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Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection
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John Little
(xjohn) - M

Locale: Midwest
Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/24/2013 11:12:01 MST Print View

Ok I keep asking myself about sleeping on the ground and do snakes seek out warm places like people in sleeping bags on the ground?

I'm not asking about outlier cases but is it a real concern or just a fear that should be overcome?

I'm leaving for a trip in Arkansas on the 26th and was planning on sleeping under my tarp and in my bag with my pad under me. Then this nagging thought crept in about snakes.

Any thoughts? Is this a pretty normal way to sleep?


snakes on 12/24/2013 11:23:33 MST Print View

A snake is a cold blooded reptile, like a fish.

It has no concept of hot or cold. Its body is the same temperature as its environment.

It is more active in warmer conditions, and moves slower in colder conditions.

If a snake finds its way into your sleeping bag, its not because its looking for a nice warm spot. They may be able to detect heat as a way to find small prey, but I doubt would see a human form as prey, they couldnt swallow it.

Although anecdotes exist about snakes in sleeping bags, I dont think Ive ever read of a documented case where someone was bitten. But then, I really havent looked.

Ants and ticks would scare me more.

Edited by livingontheroad on 12/24/2013 11:29:38 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Snakes and Bugs on 12/24/2013 11:27:32 MST Print View

Pretty sure I heard somewhere the old stories of snakes crawling into sleeping bags were just myths.

At any rate if snakes are out chances are bugs are too what keeps bugs out will keep snakes out too. I'd suggest a bug proof bivy or bug net for bugs.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 11:30:46 MST Print View

MB - unless you are a reptile expert I'm going to disagree just a bit.
from my observations, rattle snakes do seek out warmth, and can often be seen sunning themselves in morning light. I have only heard rumors of them crawling into peoples sleeping bags, no first hand experience.

I am not a reptile expert.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 11:35:18 MST Print View

No concept of hot or cold? Hardly.

Snakes cannot thermoregulate on their own, so they seek parts of the natural environment to help them out. For example, on a cold day they will crawl out into a sunny place where it might be warmer. On a hot day they will crawl into the shade to cool down.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/24/2013 11:55:19 MST Print View

Rattlesnakes can crawl into sleeping bags when you aren't in them. This happened to my father, it was quite a surprise. So if you are in heavy critter country it's worth shaking out your bag before you sleep (for scorpions and spiders as well).

However, I really don't think a snake is going to try and crawl into your sleeping bag while you are asleep. You are a huge animal that could easily kill it. By the time you go to sleep, all of the snakes will be in their dens and too sluggish to move.

Don't worry about it :)

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 12:01:40 MST Print View

Never mind. It's christmas. Sorry Matt, Fred and other attorney friends.

Edited by idester on 12/24/2013 12:04:11 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Not snakes, but . . . on 12/24/2013 12:10:08 MST Print View

I woke up in my sleeping bag in California 40 years ago and felt an impossibly sharp sting. Sharper than any needle could feel, some kind of chemical was my thought - a nettle or something. I got up, peed, started breakfast. Later when I shook out my bag, a scorpion flew out. Then I looked at my arm and the area had puffed up a but like a bee sting.

We always shake out our boots in the morning. Mostly for inanimate objects like dirt and sand, but also just in case. Out of hundreds of times of doing that, once a scorpion fell out of my wife's boot while we camped on the south shore of the big island of Hawaii.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 12:10:36 MST Print View

> It has no concept of hot or cold. Its body is the same temperature as its environment.

This isn't true. While reptiles can operate at colder temperatures... they have an ideal temperature.

They self-regulate by exposing themselves to the sun.

That's why you see snakes/reptiles on the tops of rocks while you hike.

The BBC has a great documentary (I can't find the link) where they show infrared footage of marine iguanas sunning themselves and then diving back into the water once they reach the ideal temperature.

There's an awesome desert lizard (I can't remember the name) that has chromatophores which allow them to change their skin color from black to white to regulate their temperature.

John Little
(xjohn) - M

Locale: Midwest
Always shaking out my gear on 12/24/2013 12:19:02 MST Print View

Yeah I've come to the conclusion it highly unlikely to happen. But you are right I always shake out my boots/shoes bag and what have you before putting them on.

Not sure why that whole snake thing crept into my mind. Maybe I was traumatized in my childhood with some long forgotten memory. :-)

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/24/2013 12:30:56 MST Print View

at this time of year you will encounter no snakes, too cold, they will be holed up somewhere. Feel free to roll out the bag and enjoy the night sky.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/24/2013 12:51:10 MST Print View

Some helpful information here:

Only about 5 people a year die of snake bites, and there are about 7-8K bites a year. For a nation that is full of several kinds of venomous snakes, and a population of over 300 million, it's a fairly rare occurrence to get a snakebite. So I would not (and don't) worry about snakes so much. The whole sleeping bag thing, think about it like this. Assuming you are in a fully zipped up sleeping bag, the snake would first have to locate someplace to actually get into the bag, and *then* try and crawl in. This just seems like a crazy event that, while plausible, I'd say was next to impossible.

Also, snakes hunt mostly at night, according to this source:

Which means that while you are sleeping, they have little reason to look for a place to sleep or get warm, as they are most likely hunting, and don't hunt or seek out humans at all.

What I would look out for is stepping on them while hiking. I have been backpacking and day hiking for about two decades now, and like to consider myself a careful hiker, but have almost stepped right on a venomous snake on two occasions (and regularly see snakes several times each year). The first time was on the PA AT, and had it not been for my friend hiking with me saying, "Look out!" I might have stepped right on a big rattlesnake. I get a small shiver just thinking about it now. My foot got about 5cm away from it. It was curled up on rock sunning itself and seemed to be asleep. Second time was here in Sweden going off trail through a marsh. I was bounding from tufts of grass when I could to avoid getting muddy, when mid-stride, I look down and see a big Huggorm (common European viper) all curled up on the grass tuft I'm aiming for. I was able to adjust/mini-freak out and step about 20cm away from it.

Mostly it's just staying away from them and watching where you step. Sleep at peace.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
snakes on 12/24/2013 12:53:56 MST Print View

"Asps Indy, very go first." :)

My only comment is about the snakes liking areas of warmth. Growing up we had a couple garter snakes, a green tree snake, and a rosy boa. When we opened the lid of the Rosy Boa's terrarium it would make its way out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the living room where we sat on the couch watching TV. It would then come up onto the couch and sit on our laps and fall asleep, or curl up around our necks and do the same. It did this all the time, not once or twice as a fluke.

I have a much easier time believing that the snake wanted the warmth of our body temperature than that it was an affectionate snake. ;-) I am convinced that they like the warmth of human body heat. Having said this, I can't speak to snakes on the hiking trail liking sleeping bags. Like others have said, I'd be more concerned with scorpions, spiders, ants and ticks. I only wanted to point out that they do indeed have a preference for warmth.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 13:18:16 MST Print View

Doug, from what I understand, rosy boas are particularly docile and also non-venomous. I don't doubt the warmth thing, but your snake I would speculate had learned that not only were you and you family not a threat, but a source of warmth.

I am no snake expert, but I would guess that wild snakes would view humans as threats (with the exception, perhaps, of released snakes that were formerly domesticated). And while a human in a sleeping bag is warm, sure, it's also wrapped up in a sleeping bag. Even if someone has a hood-less bag, like a Zpacks bag, the snake would have to crawl over/around a person's neck/face to get inside the bag. And unless you are a very heavy sleeper (or drunk?), you're going to react, and this would probably be enough to scare the snake off. While I suppose in this very rare situation that a snake wanted to get inside a sleeping bag, it could get spooked and bite, but looking at the following list makes this seem very, very unlikely:

Most people are handling a snake or step on/swim by one by mistake. I did a quick ctrl+f search for sleep and only found one hit in the 1910s, and it's unclear if the children were also asleep or not: "while family was sleeping" (could mean either whole family including children were asleep, nor family was asleep but children were awake).

I wonder if anyone on BPL is an actual snake expert and could chime in. You'd think someone on here has a degree in umm... snakes and stuff.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
domesticated snakes on 12/24/2013 13:29:48 MST Print View

Cesar, I'm sure you are right. There is a big difference between a docile domesticated animal and a wild one. I wouldn't encourage cuddling up with a rattler. ;-) I know that my story is anecdotal, it was just meant as an example of a cold blooded creature having a preference for warm areas, even if the warm area happened to be human. A rosy boa and venomous snake I'm sure would respond very differently to a human. And I'm afraid that's the extent of my knowledge on the subject. My sister has a doctorate in animal behavioral studies, and would be a much better person to ask...but she hates snakes. ;-)

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 13:33:55 MST Print View

Here in North America, when we think of venomous snakes, we think mostly of rattlesnakes. Another one to watch out for is a coral snake. Coral snakes do not have fangs on the front of their mouth. Instead, the venom fangs are at the back of their mouth, so they need to find a thin piece of skin, like the skin between two fingers, and then they have to latch on for a few minutes in order to invenomate the victim. No normal adult human is going to put up with that, which is why the typical victim is either an unconscious drunk or a baby in an outdoor setting. Unfortunately, once coral snake venom gets into the system of the victim, you will have a fatality. Coral snake venom is a neurotoxin, and it is lethal. Due to the method, coral snake fatalities are rare.


Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
No need to worry... on 12/24/2013 13:55:18 MST Print View

is it a real concern or just a fear that should be overcome?

The latter.

Is this a pretty normal way to sleep?

Sleeping on the ground sans enclosed shelter is very common and has been done hundreds of millions of times. I've never heard of a documented case of someone getting bit by a snake in their sleeping bag.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: snakes on 12/24/2013 14:01:28 MST Print View

The venomous snakes around here, rattlesnakes, want nothing to do with humans and will avoid you.
The question is, if a snake senses a heat source, will it know that it's a human in a sleeping bag (a threat) or just see it as a heat source?

Charles Grier
(Rincon) - M

Locale: Desert Southwest
Snake bites on 12/24/2013 14:37:49 MST Print View

From what I have read and seen, most snake bites are inflicted on males between the ages of 18 and 25. Alcohol is frequently involved and often the last words uttered by the victim before the bite are "hey guys, watch this".

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
"Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!" on 12/24/2013 14:57:59 MST Print View

As Cesar's stats indicate, getting killed by a venomous snake in the USA is incredibly low. Rattlesnakes have evolved to kill rats, ground squirrels and maybe something as big as a rabbit. Weighing 50-90 kgs instead of 0.5 to 1 kg means it is only the exceptional incident (multiple bites, small child, the elderly, a bite in a vunerable location, great distance from help, and typically 2 or 3 of those factors) that kills a human. So snake bite is down in the weeds of the statistics with bear and shark attacks. Front page news when it happens, but an insignificant risk. Well below lightening (23 so far this year), small-plane crashes (a few dozen this year in my state alone) much less risks that actually add up - exposure for hikers, slips/trips/falls around the house, and motor-vehicle accidents for everyone.

That doesn't mean those thousands of non-fatal bites don't hurt A LOT. A park ranger / naturist / snake handler I'd bring in for Wilderness First Aid classes recounted his experience getting bit. He'd reached into a cage to get something, quickly enough he thought, and got bit. He said he had about 1-2 seconds of thinking "Damn, that was stupid of me!" before his over-riding thought was of the intense pain. (They don't inject just poison, but also digestive enzymes to break-down the rabbit from the inside.)

The take-home message (other than "don't reach into cages containing rattle snakes) is, "If you're bit and poison was injected you WILL know." That is lacking in most first aid books which try to describe the bite patterns of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. So what?, it might have struck at you and not hung on long enough to inject. But if you have poison in you, you WILL know it.

Every time I've approached a rattle snake (while on staff at a Scout Camp, I'd relocate any that were seen to outside of the camp), they take every opportunity to escape and avoid the humans.

Anyone who worries about snakes in sleeping bags or what caliber gun to carry for grizzlies without first getting the very best tires, brakes and airbags on their car needs to have a better grasp of statistics and basic math.