Jan 11, 2014 at 11:00 pm #1312025
I've always been skittish about animals I can't see.. whether I'm in the water surfing and thinking about sharks, or at night in the woods. It really unnerves me and I find it very difficult to be out in the woods alone. Is this something that everyone just gets used to? Like being in a new house and hearing new sounds enough to get used to them?
I'm getting more and more comfortable the more I do it– mostly from realizing that the little critters are just mice or raccoons. I still throw rocks at noises but I'm getting better. It didn't help when in Santa Cruz sleeping by the tracks, 4 or 5 raccoons in the middle of the night chased one directly towards me. Or in Florida when I found out I was taking an afternoon nap next to a snake den and that black racers sometimes mimic rattlesnakes by shaking their tail in dry leaves. I was overthinking in Montana when we kept hearing an elk very close, wondering if it was mating season, scared one would trample our tent. In contrast, I fell asleep in Atlanta surrounded by rats without being scared or bothered.
So, any tips? I try to keep things in perspective. eg, being aware that most predators are silent, so if I hear it, it's most likely nothing to worry about, or that most animals are wary rather than aggressive, or the statistics. It helps, but not too much.Jan 12, 2014 at 12:40 am #2062622
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"So, any tips?"
If I really want to photograph the wildlife at night, I set out a line of jingle bells tied along a black nylon thread, and I tie it about eight inches above the ground. The mice will run underneath it and not wake me up. The big critters will sound the bells and wake me up.
If that isn't sufficient, I have an electronic intruder alert system that I can put in a perimeter around my camp. When any big critter approaches, the system either wakes me quietly or else scares the hell out of the critter loudly.
Otherwise, use ear plugs.
–B.G.–Jan 12, 2014 at 5:06 am #2062634
I think you have a pretty good feel for the issue. At first animal noises are unnerving for just about everyone.
Statistics should help a lot. People are far more dangerous than wild animals in North America. In the woods there are more animals and less people.
"Familiarity breeds contempt" as they say. As time goes on you should grow more and more comfortable. For example, people who have trouble sleeping starting out on the Appalachian Trail often hardly give it a thought at the end of their hike. It's all part of the adventure!Jan 12, 2014 at 7:06 am #2062646
Here in Colorado, I never really worry about critters. I've not seen a bear or lion, ever, although they say they're out there. Once I had a herd of maybe 10-12 elk come by my tent in the middle of the night during mating season. They were pretty adroit at going around my tent. A huge moose once patrolled the lake shore near where I was sleeping, grunting periodically to remind me that he was still around. It was sweet to finally hear him go, "Harr-UMPH!", which in moose-talk means something like, "There, sucker, I'm outta here, and I win."
But Yellowstone is a different story. The first few nights I have a terrible sleep. I hear everything, and there's a lot of critters roaming around at night (especially during a full moon, it seems). I have taken to popping a couple of Benedryl with my late dinner, and this lets me sleep straight through until morning. At Shoshone Lake last July I woke up and fired up my stove for my morning Joe on the beach. I noticed some tracks in the sand along the water's edge–the biggest griz tracks I've ever seen. It was nice of him to leave me alone while he strolled past in the middle of the night. I like bears that do that. If I wasn't slightly drugged, I probably would have heard him and freaked out.
I'm thinking that almost all critters will pass right by, if you don't bait them or otherwise pose a threat. But moose might be a different story altogether. They're so territorial, unpredictable, and goofy. Mice, raccoons, and other rodents might scour your campsite during the night, looking for food, and deer might come by to see if there might be a sweaty T-shirt that they can chew on for the salt, but none of these guys pose a personal threat to you.Jan 12, 2014 at 7:15 am #2062649
ear plugsJan 12, 2014 at 9:44 am #2062692
A couple tips:
1. make sure your tent/tarp don't rub up against each other. Same with your tent. Also make sure no branches , etc are rubbing up against your tent/tarp. If the wind kicks in they will make noise and it will SEEM like something is sneaking up on you.
2. ear plugs… but keep them half in.. the minor sounds will be blocked out but any major sounds like a bear outside trying to get into your food will still wake you up.
also, make sure to do the math on running into critters.
Realistically, a black bear is your main concern. Serious animal contact is rare and if you ever run into a mountain lion you should consider yourself lucky.
Also, you DO get used to it…Jan 12, 2014 at 10:09 am #2062701
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
The worst animal sounds we experienced were two raccoons fighting in a tree overhead while camped on the Olympic NP beaches. Like a cat fight on steroids.
I sleep through everything else. If you're freaky about bugs and critters, there are plenty of fully enclosed tents and hammocks.
@ Bob: what kind of perimeter alarm do you use?Jan 12, 2014 at 11:15 am #2062722
Two summers ago some friends and I were on a 8 day canoe trip on the Teslin River. My girlfriend and I were familiar with living in bear country but the other 3 members of our group were not. My buddy Matt, who is your typical young, 'invincible' male didn't seem to be too concerned about bear safety. We kept hassling him to remember to take bear spray when he wandered off for a walk after arriving at camp. We also had to constantly remind him to keep all food, toothpaste, and other odours out of his tent.
One night he decided, without our knowledge, that he was going to take some crackers and sausage into the tent for a snack while he read before bed. It wasn't a bear he ended up having to deal with, but he had quite the story to regal us with the next morning. Apparently, as he was reading he heard a sound outside the tent. He said it sounded like an animal shuffling along at first. And then he heard several low grunts.
Of course, he assumed it was a bear and decided that his best option was to just stay quiet and wait to see what would happen. He reached for his bear spray but realized that he'd left it in his backpack which was down at our cook site with the food. The grunting continued to get louder and closer to his tent and as he looked out into the vestibule he saw a paw reach under the nylon and a snout followed shortly after. He yelled and began shaking the tent and thankfully the animal got scared and ran off.
The next morning, after he had finished telling us the story we had a look around to try to determine what it could have been. Though we can't say with 100% confidence, after looking at the tracks and listening to his story we deduced that it was likely a wolverine that was passing through.
Wolverine's are rare to spot, and I've yet to see one in my time up here, but I'm pretty confident that I'd prefer a bear rummaging around my campsite rather than a wolverine. Needless to say, Matt was far more careful with food for the remainder of the trip and he remembered to take his bear spray with him to bed from that point forward.Jan 12, 2014 at 1:12 pm #2062764
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"@ Bob: what kind of perimeter alarm do you use?"
Many, many years ago, I used an advanced intruder alert system in the military. It worked pretty good. So, years after that as I got into backpacking, some alarm would be useful in some areas, so I designed one myself. It is called a Break-wire Loop, and it uses one battery, one IC, a few other parts, one switch, one bright light, and one loud sound producer. As I recall, it can work with a perimeter up to about a thousand feet long.
–B.G.–Jan 12, 2014 at 1:56 pm #2062774
While through hike the PCT this last summer I had an injury that forced me off the trail to recover for two months just south of Whitney. When I got back 2 months later I was literally the last through hiker on the PCT for the summer. A friend hiked with me through the JMT but once I got past Yosemite I was on my own and went days with out seeing anyone. The 2nd day out of Yosemite I encountered a big black bear standing in the trail just at sunset when I was going to make camp. It ran off but gave me the heebie-jeebies that night and every night from then on. I lost count of how many bears I encountered during the day along with one mountain lion and a Bobcat. The weather was good most of the time so I normally cowboy camped but twice I was awakened by something sniffing my hair. By the time I was awake enough to realize it, the animal was gone. I had a wool hoody so from then on I put that over my hair and never had that problem again. I also had some problems with mice and would wake up to little gnawing sounds. I would have to shoo them away from my pack. The straps on my pack are nearly chewed through in some places now and I even have tooth marks in my Iphone. I found that sleeping up high on an exposed ridge made me feel better than down in a deep dark forest where I could hear branch crack 100 yards away. I would tell my self it was most likely a deer or raccoon but it still would take me 10 minutes to calm down and go back to sleep. Also sleeping right next to a babbling brook or if it was windy would drown out the animal noises and I was much more relaxed. I did have some earplugs and some drugs I could take but I was thinking If I kept facing my fear it would go away but after a couple more months it never did until I caught up with another through hiker at Crater lake and we went the rest of the way together always camping with in 50 feet of each other, which for some reason made me feel much better about the sounds at night. I plan on hiking the PNT this summer and will probably just take the drugs and earplugs when I have to sleep in the woods.Jan 13, 2014 at 8:44 am #2062962Jan 13, 2014 at 11:32 am #2063009
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
My experience is that more nights out is the only solution. Eventually your mind will learn to be selective. It's been decades since squirrel farts woke me in the night, but I still wake up when larger things wander close (in Glacier, often deer looking for salty packs to chew on).Jan 13, 2014 at 4:57 pm #2063099
I started backpacking and camping with my dad when I was 6. I was about 13 before I realized that the animals i heard slowly walking around the tent in the middle of the night were in fact my eye lashes rubbing on the nylon sleeping bag as I blinked.
I worry a lot less these days.Jan 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm #2063299
@joegeibLocale: Delaware & Lehigh Valleys
Squirrel farts wake me up most nights too. But it's funny that I can't hear my 3mo daughter fuss and squirm at night, and she's 20' away in my quiet house.
But seriously, I have the same issue as the OP. It is difficult to acclimate to the sounds of the nighttime woods when you only get out a handful of times a year (I mean decade, not year). It is upsetting, because we love being outside, but those nights often result in the worst sleep possible.
I have no suggestions here, and just deal with it the best I can. I have to remind myself that most things I hear are small critters, and they want nothing to do with me. I haven't seen much megafauna on the trail lately too, so that reassures me that they are usually secretive as well.
Heck, I even did some AT in NH this past September, and stayed at the AMC Huts. That is even a "save" place, and all the farting, snoring and coughing of the other guests made it difficult for me to sleep as well.
Same goes for hotel rooms – new sleeping environments bring a heightened alertness. Only time (and drugs and plugs) can conquer this.Jan 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm #2063350
@worthLocale: Wind River Range
The more familiar you are with the type if surroundings, habitat and animals the easier it becomes. A few years ago on a canoe trip in the swamp we had a difficult time finding a place to sleep due to flooding. We slept on a small sandbar barely big enough for the tents and canoes. During the night I awoke to the sound of rustling and cracking twigs. My headlamp is only good for the task at hand. I have no idea what it was and was not about to step out blind into the dark. I suspect it was a gator.Jan 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm #2063351
@anthonyjhuhnLocale: Mid West
I would highly suggest an ipod shuffle (.56ounces) and earbuds (0.45ounces) or earplugs (~0.1ounce)
I think a 1.01ounce ipod is weight well spent. Or you probably have a phone already… you can get free "white noise" aps, you could even set it up with a sleep timer to turn it off after an hour or two.
AnthonyJan 14, 2014 at 9:21 pm #2063400
Leave the earplugs and iPod at home and tune in, not out.
I'm confused that I hear people say they carry earplugs for when it's really stormy or raging outside. I always thought that listening to the weather raise hell all night was one of the best parts of being out. So what if you loose some sleep. I've never heard of a deathbed confession in which someone wished they slept more. I can get perfect, silent, dark sleep at home.
Thunderstorms in the High Sierra, windstorms in the Mojave, and summer rainstorms in Utah are some of my greatest pleasures in life. I wouldn't tune them out for the world.
As for animals, consider yourself to be lucky enough to be experiencing animals in the real world. Consider yourself blessed to have an encounter with an animal in its environment.
I woke in Mojave moonlight one night to the sound of a jackrabbit in a bush next to my bag. On the other side of me, another rustle. Turning slowly in that direction, I saw the coyote creeping in. I was caught in the middle, frozen and listening, until the jack made a break. The coyote was only a few feet from having to jump over me. It scared me silly when it bolted. One of the best damned nights I've ever had in the desert.
Nothing is going to eat you.
*And if anything is going to eat you, it's probably bigger, stronger, and you won't have much chance anyway. Better than in a hospital bed, I figure.Jan 14, 2014 at 10:44 pm #2063422
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
+ 1 what Craig said.Jan 15, 2014 at 6:49 am #2063446
skittish about animals I can't see
Skittish? I am one who was not skittish of nighttime forest noises … utter terror would be a much more accurate word.
Fast forward 50 years … I sleep "cowboy or under a tarp without a second thought (outside of biting insect season).
What changed? Small doses alone in the dark to start with and then incremental increases with conscious effort to be fascinated by the noises. That got me from terrified to merely uncomfortable. The next step was a slow two mile midnight walk through forest I knew somewhat without using lights (was equipped to camp safely if I got lost). After that the lingering low level unease faded with time.Jan 15, 2014 at 10:44 am #2063497
Animals are the least of my worries. One snowy night, I awoke to the sound of alien lasers shredding my tent!
(Once awake, a quick investigation revealed that the noise was just snow sliding off the tent.)Jan 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm #2063684
I've spent most of my life camping, and in recent years, backpacking. I hate the sounds of insects and mice at night, and they easily keep me awake. Ear plugs, a babbling brook, or a light wind, do help.
KellyJan 17, 2014 at 8:40 am #2064027
There are a number of different type of perimeters alarm systems. One I've used is a personal keychain alarm (130 decibels) and fishing line. Both ends will be tied to a tree and if something hits the fishing line the keychain alarm will be activated.
It's inexpensive and it works.Jan 17, 2014 at 3:03 pm #2064137Jan 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm #2064138
Seriously? Sounds like a great way to wake the entire forest at 2AM over a baby raccoon.Jan 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm #2064140
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