How safe is sleeping in bear country?

I, too, like to sleep in a bivy sack under the stars. And while during the summer I am not too concerned about wolves (in spite of locals reporting attacked horses and cattle), the winter scares me. Recently, along with one more person, we slept for 3 nights in the snow, and on the night of the fourth day we saw a pack of wolves.

We got scared and immediately headed for the civilization. However, I would hate it to never again have the courage to sleep in the snow.

Are there any precautions that can be taken against wolves, especially during the winter, to make sleeping safe?

We hike on marked trails. There are no marked campsites.

  • 1
    North American wolves, or European wolves? The behaviors of the two groups are very different.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 1:16
  • Bulgaria, Europe. They were dark (black?), not white, like in the movies. In number they were about 12.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 8:55
  • Bring a gun, lot's of people where I'm from don't even go into the woods without a big gun (people seem to get attacked by predators pretty frequently here).
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:32

3 Answers 3


Wolf attacks are incredibly rare whereas bear attacks are more common. Typically wolves are afraid of humans and will actively avoid contact. Humans are the predator typically in wolf encounters so they are much more afraid of us than we of them.

That said wolves have been known to attack humans, normally when driven by hunger or disease (rabies). When they attack humans they will generally only attempt to attack children under the age of 18.

A worldwide 2002 study by the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research showed that 90% of victims of predatory attacks were children under the age of 18

A fully grown adult should have nothing to fear from wolves.

Are there any precautions that can be taken against wolves, especially during the winter, to make sleeping safe?

It's very very unlikely that a wolf will wander into your camp, rip though your tent and attack you. Your biggest chance of encountering a wolf is for you to (inadvertantley) go to it. A wolf will stay well clear of a human camp. If on the very low chance that a wolf is driven by hunger into your camp it will want to eat what scraps it can and get away. You could mitigate this risk by keeping food in sealed containers.

especially during the winter

Winter is actually the safest time, wolves are actually more likely to attack in the summer, when they have hungry pups to feed and food pressure is much greater.

PS I'm very jealous that you saw a wild pack of wolves. Wolves were (unfortunately I think) killed off in the UK a long long time ago.

  • 2
    And all attempts to repopulate the UK with wolves have been prevented :(
    – Aravona
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 10:15
  • 2
    They were actually looking at us and a couple of them grolwed at us. It was not until about 20-30 seconds that they turned and slowly disappeared into the vegetation. I was quite happy not to be tucked in a restricting sleeping bag.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 12:24
  • 2
    They may test you to see if your weak. If you try and scare them off they will almost definitely run away. I'm still jealous @Vorac :)
    – user2766
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 12:30
  • 3
    ;-p Come visit Bulgaria some time - we are not so far away and the pund/lev exchange rate is extremely good for you.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 12:46
  • 7
    There is no record of a fatal wolf attack in North America. Coyotes will check you out as well, and are far more numerous. Enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing the wolves, but don't worry about being attacked.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 13:44

I've spoken to trappers. Wolves are a non-starter. Even in a trap, they try to get away, not attack. One trapper said that the only time he's been bitten by a wild animal it was a muskrat.

While wolf attacks are rare there ahve been several attacks by cougar/mountain lion of late. In each case the person was alone.

All the bear incidents I've read about have been with groups of 4 or less. Bears in winter, are uncommon.

In winter I keep a fire going all night, not for wildlife, but because I get up in the night to pee or get a drink, and will sit by the fire for a bit to ease my back. Winter nights are always too long. (Central Alberta. Dec 21 sun time is 8:45 to 4:30, add an hour of twilight.)

  • 2
    European wolves are far more aggressive towards humans than North American wolves are. There's a reason why European folktales have a Big Bad Wolf, and Native American folktales don't.
    – Mark
    Commented May 9, 2018 at 2:31
  • 1
    @Mark do you have a source for that, I'd be interested to read up on it.
    – fgysin
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 12:19
  • @Mark, I asked a question on exactly that topic, feel free to contribute: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/19641/…
    – fgysin
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 12:22

You should have some deterrents, such as bear spray or air-horn. Wolves will generally not harm you though they can often approach you (at least here in BC) and in this instance, the recommended advice is to make them believe that you are a threat to them, by shouting, banging, etc.. Bear spray can be used as a last resort.

  • So in case of sleeping: wake up and apply the prepared measures?
    – Vorac
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 8:58
  • @Vorac Sure, when I am camping i always keep bear spray near at hand. I have heard people keeping fires going through the night too but this is probably overkill. Wolves attacking people while they sleep is probably very rare, but they do scavenge things from campsites (shoes, food etc..).
    – alanh
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 17:28

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