Written by: Greg Ellifritz
I recently had a reader write me to ask my opinion about the best gun for hiking or backpacking:
“What do you recommend for concealed carry while backpacking? I usually backpack with a 1980’s era frame pack with metal hip bars and a strap that would preclude most usual concealed carry approaches. Even internal frame packs with fabric hip bands and straps would get in theway. What do you recommend? Thanks.”
I don’t know if I can tell anyone what the “best” is, but I can tell you what I’ve chosen is best for ME.
To set the stage for discussion of my personal backpacking gun, I must state that where I hike and backpack is extraordinarily remote. I rarely see others on the trails. The chance for me being criminally victimized is far lower than the risk of being attacked even in my upscale suburban neighborhood. I also tend not to backpack in areas that are heavily populated by non-human predators either. My backpacking carry gun will not likely be used for self protection.
A more likely scenario for me is that my gun might be used to dispatch a poisonous snake or as an emergency signalling device should I become injured or disabled.
I need a gun that is ultra-light, holds a reasonable amount of ammo, and is comfortable to carry. I don’t need a gun to instantly incapacitate grizzly bears or members of a meth abusing biker gang.
The gun I’ve chosen for my backpacking trips is a Smith and Wesson model 317 .22 long rifle revolver. The gun holds eight shots, is essentially immune to cold or wet weather, and weighs 12 ounces when loaded. Carrying three spare Quick Strips loaded with 10 rounds each of CCI’s excellent Velocitor ammunition gives me 38 rounds of ammunition in a package that weighs about a pound. It’s ideal for my backpacking needs.
I’ve solved the backpacking access problem by carrying the gun in a Wilderness Products Safepacker holster. The Safepacker is a quick access padded belt holster that looks like an unassuming pouch. I wear it on the waistbelt of my pack on the strong side. No other hikers I’ve ever encountered knew I was armed.
My 317 sports a clipdraw as well. When I’m bumming around camp for the night and not wearing my pack, I remove the revolver from the Safepacker and clip it inside my waistband under an untucked shirt. I’ve found this solution to be amazingly easy to carry and so light that I don’t even know it’s there. I’ve practiced well enough with the gun that I’m confident I can put all 8 of the .22 rounds in an attacker’s face in less than two seconds if necessary. I’m also confident I can harvest small game with the pistol at relatively close range in an emergency.
I have used the same Safepacker pouch to hold different guns when my outdoor recreation has taken me to different locations. While backpacking in areas with bears or other four-legged predators, I carry a Smith and Wesson model 386 PD in .357 magnum. It’s an ultra lightweight powerhouse with deep penetrating bullets, and weighs in at only 22 ounces.
When I’m more worried about human predators, I carry my Glock 26 9mm and a couple spare mags.
The Safepacker is a very low-profile and versatile carry holster. If the price is too high for you, any of the belt pouches designed for firearms carry would likely fit well on your backpack’s hip belt.
Thanks for the question!
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