A properly attired hiker: Blaze orange in hunting season

TL;DR: Wearing the same amount of blaze orange as required by hunters is wise. Hunters will not shoot at “anything that moves,” but instead, they will not shoot at all if a person is in their firing area. Wearing blaze orange is good for safety; the hunters appreciate it, and wearing blaze orange is a respectful way of sharing the outdoors among all users.

A few years ago, during a shoulder season backpacking trip (attempt!), Swami and I started the first day of rifle season for elk hunting.

This day meant that the taking of blaze orange (also called hunter orange) for our trip was an excellent idea.

Oddly enough, the wearing of blaze orange is not a requirement for non-hunters in Colorado But, we thought it would still be a good idea for our safety and the hunters’ peace of mind.

With that recent experience in mind, here are some ideas for the wearing of blaze orange beyond a simple vest.

What are the dates and rules for hunting season?

The most obvious step is to find out what date the various hunting seasons start in your state (or province if hiking in nearby Canada).  Note that “hunting season” is a broad term. Hunting season gets split into different types of hunting, areas,  and even weapon types. Big game? Fowl? Deer? Elk? Bowhunting? Muzzle? Rifle? The specific location and unit? You get the idea.

Different seasons and areas have different rules. GENERALLY rifle season requires blaze orange; strictly bow hunting season does not. But, again, find out the dates and regulations for the specific area first.  The various sites I found for all the states had many outdated links.  Better to Google, for example,  Hunting season dates in Colorado More specific and up-to-date.

After that, find out the blaze orange regulations. How much is required, and where you must wear it. Google is again your friend for specific rules.  Here’s a current site for that type of info.

In Colorado, 500 square inches must be worn and visible. That means visible both above the waist and on the head.

As you can see from some of the older photos, we did not 100% follow the hunting regulations during that weekend as hikers. As my awareness increased over the seasons, I changed my clothing for rifle season in particular.

As of 2020, I wear a vest, a hat cover (typically not in stock until the fall), and a pack cover. During cold weather, I wear a blaze orange thermal top.  When it is cool but not cold, a light thermal crew top works well. More info on those items below.

As mentioned, Colorado only requires blaze orange for hunters. In my home state of Rhode Island, wearing blaze orange is required of all users of the DEM lands

Regardless of the specific regulations concerning who is required to wear blaze orange, all outdoor users really should wear blaze orange during this time of the year.

When we were out hiking that weekend, the hunters expressed appreciation that we wore blaze orange. We are sharing the woods, and all users want a good experience for everyone.

Wearing blaze orange is needed for safety, the vests and headgear are inexpensive, and wearing the blaze orange gear is easy to do.

Though hiker accidents are rare during hunting season (esp. compared to the number of people using the outdoors for recreation), any accidents that do happen are typical because no blaze orange gets worn.

According to this article from a hunting-focused website:

In 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that in the past 20 years, 81 percent of victims in vision-related hunting incidents were not wearing hunter orange clothing.

 So, no reason not to wear blaze orange clothing.

In the La Sal Mountains Oct 2019. Note the visibility versus the 2014 photos. I wear a blaze orange thermal under my fleece, a blaze orange pack cover, the blaze orange hat cover, and an Orange Aglow vest.


What to wear?

Many retailers will not stock blaze orange or blaze pink items meant for hunting until around early September. If an item below is out of stock currently, the retailer might stock it again once the general rifle season starts before the fall.

  • The first and most obvious place is the vest for the core area. Avoid plastic vests and get better polyester vests. These vests are perhaps $10 or less. I like mine sized larger for putting over my other clothes, including insulation layers. At this time of the year, many big box stores, local hardware stores/outfitters, and XYZMarts tend to have the blaze orange.

Oct 2020, La Sal Mountains. Joan sporting the 2 oz Orange Aglow vest. 

You have a safe, versatile, and not at all heavy (concerning ounces) coverage for hunting season for a small monetary investment.

As a side note, some states now allow “blaze pink” as an alternative. There are no standards for what constitutes blaze pink. Check the local state jurisdictions to see if they allow this choice.  This motif is relatively new; there are fewer options for a high visibility pink vs. a more subdued pink esp with non-cotton technical clothing. Here’s a simple vest, ball cap, base layer shirts, and a  warm hat

What about other high-vis colors?  If your clothing collection includes a high-vis yellow-green shirt such as found for construction or running, that should work. Assuming the local areas do not require blaze orange for all outdoor users regardless of hunting or not. However, many hikers tend to wear muted colors. Myself included.  Unless you happen to have high vis colors already in your clothing collection, I think blaze orange makes for a better choice.  Hunters tend to look for blaze orange, and there are more non-cotton options available for blaze orange, such as thermals, hat and hat covers, pack covers, etc., vs. the other colors.

Canine companions and blaze orange

On our recent trip, I was a bit surprised to see a trail runner out with no blaze orange clothing. Even more surprising, to see his dog with no blaze orange on. A brown dog with white spots…..Yikes!

Safety for your pooch is just as important. Perhaps even more so in a sense, your furry friend is on four legs and running.

At the very least, get a blaze orange bandanna to attach to your dog’s collar.

Better yet, a vest or harness is going to give more coverage and visibility.  And if you want something more durable,  Ruff Wear sells a more robust harness if needed.

Already have a harness and don’t wish to buy additional gear? Orange Aglow sells safety panels that could easily attach to an existing harness.

Roots

Photo from Ruff Wear blog

At dawn and dusk

As noted by Colter in the comments, visibility is very low at dawn and dusk.  The time when many hunters are out and about, too. Wearing a LED light of some sort is advisable. Many headlamps have a low light, blinking mode that works well for long-distance visibility.

In the end…

There is no reason NOT to wear blaze orange when hiking. For the hiker and outdoors people in general, the wearing of blaze orange will keep you safe, put the hunters at ease knowing you are helping with general safety, and make for a more pleasant experience for everyone sharing the woods.   It is not that “hunters are shooting at everything.” Most are responsible. The wearing of blaze orange helps hunters so they can see you are nearby before they take their shot.

The clothing and gear are reasonable in price, and the weight penalty is slight.

Just do it.

Courtesy of thehikinglife.com. My blaze orange coverage is expanded currently vs. 2014 when we took this photo.

Revised 2020

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Philip B.
Philip B.
6 years ago

Thanks for this. I’ve been hesitant to hike during hunting season. Wearing more visible clothing will help me feel safer!

Joe Gaffney
Joe Gaffney
6 years ago

I just finished a 4-day trip in Ansel Adams, ending on day 2 of deer season. I met 3 hunters on the trail, all carrying loaded rifles. We chatted, trading experiences, and continued. I’m also a firearms owner, so I know their rifles were loaded with the safety on. I didn’t worry about my safety because I was staying on the trail, and because I have a blue backpack. Hunters are not going to squeeze off a round at anything that moves – they’re looking for fur and antlers. But, if you are bushwacking through a thicket, you may want… Read more »

Miner
Miner
6 years ago

Normally, I like wearing muted colors in the backcountry. The color of my clothing and gear are typically tans, browns, and greens so I often blend into the background and other people don’t notice me if I’m not moving. As an example, while taking a break next to the trail in Yosemite NP, a backcounty ranger walked right by me and then stopped another hiker coming along 20 yards down the trail to ask him for his permit and bear can. But, during hunting season or when doing paved road walks, I wear a bright orange wind jacket (Montbell Tachyon… Read more »

Doug K
5 years ago

we came from S. Africa where there is no such thing as public hunting, wandered into Three Sisters Wilderness on the first week of deer season. Quite apart from the season of which we were blissfully ignorant, it never occurred to me there would be hunters in a wilderness area. The grey flysheet was hanging in a tree drying in the breeze as we ate breakfast. Someone shot it. At that point I wasn’t many years removed from the experience of being shot at in a war zone, so there was a lot of yelling and obscenity.. never did find… Read more »

bacpacind
bacpacind
4 years ago

How about wearing a yellow reflective construction vest instead of hunter orange? Mainly because I already own the construction vest. Any thoughts?

Colter
Colter
2 years ago

Very sensible Mags, as usual. As a hunter, I especially appreciated this part: “Hunters will not shoot at ‘anything that moves,’ but instead they will not shoot at all if a person is in their firing area.” I’m always a big fan of putting things in perspective, of quantifying risk. There are something like 42 million hikers and 16 million hunters. Most years there are no hiker fatalities. The risk of hiking during hunting season is tiny compared to say, horseback riding or boating or running. But during rifle season I’m STILL going to do as you suggest for the… Read more »

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[…] season starts in late autumn. It is definitely in full swing by November. Make sure you wear bright orange gear so that hunters can easily spot you in the […]

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[…] may not be most people’s favorite, but orange is the best color to wear when hiking. Neon orange vests really stand out from nature, but red and […]

Bernie
Bernie
11 months ago

What, no blaze orange boonie hat? 😉 That’s my goto during the early part of the fall hunting season and especially the spring turkey season here in Michigan. Stay safe and thanks for all the great info that you put out!

Andy Pickering
Andy Pickering
9 months ago

Good tips, no reason not to wear orange during hunting season. It also makes you more visible to searchers if you happen to become injured or lost. That video where they demonstrate how visible people wearing different outfits are at various distances is really effective! The thing I would worry about more (which you touch on when you say “they will not shoot at all if a person is in their firing area”) is not so much about being confused for an animal (a responsible hunter is not going to shoot at anything unless they can clearly identify what it… Read more »

JimM
JimM
1 month ago

Your link to the hat cover appears to be broken. A blaze orange Buff can can serve as a head or hat cover (either as a beanie over a ball cap or around the crown of a brimmed hat). They come in different weights (summer, winter): https://www.buffusa.com/search-buff/orange. For even less (if you can find a way to order with other items to get free shipping) is an orange neck buff for dogs, out of stock from Buff, but available at https://www.backcountry.com/buff-dog-neck-buff. The M/L size is about 9×9 or as big around but half as long as a regular Buff, still… Read more »

Martin
Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

I use an orange under armour running cap…..it weighs 1.8 oz. It’s not truly dayglo orange ….but it is relatively bright orange If I wasn’t wearing it I’d be wearing a white one so it’s really no difference. Pretty simple to pin a day glo orange bandana to the back of your pack also. These two things weigh about 2.8 Oz. Together. Everyone should wear bright clothing. What you don’t want is someone to point a high-powered rifle at you to look through their scope just to see what you are…….. Frequently very long distance shots made 200 to 300… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Martin