Most of us who consider ourselves campers relish making a fire, find comfort in the scents of the outdoors and love falling asleep to the sounds of the forest at night.
The truth is, most of us didn’t start as confident campers. Getting used to the outdoors and sleeping outside can be downright scary!
A big obstacle for many of us is the thought of abandoning a strong and sturdy home for a fabric tent. How could a small fabric enclosure possibly protect us? Is sleeping in a tent safe?
Sleeping in a tent is exceptionally safe when you’re well prepared for a camping trip. Carefully researching your tent specifications, weather, local wildlife, and fire safety creates a safe sleeping experience in your tent. A thorough review of available national park crime statistics can empower you to understand the risk while tent camping.
We will talk about safety tips pertaining to weather, animals, and people to give you peace of mind while camping.
Is It Safe to Sleep in a Tent in Inclement Weather Conditions? How Should I Prepare?
Being prepared for the weather is absolutely vital for a safe tent camping experience.
You have several options to track the weather, such as using an app on your phone. If service isn’t available and you’re camping in a state or national park, check in with park rangers for the evening’s prediction.
While all inclement weather can be hazardous, flash floods are particularly dangerous and important to prepare for.
According to a 12-year survey of flash floods, The Mortality of Flash Floods:
“A total of 1,185 deaths were associated with 32 flash floods, an average of 37 deaths per flash flood”
Intense Heavy Rain/ Flash Floods
- Before going on your trip, it’s wise to know if your tent is waterproof. If your tent has holes that need to be mended or is an older style that isn’t suited for wet weather, it’s best to pack up and wait out the rain if you can.
- Be sure you have your rain fly on! Leaving the rainfly off at night can be beautiful for stargazing but is a crucial component when it appears that rain is headed your way.
- Make sure your location isn’t prone to flash flooding. If you haven’t researched this, find a park ranger and ask. If there aren’t park rangers, assess your terrain and move to higher ground if possible.
- According to The National Weather Service, “lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm”. This is why it’s important to act immediately when a storm is moving toward your site.
- If thunderstorms are coming, it’s best to seek shelter in an area other than your tent until the storm has passed.
- Lightning strikes the highest points in any given area. So typically, if you’re in a campground, your tent won’t be at extreme risk for getting hit as there tend to be trees around. It’s important to note tents are constructed with conductive metals, leading to serious injury if struck by lightning.
- If you find yourself in a highly exposed area and have no car or buildings to seek cover in, seek the lowest ground possible. Whether that’s a low point near trees or a cave, seek to avoid open spaces, mountainsides, or being in trees.
- Make sure where you are camping isn’t extremely windy all the time. If you’re camping in a typically windy place, purchase a tent that is lower to the ground and rated for high winds.
- If the wind is 30mph or more, it is best to avoid setting up your tent until the windy conditions have changed.
- Stakes are crucial to all tent camping and have extra importance when camping in windy weather. If you’re camping near a beach or an area with sand, be sure to have suitable stakes, such as long screw-shaped ones.
- Using your vehicle as a windbreak can be a great solution to high wind. If you don’t have a vehicle to break the wind, seek out low-lying bushes to put your tent near for some protection.
- Position your tent so that the narrowest part of the tent faces the wind. This can help wind pass more easily around your tent. Make sure not to face your tent opening towards the wind, as it can blow items more easily into your tent.
How Tent Season Ratings Can Impact Your Safety While Camping
As we’ve discussed, it’s imperative to know what weather is expected and what weather your tent is intended for. The best tents for bad weather can help you stay both warm and dry.
Taking prompt action in preparation for incoming weather can be the difference between safety and disaster.
Most tents fall into one of two categories, three-season or four-season. These season ratings help inform you of your tent’s intended use and the protection it offers.
A three-season tent is a lighter tent that typically includes mesh for breathability and a removable rain fly. Three season tents are intended to shelter you from rain, low mileage wind, bugs, and animals.
These tents aren’t intended for extreme weather such as strong winds or snow.
Four-season tents do not typically include a mesh of any kind or a separate rain fly. A four-season tent is intended to shelter you from snow, colder temperatures, and strong winds.
Are Tents Safe from Animals? How to Prepare?
While the thought of camping near large animals can be intimidating, animals do not typically try to break into tents unless they have a reason, such as smelling food.
America’s parks are home to many beautiful wild animals such as black bears, grizzly bears, bison, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and snakes.
The good news is, regardless of how many wild animals you are camping among, you are extremely unlikely to get hurt.
In An Analysis of Deaths at U.S. National Parks, a review of deaths over twelve years at national parks, only eight people died in total from animal attacks.
How Can I Prevent Animals From Breaking Into My Tent?
Researching the local wildlife and proper food storage are the two most straightforward ways to minimize the risk of animal break-ins.
Bears do not typically attack people unless they are startled, have cubs present, or are hungry.
To keep bears and other large mammals away from your tent, it’s essential to store and dispose of your food properly.
If you’re camping at a park in bear country, this means using their bear-resistant trash cans to dispose of all food trash and packing all uneaten food up and putting it in your car.
If you’re camping away from your car or any proper disposal places, storing your food in a bear-proof container 200 feet from your campsite is the best option.
In our article “ Are Tents Safe From Bears? 3 Statistics and What You Can Do” we give in depth tips to help you bear proof your tent and campsite.
For additional bear safety tips, check out this video:
Statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to get bit or seriously injured by a snake while camping.
In our article “Are Tents Snake Proof? 4 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe” we discuss the likelihood of an injury or death from a snake encounter.
“7,000 to 8,000 people get bit by a venomous snake each year in the USA. That’s a tiny percentage of the 40 million campers each year.
Five people die as a result of a venomous snake bite each year in the USA.”
The best protection against poisonous snakes getting in your tent is keeping it zipped at all times except to enter or leave.
What About Other Campers?
In An Analysis of Deaths at U.S. National Parks, murder didn’t even make up a sizable portion of deaths to report. Murder did not fall in the top five reasons people die at national parks.
Tent Camping and Fire Safety
Building your fire correctly and far enough away from your tent is one-half of the equation of fire safety while camping.
Ensuring your fire is extinguished completely is the second half of the equation that can help prevent fire accidents.
What Steps Can I Take to Optimize Safety While Sleeping in a Tent?
- Keep an eye on the weather, either through an app, your senses, or checking in with the nearest park ranger.
- Research where you are going camping. Knowing the climate, local wildlife, and common weather events can prevent any significant accidents while camping.
- Research the wildlife where you are camping. Know what animals you can encounter and prepare for them, such as using proper food storage and disposal.
- Know your tent’s intended seasonal use and wind durability.
- Keep your tent closed at all times. This is the best deterrent for bugs, snakes, and other unwanted creatures.
- Learn how to properly build and extinguish a fire.
- Have a light available in your tent, such as a lantern or flashlight. Having a light can be helpful whether to locate a sound or detect what you felt on your leg.
- Have a first aid kit available for emergencies and peace of mind. Knowing you have tools at your disposal to handle any worst-case scenario can help you sleep easier.
Sleeping in a tent is, statistically speaking, an extremely safe activity. As with any new endeavor, the experience will help you build the skill set, knowledge, and tools to camp safely in adverse weather conditions and diverse terrains. With a bit of education, research, and curiosity, you can have a safe and enjoyable time exploring the great outdoors.