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Backpacker Magazine – October 2007

Survive This: Meeting a Menacing Stranger On the Trail

Learn how to avoid shady characters on the trail.

by: Tom Wilmes

Predicament: You're several miles into a solo dayhike when you pass a aggressive-looking man who seems out of place on the trail. You pick up your pace, but he follows and demands loudly that you turn around.

Lifeline: Keep walking. Look for other hikers and ask to join their group. If the stranger persists, give a slight wave and continue moving. If you have no choice but to engage him, keep your answers short, and your tone flat and neutral. Tell him you're hiking with friends who are nearby. Be as calm as possible. Make eye contact and rest your hands by your side. Crossed arms can be interpreted as a defensive stance, and won't allow you to react quickly. If he takes a step toward you, step back. He might want to scare you away from trailside criminal activity, such as a meth lab, marijuana cultivation, or illegal dumping.

If the stranger shows or mentions a weapon and asks for money, don't resist. But if he attacks, yell for help and fight back aggressively. Shout, bite, scratch, poke—and aim for vital areas like the eyes, groin, and throat. As soon as you can get away, drop your pack, run to the nearest trailhead, and alert authorities.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Jun 29, 2013

In a fight a knife is better than a gun any day. learn some good knife moves. A gut up-slash with a very sharp 6 inch blade will put the end to any problem. My Army Cpt daughter has taught me some simple hand-to hand combat moves. Befriend a Vet or just hike with one. Carrying a knife does not make you look aggressive either, just prepared. be sure to stand at a slight angle to perp. There are trainings to use verbal and physical de-escalation responses. Knifes are also a good multi-task tool.

Star Star Star Star Star
May 10, 2013


I agree completely. Challis is an idiot. If I were with my family and a hostile stranger threatened the safety and security of my family I would have no qualms with putting a .45 through his/her eyes because the bottom line is a father I am the protector of my family no matter where I am. There's too many weirdos in this world to NOT protect yourself.

Guns are like insurance, you hope you don't need them but if you do, you're glad you do.

Jul 26, 2012

lot of necessary gun fear here. Most anti gun people have never been in a life threatening situation or are afraid due to what they see in the media. Remember for every "gun incident" there are as many unreported stories of how guns saved lives. Also stories that would have happened but didnt because of idiots who decided not to mess with someone who was carrying. Humans are animals plain and simple. Some humans are stupid, on drugs, insane or all three. In southern california the average police response time for a dangerous felony is 6 minutes. Do you know what can happen in that time? it takes a couple seconds to draw your weapon, potentially saving your life and the lives of your children. I challenge anyone who is afraid of guns to look at your state prisons. There are a lot of really really bad people out there. There are also people who love you and dont want to see you a victim of some nutjobs violence. Be an adult and learn to live in the real world. Guns arent going anywhere as much as SOME people would like.

Jul 07, 2012

Carrying a gun in a national park doesn't deter sketchy people, it just makes you a sketchy person.

Mar 23, 2012

I have carried on section hikes. At no time during these hiked did anyone that I was hiking with or sheltering with know that I was carrying. There are some strange people out there who have no interest in enjoying the great outdoors. Best to be prepared and not need it.

Mar 19, 2012

Humans are the greatest animate threat in the wilderness. Despite that it is the animals that are feared once out in the wilderness but every human that comes along is relished. There are many articles on animal attacks but very few on human attacks. If the situation were reversed we would fear humans that kill for no reason and inflict immense suffering out of pleasure and relish animals that almost never attack and when they do there is always logic behind it as in defense of offspring or food that without hunting they will die unlike human grocery stores. Death is inevitable. Allow that knowledge to give you peace and never interrupt the passions of our short existence.

Feb 23, 2012

Hey Smokey,

I don't think that I'm strong enough to be "carrying in a national forest."
National forests are wayyyyyyy heavy.

I'm kidding, and understand your point.
I prefer to hike in forests that don't
allow firearms.

Feb 18, 2012

Mostly I would say if your a teen or child with friends on a hike with your parents trailing behind, You should at least carry a pocket knife just for a warning to tell people to leave you alone. You can also hold it in your hand and pull the blade out and threaten someone who is trying to hurt you or your friends.

Dec 10, 2011

Gun's are awesome and just having them visible worn on the hip will almost always deter sketchy people. If you don't have a gun and are hiking in bear country you should have bear spray anyway and it works quite well on people too.

Sep 24, 2011

I've backpacked since I was 21 (I'm 58 now). The only weapon I've ever carried is a Swiss Army Knife. When car camping, I carry a 9MM pistol. I've never had to use it (Thank God). A better weapon might be one of those collapsible batons, although I've never owned one. Don't camp too close to roads and be careful crossing roads. Be safe and God bless.


Jun 28, 2011

I was worried about bears... Now, I'm just worried about the hundreds of people walking around, with loaded weapons, waiting to shoot someone for looking at them funny when they pass each other on the trail. So much hate in these threads. Can't stand to think of it all out there in serene wilderness.

May 11, 2011

I run a meetup group in Albuquerque, and I've had a couple instances where my holstered sidearm kept people from getting crazy around my group. The majority of the time, just the presence of the weapon is deterrent enough.

However, I would use it if the situation warranted it.

Armchair Expert
May 06, 2011

You give someone an opportunity to comment about their gun and they will...

Armchair Expert
May 06, 2011

You give someone an opportunity to comment about their gun and they will...

Feb 10, 2011

better to have a gun and not need it....than to need a gun and not have it....gun are tools designed to save your life or somone elses....

Oct 29, 2010

Some facts to consider if you are planning to carry firearms on National Forest land:

Some states have laws concerning carrying in National Forests. You must know the law.
In most states if it is legal for you to carry a firearm concealed in the state the National Forest is in, you can carry your firearm concealed in a National Forest in that state.

If it is legal to carry a firearm openly on your hip in the state the National Forest is in, you can legally carry it that way in the National Forest in that state.

Some states have laws against carrying in National Forests in their state.

Any firearm carried in National Forests shall not exceed the legal maximum calliber for the hunting season during which it is carried.

Do be advised that any Ranger Station or Visitors Center in any National Forest is considered a Federal Building. It is illegal to carry any firearm into such a building either concealed or openly even with a CCW from the state the National Forest Ranger Station or Visitors Center is in.

You may carry a gun on National Forest land as long as you are in accordance with state laws and regulations concerning firearms. Please note these additional exceptions:
You may not hunt within 150 yards of a residence, building or developed recreation site, and you may not display a firearm within a developed recreation site. See Supervisors Order DB-07-00.

Firearms are excluded from Wildlife Management Areas except during special designated hunting seasons.

Please observe the general rules of gun safety and courtesy.

For more information on your National Forests and for more safety tips visit

Oct 23, 2010

I travel by air frequently for my job and get some solo hiking in where possible. Since air travel can restrict self defense options, one can easily opt for a can of wasp spray- some shoot an accurate stream for 15-20 feet- beats mace or pepper spray. Not too shabby for a weapon in a pinch and readily available for a couple bucks. Good against bad people and bugs. Not so sure about big mammals or cold-blooded critters. Everything has its + and -.

Oct 21, 2010

I am a firm believer in self-defense. The article does a great job in how to escalate an issue to get the aggressor to back off or for you get away from a harmful situation, as it should be. In the end, it is up to you to provide your own security whether it is against an attacking assailant or an angry black bear or worse. As this Seattle Times article shows, there is an increase in crime in the national forest: Unfortunately, we live in a violent world and it is up to you to provide your own self-defense. It is up to you whether to carry. As for me, I choose to carry a side arm.

Oct 20, 2010

I carry a sidearm as well as dog food foe my well trained Rottie and Shepard. No one seems to get close to me which is what I desire. I have crossed paths witha bear a couple wolves and countless rattlers. I never felt the need to draw let alone use my side arm but it sure makes me feel safe. Never met any scum bags on the trail. Probabbly because I go where the lazy ones wouldn't be able too.

Oct 16, 2010

GrizGary needs to consult an attorney.
The scenario wsa a definite bad-guy. Take no chances. Most encounters in teh backcountry are more ambiguous. Most confronations can be avoided by common sense and walking away. IN an ambiguous situation, unzipping a fanny pack, big pocket, or some other repository of unknown tools can indicate that you are not a victim. Bad guys prey on the defenseless. Don't be defenseless and do not appear defenseless. And go where there are either crowds or nobody at all.

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