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Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection
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Desert Dweller

Locale: Wild Wild West
Snakes on 12/24/2013 15:04:53 MST Print View

Both my husband and I have had rattlers approach us while we were napping in the shade. Once we moved they took a different direction. They really do not want a confrontation, and rarely have I seen livestock, which sleeps on the ground here all the time, bitten by mistake. Scorpions are another thing. Being a night time foraging creature we have adopted the hexamid netting as a godsend....especially since we have the bark scorpion here. Hubby had a centipede walk across his forehead once in bed.....that's when I started bombing the house. We live on an Arizona wash so the encounters used to be a common thing for us until the dogs activity scared most of them off. We have killed about 540 scorpions in 30 years here. One in my husbands pants after he put them on. And through all this time we have never been stung or bitten. One coral snake caught here too, it never offered to bite, they are kind of shy and nocturnal. I am a herpetologist.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!" on 12/24/2013 15:11:14 MST Print View

"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."


Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Rattlesnake hazards on 12/24/2013 17:10:28 MST Print View

I spent several years in Tucson, AZ doing volunteer SAR - something more than 400 operations. I never dealt with a snakebite victim. I inquired of another member if there was ever a instance of the organization dealing with a snakebite victim - None, nada, zilch.

I attended a presentation by a Tucson physician who had treated about 50 snakebite victims. One half of the population were very young children, typically bitten while at home -the snake was around the front porch or under the house. The other half were young males out collecting snakes or otherwise deliberately seeking them out.

The ones I have encountered in the wild went one way while I went the other. (and on of these encounters was a very close call.)

Snakes are an insignificant hazard for anyone with even a smidgen of awareness. It is a good idea to check your shoes, etc.

OTOH, I have lost count of the fatalities we handled - primarily from falls - typically with an elevated blood alcohol level.

Doug Smith
(Jedi5150) - F

Locale: Central CA
Re: Rattlesnake hazards on 12/24/2013 18:33:44 MST Print View

Similar experience here Don, 15 years and counting on a wilderness SAR team (and deputy sheriff/ coroner) and not one call involving a snake bite victim, or any in the history of our team that I am aware of. Most of our fatalities in the mountains involve falls (and alcohol), exposure during bad weather, and by far the most prevalent is self-inflicted (and intentional) gunshot wounds (followed by hangings). The mountains are evidently a great place to go off yourself. I'd wager a guess that most hikers/ backpackers have absolutely no idea how often people go out into the wilderness to commit suicide..."common" would be the most appropriate word to describe it.

That said, statistics are great unless you're "that guy". I try to have a balance of carefree attitude, but with a minor dose of reality and caution. Bad crap does happen to people, we see it daily. Most of us will live happy lives without being victim of the worst of it, but the rest of the world around you preaching about statistics doesn't help if you're the guy who gets struck by lightning. ;-)

Edited by Jedi5150 on 12/24/2013 18:37:23 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Snakes and Bugs on 12/24/2013 18:36:16 MST Print View

"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."

+1 on that. I would opt for a bivy with bug net or a bug bivy. That's a nice accessory if you tarp camp anyway.

Camping in established campgrounds may find you more pestered by rodents. I guess your could make a case for snakes being drawn to an area with a good rodent population. That should make you sleep better ;)

For that matter, if a snake was going to join you for warmth, a tarp wouldn't change the scenario and you haven't heard any stories about that here, right?

Cold blooded animals do need warmth to keep the chemistry working. Pit vipers have temperature sensitive sensors for hunting, let alone feeling warmth or cold (see Reptiles will seek shade once they are too hot, so keep that in mind.

If you are scrambling in snake country, it's a good habit to check your hand holds for critters sunning themselves on top of a rock, log, ledge, etc. Losing your handhold could be as exciting as being bitten.

Edited by dwambaugh on 12/24/2013 18:38:38 MST.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: poisonous snakes on 12/24/2013 19:10:34 MST Print View

My wife just about stepped on two Copperheads in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. I'm not sure who ran away faster, her or the snakes! They were just sunning themselves in the middle of the trail, or so it seemed.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Re: Rattlesnake hazards on 12/25/2013 08:35:37 MST Print View

That said, statistics are great unless you're "that guy".

Once something has already happened, the odds won't change history, but a reasonable grasp of the odds are absolutely vital for a rational risk analysis looking forward.

There's enough risk from lighting to stay off ridges during lighting storms, there isn't even close to enough risk from snakes to rationally worry about sleeping on the open ground in the U.S. or Canada.

Desert Dweller

Locale: Wild Wild West
Sleeping on the ground on 12/25/2013 09:16:39 MST Print View

I think in the OP's case I would think more about precautions for ticks given the area they were talking about. We are relatively tick free here, and given the terrible consequences of getting tick fever or Lyme disease I"ll take the rattlers and scorpions thanks.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Sleeping bags vs. blankets on 12/25/2013 15:56:39 MST Print View

The following is pure speculation!

A properly rated sleeping bag doesn't radiate much excess heat, and it zips all the way to the head. That means a snake wouldn't be able to sense much warmth from outside the sleeping bag (except at the head), and wouldn't be able to enter the bag easily, even at the head, without waking the sleeper.

But back in the day of the cowboy and mountain man, folks used blankets and furs for sleeping insulation. Blankets (etc) leak considerable heat, especially at the edges. A snake crawling by could easily sense that. Plus the half-open edges might mimic the kind of cracks and crevices that feel like a nice protected resting spot to a snake. And they'd be easy for a snake to enter to cuddle up next to the source of warmth.

Thus my speculation is that the stories about someone waking up in the bush with a snake curled up next to him come from back when blankets and furs were normal bedding, and have been carried forward and modified to our sleeping technology cuz they are so wonderfully scary to tell to noobies around campfires, and generate nifty threads at BPL!

steven franchuk
Re: Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/26/2013 01:37:07 MST Print View

years ago my dad had something get in his sleeping bag when he was sleeping. When he noticed it he didn't move in case it was a snake. However after a while the animal did move and he could tell it wasn't a snake. So he made a sudden movement and the mouse ran right over his face.

While a mouse is not poisonous they do carry viruses that do sometimes kill people. rattle snakes are one of the few species on earth that can see infrared light (although not very well). So on a cold night to will move to warm spots that they can see. Even If that happens to be a person in a partially unzipped sleeping bag. If that person doesn't move the snake might think its a safe place and move in.

Rattle Snake can be active day or night. they hunt whenever they can and move into warm place when it gets cold. They hibernate in small caves or abandoned tunnels left by burrowing animals.

While most bites are to kids and people seeking out snakes. The few b back country bites I have read about occur when a hiker startles a snake that he didn't see. Often rattle snakes don't inject venom. They mainly bit to keep people away. When they are startled or stepped on they might give you a full dose of venom.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Beware of Owl Attacks (and carnivorous rabbits) on 12/26/2013 02:17:13 MST Print View

Yet another reason for full enclosure? In the Grand Canyon one night while Cowboy camping I had one arm out of my sleeping bag. A Great Horned Owl attacked my arm (fortunately I was wearing a puffy jacket) in the middle of the night, though it realized the mistake pretty quick and only tore my jacket and not my arm. I can tell you that is an adrenaline-soaked way to get jolted awake in the dark. LOL

Another reason - nocturnal-carnivorous-cannibalistic desert rabbits!

Edited by millonas on 12/26/2013 02:19:41 MST.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: Beware of Owl Attacks (and carnivorous rabbits) on 12/26/2013 10:47:03 MST Print View

I always warn newcomers to these parts: beware of the venomous Sonoran bunnies! ;~)

Desert Dweller

Locale: Wild Wild West
Jackalope on 12/26/2013 15:00:36 MST Print View

Some have antlers, we call them jackalope.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Safety of sleeping on the ground with no critter protection on 12/26/2013 16:44:20 MST Print View

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

Not a real concern. I'd get over the fear.

>> Is this a pretty normal way to sleep?


As a general rule, I don't sleep with my food.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: RE: Beware of Owl Attacks (and carnivorous rabbits) on 12/26/2013 16:57:14 MST Print View

Ah, yes, Lepus californicatus tularemius. A most dangerous beastie, indeed. Do not attempt to feed or pet. Active at night, and the only known effective barrier is an inner tent made of chicken wire. The Sonora is a harsh land, and no place for ULer's.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: sleeping out on 12/26/2013 17:03:38 MST Print View

John, I've spent a lot of nights sleeping out under the stars or just a tarp, in the southwest desert, Appalachia, Alaska, Montana, etc, etc.

Worst thing that happened as a result was a fly on my face a time or two. The only time I don't take this approach is during serious mosquito/black fly time.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: RE: Beware of Owl Attacks (and carnivorous rabbits) on 12/26/2013 17:08:37 MST Print View

"Lepus californicatus tularemius"

Also known as the jackass rabbit.

The only one that is worse is the swamp rabbit.


diego dean
Re: Beware of Owl Attacks (and carnivorous rabbits) on 12/26/2013 17:36:18 MST Print View

There are some that believe owls are responsible for a handful of unexplained deaths previously thought to be murder cases.

Quick Google search shows its not that uncommonn to be attacked.

Edited by cfionthefly on 12/26/2013 17:37:01 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Beware on 12/26/2013 18:59:55 MST Print View

I was a bit apprehensive about scorpions while hiking in the Southwest. In the end the worst nighttime experience I've had was with ants. Not sure how they communicate but when they start to attack, they all do at once.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Sleeping out is safe. on 12/26/2013 20:18:10 MST Print View

Since you said you were leaving today, this may be too late but I was cowboy camping in Joshua Tree NP the last few days until I got back today.

I've been cowboy camping and tarp camping since 2006 which includes 3500+miles of hiking. I never camp in meadows, too many field mice. I never camp next to places with signs of burrowing or holes in the ground as something lives there and is best avoided. I look for signs of crawling insects before setting up camp. If I see ants crawling around I look elsewhere. If you see a mouse running around the area, roll your gear up in your ground sheet and walk a short ways away. Mice will always come back no matter how often you chase them off.

Following these rules, I never have any problem, except one time. My only time with a critter getting under my quilt was a frog. I was camped within 20 feet of a creek during a thunder storm under my tarp. A frog the size of my hand was trying to get to the creek. I woke up noticing my hand was touching a slimely rock. Then I woke up enough to realize that there weren't any rocks nearby when I set up camp. I freaked out until I realized it was a frog. Afterwards we had a staring contest for a few minutes until it moved on towards the creek since I was no longer blocking it. Going by the wilderness rules, it was my fault as I was camped too close to a water source.

Now that said, flying insects may be an issue so I hope that you have a bug net, bivy sack, or at least a headnet over a hat to sleep in. Though probably not an issue in winter.

Edited by Miner on 12/27/2013 20:18:39 MST.