How to Stay (Fairly) Bug-Free When Camping

Bugs can be a total nuisance when you're trying to enjoy your time in the great outdoors. Check out these tips on how to minimize bugs on your next camping trip!

Someone tying a knot in a rope. There is a mosquito on his hand.

Photo by Thirdman

You've got the perfect camping trip planned. The weather is perfect, the location is beautiful, and then the bugs buzz in. Even with all the details ironed out, your perfect camping trip can head downhill if you're not prepared to deal with insects. The last thing you want when you're enjoying the great outdoors is to be covered in mosquito bites.

Luckily, there are ways of dealing with those tiny terrorizers. In this article, we'll break down numerous ways that you can build up a defense against bugs and secure a pleasant vacation.

Avoid Bug Season

Silhouette of a man fishing with many bugs flying around.

Photo by Sandra Seitamaa

While bugs can't be avoided entirely when enjoying the outdoors (we are encroaching on their home after all), we can do our best to plan around when they are most active. Oregon, for example, is known for its massive mosquito broods that typically spike in July and August. If you're planning a trip to a notoriously buggy area, be prepared to be greeted by a cloud of bloodsuckers so thick that no amount of DEET will keep them at bay! Do some research on your destination before you set off, so at the very least you know how to prepare and what to expect. If life allows, maybe consider planning a trip during the fall instead, and enjoy the foliage and crisp air—and certainly fewer bugs.

Campsite Selection

A swampy camping area.

Photo by Joyce G.

Campsite selection is another element that could make the difference between swimming in a sea of mosquitos or practically avoiding them altogether. Areas with lots of standing water are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other flying insects. Setting up camp near a bog or a low point where water tends to collect is a recipe for a miserable night in the woods.

Creepy crawlies tend to be less of a nuisance in my opinion, but they can also be avoided with proper campsite selection. Ants are attracted to crumbs and sugary things. If the campsite looks like it's been heavily used by humans and you see trash and spilled liquids in the area, it might be best to move along. Other crawling insects such as ticks, fleas, and grubs gravitate towards high grass and rotting wood.

An ideal campsite is one that is on high ground with plenty of drainage that hopefully hasn't been trashed by fellow humans. If it's an area where a cool breeze happens to blow through, consider that an epic bonus for keeping away flying insects. This of course can be artificially recreated by setting up a few fans around your campsite.

Clothing

Proper attire for bug season puts a barrier between you and the hungry little buggers so you don't have to cover your body in harmful or irritating chemicals. The best way to keep bugs off of you is to cover up as much skin as possible. Wear boots, long socks, long pants, a long sleeve shirt, hat, and bug net. Also, woven fabrics, like ExOfficio’s Bugsaway LS are tougher for bugs to bite through than knit fabrics such as Smartwool’s Men’s Merino 150 Base Layer. This sounds like a miserable outfit for summer, but there are lightweight, breathable options out there, and it's a heck of a lot better than being bitten by bugs constantly.

To keep ticks from jumping onto your legs, wear long pants tucked inside a pair of medium to long socks.

Bug Net

Someone in a hammock reading a book on an e-reader. There is a bug net over the person and hammock.

Photo by Javier Penas 

Bug nets can vary dramatically in size. They can cover an entire living area for multiple adults or just your head. Head nets such as Ben's Ultranet work best in conjunction with a brimmed hat of some sort. If the net is lying right against your face, bugs can easily bite through the holes in the mesh, so having a brim to keep the net a few inches away from your face helps tremendously.

If you are planning a trip where you're expecting armies of insects, and you still would like to spend a lot of time outside of your tent, consider investing in a netted outdoor living space.

Gear Treatment

A man spraying clothing with a bug spray.

Photo courtesy of Sawyer

You can take your bug barriers to the next level by treating them with a permethrin insect repellent spray. Treating your clothes and gear with permethrin makes insects think twice before ever jumping onto you in the first place. This home treatment will provide about 42 days of protection against mites, mosquitos, ticks, and chiggers. Permethrin can be harmful to the skin and eyes, so be sure to follow the instructions exactly as listed on the bottle.

Gear to Treat

  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Hiking tops and bottoms
  • Tent
  • Tent footprint
  • Backpack

Bug Repellent

There's a wide range of traditional bug sprays and creams on the market, the most common being the almighty DEET. There's no doubt about it, DEET is a miracle worker for keeping bugs off your skin. The more DEET a spray has, the more effective it is. Unfortunately, it can be quite harsh for humans as well. Many people have reported negative side effects from DEET, such as nausea, and irritation of the eyes and skin. To stay safe, consider a product with a low percentage of DEET.

A fairly less harmful, but still effective repellent is Picaridin. It's typically sold as a cream that is applied directly to the skin. Picaridin works great against flies, mites, ticks, lice, fleas, and mosquitos.

Natural Repellents

Glass bottles lay on a tablecloth.

Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya

Some people prefer to avoid chemical repellents entirely and, fortunately for them, there are a whole plethora of natural repellents that can be made with easy-to-obtain essential oils and household ingredients.

To make your own natural bug repellent, mix up a tablespoon of alcohol, half a cup of witch hazel, half a cup of water, and 10 to 20 drops of any of the following essential oils:

  • Lemongrass
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Basil
  • Citronella
  • Thyme
  • Tea Tree
  • Sage
  • Cedarwood
  • Clove
  • Cajeput
  • Geranium

Mix your concoction in a spray bottle, and give it a good shake before using. The ingredients will naturally separate as the mixture settles, so you'll probably have to shake it every time you use it. Essential oils are concentrated and can be quite potent, so make sure you're not allergic to any of the above oils before applying them directly to your skin.

Smoke

A campfire.

Photo by R.D. Smith

A cozy campfire is often peoples’ favorite part of camping. We love the past times of roasting marshmallows, warming our toes, or just letting ourselves be mesmerized by its dancing flames. A fire—mainly the smoke—also happens to be one of the most effective ways to deter bugs. Excess smoke may be annoying to humans, but mosquitos can't stand it.

A fire isn't the only way to repel bugs with smoke, however. Other great things to keep around camp or the patio are a tiki torch, sage bundles, and a few citronella candles. Citronella is a familiar scent, pleasant to humans, but like kryptonite to bugs.

Foods Bugs Hate

Garlic is laying on a cutting board with a lemon in a bowl nearby.

Photo by Alexander Lyubav

Just as most kids are picky eaters, there are certain foods that bugs tend to turn their noses up at and want no part of. Perhaps the following are a good idea to add to your afternoon, no-insects-allowed picnic!

  • Oranges
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

You could even experiment with rubbing some orange peels or garlic on your skin to see if it keeps the little pests away. You might attract bears, but at least you'll be free of bug bites!

If you have pesky flies buzzing around your picnic, you can actually make a fly trap with some apple cider vinegar and dish soap. Just pour some vinegar into a mason jar with a few drops of dish soap and leave it out away from your food. The flies will dive bomb the vinegar and then get trapped in the mixture.

I hope this article helps you enjoy your vacation in the great outdoors with fewer bugs than before. All biting insects are annoying, but it just takes a little preparation and planning to ensure they don't ruin a perfectly good trip into nature!

If you are looking for more tips and suggestions to make your next camping trip worry free, or want to chat camping gear with passionate and knowledgeable pros, chat with one our Camping and Hiking Experts today on Curated!

Like this article?
Share it with your network

Written By
The wilderness is my home, my vacation spot, and my church. It's where I feel the most in tune and the most like myself. If I can help even a handful of people get out into nature and experience the blissful oneness that I've experienced out there, I'll feel fulfilled as a hiking and camping expert....

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read Next

New and Noteworthy