When you’re out in the wilderness, there are a lot of things to worry about – food, water, shelter, and making sure you don’t get lost. One thing that is often overlooked is protection against wild animals, or other people. While it’s extremely rare to encounter a dangerous animal in a life threatening way while hiking or backpacking, some feel more comfortable carrying a firearm.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss what characteristics to look for when choosing a gun for hiking, backpacking, and general outdoor use, and then recommend some specific guns that fit the bill.
Hiking Gun Characteristics
Here, we highlight some key characteristics that you should be considering when choosing a firearm for hiking or backpacking.
When you’re hiking, every ounce counts. You want to be carrying the lightest load possible, and that includes your gun. Look for something lightweight – under three pounds is ideal. Some guns are designed specifically with hikers in mind, where they minimize weight without necessarily minimizing power. Finding the balance can be difficult with hiking since many deem it necessary to have a higher powered weapon for defense against animals, making the weapon heavier than lower caliber firearms.
A 22 or a 9 millimeter compact firearm will be lightweight, but will have less stopping power.
You also want your gun to be as compact as possible, since you’ll likely be carrying it in a backpack or on your hip. Again, many manufacturers have begun making guns specifically for hikers and backpackers – they’re often called “trail guns.” These are designed to be small and easy to carry, without sacrificing power.
Having a compact weapon will making packing it much easier. This characteristic really up to personal preference. If open carrying on the hip, the size may be of less concern as long as it isn’t getting in the way of trekking poles or other items.
A gun should be powerful enough for protection from animals. Guns that aren’t suitable for protection from big animals like a bear may not be suitable for hiking. Simply put, the less power a firearm has, the more difficult it would be to stop danger quickly and abruptly. Having a 9mm or smaller weapon is great for compact and lightweight carrying, but when it comes to stopping a bear, moose, or other large animal, it will take some impeccable shots in a very stressful situation.
Carry what is most comfortable for you, but know that a higher powered weapon is going to be heavier and larger. For example, if you are hiking in bear country, and are looking for defense in a situation with a bear, a .22 caliber likely isn’t going to cut. If your threats are smaller, then you may be able to carry a smaller caliber effectively.
4. Easy To Carry
When there is walking on uneven or mountainous trails involved, a gun that can be carried with ease is very important. Bulky weapons that require a lot of space and effort to lift are unsuitable for hiking. In defense situations, you want a firearm that can be operated with one hand in a defense situation, and a weapon that allows you to hike comfortably. For instance, looking for a shorter barrel in the 3-6 inch range is likely a better choice.
Top Hiking Guns To Choose
Keeping in mind all the above considerations, we have hand-picked and created a list of the best guns for hiking. Based on the criteria listed above, these firearms cross off all, or a few of the list. This is by no means a complete list, but is a good starting off point for your research. In this list, you’ll notice a couple key items:
- The firearms listed have a caliber above 9mm, and often have several options for caliber.
- The firearms have a small and compact profile
- The firearm is considered widely as reliable, durable, and can handle dirt, water, and other debris
- The firearm is from a reputable brand
The very first gun on our list is the versatile Glock G20. It is not heavy, i.e easy to carry, which is a must for hiking. It can fire 15 rounds of 10mm, which means it is powerful enough to incapacitate even bears and does not run out of ammunition easily. Moreover, since Glock is easy to customize, you can look into the various Glock accessories available in the market to suit all your requirements. Overall, this is one of the best more modern options due to capacity, stopping power, and relative size/weight compared to other 10mm weapons.
Barrel Length: 117 mm | 4.61 inch
Caliber: 10mm Auto
Weight with loaded magazine: 1130 g | 39.86 oz
Mag. Capacity: Standard: 15
Smith And Wesson 29
The Smith and Wesson 29 is a .44 magnum double-action revolver. It is compact, it is extremely reliable, and carries tons of stopping power. This isn’t the smallest gun, but it be carried quite easily.
Caliber: 44 Magnum, 44 S&W Special
Barrel Length: 6.5″ / 16.5 cm
Overall Length: 12.0″
Mag. Capacity: Standard: 15
Colt Delta Elite
Barrel Length: 5″
Mag. Capacity: 8+1
Taurus 513 Raging Judge Ultralite
This is another revolver packing a .45 colt caliber. The Raging Judge has several sizes available, including the compact 3 inch barrel with a 7 round capacity. This smaller revolver with lots of power gives hikers protection of larger weapons at a much smaller size.
Caliber: .45 Colt
Capacity Standard: 7
Ruger American Pistol Compact
Ruger makes incredibly guns. The American is a classic and well respected firearm that comes with several caliber sizes, a compact size, ease of use, and great reliability. For hikers, the 9mm or the 45 caliber are great compact and lightweight options.
Weight: 28.6 oz. (45 caliber)
This ruger revolver comes with several caliber options, weighs less than 3 pounds, and has a relatively short barrel option making it extremely versatile and durable for outdoor situations.
Barrel Length: 4.62″
Overall Length: 10.50″
Weight: 42 oz.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ
The Shield is known as one of the most reliable, low cost, and durable 9mm pistols. The ultra compact and lightweight size make for a great firearm for outdoor situations. The 9mm round packs enough power for many situations.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Barrel Length: 3.8″ (9.7 cm)
Weight: 23.2 oz.
Another great Glock is the Glock 17. It is preferred by law enforcement for its ease to carry, its reliability, and its imperviousness to outdoor elements. Moreover, it can be customized to suit the shooter through its various accessories. Its accessories such as Glock magazine base plates, grip plugs, and Glock gunsmith tools are some of these accessories that make the Glock G17 a solid addition to your hiking trips.
Glock’s bring to the table extreme durability, large magazines, powerful caliber if needed, and overall great ease of use.
Weight with loaded magazine: 915 g | 32.28 oz
Mag. Capacity Standard: 17 – Optional: 19 / 24 / 31 / 33
At the end of the day, this is only a small and non comprehensive list of weapons that may be good for hiking situations. Keeping your needs and preferences in mind is necessary to choose the best firearm for your situation.
We also want to add a disclaimer that we are by no means recommending to bring firearms to your outdoor adventure. We recognize that some areas of the world, having a firearm for wildlife may be essential, and other areas this may not be the case. This is up to the user’s discretion, and our aim with this article is to simply point out the factors you should be considering when thinking about a firearm for hiking or backpacking.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about