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Survive This: Meeting a Menacing Stranger On the Trail

Forget about the wildlife; human beings can be the most dangerous—and the most unpredictable—creatures you’ll meet on the trail. Here’s how to handle them.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


The wilderness can be a dangerous place, especially after a zombie apocalypse. This month we’re partnering with AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead to bring you advice on how to survive everything from bad weather to ravenous walkers. Stay tuned—if you can survive the end of the world, you can survive anything.

This story was written by BACKPACKER’s editorial staff. Featured content has not been influenced by AMC.

Predicament: You’re several miles into a solo dayhike when you pass an aggressive-looking man who seems out of place. You pick up your pace, but he follows and demands loudly that you turn around (1).

Lifeline: Keep walking. Look for others and ask to hike along with them. 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 (2). 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 or a hidden encampment you may have stumbled across.

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 (3). As soon as you can get away, drop your pack (4), run to the nearest trailhead, and alert authorities.

(1) You thought walkers were your biggest concern out here? Think again. The mindless dead are hard to kill; survival-hardened humans, not so much. Keep your wits about you.

(2) If it’s zombie country, and this guy looks like a desperado survivalist, keep it vague, and don’t mention if you have a settlement or camp nearby—nearby camp means nearby resources, and more likely than not, this guy would kill for a chance at food, fuel, or anything else you (or your friends) might have. No matter what your real intent is, tell him you and your friends are just passing through.

(3) Walkers around? Too much shouting will attract them, and needless to say, that would complicate your situation. You’re armed, aren’t you? Use your weapon, and keep your voice low.

(4) A good idea in civilized country, but things change when the dead are around and what you carry is all you have. Guard your pack with your life, and only drop it if you’re vastly outgunned or outnumbered. 

Catch an all-new season of Fear the Walking Dead on AMC starting on April 15 at 9/8c.

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