Do Animals Attack Tents? How to Make Sure You are Safe While Camping

camping tent forest tree

Last Updated on August 27, 2021

Animals rarely attack tents without some type of lure. The smell of food is one of the main reasons animals attack tents. Most other attacks on people in tents are typically tied to normally aggressive animal behavior due to hormonal changes.

Camping out in the wilderness does come with a few risks. For example, it’s estimated that more than 47.000 people per year seek medical attention after a wildlife attack or bite in the US alone. 

Both small and large animals can cause major problems if they attack tents. For example, bears can kill you, while smaller animals such as coyotes can cause various injuries and infections.

Do Animals Attack Tents?

Yes, animals can attack tents if the smell of food lures them. However, animals can also attack humans in tents without being provoked, particularly due to high levels of androgen and estrogen hormones in the pituitary gland.

While hormonal changes sometimes influence animal aggression, most animals don’t attack tents and people sleeping in tents directly and unprovoked. Here’s how the most common animals behave when encountering a tent out in nature.

Do coyotes attack humans in tents?

Lonely coyotes walking

Coyotes aren’t likely to attack humans in tents. However, innate curiosity does make coyotes attracted to the smell of food either in your tent or around your tent. Coyotes will not attack a human as they rarely go for larger prey, however.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare. California is the state where most of these attacks happen. However, these are attacks on humans outside tents, particularly on people who’ve previously fed wild coyotes in the area of camping, which attracts the animals further.

Do wolves attack tents?

wolves

Wolves attack differently from coyotes. They regularly attack large prey, particularly when hunting in packs. 

Wolves do everything to avoid facing humans as they generally fear people. Loud noises and walking noises can scare wolves away. Things can be different when sleeping either in a sleeping bag or in a tent.

Rare attacks of wolves are recorded as the animals don’t attack humans too often. However, in 2019, the first attack of wolves on humans sleeping in tents happened North of the border in Canada. Wolves tore through the tent and attacked the people sleeping inside. Kicking the wolves helped repel the attack in this case. The curious nature of this attack was that no opened food was found inside the tent and no animal carcasses were reported in the tent’s vicinity. This shows that while it’s possible that wolves attack humans while sleeping in tents, it’s not very probable. 

Can bears attack tents?

Bear looking charged

Bears rarely attack tents and people sleeping in tents. However, when they happen, many bear attacks on tents typically end up with human casualties. 

Glacier National Park is home to many bears. Unfortunately, it’s also the location of an unprovoked bear attack on tents in the past few years. A woman was killed when a bear attacked her tent during the night. Common advice such as hanging the food up in trees was followed in this case, but it did not help the victim. Read a comprehensive list of fatal bear attacks in North America here.

Will snakes attack tents?

Two snakes

Snake attacks on tents are rare but possible. This is because tent fabrics can be too thin to offer any real protection from a snake entering it. However, there are no reported snake attacks on tents. 

The biggest concern with snakes is keeping the tent closed at all times as they can be seen as ideal hiding places for them. Putting up tents in areas with a lot of human activity, such as organized campsites, is another method of limiting possible snake attacks since snakes run away from humans on most occasions. Snakebites in the US are most dangerous when the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is involved.

Can mountain lions attack tents?

Mountain lion

Mountain lions, cougars, or panthers can attack tents, but only when truly hungry or ill. Most mountain lions only attack prey that they can see. Therefore, it’s safer to sleep inside a tent in an area with mountain lions than outside the tent to prevent direct and unprovoked attacks.

Mountain lion attacks on people have been sporadic in North America. These creatures are similar to coyotes and they prefer to hide from humans. In the US, only 126 attacks with 27 fatalities have happened in the last 100 years. 

Lion attacks have been reported on tents in other parts of the world. Fatal lion attacks on tents were reported in 2015. Hungry lions reaching the point of starvation can attack people sleeping in tents. African Lions attacking tents are typically barely standing due to extreme hunger. If an attack happens, fighting them off with a stick or other similar objects has worked before to deter the animals. 

Do ants attack tents?

ants on hands

All ants can bite humans. Fire ants are specifically dangerous as they can cause skin allergies when biting. With thousands of species of ants, there are no risks even in the case of a bite since many are just too small to cause too much harm. 

Ants can rarely make their way through a tent given their small size, but they can bite humans when they get inside a tent through an open door or windows, particularly searching for food, unwashed pots, or drinks. When packing food for camping, avoid sugary drinks that attract ants.  Besides, it’s best to keep food sealed and away from the tent to prevent bites from ants.

Can mosquitoes attack tents?

mosquito on a wall

Insects can be as troublesome as animals when sleeping in a tent. Some types of mosquitoes can trigger allergies and, in the worst cases, they can kill a person.

Michigan was one of the states facing serious deadly mosquito problems recently in 2020. As a result, state officials issued warnings for residents to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid mosquitoes carrying the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This virus carried by mosquitoes killed a few people. Since it’s considered the most dangerous type of virus mosquitoes carry in the US, it’s always best to use mosquito repellent and sleep in a double-wall tent to avoid bites when camping in dangerous areas. 

Do dogs attack tents?

Calm dog

Dogs can attack tents looking for food. Most dogs can tear tents in minutes with their claws. They are common with outdoor lovers who hike with their pets and in campsites where other hikers or campers sleep. While domesticated, some of these animals may still attack other people out in tents. However, most dogs are guided by smell, and they look for smelly food more than a direct attack on humans.

For those who want to take their dog camping, check out the best tent for dog owners to make sure that it’ll work well for you and your pooch.

Do squirrels attack tents?

The smell of food or other strong smells such as toothpaste can attract squirrels inside the tent. While they rarely attack humans, there are reports of squirrels and rodents making their way through tent walls. Squirrel repellents might be the only defense when camping in an area with plenty of squirrels apart from keeping food locked away in a metal box outside the tent.

Do rats and mice attack tents?

Rats and mice can eat their way through tent walls. Attracted by food traces around the tent, they can easily get into tents. However, keeping rats out of the tent should be easier than other animals since they don’t like light. Leaving a flashlight on might deter rats from getting into tents since they are nocturnal creatures.

Do Tents Protect From Animals?

Tents can offer minimal protection against animals, but they can’t be considered a means of defense. The smell of food and camping in the wrong area can increase the likelihood of an attack. Here are 3 reasons why tents aren’t ideal for keeping you safe from animals.

Tents are thin and easy to tear through.

Tents are made with lightweight materials that animals easily rip through. As seen above, bears, wolves, and other large animals have no problems tearing through a tent, sometimes with deadly results. 

The smell makes its way through the tent.

While tents seem to offer an enclosed environment, the smell of food can be troublesome when stored inside a tent. Animals have a highly-developed sense of smell which makes it dangerous to store food inside a tent. Even a tent with a door that zips up completely is not safe for food storage.

Tents are mostly made to protect you from weather

With an extreme cold weather tent, you can protect yourself from the elements. Unfortunately, tent testing only involves wind resistance and waterproofing, carried out on tent structures and fabrics. This means tents aren’t tested against animal attacks since it would defeat the whole purpose of making a tent a portable item.  

5 Tips for Staying Clear of Animal Attacks on Tents

Green tent on the woods

Statistics show us the most troublesome areas and habits that influence animal attacks on tents. Attacks with casualties are mostly seen in areas with a high bear population and areas with wolves or snakes. Choosing a safe tent location is crucial in preventing possible attacks. Since 11% of campers are new to the activity, the following tips are crucial for beginners who need to stay safe.

A safe tent is always camped in a safe location.

A safe tent pitching location is the first consideration to stay clear of possible animal attacks. Outdoor lovers should always be considerate about parks and campsites when it comes to tent pitching. Information such as animal feeding prohibitions is an indicator of animals in the area. It might also be the first sign the area isn’t that safe for sleeping in a tent.

Keep food away from tents.

There are multiple methods of storing food outside a tent. This is one of the most important steps in preventing attacks. All camping food, including freeze-dried meals, should be stored in tightly-sealed containers to block smells from attracting animals.

Food can be stored high up in trees to prevent it from becoming an attraction for animals. Bear canisters are an example of how food can be stored safely without any smell acting as a lure in the area of your tent.

Study hiking and camping locations before you get there

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Proper food storage isn’t just a safety measure in trying to keep animals from attacking your tent. It’s also regulated in many states around the US. For example, food storage containers that trap smell are mandatory in Yosemite National Park.

Bear-resistant canisters are also used to store garbage, which can be as dangerous as the food itself. These containers are air-tight, leaving no place for the smell to exit the canister. Such canisters are mandatory in most national parks and in many other open areas where animals easily pick up the scent, such as places with no or few trees. Such a rule is in place at Canyonlands National Park, for example. 

Use protective gear

Protective gear has an important role in the backcountry. Its role is either orientated towards comfort or practicality. But some types of gear are made for protection. Here are a few examples.

Bear sprayBear spray is ideal for keeping bears away. It’s strictly regulated for ingredients but safe to use as a last attempt when trying to distance yourself from bears in case of a direct encounter.

Bug spray – bugs are as dangerous as animals, especially when they have access to your food. Bug spray can be the first method of defense in eliminating the risk of your campsite becoming a bug attraction.

Mosquito spray – mosquito spray can be applied on your body as well as on your tent. Some backpackers even spray the entire outer tent with mosquito spray to deter insects. 

Apart from this type of gear, there are other products you should not use if you’re afraid of animal attacks on your tent. For example, you should sleep without earplugs or headphones if you want to hear the possible movement of animals around the tent during the night.

Consider suspending your food.

Suspending food is a quick option to avoid attracting animals when there’s no food canister around. You can suspend food in bags using tree branches. However, even this method can attract unwanted attention, and it’s best to suspend food further away from your tent.

The Most Dangerous Animals you Can Encounter in the US Backcountry.

All wild animals can be dangerous. For example, the US is known for its high number of bears, snakes, pumas, and spiders.

Black bear

Black bears are often seen across the US. This bear species is not considered as aggressive as others, such as polar bears. This is why it’s the least likely to attack tents and the likeliest bear to walk away when meeting humans.

Grizzly bear

grizzly bear profile

Grizzly bears are more aggressive than black bears. They can charge at the tent if you camp in their area. These bears are fast, so outrunning them is impossible.

Mountain lions

Mountain lions are fast and ferocious. These fast animals prefer to hunt deer, but they will attack humans in or outside tents given the opportunity. Mountain lions are mostly found in the Western US and Florida, so you should stay clear of these areas if you’re afraid of the possible dangers of encountering a cougar.

Summary

Most animals don’t attack tents. Attacks happen rarely and mostly due to food scents that attract large animals such as bears and cougars. Mid-size animals such as coyotes and wolves have been reported to attack tents, but only in small numbers over the past years. Small animals such as squirrels can also make their way through the tent walls, but they can’t hurt people. 

Food handling is primordial when it comes to limiting possible animal attacks on tents. You should store foods in air-tight containers and properly wash all the cooking utensils which carry food scents. Even storing garbage properly is essential to prevent your tent from becoming a target for animals.

Most tents aren’t made to offer physical protection against animals. Like the best tent for heavy rain, these temporary shelters are only used to protect you from cold air, wind, and rain. In addition, US natural parks have strict guidelines on food storage, which is one of the most important aspects of possible animal attacks. 

 

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