Camping Safety: Understanding Predators

Camping Safety Understanding Predators

If you’re camping in the United States, you’re probably aware of the cardinal rule of camping: don’t feed the bears. While you don’t need to worry about Yogi and Boo-Boo, you should follow strict guidelines associated with safe camping, food storage and predator behavior.


Bears have a keen sense of smell and are attracted to human food, pet food, garbage, cosmetics and scented items. Take every step possible to avoid attracting bears to your campsite. This includes proper camp setup, food preparation and storage, garbage storage and the kinds of items you bring. If you encounter a bear, do not run away.

They are faster than you. Stay calm and avoid eye contact with the bear. Talk to the bear in an even tone, stretch out your arms and move them up and down. If the bear doesn’t approach you, keep talking and back away slowly without turning away from the bear.

If the bear growls, slaps the ground with its feet, shows its teeth or salivates, the bear is being defensive. Continue talking calming and backing away from the bear. If a defensive bear attacks you play dead, lay face down, covering your head and neck. If the bear turns you over, roll back over face down and wait it out.

If you encounter a bear who doesn’t make noise and focuses on you in a non-aggressive way, watch it closely. If it points its ears forward, it could be predatory. Try to back up. If the bear continues following you, try aggressive tactics. Make eye contact, yell, pick up a stick and look big, use bear spray, and if need be, fight back. Black bear attacks are often predatory.


Cougars (mountain lions) rarely attack humans. Staying safe in cougar territory means following a few simple rules. First, don’t bring any pets on your camping trip. Dogs and house cats will look like prey to cougars. Also, when you’re camping with kids, don’t let the little ones stray out of your sight. If you do come across a mountain lion, don’t turn your back on it or run. Make yourself look big and scary by making lots of noise, brandishing a stick, yelling or throwing rocks.

Usually, this will be enough to send them away. If you do get attacked, guard your neck and don’t play dead. Kick, scream and fight the cougar. Pepper spray can stun the mountain lion so you can get away.

Coyotes & Wolves

Wolf attacks are beyond rare. Wolves are not generally aggressive to humans. They’re more afraid of us than we are of them. Coyotes can be mischievous, but they are also not known for attacking people.

To ward off these predators, leave your pets at home. Don’t bring along any friendly animals that might look like a meal to them. Store your food and waste properly so that you don’t attract these predators to your camp.


While raccoons can be lethal to dogs and other pets, they rarely attack. However, be cautious of raccoons as they are carriers of rabies. Raccoons are more interested in your food and garbage than picking a fight, so store your food and trash safely so that these pesky pests can’t get into your stuff.

Scorpions, Snakes & Ticks

While these creatures aren’t technically predators, they do represent some of the more serious camping hazards. When walking around or setting up camp, bring a walking stick or trekking poles to move questionable piles of leaves, sticks or debris that might be harboring a snake.

With scorpions, always check your bedding before lying down at night. You can apply repellents to your tent, clothes and campsite to deter pests. Always check yourself and your pets for ticks.

Safe Camping Gear

Always bring along the essential gear you need for a safe, successful camping trip.

  • Utility knife
  • First aid kit
  • Pepper spray
  • Firestarter
  • Flashlight
  • Compass/GPS
  • Clean water/ water sanitizing solution
  • Food storage solution
  • Rain gear
  • Clothing layers

Safe Camping Tips

  • Leave scented soaps and deodorants at home. Predators are attracted to scent.
  • Don’t sleep in clothes you cook in.
  • Cook and store food at least 100 yards from where you sleep.
  • Store your food, pet food, cosmetic and scented items, cooking gear, canned goods and trash in bear-proof containers or use a suspension system to hoist your gear above the reach of scavengers.
  • Keep a flashlight and pepper spray in your tent.
  • Set up camp away from carrion, berry patches and signs of predator activity.
  • Avoid cooking aromatic foods like bacon.
  • Don’t eat in your tent.
  • Keep your pets and children within arm’s reach, or better yet, leave them at home.

Now that you’ve got some tips for safe camping and how to deal with predators, you can add good hiking boots and extra socks to your list. Your feet are an important asset when you’re hiking and camping, so take good care of them. If you need to stock up on socks or invest in a pair of boots, visit a trusted outfitter like Carhartt. Now, into the woods!

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