Going tent-free with bears?


Aug 9, 2007
I'm heading out on a 5-day, 84-mile river trip through Desolation and Grey Canyons on the Green River next week. There have been numerous reports of bear issues out there this year, some of which have resulted in bears being killed or relocated. One first-hand report I read stated that one curious bear was caught looking into a tent at night. Oh, and another person actually had a bear bite them on the head. Not the same head bite that happened in Colorado, this one happened almost the same time.

With that all said, I really hate sleeping in a tent. I much prefer just sleeping on the ground with nothing around me. But this has me thinking a bit. Does that stupid nylon and mesh contraption actually do me any good if Yogi comes sniffing around one night? Or is it purely mental? I don't love the idea of getting bit on the head, or waking up to bear breath, but I also don't love the idea of a hot, muggy tent every night.

And if any of you have done Deso, is there enough of a problem with mice that I'll want the tent anyway? The campsites on the Yampa in June were pretty much mousapalooza so I ended up tenting a few nights for that reason alone. They don't usually wake me up but there's something about getting out of bed and looking down to see an imprint of your body surrounded by mouse prints that isn't so great.
Never done Deso-Gray, but I'm thinking of getting a hammock and foregoing tent camping in the future. Not sure if there would be enough places along the Green there to hang one (probably would be), but you would be higher up off the ground and could be face-to-face with a bear if one messed with you, easy for bear-spray shooting. Get a bug net as well as a tarp cover and you're all set. No worries about mice, scorpions, kangaroo rats, snakes, or rabid frogs. Bears can smell you, whether in a tent or not, though I sometimes wonder if they just think the tent is a special kind of wrapper and this makes them even more curious and likely to mess around to see what it is.
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I'm a side/stomach sleeper so hammock camping has no appeal to me, although I do enjoy relaxing in one. I just couldn't stay in one all night. Most of my tents are mostly mesh so a bug net+tarp is basically just a tent to me, especially since weight is of no issue on the river.
Well, I originally read that as moose prints instead of mouse prints. :)

Would something like OR's bug bivvy keep the mice off yet let you feel like you were outside? I don't think a bear would care much whether you were in a tent or not if it wanted to bother you. Here in W. Colorado we're also having lots of bear problems. Not enough food in the high country this year.
Some research has shown that a tent slightly decreases your chance of a negative bear encounter, as Herrero puts it, a tent provides a "psychological barrier" for bears. Interpret that as you wish. As for me, if the bug situation allows it, I sleep under the stars.
You may want to get an air horn (there are a bunch on Amazon). Don't know about bear spray in this situ. Self harm may be likely. Of course having your food ungettable is always a good idea. If you use an Ursack and oder liner may be in order. Hard side container better still.
Tough call...unless weather dictates otherwise, I usually prefer a mesh tent with no fly or a fly pinned back for maximum ventilation. Psychologically speaking, I like to be able to shine a flashlight out and see what's making noises around me and be able to prepare myself for a bear encounter should I find one sniffing around my camp (assuming I hear it before it's close enough to breathe on me), whereas, with a fly surrounding me, I'm left guessing what critters are out making all the noises around my camp, and it's not so fun when my imagination starts running wild with "what if" thoughts in those situations.
OK, ask the expert, Stephen Herrero, and according to the link I found, he says:

I have mentioned that another technique for minimizing risk while backcountry camping around bears is to sleep in a tent rather than without shelter. Sleeping under the stars is one of my favorite things to do while camping, but I choose areas in which to do this carefully. My data strongly suggest that people sleeping without tents were more likely to be injured, even killed, than were people who slept in tents.

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