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Top 3 Weapons for Wilderness Survival

Last Updated: May 21, 2020

One of the main reasons that people don’t go into the wilderness is because they are too afraid of things like getting eaten by a bear.

Most of these fears are completely irrational and, statistically, you are a lot safer in the wilderness than in a big city.

But it still pays to be prepared and take precautions, so you should know what the best wilderness weapons are.

What Threats Are We Talking About?

Before we talk about what weapons are best for wilderness survival, we’ve got to break down which threats we are talking about.

Animal attacks in the wilderness are actually very rare. Most animals have learned that people are dangerous and will keep their distance from you.

If you are smart while in the wilderness (such as by hanging a bear bag and using a bear canister), then you are probably not going to have any problems with wild animals.

Note that a weapon is useless against some dangerous wild animals (like snakes or poisonous spiders). However, a weapon can help with these animals (to name just a few):

  • Bears
  • Wolves
  • Coyotes
  • Cougars
  • Mountain lions
  • Moose

What about people?

My neighbors are constantly saying that they won’t go into the wild because there might be thieves, rapists, murderers, jail escapees, or other creepy weirdos lurking about.

In a SHTF situation where you’ve got to Bug Out in the wilderness, then I’d definitely want a weapon against starving masses of people you might encounter.   But, in general, the wilderness is a lot safer than the city in terms of crime rates.

As Backpacker Magazine points out, on the Appalachian Trail, there is only 1 crime per 800,000 users! And there have only been 7 people killed there in the past 50 years. Consider that the Appalachian Trail has over 4 million users yearly and you start to realize how much safer the wilderness is than cities.   Los Angeles has a population of about 4 million and has about 250 homicides yearly!

Unfortunately, there is no weapon which can protect against the biggest threat in the wild. That threat is STUPIDITY.

Most people do not die in the wild from bear attacks (there were only 5 fatal cases in all of the 2000s), or even from snake bites.

Most people die because they overestimate their abilities, push their limits too far, or are just straight-up unprepared.

Please don’t go on some insane survivalist trek without first learning essential outdoor survival skills, like how to find water, how to purify water, what to pack, and basic first aid.

If you are new to camping and hiking, take it slow! You don’t have to become a wilderness pro overnight!

Best Weapons for Wilderness Survival

1. Bear Pepper Spray

In my experienced opinion, this is the absolute best weapon for survival in the wilderness.


First off, you aren’t going to kill yourself or a friend if it goes off accidentally. Pepper spray is also very lightweight and can be carried on the side of your pack so it is easily accessible.

Pepper spray is also the BEST WEAPON AGAINST BEARS. I’m not talking about your typical pepper spray, but 1-2% capsicum spray.

Bear spray will coat the eyes, lungs, and nose of a bear. If a bear is charging at you, a gun won’t stop it – but bear spray probably will.

Bear spray is also effective against most other dangerous wild animals, and against people too.

So, if you want an all-around good wilderness weapon, then bear pepper spray it is. It can be had on Amazon here.

bear pepper spray


2. Rocks and Sticks

Why are rocks and sticks such good weapons in the wilderness?

Because they are likely to be the only weapon within arm’s reach.

Mostly you will simply want to back away slowly from most wild animals. With some, you need to stand your ground to show that you are not prey – such as by making yourself look as large as possible and speaking out loud to the animal.

With some animals, such as cougars and coyotes, you should throw rocks at them to scare them off. If the rare case that the animal starts attacking, grab a branch and swing it at the animal. Aim for the nose and eyes when fighting off animals.

Most will back down quickly when you fight back.

*Please note that each animal is different, and there are different things you should do when encountering them. For example, if standing your ground doesn’t work with a grizzly, then you should play dead. With black bears though, you should fight back.

3. Gun

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one, but a gun is generally NOT a good weapon for wilderness survival (I’m talking about your typical hike in the woods, not a SHTF Bug Out situation – for that, you’d want all the weapons you could muster up).

Some pro-gun enthusiasts will argue that a gun is a good weapon in the wilderness to defend against crazy people who might be living there, or against wild animals. But, statistically, you are lot more likely to injure yourself with a gun in the wilderness than protect yourself with one.

Still, I get why people would want a gun, you can’t call 911 in the backcountry!

But there are a lot of practical reasons why a gun is at the bottom of this list of wilderness weapons:

  • You have to carry the gun, and they are heavy! When every ounce matters, I don’t have room in my pack for a gun.
  • A gun is only useful if you can access it quickly, which means you will have to keep it on the outside of your pack.
  • Most wilderness animals are afraid of humans. And, if they do attack you, let’s hope that you are a really good shot. It isn’t easy to hit a bear, moose, wild boar, etc. when it is charging at you!
  • A gun is pretty much useless against a bear. Bears can take multiple shots and still come gore you to death.

It is your right to carry a gun and, if it makes you feel more secure, then okay.

But, if you want a gun to actually help you in a survival situation, then follow this advice from Truth About Guns:

  • Nothing less than a .357 Magnum for black bears
  • Nothing less than a .44 Magnum for grizzlies
  • For Canadian brown bears, you better have a big bore rifle!
  • Use bear spray as the first line of defense, a holster pistol as the second line of defense, and your large caliber revolver as the final line of defense

Do you carry a weapon into the wilderness?  Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. I do carry a gun on hikes thru the woods. I’ve come across idiots there too. Here’s a reality check, they are everywhere!

    • I am 76 years old and have worked over 50 years in the back country, in this time I have had to kill four black bears and one brown bear. All were shot when they attacked wile I was working. There was no apparent reason for an attack. I was pleased to be carrying a large caliber hand gun, and am an very good shot, even under pressure. This comes from much practice.
      I must also include each incident was reported to the local authorities, all were ruled self defence.

  2. I always carry a handgun in the woods. It is only pulled in dire emergencies. It can be used for several emergency situations. Fire starting, a sinan tool. And peace of mind.

  3. If I have clothes on I have a gun.
    If you are in the woods carry a revolver with the first chamber having snake shot ( Bye Bye Snake ) and good hunting rounds in the rest.
    Trust me if you hit a bear at 75 yards that is coming at you I promise (.357) you won’t have to hit him but twice, He won’t necessarily die , But he won’t hang around to get shot a 3rd time either.
    If one comes out of nowhere and is on you.?
    Pray to God, Because as a Born again Christian you will either be delivered from the Bear or be going to your Heavenly Home.
    But I did enjoy and agree with 99.999% of what you said.
    Hey, That’s more than I believe myself

  4. The only bear that ever charged me, a large black boar, was sure as hell stopped right in his tracks with one shot, (a .50 muzzle loader), I carry a single shot shotgun (20 or 12),as bear protection when wilderness camping and canoeing and feel confident it will work fine.

  5. I am from Alaska and when we are in bear country we carry pepper spray if needed for bears and moose, and someone has either a .44 or 12 gauge with slugs and 00. However, if we are out in the wilderness miles away from assistance, we also have a .22 for ptarmigan or hare. That is the best meat getter. It would be pretty dumb to shoot a moose in a survival circumstance, and really difficult to explain – it’s illegal out of season and wighout tags. Besides, if you’re healthy and trying to hike out, a hunk of moose or caribou will spoil. Think spray and as a last resort a gun, because attacks when they do happen are often from close range, sudden, violent, and spray is probably your better line of initial defense.

  6. A guy I worked with and his wife generally camp and back-pack in the Rockies in Colorado. They both carry bear spray. They also both carry a side arm. .357 mags. with 20 extra rounds in loops on their belts. On the side of his pack he also carried a sawed-off, stock shortened 12 gauge w/bird shot. perfect weapon to shoot a predator in the face to put their eyes out. And if your weapons are part of your everytime gear…you will get used to carrying them. Just make sure you have a comfortable side rig. A Sam Brown strap helps.

    2 years ago they were threatened by a large black bear that ran around a tree and confronted them. He looked as though he was going to attack one of them but was trying to decide which.
    He hit him with his pepper spray and he immediately started to rub his face in the dirt. He was pissed. Knowing that they had to come back that way in a couple of days……He shot the bear twice in the head. Pushed it’s body over an embankment. They could’ve just left. But they decided he wasn’t safe for their return or any others that may come that way.

  7. The guides I’ve traveled with in Alaska carry bear spray and a large bore rifle or shotgun. The only time I’ve ever seen either used in the field is when a guide mistakenly fired his weapon at a rock on the side of the trail, and a bullet fragment hit another hiker in the arm.

  8. I would never go into the woods without a suitable weapon. Carrying a gun can wind up shooting your friend is B.S. Sounds like typical anti gun rhetoric. Pepper spray yes it works. Want something else. Good plain old ammonia in a squirt gun that doesn’t leak. It will stop any furry animal. I guarantee he will stop right in his tracks trying to breath and trying to see. It will wear off but not before your a mile or two away. The only reason why I would ever use spray first is to protect the animal but then again, you may not get a second chance.

  9. I was a State Trooper and we had an incident on the AT awhile back. So myself and 2 other Troopers are walking a section looking for anything related to the incident. We ran into a little older woman hiking and naturally she was qurious why we were there. We told her and informed her it was ok. She said she wasnt worried and opened up a fanny pack and showed us a Taurus Judge! She said she wasnt scared of no booger bears. 3 .410 pumpkin balls and 2 .45 long colt. We just laughed and let her go by.

  10. Okay I’m about to let my inner ahole out to play, so buckle up buttercups.

    1st: The majority of people are complete and utter dumbasses. Think of how stupid your AVERAGE person is, and then realize that 85% are DUMBER than that. The majority truly do not need to carry firearms because the majority are NOT trained to use them properly. Sending rounds down range in a controlled environment is VASTLY different than trying to calmly, draw, aim, and fire your firearm when you have a several hundred pound aggressive animal bearing down on you and you have seconds to react properly.

    2nd: To those saying to use a large caliber (.357) PISTOL at 75 yards. Most pistols have a very short range, you can tell this by the short barrel that they have. A typical, unmodified pistol, is only accurate within 25 to 30 yards or so. Popping off rounds at 75 yrds and expecting to hit anything with any accuracy is a pipe dream. And in most areas where you will encounter dangerous wildlife, you’re not going to have 75 yards of clear firing lines anyway.

    3rd: Someone else said that not carrying a firearm because you’ll shoot your friend sound like anti-firearm rhetoric. The truth is that, AGAIN, the majority of people who want to go packing a firearm into the wild have no goddamn training. They will end up shooting their friend, or some poor schmuck who is just taking a leak in the bushes, because they will PANIC and shoot before actually identifying that the noose they heard in the bushes was, in fact, a THREAT! Truth is, few people get the necessary training to properly use a firearm and think they know all about firearms because they play Call of Duty or watched a lot of war movies.

    4th: Firearms and ammunition are bloody HEAVY! Toting that stuff around requires effort and causes you to expend energy. It also replaces some other piece of gear that you might need more in the wild. And in most cases, it provides a false sense of security. In the wilderness many animals are nocturnal, you know, the time when you put on the onesie your mommy packed for your camping trip and you climb into your Harry Potter sleeping bag and drift off to dream of being accepted into Hogwarts. A firearm doesn’t do a damn bit of good if your asleep, or it’s in your pack, or an animal is already mauling you.

    And to summarize: In most scenarios people with firearms do not put in the time and effort to get training to properly use and maintain them. They have no idea what the effective range of their firearm is, how far a round can travel after it’s fired, and have never, ever, fired a firearm in a real life or death situation. And believe me when I say that when you are faced with the prospect of death, your adrenaline is pumping, your hands are shaking, and you have urine running down your leg from the fear, unless you have lodes of training and muscle memory to draw upon, so that your body reacts without your mind guiding it, you’re not going to hit the broad side of a barn from two feet away.

    • Yep..
      That is the best description of assholes… Bear spray is first defense As a avid hunter I do not kill unless I going to eat it. As for weapon of choice .44 mag 8 3/8 barrel for the last resort. I have it sighted at 100 yards no scope. Just aim it 5″ lower for close in counters. Most people get the shakes, but I train to be prepared because like you said there are too many stupid people.

    • You are right, you let your inner a hole shine. To bad, you were also rolling out misinformation like it was going out of style. Yes, there are people who shouldn’t carry a gun. There are people who should, and we don’t always get to choose. That doesn’t really give you the right to force your opinion on others though. Have a nice day.

      • No opinions are being “forced” on anyone here. And he actually does have the right to voice his opinion — it’s called free speech, and it’s awesome.

    • I see nothing wrong with your inner ahole the truth is truth not enough training and yes when it comes time u need a weapon be it human or animal u need to hit it a lot of elements r in factore like u said Adrenalin fear a lot of law enforcement officers will not even realize how many rounds they have fired weapon is most times empty some will reload muscle memory thank god for some I’ve been around firearms my whole life hunted as kid army combat arms 24 yrs combat tours several took atleast 6 to 10 engagements with enemy to learn to control those factors that overwhelm everybody that has to use a weapon if gonna pack it practice practice safety safety identify your target so as not to shoot billy bob watching wood peckers best bet spray spray spray if it doesn’t work u will hopefully on suffer for few min but just maybe u and animal will avoid each other as far as nuts in the woods sure there’s plenty of them they don’t wear signs I’m sure they look just like u and me so who knows

  11. Hey Richard – had to edit some language but you make some very valid points which we can all learn from. Some harsh truths in there that need to be faced.

  12. All my trips to the woods include a .357 pistol and bear spray. Peace of mind, although the only critters I worry about are of the 2 leg variety. The only thing I have stumbled across in the woods are ‘mary Jane patches’. I also practice every week with my pistol.

  13. I would very much like to remain anonymous. You may call me chicken but I don’t need the world to know my business. ANY length of time in the wilderness is unforseen. YES there are more stupid people than smart people. But that does not stop a stupid person from driving a car, and most CERTAINLY, will not stop a stupid person from spraying his bear spray into the wind, or dropping it in his tent or into the fire, or testing it on friends that may have asthma and die, etc… Please check your stats on how often this happens then multiply it by 20. Stupid people don’t know they are stupid and when they do something stupid they don’t like anyone to know. Even non stupid people make mistakes. Unlike firearm mistakes that ALWAYS get reported (then exaggerated). There is no anti-bear spray organizations.
    A gun requires a series of actions to accidentally go off. First – involves a round in the chamber. If you can not draw your semi-auto and pull back the slide in a fluid motion quickly then you are NOT trained.
    Second – involves not having a proper holster where the trigger is protected at all times. A revolver always has a round in the chamber so protect the trigger. However leaving the first chamber of a revolver empty is even better. Again if you can’t pull rapid double taps of the trigger on target when needed, your NOT trained.
    Third – is not pointing the firearm in a safe direction at all times when being carried.
    Bear spray can not be used as a signalling device, bear spray can not get you meat in an emergency.

    • Thanks for your comments Chris. There are two sides to this argument and some good heartfelt debate going on here. We will let it run whilst things remain respectful!

  14. I hear everything all of you are saying, but what I don’t hear is a solution to make things better. You can start by helping the ignorant or inexperienced learn the right way to do things and help them to improve their intelligence and common sense, so that when they do whatever they’re going to do, it’s done safely and intelligently! People, those of us who are trained and intelligent have a responsibility to help those who aren’t and to keep things safe for all of us! We become the teachers, and if we teach them right, then we have done our part, and did what was right to make things better! We are always learning, and we never learn it all, but that’s the journey we take together or alone, striving to do our best because that’s what we do as good intelligent human beings!

    • Very well said I truly think u have the idea that if we can teach someone the safest way to carry there weapon in the woods we should if that weapon is spray or bullet either way teaching someone something the right way safe way is best in the end it’s there personal choice so I think your comment was my favorite of the bunch

  15. I have lived in Alaska for many years and dealt with quite a few bears and as a paramedic I’ve had several bear attack patients. And no bear spray does not work on Bears. It has been tried here without success. There’s a reason the guides don’t use to backup clients.

  16. I enjoyed all the opinions on safety in the wilderness. Here in rural Colorado, I am always armed. My preferred sidearm in a .44 Mag revolver. In our community, we have all kinds of predators…black bear, mountain lion, coyotes, feral dogs, hybrid wolves [yes, we have had several residents in our community with these as pets they are turned loose and escape] and humans. Sadly, the good city people of Colorado just voted to allow the state to release 500 grey wolves into the wild. What do city folks know about wolves…nothing? Most of us stay alert when walking in the back-country.

    No one mentioned ammunition. I carry full metal jacketed bullets in my revolvers. My preferred method of carrying is a tanker style holster. If one of my neighbors sees a bear up-close and personal, I have a nice little Model 94 Trapper in .44 Magnum. It weighs 6 1/2 pounds and is light to carry.

    Quite a few of the contributors used the word “stupid” frequently when I think they meant “ignorant.” When I started buying serious handguns, I sought training. I am a Gunsite graduate. It is a good idea to find out how much firearm experience your hiking partners have. Oh, for the record my bear experience is about 95% black bears, but I have had a face to face with a grizzly while on a elk hunt just outside of Yellowstone. I am glad that I was armed, but fortunately the bear had some place else to go. We were lucky that day.

    • I appreciate the insight about “stupid” vs. “ignorant.” Unfortunately, too many people buy firearms on an impulse without getting proper training or makin ga plan for continuing training. I love Colorado BTW. Have great memories of collecting blue rocks near Colorado Springs.

  17. I carry a gun simply because after I get out of the Shower and put my clothes on, I Holster a gun before I put my wallet in my hip pocket.
    Home invaders and psychos don’t call first so I have carried a concealed Firearm for well over 20 years legally, And truth be told I carried one when I went in suspect places as I would rather be judged by 12 than carried out by 6.
    Therefore carrying a firearm into the wilderness if nothing else would be a force of Habbit. I have not yet had to lill anyone so Therefore it has remained holstered. My late Father was in a Special Operations team and taught Me when I was a Child that you NEVER pull a firearm out on ANYBODY, Not to intimidate, Not to Frighten, Not to act big and bad, But for 1 reason only, To Make it the absolute LAST THING the person you draw on sees.
    I was in the Military and learned to Shoot from the Best shooter I have ever known.
    But I do think that anyone before they purchase a firearm of any type, 1) Have a reason, 2) Get properly trained in maintenance and Cleaning of the gun, 3) Take a Safety and Shooting course and finally make sure you carry the right tool for the Job.


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