Plan and Prepare
Safety Tips and Crime Prevention
While the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is safer than most places, it is not immune from crime or insulated against the problems of the larger society.
- Stay aware of your surroundings: where you are, what you are doing, and who’s around.
- If your safety is threatened, call 9-1-1.
- Share your plans with someone at home but not strangers, online or in person. Check in with home as often as is feasible.
- Pay as much attention to your mental preparation as your gear.
- Mobile phone reception is unpredictable and in places nonexistent; consider a satellite-guided messenger device for long treks.
- Carry a map; no batteries are required.
Although the A.T. is safer than most places, it is not immune from crime. In heavily used areas, A.T. “ridgerunners” and “caretakers” act as roving eyes and ears for Trail managers and public education. They are not law enforcement. And, many areas of the Trail are remote, with little or no cellphone coverage, and help may be far away.
Safety awareness is one of your best lines of defense, and your mental preparedness and concentration on your surroundings provide your best tool in responding to situations. Here are some suggestions to minimize crime-related risk on the A.T., whether you’re day-hiking or thru-hiking.
Leave your hiking plans with someone at home and check in frequently
- Establish a time you will check in upon completion of your trip, as well as a procedure to follow if you fail to check in. Be sure your contacts and your family know your “Trail name” if you have one. On short hikes, provide them with the number of the land-managing agency for the area of your hike—information available on ATC maps or easily found on the Internet once you identify the federal or state agency.
- On extended hikes, provide someone at home the ATC Incident Reporting link at appalachiantrail.org/incidents. Long-distance hikers should check in regularly back home and be mindful that any deviation from a set pattern will likely cause anxiety and possibly an unnecessary search. Also, let folks at home know when you are entering more remote areas where you may not be able to get cellphone service for an extended period.
Sharpen your situational awareness
- Situational awareness—in English, staying aware of your surroundings is one of your best defenses against crime. Be aware of what you are doing, where you are, and with whom you are talking. Remember to trust your gut—it’s usually right, even when your brain can’t explain why.
- Before you go, think about what could go wrong and how you will deal with it.
- Be aware that cell phones and earbuds may distract you and prevent you from seeing or hearing cues that could help you avert a dangerous situation.
- Always carry an outer layer of clothing that will protect you from wind and rain in the event you have to spend unplanned time in the woods during inclement weather.
Use extra caution if hiking alone
- You are safest with a group; neither a single partner nor a dog is a guarantee of safety. Moreover, do not succumb to a false sense of security when trekking with a partner. If you are by yourself, there is no need to broadcast that you are hiking alone or give information about your plans.
- If you are by yourself and encounter a stranger who makes you feel uncomfortable, say you are with a group that is behind you.
- If you encounter someone who makes you feel uneasy, avoid engaging them, and put distance between you. Move on; try to connect with another group of hikers. Always pay attention to your instincts about other people.
Be wary of strangers
- Be polite, but cautious. Don’t tell strangers your plans. Avoid or get away quickly from people who act suspiciously, seem hostile or unstable, or are intoxicated.
- If your safety is threatened, call 911. Do not feel you need to decide what is or is not a crime before you call — law enforcement will make that decision. Most importantly, telling the world on social media does not count; law enforcement seldom monitors Trail-related social media.
- If you see something suspicious, stay safe, and tell us about it. If you are unable to call 911, notify local law enforcement as soon as possible.
Use the Trail registers (the notebooks stored at most shelters)
- If someone needs to locate you, or if a serious crime has been committed along the Trail, registers entries may be helpful to authorities. Sign in so that family back home will know it’s you (let them know if you have adopted a Trail name). When signing in, consider not using gender-specific names or revealing personal information that may increase your vulnerability. Leave a note, and report any suspicious activities in the Trail registers.
- Be wary of posting your location or itinerary on online journals or social media in real time. A password-protected blog or site can offer more protection.
Be aware that you may encounter different cultural norms along the Trail
- Hikers on the A.T. are an eclectic bunch. Actions, clothing, or language choices that may be viewed as simply freedom of expression in the generally accepting culture of the A.T. or your own social circle can be viewed quite differently in some local communities or by individual hikers on the Trail.
- The A.T. has an extraordinary culture of kindness, tolerance, and generosity and is sometimes viewed as a sanctuary from the ills of the modern world. However, remember that the Trail is not insulated against the problems of the larger society, and no personality or other tests are required to step foot on the A.T. Maintain situational awareness at all times and remember you are responsible for your own safety.
Carrying firearms on the A.T. requires a lot of forethought and planning
In general, ATC discourages the carrying of firearms on the Trail for the reasons noted below. On federal lands administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), possession of a firearm must be in compliance with the law of the state in which the federal land is located. Many hikers feel the carrying of firearms is unnecessary and contrary to the social nature of the Trail. Firearms can be turned against you or result in an accidental shooting and are extra weight. If you plan to carry, be sure to acquire training beforehand and mentally prepare yourself for using the firearm. Because laws related to carry and concealed carry vary by state and land unit, it’s best to contact the forest, park, or state land unit through which you’ll be passing to ensure that you are aware of the relevant laws and have acquired any necessary permits. Firearms are not permitted in post offices and NPS buildings, including visitor centers.
More information about laws pertaining to carrying firearms in various locations along the A.T. can be found here:
- Regulations regarding firearms on NPS A.T. corridor lands (with links to state statutes on firearms in the 14 states the A.T. passes through)
- Firearms in National Parks (NPS guidance)
- Laws Regarding Firearms on National Forest Lands (USFS Guidance)
- ATC’s Hunting page (Safety tips for hikers and info for hunters)
Avoid hitchhiking or accepting rides
- Hikers needing to get into towns are safest making arrangements beforehand and budgeting for shuttles (or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft where they are available). Remember that cell service may not be available at many trailheads.
- If an emergency situation requires you to hitchhike, be sure to have a partner, and flag down a vehicle yourself, so you chose the vehicle, not vice versa. Let someone know your plans ahead of time. Make a careful evaluation before entering a vehicle. Size up the driver, occupants, and condition of the vehicle. If anything just “doesn’t add up,” decline the offer.
- Before you accept a ride, make sure you have your phone (with some battery life left), ID, and wallet on your person. Do not get separated from your pack. Photograph or write down the license plate and note the make, model, and color of the vehicle. Note that hitchhiking is illegal in some states, and carefully consider the risks you are taking. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck is extremely dangerous from a crash perspective and should be avoided. If you have a negative encounter, report it to the local police.
Eliminate opportunities for theft
- Don’t bring jewelry. Hide your money and any other valuables. If you must leave your pack momentarily, hide it or leave it with someone trustworthy. Don’t leave valuables or equipment (especially in sight) in vehicles parked at Trailheads, and don’t camp near roads.
- More tips for leaving a parked vehicle can be found on our Parking, Shuttles & Transportation page.
Report an incident
While the Appalachian Trail is a relatively safe place to visit, that does not mean that there are no potential dangers while you are hiking or camping. If you see something, say something — this will help us keep the A.T. as safe as possible for Trail visitors.