasion where I wasn’t planning on meeting anyone, I could still communicate with my fellow hikers. Every shelter on the AT has logs or paper journals. These logs allow hikers to sign in and leave notes for their hiking friends. If the situation was dire, everyone carried a cell phone. There was always a way to get a message out to the hiking community.
So no, I never felt the need to carry any sort of protection. If you are going on a week-long hike and feel safer carrying a weapon, that is your prerogative. If you’re going camping in a car and have the luxury to carry heavier objects, by all means, take the machete. But for those of us who plan on living from a single backpack for a long time, a weapon isn’t worth the weight.