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. Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 15:38
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    What kind of bears are we talking about here? North American black bears or even grizzly bears have very little interest in eating you. Attacks are almost always because the bear perceived the human as an active threat or least an obstacle. Polar bears are a different matter. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 17:33
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    @CharlesE.Grant True for black bears, but my understanding from reading books about grizzlies is that they are aggressive predators of men Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 22:45
  • I think it could actually make you less safe. I always sleep with bear spray and a knife in the tent - dealing with tent zippers can be hard work at the best of times and if a bear decides it wants to get inside my tent in the middle of the night I want the knife for a quick exit
    – tomfumb
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:59
  • This question has been studied by Stephen Herrero, and I provide an excerpt from his book on Bear Attacks where Herrero answers this question in my post below: outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/11740/8875 Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 12:20

6 Answers 6


Your tent may not provide any physical protection, but your sleeping bag will provide some. Sleeping bags cover the vast majority of your body, and the thick material of a sleeping bag will initially provide minor protection from claws and teeth.

A common strategy for dealing with bear attacks is to employ counter measures. Obviously countermeasures are difficult to employ during sleep though. Having a sleeping bag protect you for 10 or 20 seconds prior to becoming shredded may be enough time to wake and employ countermeasures against the animal.

Obviously countermeasures need to be the end game in such a strategy though, because a sleeping bag will not protect against claws and teeth for long. Bear spray and firearms are both effective countermeasures, and several studies assert bear spray is much more effective than firearms - especially at close range and when employed as an area weapon in the dark.

Other tools might be a camp warning system to give an audible alarm after a trip wire is disturbed. This device pulls a pin out of a siren device, which activates and audible alarm. The pin is attached to fishing line which you can wrap around trees or stakes in the ground. You might scare yourself in the middle of the night if a raccoon trips it though!. This camp light activates on motion.

The following articles assert bearspray is the most effective direct countermeasure:





In my opinion, one of the best strategies for employing bear spray after being attacked during sleep is to have a tent mate spray the bear. Bears are solitary and don't attack in groups. A single bear is likely only able to attack a single person at a time. When camping in groups, the person or people not being attacked are in an excellent position to employ bear spray against the attacking animal. Line-of-fire issues score another point for bear spray over firearms in such a case, because your buddy might shoot you accidentally while targeting the bear. It's much easier to recover from pepper spray than a bullet wound.

In the year 2016 there is quite a bit of technology you can use for countermeasures against attacking bears. If you practice preventative techniques, such as storing odorous materials out of a bear's reach and away from the campsite, then the technology available combined with friends to employ the technology should be more than enough to stay safe in bear country at night.

EDIT: Long after answering this question, I came across a bear expert's answer to this tent question in a book titled Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. His exact words are:

I have mentioned that another technique for minimizing risk while backcountry camping around bears is to sleep in a tent rather than without shelter. Sleeping under the stars is one of my favorite things to do while camping, but I choose areas in which to do this carefully. My data strongly suggest that people sleeping without tents were more likely to be injured, even killed, than were people who slept in tents.

This guy is a bear behavioral scientist and biologist who's life's work is studying bear behavior.


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    What a gorgeous beast! (I know this is off the subject, but I couldn't resist!) Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 14:53

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
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 17:24
  • "cooking clothes" in outdoors?? Sounds like deeply theoretical backwoodmanship..
    – Tomas
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 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 Commented Jan 1, 2014 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. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 19:34

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. Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 2:58

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
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 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. Commented Jan 26, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 1:18

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.


In my experience a tent will give protection from bears:

I was camping in a pup tent on the Bruce Peninsula with my 10 year old daughter. I woke up to the sound of what I first assumed to be "pigs". They were squabling with each other I think as they knocked over chairs and table. My heart was beating out of my chest as they approached and sniffed all aroung the lower edge of the tent. Their breathing was as loud as a freight train to me. I had no weapon, spray or anything. I heard them leave down the trail but I left the camp in the morning and have never slept in a tent since!

I left my daughter in her sleeping bag as some protection if the bears came through the tent. I got out of mine so I could fight. I honestly feel they left us alone cause we had no food in the tent. It was in a bag hung up in a tree by our van 30 feet away.

  • I left my daughter in her sleeping bag as some protection if the bears came through the tent. I got out of mine so I could fight. I honestly feel they left us alone cause we had no food in the tent. It was in a bag hung up in a tree by our van 30 feet away. Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 4:10
  • So they were bears or pigs, you don't sound that sure?
    – user2766
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 13:25

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