Camping Mishaps: Critters

Banana slug attacks are extrememly rare in the Pacific Coastal Mountains

Banana slug attacks are extremely rare in the Pacific coastal mountains

When we think about camping in the wild backcountry, one of the concerns that usually comes up is about wild animals. In most parts of the country, worrying about some kind of attack from a wild animal, such as a bear or a cougar, is largely unfounded. We are much more likely to experience a late-night raid by a gang of hungry raccoons, then a large predator. Fortunately, some of the same backcountry precautions that we can take to protect our food from the local raccoon gang will also serve to protect us from an unlikely visit by something more dangerous.

There is a place for everything

Critters actually aren’t interested in us, except for the fact that they’ve learned we bring a lot of yummy treats with us to their home. Which would you prefer, nuts and berries or a bag of marshmallows? Food lockers (lockable metal boxes for storing food) are provided at nearly all campsites in bear country, but are rare in other areas.

We are car campers, so it’s easy for us to secure all of our food inside the car at night, unless we are camping in bear country (bears know all about opening cars), in which case we use the food locker. The food lockers we have experienced in California are large enough for our 52qt. ice chest, but in your area, check with the campground’s managing agency for dimensions. We also make a trip to the garbage cans every evening (which are hopefully not located by our campsite).

If your food is locked-up and secured for the evening, you are well on your way to an easy night’s sleep because, invariably, there will be someone else in the campground who was not so careful and the party will be at their campsite that night, not yours. There is one more hard-fast rule that we follow, though, and that is absolutely, without exception, no eating any kind of food in or around the tent. There is a place for food storage, a place for eating, and a place for sleeping.

Smaller considerations

Depending on when and where we camp, mosquitoes, gnats, and deer flies are usually bigger pests than animals. Last year, in Eastern Washington, the kids were in-and-out of the tent all day, playing with friends, and left the tent open. That evening we had to fish a big female black widow spider out of the tent, which really doesn’t set the mood for a relaxing night’s sleep. Lesson learned.

Mosquitoes are at their worst in the early morning and evening. We have been using standard, name brand, repellent with good results, but we have to be diligent about reapplying it. We have found that the pump spray containers work best, since they allow the repellent to be sprayed onto clothing. In t-shirt weather, the shoulders and upper back are particularly vulnerable to mosquitoes, because they can bite right through the material, which is touching the skin, in these areas.

What are some of your tips, for dealing with animals and insects?

See also…

7 thoughts on “Camping Mishaps: Critters

  1. My husband and I have been to Alaska 5 times – once on the motorcycles (Honda Goldwings) and four times in the truck. We don’t like summer heat and we hate bugs, so we go in the late fall to early winter. Camping in Alaska during that time of the year, you really do have to worry about wild animals, bears in particular. We have learned to put anything that has a smell up between two trees with ropes or, if provided, bear boxes. Love your blog – Thanks!

  2. Having spent much of my life outdoors in the Military, then being a “deep woods” and “mountain” guy as a civilian, I can attest to the concern of “critters”

    My scariest moment was when I was sitting on the porch of a rented remote cabin in West Virginia, writing and had a brown bear climb the stairs right next to me.

    I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didnt even hear it. I think I might have smelled it first, not sure, but I jumped up and screamed the first thing I could think of. “Go Away BAD BEAR!”

    Wife came running out of the cabin to see me crouched over, hands out like I was ready to attack, and she starts laughing at me. “Bad Bear?” It’s still a joke around our house.


    Adam Shake’s last blog post..Those Things We Choose to Reuse, are Those Things That Define Us.

  3. Alan – I can remember when I was 9 or 10 and somebody must have thrown some food away in one of the garbage cans, when we were camping in Yosemite. This was around 1975, when the garbage cans were “bear proof” in name only, and that thing was torn open and scattered all over the place.

    Nowadays the Rangers will write you a hefty ticket if you leave food in your car and the bears make a mess of it.

  4. I can remember the first time my family went camping when I was 13 years old. We knew absolutely nothing about what we were doing. The first night we left a garbage bag out and when we woke up the entire campsite was a mess. We never did find out what kind of critter invaded us but we sure did learn our lesson.

  5. So you’re saying I shouldn’t keep beef jerkey in my sleeping bag? Who knew? It’s too long for the comments, but someday I’ll tell you the story of the night an animal (even larger than a bear) strolled into my backcountry camp and slept next to my tent.

    Mike Hahn’s last blog post..A giveaway to feel good about…

  6. The biggest camping critter problem we have in missouri is raccoons and mosquitoes.We had raccoons jump into our truck and eat our fish bait without us even knowing it.The next day we would get up early to go fishing and find out that our bait was gone when we got to the lake.