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When camping in a bear country, will a tent provide an additional protection from bears, as opposed to just sleeping outside or in a hammock? Provided I take the usual precautions of keeping any food, toothpaste etc in some other place than the one I sleep at?

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@Graham: I understand that the tent will not offer any physical protection, I just want to know, am I actually inviting the bears to eat me when sleeping outside. You know, like if you don't hide your head in the sleeping bag, the wild foxes will come and chew it up. –  Jan Hlavacek Jan 26 '12 at 15:38

4 Answers 4

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No, a tent will not give you any protection from bears that want what's inside. If you want to use one thats fine, but don't go getting a false sense of security.

In some ways a tent could be an attractant if:

  1. You have eaten anything in it over the last 6 months.
  2. You keep good smelling clothes in it (like the ones you wash in nice smelling detergent).
  3. If you cooked food near it on an open fire or stove.

These smells can get into the fabric and stick around for a while.

There are a lot of backcountry veterans who sleep "open sky", even in winter using nothing but a water proof tarp. I have really enjoyed it, and it gives you a better sense of what's around you in the wilderness.

In high winds however there is nothing like a good double wall tent, but just remember:

  • Follow bear country best practices.
  • Don't cook in the tent.
  • Keep all food in a bear bag or container 500ft outside camp, with your cooking clothes.
  • Wash the tent several times each season to keep the smells down. Mmmmm salt....
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with your cooking clothes, do you leave your clothes at the “kitchen”, walking to and from your tent naked / in special clothes? –  gerrit Oct 19 '13 at 17:24
    
"cooking clothes" in outdoors?? Sounds like deeply theoretical backwoodmanship.. –  Tomas Dec 31 '13 at 15:01
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@Tomas: Hardly theoretical. In some places, such as Yellowstone, the bears are so active and dangerous it is expected of all backpackers. The National Park Service in fact recommends not sleeping in the same clothes used to cook, as seen at nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm –  whatsisname Jan 1 at 6:55
    
About the cooking clothes: Some veterans have used a dry bag to keep their camp clothes in while cooking. Store the bag a little bit away from your kitchen. 50 feet upwind should do it. Then bag your cooking clothes in a heavy plastic bag and place them in the dry bag. –  Dangeranger Feb 4 at 19:34

A tent may give you slightly more protection than sleeping out in the open, but not much. If a bear wants at you, the fabric of the tent is no match for his sharp claws.

Bears, both black and grizzly, have been known to cause severe damage even to buildings, high wooden fences, and even vehicles. I knew of an apple orchard that had an 8-10 ft. high wooden slat fence that a small black bear tore through to get at the fresh, ripe apples.

The point: Don't count on a tent to give you any protection. Keep your bear spray handy.

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psychological protection perhaps? :) –  Ryley Jan 26 '12 at 1:06
    
@Ryley perhaps some, but not much. Can be even more frightening when the bear shows up, as you can't see well from inside a tent. –  studiohack Jan 26 '12 at 1:07
    
I understand that the tent fabric will not provide any physical protection, what I am wondering is if a bear is more likely to attack someone just sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag than a person it cannot actually see because they are in a tent. –  Jan Hlavacek Jan 26 '12 at 1:15
    
I would venture to say no, because they can still smell you. I see your question and it is a good one - but there is no definite answer - every bear is different and will treat the situation differently based on past experiences with campers and humans. –  studiohack Jan 26 '12 at 1:18

A tent can provide a psychological barrier for the bear - which won't do much to deter it if it smells something it wants inside (food), but can prevent haphazard encounters.

For example, if a bear is wandering through your camp on its way to check out your expertly hung bear hang a tent will be a visual obstacle it will naturally move around / avoid, whereas a sleeping bag out in the open is more likely to be "tripped over" and raise its curiosity.

A hammock likely will fall somewhere in between - as it is higher, and more obvious. It might provide some psychological repellent for a bear, though I would imagine less so than a tent.

And the importance of psychological protection for yourself should not be under-estimated. If you have properly secured and bear-safed your camp, then worrying isn't going to help anything. A tent provides a sense of security, and helps you get a good night's rest.

Along these lines, the "11th essential" item for me when sleeping in bear country is ear plugs.

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+1 for the psychological aspect. Even if it isn't necessarily safer, you can feel safer in a tent which leads to more rest, etc. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 26 '12 at 2:58

If you are going to use bear spray, sleeping under a tarp, hammock or otherwise, will give you a better line of sight/fire, and reduce the suffering you will likely experience from the indirect spray. Having accidentally set off a small amount of my bear spray in the side door pocket of a car while driving the AL-CAN, I can confidently say that an indirect spray in an enclosed area can be pretty bad, and spraying a full, adrenaline packed, shot of bear spray inside your tent will be only slightly better than being eaten by the bear, at least in the short term. As time progresses the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. That is,of course, assuming that the spray deters the bear. If it decides to eat you anyway, then at least you will have the distraction of having been bear sprayed first.

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