Heading out to your favorite campsite this summer? We've got some tips to make sure you make it out of the woods safely.
Ah, summer in the great outdoors. Fresh air, sleeping under the stars, memories made swapping stories around the fire, and s'mores! Then there are the bugs, snakes, issues putting up the tent, sweating profusely in your sleeping bag all night, and not being able to sleep because somebody in a nearby campsite is snoring like a drunk bear. You know, the full experience.
A family camping trip can be a wonderful time spent bonding out in nature but it comes with challenges beyond just the weather and environment. Sometimes, the predators encountered at a camping site walk on two legs, not four.
You probably already thought of the traditional supplies necessary for a weekend outdoors: tent, sleeping bags, food, fire starter, bug spray, toilet paper, snacks for the road trip, etc. But what will you use to fend off an attacker, should that need arise?
How you equip yourself starts with what you’re legally allowed to carry. Check with the local laws about firearms, especially if you’re camping out of state. Even if you’re camping close to home, some areas, such as state and national parks, have restrictions on what and where you can carry.
Thanks to a 2010 law, it's legal to carry loaded firearms inside national parks. The law allows for open carry in all parks and concealed carry in parks where your home concealed permit has reciprocity. However, just like with all federal installations, you are not allowed to carry inside certain buildings within the national parks. There should be signs outside telling you whether it's okay before you go in.
Sometimes laws aren’t clearly posted inside the campground or State Park you may be visiting across the United States. For example, here in Missouri, all the park signs say “No weapons” but a park ranger friend of mine said those signs were written before the law changed allowing those with CCW permits to carry inside the parks. So now I carry whenever I hike.
If you’re going to a place that allows you to carry a gun, the next question is: What’s the best way to carry? That depends a lot on your personal preference and any equipment restrictions. For example, are you hiking with a backpack that has a waist belt for support? If so, that may interfere with both open carry on the hip and concealed carry in either appendix or strongside because the waist belt will cover the firearm, making it inaccessible. In this case, you might opt for a chest rig, which puts the gun right in front of you, within easy reach.
If your backpack doesn’t have a waist belt to get in the way or you’re not backpacking, just camping, then an IWB or OWB may work fine. You’ll then have to decide whether you want to open carry or conceal. While concealed carry gives you the tactical advantage of surprise, open carry might serve as a deterrent to potential harm-doers and persuade them to change their minds. It’s up to you.
The third option is an ankle holster, which might work really well because you’re probably wearing some sort of boot or high-ankled walking shoe. Of course, this is assuming you’re wearing pants, not shorts. It’s kinda hard to conceal an ankle holster with shorts. But if you’re wearing pants and boots, concealing an ankle holster can be a cinch.
Of course, there is one more option: off-body carry. In my book, this is the last resort. I’d rather have the gun on my person. But if you’re comfortable with carrying off-body, then a PacMat makes a great option. This setup allows you to stow the gun safely inside your pack without it getting lost or accidentally discharging.
One important tactical consideration beyond how to carry is how to light up the great outdoors. As great as it is to spend time around a campfire, it also ruins your night vision – and gives your attacker plenty of light to see you. Carry either a high-powered handheld tactical flashlight or attach a weapon light to your gun. If you opt for the weapon light, you’ll need a holster that accommodates the accessory.
Whether you're hiking, setting up camp, or building a campfire, always make sure to keep your head on a swivel. Camping should be fun, relaxing, and enjoyable - and it can be if you take the proper precautions to ensure your safety.
How you carry and what you carry can make the difference between being a victim or a happy camper.
Do you carry when camping? Share your experiences, tips in the comments below - we want to hear from you!
David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. In addition to being an NRA-certified RSO, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as you possibly can. “Real life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”
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