Hammock Camping In Bear Country: How To Sleep Soundly And Not Die

Let’s get one thing straight – no matter how or where you sleep in bear country, if the bear wants to eat you, it will eat you.

That being said, there are certain precautions to take and habits you can adopt that greatly reduce the likelihood of a bear attack, even when camping in the most grisly (pun intended) of environments.

Whether you’re sleeping in a tent, RV, hammock or on the ground, it’s possible to achieve the best sleep of your life.

It Starts In The Brain

Man in a hammock.

Even if you may feel somewhat like a soft-shelled burrito served on a bear platter when hammocking, there is no research to suggest that hammock camping is any more dangerous than tent camping.

Bear attacks can most always be attributed to some form of human error, not your preferred sleeping arrangement.

So why don’t we sleep well on our first night in a hammock?

Sleeping in a tent seems easier on a psychological level. Our brain convinces us that, “Ah, yes…If I can’t physically see the danger, the danger must not exist.

But deep down, we know that paper-thin nylon tent material will not stop the beast.

In a hammock, we feel exposed and trapped at the same time.

It’s a feeling, not an actual increase in danger, which prevents us from taking a deep breath.

To sooth your psyche, take hammock camping one step at a time. Set up both your hammock and tent, and start in the hammock.

Giving yourself a fallback plan will boost your confidence and help reduce the feeling of being trapped.

Next, bring a tarp with you while hammocking. 

In this way, we’re recreating the faux safety of tent camping while maintaining all the cozy comfort of hammocking. “I can’t see the danger…danger must not see me.”

These tips are intended to help you feel more comfortable while hammocking in bear country. To become a better and safer camper, it’s time to upgrade your arsenal.

What You’ll Need

Bear-proof containers.

When hammock camping in bear country, at the very least, you will need bear spray, a flashlight or headlamp, and a bear-proof container.

Bear spray is a required backcountry tool in bear country, whether you intend to just hike, camp or picnic.

Likewise, a heavy-duty flashlight or headlamp can not only reduce your chance of conflict, but also calm yourself as well.

When hammock camping, keep both your light source and bear spray close to your person and easily accessible.

You should also bring a bear-proof container for your food and smelly gear as well. By sweet smelling things, we mean toiletries, lotions, odorized sunscreen, toothbrushes and the like.

Depending on where you are camping in bear country, it is likely that this container is a requirement. Check what regulations and rules have already been put in place at your campsite prior.

When camping in grizzly bear country, some campers swear by the use of a solar or battery powered electric fence.

It’s relatively lightweight but can be bulky in your pack.

While its effectiveness has been contested, at the very least, a fence has the power to bring peace of mind to hesitant hammock campers.

How To Choose Your Campsite

Bear scrapes on a tree.

Easier said than done, don’t camp anywhere where bear activity is high.

Know the signs that indicate that you may be in the way of a meandering bear.

These include:

  • Bear scrapes
  • Game trails
  • Scat
  • Food & water sources
  • Tracks

As hammock campers, we rely on trees that are 12-16’ apart to make camp. As such, we should study the trees that we intend to use and the ones that are around us.

Bear scrapes or scratches are pretty easy to spot.

Bears rub their backs on trees as a way of marking them, leaving behind snapped branches, bite and claw marks, and snagged fur.

Never hang your hammock on or anywhere near these trees.

Abiding by Leave no Trace principles, avoid camping near or on a game trail.

Not only are you putting yourself at risk; you are also encroaching on the wildlife and altering their habits. For the same reason, we avoid food and water sources as well.

Lastly, look for bear tracks and scat. You can find these even when you’re off a game trail.

The prints are typically large, with five toes and claw marks. Some people acknowledge that they are almost human in appearance, because of their extra long length.

Bear scat often contains fruit, seeds, berries and fur. It will typically be large and piled, measuring up to 12” long for black bears.

What To Do To Avoid Bear Encounters

Meeting a bear on your campsite

Nearly all bear attacks can be attributed to human error, whether in a hammock, tent or sleeping on the ground.

In the summer of 2017, a female camper fled to her tent to eat dinner, in an attempt to escape the rain. She was promptly pounced on by a curious black bear.

In the same season, this teenager, who was sleeping on the ground, woke to the sound of his own skull being chewed on by a black bear while camping in Boulder County, Colorado.

This occurred almost exactly two years after a similar teenager was dragged from his hammock by a black bear where he was sleeping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

So what happened? 

Usually, it’s about food.

For the woman who received an unwelcome visitor, the cause is pretty obvious. Never bring food or odorous things into your tent, hammock or sleeping bag. You are inviting problems into your home.

You should always cook, eat, wash dishes and brush teeth at least 50 yards from where you intend to camp in the backcountry. At registered campgrounds, follow the regulations already set in place.

Use unscented products whenever possible. In grizzly country, it’s best to never sleep in the clothes you cook or eat in. Bears can smell potential food from miles away.

Before going to bed, double-check all of your gear to make sure you’ve removed all food products. Check zippers in your backpack for any wrappers or snacks.

When it’s time to leave, pack out all your food, trash and hygiene products. Sometimes the worst damage can be done after you’re gone.

If you leave trash in a certain area, you are conditioning the wildlife to return to that area for food. So if you find trash, pick that up as well.

Leave the camp better than you found it. 

What To Do If Your Encounter A Bear While Camping

Man with a headlamp in a sleeping bag.

If you hear a suspicious noise while hammock camping, stay alert.

Ready your bear spray and hold your headlamp or flashlight, but don’t leap into action just yet.

Most times, it’s best to just lay low in your sleeping bag and allow them to wander off. If you believe it’s a persistent bear, speak loudly from your camp. Announcing your presence is typically enough to scare a curious black bear away.

If a black bear does decide to charge and you have fair enough visibility to shoot your bear spray, do so. If you don’t have visibility, it’s better to not use it at all.

Rarely ever is it a good idea to spray chemicals into an enclosure like your tent - you may be doing more harm than good.

It the bear does attack and you were caught off guard, fight with everything you’ve got.

Claw, punch, scream and kick it in the face.

If it’s a grizzly bear, well…curl up into a cannonball position and hope for the best.

Also, don't forget to check out our guide to safe camping.

About the Author

After spending 5 years testing gear, meeting people and exploring his home state of Colorado with his wife, Andrej realized something about the outdoor industry. Mostly, that it was complicated. Andrej set out to create no-nonsense gear that was just as easy to use as it was reliable. He recruited a team of wilderness professionals and educators and hit the drawing board. The result was simple gear that you could trust, with specs you understood. Now he’s inspiring others to get out there and explore, by giving them the confidence to trust both themselves and the gear they use.