Night anxiety in the backcountry


The dread, fast heartbeat, overly sensitive ears; all match up and sync to create a feeling of anxiety I never thought would affect me so much. For me, hitting the hay in the outdoors can be a sort of waking coma at times. I hear every sound and create some horror story behind it. The tent flaps in the wind, animals scurry about, heck, even my whiskers rub against the sleeping bag wrong and cause me to think the weirdest things. And all because…?

I believe that as nighttime falls, our ears become a bit more sensitive to sounds around us. I’ve often heard of people being able to hear music just a bit better before going to bed, and I think the same mechanism applies. The downside is that when camping somewhere remote, that increased sensitivity to noise leads to me thinking a large bear is about to descend upon my tent and have a snack. Of course, the reality is, statistically, at least here in California, you’re safe. With only 12 bear attacks since 1980, the odds are most certainly in my favor.

So what is it then, that causes increased nerves for me? My brain knows I should be safe, but my heart doesn’t feel that way. I hear the sounds, I know they’re nothing. My theory is a simple note of humanity: vulnerability. Sure, a tent keeps the rain and wind out, but doesn’t actually offer that much in the way of protection. Any animal that wants to, could most likely penetrate the thin membrane that is keeping me ‘safe’ for a night.

Camp side, big sur, california

As humans, we’ve become accustomed to safety, and as that, we’ve detached ourselves from the reality of nature. That precipice on which we so delicately balance. The outside is there and as long as we keep it that way we shall be alright. Except, that isn’t why I venture, it’s the opposite.

I will say, that the anxiety has gotten better. Perhaps it just distills down to experience and nights spent hugging the ground. I didn’t feel comfortable at all being outside at night. Now, the game is only up when I’m tired.

I feel content on blaming city life for this affliction. The stars are blocked out, the wind rarely howls through trees, and nary would you see many critters, save the squirrels and occasional raccoons. I blame living in a house for the anxiety it has caused me. A funny sentence to dwell on, but one that makes infinitely more sense when you do dwell. What do you think? What are  your worst fears when it comes to the outdoors, sleeping or no?

Camped at Round Top Lake, Carson Pass, California

11 thoughts on “Night anxiety in the backcountry

  1. Beautiful words and pictures. I think the idea of vulnerability definitely applies, even inside: I know that I always feel tens of times safer tucked under a blanket than lying on my bed without one. I think that it’s just the psychology of being covered and protected in some way

      1. We always carry around bear spray. Thus far no bears around our site. I bet dogs do help deter them cause they are so laud. Great blog, I’m just learning and trying to figure this whole thing out. Instagram took me a while so I thought I would branch out and try this too.

      2. Well I’m certainly glad someone else feels the same way. You’re making me feel that much better about it, and I almost didn’t post for fear of sounding silly.

  2. I experience the same thing, it is a strage contradiction. I seek the physical solitude and escspe from the hoards, but am railroaded by fear at night. Fear of bears, horror show imaginings, sasquatch, or just simoly the unknown. I wish I could break the cycle, perhaps only through habituation.

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