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Can Raccoons Open Tents?

We all know to be aware of bears when we’re camping, but should we also be concerned about raccoons?

These curious trash pandas are pretty cute—at least from a safe distance—but they’re also very dexterous little critters that are actually quite adept at problem solving. They also love human food—and trash, for that matter—so they certainly have motive to burgle a campsite, should the opportunity present itself.

Can racoons open tents?

While they don’t have opposable thumbs, raccoons do have five long fingers (and claws!) and often use both hands to manipulate all sorts of objects quite easily, so there’s no reason to believe that a raccoon can’t manipulate a zipper. In fact, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from campers who’ve experienced just that.

Image by Enn Li Photography

That said, it’s not a very common occurrence for a raccoon to unzip a tent —but it is possible, especially if the curious and highly food-motivated critter can smell some tasty morsels inside. On the bright side, if a raccoon were to enter your tent, it’s far more likely that it would be purely out of curiosity for your trail snacks—not to attack you. But still, it’s a risk you’d rather not take, as raccoons will bite if they’re threatened or sick, and that can even pass along diseases like rabies, raccoon roundworm and toxoplasmosis (just to name a few).

So, while an attempted break-in by a raccoon would fall somewhere along the lines of slightly adorable, mildly annoying and wholeheartedly startling, it’s best to gear up and make sure the furry trash bandits won’t even try in the first place.

Take away the temptation

Keep anything scented locked away in a hard-sided, smell-proof container. We’re talking food, toiletries and garbage, too—these little scavengers don’t discriminate! While you may be tempted to just hang a bear bag, this won’t quite cut it, because raccoons can easily climb out on tree limbs and not only grab those goodies but use their claws to rip the bag right open. 

Image by Rbkomar

If your campground doesn’t provide a designated bin for garbage and a steel bear box or locker to stash food and other items, then a bear canister or a latching cooler like those made by Yeti will do the trick. Is that overkill? Perhaps—but if it’s good enough to keep a bear at bay, it will definitely keep a raccoon from snooping around your tent. And, if you’re still worried that tantalizing scents will escape, you can utilize some smell-proof bags as well—and keep all of these containers outside of your tent. Even better, lock it all up in your car if you have one at your campsite. (Though be aware that this may be prohibited at your campground.)

On a similar note, make sure you clean all your dishes and cookware after each meal, and don’t fling food scraps around the site as you cook or eat. Also, burying or burning your trash and scraps isn’t a good solution, either. Not only does it go against many principles of “leave no trace,” it would be ineffective as raccoons are great at digging and burrowing, and they surely wouldn’t pass up a crispy campfire treat that they tracked down from the smoke signals you sent wafting through the woods.

Make your campsite boring

Even if you keep all those tantalizing smells hidden from your campground’s local raccoon population, they could still be attracted to all the other fun stuff you may have strewn about your campsite. Raccoons are pretty smart and they’ve learned that human stuff of all kinds means delicious human food is near, so try to keep a neat and organized campsite so there’s less for them to come and inspect. You can even utilize a lockable storage bin to stash items out of their reach.

Image by Kevin Schafer

Secure your shelter

All of the above should keep any curious raccoons—or other animals, for that matter—away from your campsite. But if any raccoons do come a-knockin’ (or unzippin’), your tent is your last defense. While there may not be any particular tent that is the most “raccoon-proof,” there are a few key things to keep in mind: 

  • Seek a tougher tent made with fabric that can’t be easily ripped by raccoon claws and durable zippers that don’t pull apart with a little tug. Generally speaking, a dome tent will often be sturdier and more durable than a popup tent, and the Coleman Sundome is a well-trusted, affordable choice in that regard.
  • No matter what tent you have, always zip your tent doors and windows up to the top. Wherever possible, ensure the zipper pulls are at the highest point from the ground that they possibly can be to prevent a raccoon’s grubby little hands from reaching it.
  • If you’re still concerned—and you have an opening with dual zippers—you can tuck the two zipper pulls inside your tent and lock them together with a tiny, dual-sided carabiner clip. It’ll make middle-of-the-night bathroom runs a little more difficult, but no raccoons (or any other living creature) will be able to unzip your tent, that’s for sure!
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