Protecting yourself while hiking on the Appalachian Trail


UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Just days after a man accused of threatening hikers along the Appalachian Trail was arrested, one of those hikers told News Channel 11’s Blake Lipton she came face to face with the suspect. 

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office arrested 30-year-old James Jordon Monday night after hikers alerted police that Jordon was carrying a knife.

Jordon now faces multiple drug charges.

“So then he turns around and picks up a broken shovel and turns to me and says go,” said Liberty McDonald, “and I’m freaked out.”

McDonald encountered Jordon at a shelter along the Appalachian trail.

“It was still really freaky,” she said, “knowing that there was a guy out their treatening people.”

Erwin Outdoor Supply Co-Owner Tyler Bevins said events like this are uncommon along the Appalachain Trail. 

He said one of the best way to protect yourself is to stick with the pack.

“Hiking in groups is usually pretty safe,” he said.

Listening to your instincts can also help.

“Trust your gut, first and foremost” said Chloe De Camara, Trail Education Specialist with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “Make sure people know where you are and make sure you’re not telling people where you are if you don’t trust them.”

She said it’s also best to have a plan and to bring all the supplies you need.

“I don’t think pepper spray is necessary,” said De Camara. “Now, if you are going to be in bear country, bear spray is a different story.”

According to the National Park Service, visitors may possess firearms within a National Park unit, provided they comply with federal, state and local laws.

“You can carry in Tennessee, open or concealed,” said Larry Shanks, gun salesman at Mahoney’s. “Now, if you go to Virginia or North Carolina, those states are reciprocal, they will honor the Tennessee hand gun carry permit.”

It should be noted that you are only allowed open or concealed carry in Tennessee if you have no criminal convictions.

Shanks suggests reading each state’s gun laws ahead of time and to avoid open carry.

“I don’t even suggest you do even hiking,” he said. “You need to have it concealed so everybody that you meet doesn’t know you are carrying a weapon.”

We also took a look at knife laws in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

In Tennessee, a knife of any kind may be carried opened or concealed.

North Caolina places restrictions on concealed carry, prohibiting any bowie knife, dirk, razor or dagger.

Virginia does not prohibit open carry of any knife, but the law says concealed carry of a knife should be carefully evaluated.

Other hiking safety tips include:

1.       Let someone know what your plans are. Let them know what time you plan to be done with your hike – and tell them a time when they should start worrying.

2.       If something doesn’t feel right, get out of the area. Notify local authorities and/or the Appalachian Trail Conservancy if necessary.

3.       You don’t have to tell anyone on the trail your plans or that you’re hiking alone.

4.       Never post on social media where you are in real-time.

5.       If leaving notes in Appalachian Trail shelter logs, use a gender-neutral trail name. Also, don’t be too specific with your plans in the logs. It can be as simple as “Blue – stopping for water.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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