What should I do if I am in a tent, have been sleeping, and was woken up by the sounds of some large animal quite close to the tent? Just hearing some branches broken by presumably something large.

At this point I don't know what animal it is, but presumably it can be either a brown bear or a wild boar. Maybe a wolf. Not sure if its possible to differentiate between them without seeing it, just by the sounds of walking, broken branches.

I also don't know exactly how close is the animal to the tent, and if its thinking about charging the tent or not.

The main question is: do I stay in the tent, or go out to investigate / pepper spray, try to scare the animal off? If staying in the tent is preferred, keep quiet, or make noise?

Obviously if I am to go out, I would make noise, but if I stay, should I keep quiet, hoping to make the animal think that the tent is just an uninteresting, inanimate object? I have no food in the tent and changed my outer clothing after cooking, so I have no reason to believe the animal will find my smell interesting. Unless un-brushed teeth after eating meat some hours earlier may be a problem (no meat residue in the teeth).

Assuming the only things I have are: pepper spray (260 gram / 9 oz can, Sabre or UDAP) and a flashlight. No guns or anything like that.

The territory I am asking about is Europe, where there are brown bear only (no black bears), but they are not Grizzly, just European brown bears. This is for example about Scandinavia or Carpathian Mountains.

This is NOT about Russia and super-hungry bears in Siberia, this is a territory with relatively available sources of food, like fruits on trees around, so the animal would not be so desperate for food to seek humans as prey.

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The majority of bear attacks are the result of surprise encounters, particularly involving a mother with cubs. In a surprise encounter, the bear is acting defensively, and wants to eliminate a potential threat. Predatory attacks are extremely rare, particularly where you're located.

Bears have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. There's a story I've heard of a bear that broke into a backcountry cabin in Yellowstone and raided the food cache - it reportedly bit into all the cans except the peas. Their senses of hearing and sight, however, are similar to that of a human.

Put all this together, and it's likely that the bear already knows you're there (a surprise encounter is unlikely), and either finds you uninteresting or already knows to avoid you. From there, you could take Jon Custer's advice and go back to sleep (ok, I probably wouldn't be able to either!) If it were me, I would talk to the bear in a low voice, let it know that I'm there and that I'm a human, and odds are it will go away on its own. Since the bear knows you're there, it's unlikely to be startled, and you've prevented the most likely bad outcome.

I mean, fight for your life if it gets predatory, but that's highly unlikely.


In regards to bears, what you're describing is probably not as dangerous a situation as it may feel like.

  1. Most bear attacks happen when a bear is startled (it already knows you're there)
  2. You're not inviting a feeding response, like if you were a hunter with a fresh kill. It should be noted that bears are omnivores, and can be attracted to all food smells, not just meat! You should absolutely keep all food items unavailable to bears.
  3. Bears can be curious and inquisitive, but generally take all opportunities to avoid humans
  4. A bear attacking a sleeping human in a tent is so rare as to elicit national news coverage when it happens.

My recommendation:

  1. Listen, take stock of what the animal is doing, it may walk off on its own once it realizes that it has nothing to gain by remaining in your camp. From the animal's perspective, a human camp might be so unusual that it's already wary.
  2. If the animal doesn't go away on its own, talk to it from your tent. Eliminate the possibility of surprise if you do choose to go outside to investigate.
  3. Listen and assess. Are you in an area where animals might be habituated to humans and see campsites as a food opportunity?
  4. If the animal knows you're there and isn't leaving, stepping out of your tent is probably a good idea. At this stage, more information is better anyway. Avoid making sudden movements or sudden loud noises while you're getting out of the tent, and definitely bring the pepper spray (wait to take the safety off until you're out of the tent!)
  5. Assess. What's the animal, and how many are there? How is it reacting to your presence? Are there cubs? Is there a building or vehicle you can (slowly) retreat to?
  6. If the animal is not bothered by your presence at this point, you didn't want it to be there to begin with. It might be habituated to humans, and you don't want it to be in your camp - for your sake, and also for whoever will camp there in the future. Talk to it, stand your ground, raise your arms so it can smell that you're human. If needed, shout, clap, do whatever you need to do - you don't want this animal where you're sleeping.

You raise a fair point - this is all bear-specific, and I hope it's still helpful.

Where I've spent time (Montana and Alaska) wolves are present, but wolf attacks just don't happen.

Wild boars I know nothing about (though I have a coworker who calls bears "fuzzy pigs"). Perhaps a boar will charge a human on sight, this one's out of my wheelhouse.

  • Thanks for the answer, however you didn't address the main point of the question: should I talk to the bear from inside the tent, or go out of the tent and talk to him then? Second thing, while in the tent I don't even know its a bear, it can as well be a wild boar, or even a wolf - which are much more common here. Some people fear wild boars more then bears here. Me going out of the tent can be a surprise for the animal, in case he didn't yet realise I am a human there. – yannn Nov 6 at 4:06
  • @yannn Fair point, see edits - hope it's useful. – Matt Tyers Nov 6 at 21:09
  • I assume you take the usual precautions of having food & other smelly stuff at an appropriate distance in bear country.
    A friend once insisted on a tour to also put the backpacks up a tree because of wild pigs, but I've never heard of that being necessary (I live in a region with lots of wild pigs). While wild pigs are omnivourous, they do not consider humans as prey. They are dangerous if upset (e.g. if they snap their teeth they're about to charge you - this is a problem e.g. for a hunter called to a traffic accident involving a wild pig, and they also don't like dogs), but by lying around sleeping you'll not upset them. If they sniff and grunt around your tent, they are in a happy mood. In that case, I'd think the largest danger is a pig stumbling over your tent line and, being startled, stepping onto your tent. They have a very acute sense of smell (and hearing) and will be aware of you long before sleeping you realizes they are around.

woken up by the sounds of some large animal quite close to the tent? Just hearing some branches broken by presumably something large.

  • You may be interested to know that small animals around the tent/tarp can sound very large - particularly if you are not yet accustomed with the nightly sounds/habits of local wildlife.
    So the grunting wild boar may very well (most probably) turn out to be a hedgehog on closer inspection. During my first night outdoors in Canada, I found a curious porcupine quite annoyingly loud.

  • All in all, I usually hold it with @JonCuster's advise and turn to sleep again.
    One exception so far was a fox (attracted by residual food smells) in Hungary that was not as shy as I'd have liked it to be. There after some thinking that I have no idea what "rabies vaccination" is in Hungarian I actually got up and chased it away before getting back to sleep.

  • However, if you think it may be a large predator, you'll probably not be sleepy... In that case, I don't see anything wrong in silently/calmly getting up and shining some light on the matter - so you can learn who causes what noise. If you don't want to find out who it is and just want it to leave the vicinity, then silence is of course counter-productive.

  • Not sure whether you find this thought reassuring, but I also assume that predators in hunting mode after a sleeping victim usually take much care to be very silent. If they are snuffing around noisily, they are probably just curious and possibly after food, but not the type of food that is alive and can run away.

  • "silently getting up and shining some light on the matter" - won't that have the risk of surprising the animal? Maybe better not to do it silently, but start talking softly and make noise, so that the animal has some warning that something is gonna come out of the tent. This is the main point of the question: what is the best strategy regarding keeping silent and making noise while inside the tent and while getting out if I decide to investigate, as I know everything else. – yannn yesterday
  • @yann: but if it's run away by the time you have the lamp on, there's no chance to learn what it was - I guess that's an inherent trade-off: do you want to shy it away or do you want to know who it is? Calmly may be a better expression, though (and in my experience getting out of the tent usually isn't all that silent anyways with zippers and possibly rustling sleeping bag). – cbeleites yesterday

When it happened to me it was a black bear ( USA- WY, a state park). I was on hands and knees as it was a small tent , so looking straight into his/her eyes at about 10 ft. I shown a flashlight on it and quietly ( to not startle it) said "Shoo", not many other choices. I think my 22 cal hand gun would have just made him angry. The good news is it had opened the cooler chest and was very interested in the contents ;I then noticed a second bear walking away with food in its mouth. I had not put the chest in the car trunk because the local ranger had promised the bears had not yet come out of hibernation. After several more "Shoos" he SLOWLY walked away. Lessons -1- Always put food away. - 2- Don't automatically believe the ranger.-3- Don't sleep in a tent in bear country. 4- Bears will eat about anything except tomatoes ( although he bit them). 5- Get a 357 cal.

  • In my experience (Sierras and Colorado Rockies), black bears are interested only in food, and do not regard humans as food. If you don't have food in or near your tent, black bears will not be a problem They may sniff around, but then they will leave. Black bears -- at least the one who got our bear= bagged and hung food -- rejected marinated artichokes, hard salami, vitamin pills, and tea bags. But maybe he was full after eating everything else. This was in pre-bear canister days. As for the gun, unnecessary in the Sierra or Colorado Rockies, and probably more dangerous than no gun. – ab2 Nov 6 at 23:11
  • It's an interesting anecdote, but off-topic for this question. 1) there are no black bears in Europe 2) having guns is generally not permitted in Europe, and even if it was, my question doesn't consider the option of guns, its only a question regarding staying in the tent vs. going out, and making noise vs. staying silent – yannn yesterday
  • I advised not doing anything with a gun. And, other than Grizzly and Polar bears , I assumed some similar behavior among bears. – blacksmith37 19 hours ago

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