I'm looking to camp in SE Oregon. At minimum, my girlfriend and I will have sleeping bags. We're open to adding a tent, fire, and other stuff as recommended. Our goal is to be able to hike around lightly and sleep without worry of being eaten by a mountain lion (cougar/puma/panther/catamount).

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    The cougar- human interactions I have heard of are all moving hikers, likely being mistaken for deer or other wild prey. Sleeping humans will give the cougar more time to realize the mistaken identity and leave.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 1:26
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    My own method is the same one I use to avoid getting hit by meteors :-) I live (and hike, camp, ride horses &c) in the natural habitat of mountain lions, and have seen exactly one in 40-some years - and that was just a brief glimpse of it's rear, as it was leaving quite quickly.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 5:08
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    Does XKCD 795 apply? xkcd.com/795 Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 10:34
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    You should be careful: There are a lot of ways to get seriously injured or killed when camping, and if your focus is on a random thing like mountain lions with a virtually 0% chance of happening, then that could be a red flag that you're focused on the wrong things and not taking care to be prepared for more realistic dangers, like weather, trips/falls, camp fire burns, poisonous plants, accidentally getting shot (it's cougar hunting season, and the hunters are a far higher risk to you than the cougars), head injuries, drowning, broken bones, even a car accident on the way there.
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 11:33
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    Cleaning up a bunch of comments here, from attempts to answer, to jokes about the wording etc. Please all remember that if you have an answer, use an answer post, not a comment as it just leads to noise!
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 15:57

9 Answers 9


If one looks at the list on Wikipedia of fatal attacks, one will notice that fatal cougar attacks are pretty rare.

At least 20 people in North America were killed by cougars between 1890 and 2011, including six in California.

Children are particularly vulnerable. The majority of the child victims listed here were not accompanied by adults.

So just by being adults and there being two of you, you have a reduced chance of being attacked.

Just seeing a mountain lion is a rare occurrence.

Oregon is home to more than 5,000 cougars, or mountain lions. While cougar sightings and encounters are rare, it is wise to educate yourself about the big cats.

Native to Oregon, cougars range throughout the state, the highest densities occur in the Blue Mountains in the northeastern part of the state and in the southwestern Cascade Mountains .


It also looks like they are hunted in Oregon, this will be in your favor because the mountain lions will be afraid of getting shot at by humans and therefore avoid them (This is certainly true of coyotes in Wyoming).

I don't think a tent would do you any good and a fire would probably require tending. You could take turns staying up and standing guard, but that would get exhausting.

It's one of those things where you have to balance the unlikeliness of it happening with the effort required to try to prevent it. After all part of being in the wilderness is the risk/danger and there is no way to rule out all of the possible misfortunes.

As a personal anecdote I worked at Summit Adventure for a couple of summers. It has been around for more than forty years and the summer staff has always slept outside under the stars on wooden platforms. It seemed like multiple times per summer the mountain lions would come down towards the lake at night and scream. This has happened for as long as it has been around.

Other than freaking people out, no one was ever injured and I don't think anybody ever saw one.

Personally, I just slept through it.

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    Studies have proven that sport hunting of cougars does not increase human safety.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 12:09
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    @KenGraham A statement that studies have proven is not really proof.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 13:52
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    Fatal attacks may be rare, but what about people sleeping outside in cougar country? If that is also rare, then your statistic is less relevant. Maybe they are rare because everybody who sleeps outside in cougar country takes good precautions like OP is asking about. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 15:50
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    Maybe it's just me, but I don't want to be attacked non-fatally, either. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 16:24
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    @RemcoGerlich, literally millions of people camp outside in these areas each year without taking any particular precautions against cougars. Bears are another matter. Except in very exceptional cases cougars are very shy of human contact. Ironically, despite living in an area where cougars are relatively common, I never saw one in the wild until I visited Patagonia. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 18:14

Since 2000 there are only 3 recorded death by cougar in North America and all of those were day time. wiki

Cougar attacks are up but still rare on the west coast. Up in CA as partly because cougar hunting is not allowed and the numbers are climbing. In OR and WA dogs cannot be used to hunt cougar. According to the link below since 1990 10 non-fatal attacks and 3 fatal attacks have occurred in CA.
Does Oregon Have A Cougar Problem

As for precaution I would not camp with a small lamb as bait. Other than that seal up your food and store it way from the main camp. They have a much higher leap (vertical) compared to bears so would need to go much higher than a regular bear bag and they are very good climbers.

Pepper / bear spray is reported to be effective.

Nathan added a very good point in they are very good hunters. Attacks are very, very, very, rare but if you are attacked there is a good chance you won't even see it coming.

You could drop a cougar with a hand gun in the rare, rare, chance one does decide to attack they will close quickly and you would need to be pretty darn good with a gun. I would go with pepper spray.

I was raised in WA and never saw a cougar but I did see one in Big Bend National park. He / she looked right at me and kept on walking. I was not concerned.


Cougars principally hunt at dawn and dusk. If you're small, don't be alone at those times of day. Regular sized adults are generally too big for a cougar to consider as prey.

Avoid animal carcasses. Assume there is a carcass if there are lots of scavenger birds somewhere.

Of course, take standard precautions with food: Keep food odors off your sleeping bags and other night gear, and hang the food itself in a bear bag away from your sleeping site before bed.

We say "bear bag" because it sounds good, but to be honest, the problem is usually things like raccoons and skunks, not things like bears and cougars.

In the super unlikely event that you do encounter a cougar and the even less likely event that it sticks around, maintain eye contact. Cougars like to ambush from behind, so if they know you see them, they usually just chalk up a loss and move on. You can add to your cougar repelling power by standing up tall, holding a jacket in the air or just raising your arms, showing your teeth, and yelling, but eye contact is the main thing.

You'll be fine. No need for an overnight fire; no particular anti-wildlife benefits to a tent. Being attacked by a cougar in your sleep is like being crushed by a falling tree in your sleep: Once you've taken a couple sensible precautions, you can put it from your mind and rest easy.

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    Good point if they do plan to attack you then you are not likely to see them. +1
    – paparazzo
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:32
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    Addendum: If you've ever played laser with a cat, you know a fleeing target is hard to resist. So don't go running during twilight hours either. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 4:11
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    ...or bring a laser pointer and go for the diversion tactic.
    – Ealhmund
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 14:33
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    Now I'm worried about being crushed by a falling tree. :(
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 1:00
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    "We say "bear bag" because it sounds good, but to be honest, the problem is usually things like raccoons and skunks..." I find it's chimpunks and squirrels, that are even more common and can also do damage to gear.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 20:30

I was backpacking with my nine-year-old daughter two years ago in Oregon near Mt. Hood. I awoke (in our tent) to the noise of a cougar walking around outside. I assumed it was a black bear and didn't learn otherwise until we found its tracks the next morning.

Anyway, I made noise by running my fingers over the nylon tent fabric. It was pretty loud, and the "bear" ran off through the underbrush. Made really good time for a bear, too! However, unlike a bear, the cat came back (at least) twice more that same night. Each time, I scared it off with the same noise, without leaving my tent. We were there for two more nights, but the cat didn't visit us again.

We had our food hanging from a tree, out of reach. The rest of our gear was in the tent with us.

Seeing how it behaved, I think there is no chance at all of one coming into a tent. The strangeness, the noise, and the uncertainty would all keep the cat away. But I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable sleeping around cougars without a tent.

I did a lot of research after we got home. Here's what I found out:

  • Cougars are very seldom seen. And they Almost NeverTM attack people.
  • Cougars generally attack their prey from behind. They will wait, sometimes on a rock or in a tree, until their prey passes by, and then leap on them, grabbing for the neck.
  • In the vanishingly few times humans are attacked, it is usually children or small adolescents as the targets
  • Unlike with bears, if you are confronted you want to be intimidating and aggressive. Look directly them. Wave your arms, yell, move back and forth, throw rocks. They don't like to fight their food! Don't try to stand still in a menacing fashion; it won't impress them.
  • In the (few) examples of an adult actually getting attacked, most were able to drive the cat away by punching/kicking/fighting.

In summary, they like to lay in wait for their prey and take it unawares. And they like easy prey. Most hikers simply don't worry about them, and most people never see one.

Of course, I saw no references at all to being attacked while sleeping! Hence my personal preference to use a tent :)

Back to my own exciting story, here's something that I didn't expect: the cougar raked pine needles and leaves over the ground where we had peed! Maybe it left some of its own urine there, too, but I didn't think to smell around :)

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    @williamgrobman, I've added more information to my answer. Please take a look! And have a nice camping trip :)
    – bitsmack
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 23:17
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    Cougars attack the back of the neck because, like domestic cats, they kill by spinal paralysis. Their canine teeth slip between the vertebrae and sever the spinal cord. By contrast, cheetahs take the front of the neck in a suffocating bite. Their bone structure and muscles are too light for a reliable spinal bite. On the other end of the spectrum, jaguars have huge strong heads that allow them to bite right through turtle shells and prey skulls. But I think most cats use the spinal bite on whatever size prey they match. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 4:07
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    A friend was walking down a trail and saw a cougar approaching from the opposite direction. He tried the "intimidating and aggressive" thing, but it kept coming. He shot it (he was deer hunting). He was worried that he would be in trouble for an illegal kill, but when he reported it, they said "I can't believe you let it get that close. It was within pouncing distance". Turns out there were two kits up a tree that he was heading towards. Sad. Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 5:08

Cougars are as one would expect not afraid of any animal, being on the top of the food chain. Their one exception would be bears. Not even hunting or other disposal means will deter cougars from attacking people.

  • Killing cougars does nothing to prevent future cougar attacks or make people and livestock safer; however, employing common sense precautions makes all the difference.

  • Studies have proven that sport hunting does not increase human safety.

Here are some common sense things one might want to keep in mind while camping in cougar territory.

  • Bring along a whistle or an air horn that could help scare away wild animals you may encounter.

  • Store foods stuffs and trash away from your campsite using some bear proof methods most commonly used by hikers and hunters.

  • Do not set up camp in an area with fresh cougar tracks or scat.

  • Hike (and camp) with a friend. Attacks are less likely in a group.

Cougars are crepuscular animals (active primarily during twilight), but will look for prey at anytime of the day also. Some sources claim that cougars are mostly in search for their prey between 5:00 am and 7:00 am, and between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. They usually wander during the day and they sleep at night. These are usually the times that the deer are most active. This makes sense to some degree, so I would keep an extra vigilance during these times.

I truly doubt that people camping in a group (two or more together) would encounter a cougar at all at night while camping. Please allow me to add my two bits of ideas here:

  • Keep a fire going during the night. Sources can neither affirm or deny the possibility that a campfire would detour a cougar. But at least you will have more light and warmth around you also.
  • Keep a large stick and or knife close at hand for the unexpected. Just the fact that there are two of you camping together, I doubt this measure would be needed.
  • Since the big cats do not like groups of people or noise, you might consider taking a radio along with you while camping. Make sure to take advantage of it (if you can get reception) during the hours of dusk and dawn.
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    I think both of your sources about hunting are heavily biased. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 16:04
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    Also see this book Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 16:09
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    I find it hard to trust an answer which says "Cougars are nocturnal animals. [...] they sleep at night."
    – AndyT
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 16:15

This source, List of fatal cougar attacks in North America suggests that you are probably safest from a cougar while sleeping.

Of the seven adults killed by cougars in North America from 1990 through mid-2008, five were jogging, hiking, biking or skiing. One was killed defending her six year old son on a horseback trip. The body of the seventh was found near his mobile home. During this period, two children were killed by cougars, and five children in the 1970s and 1980s. No adults were reported killed by cougars in the 1970s and 1980s.

The source also lists fatal cougar attacks from the beginning of the 20th century, but a list from these early years may not be complete.

Living with Wildlife: Cougars by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has this to say about camping in cougar country (emphasis added):

1.Hike in small groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar.

2.Keep your camp clean and store food and garbage in double plastic bags.

3.Keep small children close to the group, preferably in plain sight just ahead of you.

4.Do not approach dead animals, especially deer or elk; they could have been cougar prey left for a later meal.

Number 2 is the one pertinent to your question. Earlier, in a comment (since removed) I recommended using bear canisters for your food. I was persuaded by @Charlie Brumbaugh that bear canisters as a cougar preventative are overkill: bears are attracted by food lying around, cougars are not. Cougars are, however, attracted by the small critters (raccoons, mice) that will be attracted by food you leave improperly stored. The linked source above advises householders in cougar country:

Feed dogs and cats indoors. If you must feed outside, do so in the morning or midday, and pick up food and water bowls, as well as leftovers and spilled food, well before dark. Pet food and water attract small mammals that, in turn, attract cougars

Note that if there are bears, in addition to cougars, where you will be camping, bear canisters are a good idea. The anecdote in the answer of @bitsmack suggests that you'd be happier in a tent, as does this excerpt from The List:

As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase, or if a person "plays dead".


In 40 years of hiking in the wilderness, I have never seen a cougar/panther. but I have smelled bears close by. Bears are more common and can be more aggressive. Never have any food with you that can attract them. Also spray yourself all over with Deet, it will keep the bugs and animals away. Yes really! Carry Mace spray. Also, consider carrying a loud radio with some recordings of rock and roll. Yes, all these things will make the Bear and other predators go somewhere else, unless they smell FOOD and they are very hungry.

BTW, One other point, not all cougars/Panthers are like. Just like Bears, in different kinds and regions are more aggressive than others. As an additional point when I camp in the wilderness, I actually camp in my truck

  • DEET will also keep those pesky humans away...
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 1:23

You can't. If you hike in the back country, you will be attacked by cougars in your sleep. But don't let that stop you. You should embrace cougar attacks.

When my family camps out, we take turns doing sentry duty at night. My ten year old loves it: he gets to stay up late, he gets to hold a gun, and best of all, he gets to shoot at cougars!

Best of luck to you, and enjoy your camping trip.

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    This is basically what I told my girlfriend. Let's just go enjoy ourselves and realize we'll probably be eaten. She wasn't as keen on that though. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 17:42
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    This may not be a valid answer, but it is a brilliant answer.
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 23:24
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    Agreed! Made me laugh :)
    – bitsmack
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 1:16

Big cats as a general rule. Like to attack from above. So do not sleep close to steep facings. Sleep Away from cover. Wild cats do not like the smell of humans. They are probably approaching camp for other food than you. Unless very hungry. Do not get up with out shining a light around area first. Most tiger attacks happen to women. Going for water after dark. Walking trails to springs. But snake bites are far more common. So they like to ambush over stalk. This is big cats in general.

  • This is good advice for tiger country, but the question was specifically about cougars and how to sleep safely in cougar country. It would be fine as a comment, but does not really answer the question.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 22:40

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