How should you carry a gun while hiking or backpacking?
UPFRONT DISCLAIMER: First and foremost – always check the legality of having a firearm on federal, state, and privately owned property. Federal and state held lands can and will stipulate restricted premises for concealed carry. Private property owners often post signs but ultimately, it's the owner's determination (when/where/if “peaceable journey” laws apply). And as for the state and federally held lands, depending on the state or how the land is managed, this can be a convoluted or very simple process.
Example: There are plenty of parts of the Appalachian Trail which cross into states with extremely strict regulations of firearms. This sprawling trail spans eleven states. Would you want to make that journey unarmed?
Bonus: The Department of the Interior is no longer allowed to enforce restrictions on transportation of concealed firearms so long as it is in accordance with state regulations.
The easiest way to carry a handgun on a long march is either going to be a drop holster or chest harness. For those in full support of open carry (and with state regulations that support that) – go loud and go proud.
A drop holster safely secures a pistol to the side of the leg outside the waist harness. A chest rig can secure a pistol so that it's out of the way of the straps of a heavy pack. For modular hiking systems, there's plenty of ways to secure an OWB holster to the chest or waistband. For others – it comes down to ingenuity and knowing what works best with your needs.
CCW Hiker's Biggest Enemy – Backpack Waist Harnesses
That is going to be the biggest problem – hiking packs require a waist harness. Generally, for pack weights greater than 40 lbs, a waist harness comes in VERY useful. And there is nothing more uncomfortable than going on a four hour hike with a pack grinding against an inside a pistol or revolver stored in an inside the waistband holster.
For those that enjoy the element of surprise – IWB is still very possible. Whether or not it stays on the waist will depend on body type, pack load, and weight distribution. For those that cannot tuck an IWB holster into the front of their trousers with a full pack on, the next best solution is going to be a cargo pocket. The great thing about clipped harness IWB holsters is they slide seamlessly into the inside of a cargo pocket. Still accessible, still ready, and out of the way of the waistband of the backpack. And congratulations – it's a CCW version of a drop holster.
Day Hikers Have More Flexibility in CCW Options
For those just going for a day long jaunt, CCW is extremely important. The best configuration will likely be an OWB holster because it offers the least amount of friction while keeping the weapon at a comfortable grip distance. For those who prefer to stay CCW through and through, an IWB inside the waistband holster is still possible.
Unfortunately, ankle holsters can tend to get tricky as the longer the march, the more prone that the difference in weight (ounces) between the feet may be enough to wear down a person. Most importantly is if the ankle holster chaffs the skin, pulls on tendons, or puts added strain on ankles. One interesting thing is how the body expands and contracts depending on hydration, metabolism, and blood sugar levels. Hikers can often find that boots tied snugly in the morning have to be loosened by mid-day. An ankle holster attached snugly may give a similar experience.
Shoulder holsters similarly run into predicaments when other equipment is attached. Whatever you do – you do not want to have equipment snagging. If you have to drop your pack, you don't want straps pulling against your firearm or impeding your movement.
Concealed Carry Safety Considerations to keep in mind while hiking:
Before yo head out just run through this checklist on how to stay safe with a ccw while hiking.
Safety – is the firearm stored in such a manner that it poses no harm to its owner or other travel companions?
Accessibility – can the firearm be retrieved at a moment's notice?
Weather – is the concealed carry weapon being kept out of the elements?
Strain – does the harness or holster put strain on the user or his equipment?
About The Author
James England (@sir_jim_england) is the contributing editor for Alien Gear Holsters. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and private defense contracting in Afghanistan.