5 Ways to Spot Dangerous People on the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Muriel "Nora V" Epling near Franconia Notch, NH ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Muriel "Nora V" Epling, hitchhiking near Franconia Notch, NH. She is not a psychopath. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Some hikers believe they have a special sense when it comes to judging strangers. They think they can tell the difference -- somehow -- between average people, unusual but safe strangers and dangerous people on or off the Appalachian Trail.

While visiting Franconia Notch in New Hampshire's White Mountain State Park, I saw a young lady hitchhiking near the Appalachian Trail.

As the father of two adult daughters, I felt a bit of concern for her. So, I turned my car around and drove her into Lincoln for conversation, pictures and Trail Magic.

Nora V turned out to be an awesome person thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. She wasn't the least bit weird (except for being a thru-hiker). Things don't always turn out so well.

If you're going to hitchhike in an area where you don't know anyone and no one knows you, please be cautious. Don't put all your trust in your gut feelings when you hike the AT either.

A book titled Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us was written by retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole, Ph.D. Although it was released three years ago, I just came across it online at Mother Nature Network's website.

Dr. O'Toole says dangerous people who are classified as "psychopaths" -- roughly one person out of every 100 -- often have these personality traits:

  • a lack of empathy or remorse
  • shallow emotions
  • extremely charming and
  • manipulative.

Dr. O'Toole believes people often over-rate their ability to tell who is merely eccentric and those who might be physically dangerous to themselves or others. There is a fine line between a warning to the wise and fear mongering. Knowledge is power. We want to empower you to learn new ways to discern who might be a threat.

Common Safety Tips for Hikers

Those who know the Trail best will tell you that areas within a mile or two of crossroads are where you are more likely to encounter troublesome people, not way back in the deep, dark forest. It's always wise to hike and camp with people you know and trust. Be sure someone knows where you are and check in with them at regular intervals, in case something goes wrong. Don't be afraid to stomp on the instep of an attacker or slam a knee into a male attacker's groin. It's better to scratch someone's eyes in order to protect your life than it is to be a merciful victim. If you must, fight for your life. Avoiding trouble, however, is always your first defense.

Dr. O'Toole's Five Ways to Spot Dangerous People

  • Impulsivity

Impulsivity can be observed in children and in adults who lack self-control. This does not mean that everyone who lacks maturity or who enjoys spontaneity is dangerous. It can be, however, one of the indicators of someone who might be dangerous.

  • Inappropriate Anger

Anger is common to us all. When expressed appropriately, it is normal. Fits of rage or explosive bursts of anger are not appropriate. Have we all lost our tempers? Yes, but a person who freaks out irrationally should make you wonder if they might be dangerous.

  • Narcissism

Narcissism has been defined as "extreme selfishness with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration." It is more than vanity or being self-centered. In a person who exhibits other warning signs, narcissism can be life-controlling. Can you think of someone who appears to be a narcissist?

  • Lack of Empathy

Dangerous people can be uncaring and inconsiderate with no remorse or guilt. This is far more than a lack of manners. It can be the absence of a conscience.

  • Injustice Collecting

We all struggle with forgiving those who wrong us. It's easy to hold on to a grudge too long. Dangerous people take this to an extreme. Old offenses are not forgiven or forgotten and easily rise to the surface to control the behavior of unhealthy individuals.

Be Cautious, Not Fearful

Don't be afraid of strangers but be cautious. If you see several of these traits or others that concern you in strangers on or off the Trail, use your best judgment.

Protect yourself and others. Enjoy your time in the woods and on hikes. Just be alert to those who appear to have qualities that might be dangerous.

Read Dr. O'Toole's book for more insights and tips on staying safe in a world filled with kind and not-so-kind strangers.


Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, Crime, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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