How to Keep Bugs Away During Camping

Embarking on a camping adventure offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with nature, escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, and immerse oneself in the tranquility of the great outdoors. However, pesky insects can quickly dampen the spirit of exploration and relaxation. From the relentless buzzing of mosquitoes to the unexpected bites of ticks, bugs are more than just a nuisance; they can pose significant health risks and detract from the overall enjoyment of your camping experience. 

Recognizing the importance of a bug-free environment, this guide aims to arm campers with essential knowledge and strategies to keep bugs at bay effectively. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a first-time camper, these insights will ensure your next camping trip is enjoyable, safe, and, most importantly, free from unwanted insect guests. By understanding your adversaries and implementing proactive measures, you can fully embrace the beauty of the outdoors without the constant annoyance of bugs.

Before the Camping Trip

A thorough preparation is crucial before a camping trip to ensure a comfortable and bug-free experience. This phase involves strategic planning and packing to minimize encounters with pests such as mosquitoes, ticks, and flies.

  • Choosing the Right Campsite: Research campsites in advance to find locations with fewer bug problems. Sites away from stagnant water, dense forests, and thick grasses tend to have fewer mosquitoes and ticks. Higher elevation areas might also offer a respite from certain types of insects.
  • Packing Essentials: Equip yourself with various bug-repellent items to safeguard against pests. Key items include:
  • Insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or natural oils like eucalyptus or citronella.
  • Citronella candles or thermacell mosquito repellent devices for ambient protection.
  • Pre-treated clothing with permethrin, an insect repellent, for added defense.
  • Fine mesh head nets and bug jackets if you’re venturing into areas with high bug density.
  • A portable mosquito net to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep.

Additionally, preparing for potential encounters with bugs by understanding their habits and peak activity times can help in planning your activities to avoid peak bug times. Packing light-colored clothing can also help deter some bugs attracted to dark colors. By addressing these aspects before leaving, campers can significantly reduce the nuisance and risks associated with bugs, making their outdoor adventure more enjoyable and safer.

Setting Up Camp

Setting up camp to minimize the attraction and intrusion of bugs is essential in ensuring a comfortable camping experience. When you arrive at your chosen campsite, the first order of business should be to inspect the area for any signs of heavy insect activity or breeding grounds, such as stagnant water or dense underbrush. Set up your camp away from these areas if possible.

Clearing fallen leaves, branches, and debris can reduce hiding spots for ticks and other crawling insects. When pitching your tent, ensure it has intact mesh screens and secure zippers to prevent bugs from entering your sleeping area. Creating a perimeter around your campsite with bug-repellent devices such as citronella candles, mosquito coils, or electronic repellents can add an extra layer of protection. 

Wear Proper Clothing

Choosing the proper protective gear and clothing ensures a bug-free camping experience. Your clothes can serve as the first line of defense against the relentless advances of mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests. Opting for long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats provides a physical barrier against bites and offers protection from the sun and elements. Here are some critical considerations for selecting your camping wardrobe:

  • Light-Colored Clothing: Bugs are often more attracted to dark colors. Light-colored garments can make you less appealing to them and make it easier to spot ticks or other insects that may land on you.
  • Tight-Weave Fabric: Choose clothing from tightly woven fabric to prevent insects from reaching your skin.
  • Treated Clothing: Consider clothing pre-treated with permethrin, an insect repellent that is safe for use on fabrics. It remains effective through several washes and can add an extra layer of protection.
  • Hats and Head Nets: A hat can protect your head and neck, areas often exposed to bites. In areas with dense bug populations, a head net may be necessary.
  • Socks and Closed Shoes: Wearing closed shoes and socks can protect your feet, a common bite site for ticks and other ground-dwelling insects.

Incorporating these elements into your camping attire minimizes your exposure to pests. It enhances your comfort and safety, allowing you to focus on the joys of camping rather than the irritation of bug bites.

Natural and Chemical Repellents

In the battle against bugs during camping trips, natural and chemical repellents are crucial in providing protection. Understanding the options and how to use them effectively can significantly impact your outdoor experience.

  • Natural Repellents: Natural repellents can offer a safe and effective alternative for those preferring a more environmentally friendly approach. These include:
  • Essential oils such as citronella, eucalyptus, and lavender are known for their bug-repelling properties. They can be applied directly to the skin (when diluted properly) or used in diffusers around the campsite.
  • Planting or bringing potted bug-repellent plants like marigolds, lavender, and lemon balm around your campsite can also deter pests.
  • Citronella candles and torches provide light and create a protective barrier against mosquitoes.
  • Chemical Repellents: For those seeking more robust protection, especially in areas with a high risk of disease-carrying insects, chemical repellents are highly effective.
  • DEET, a widely used chemical repellent, offers long-lasting protection against a wide range of insects and is available in various concentrations for different exposure levels.
  • Picaridin and IR3535 are other synthetic repellents that provide similar protection without the strong odor and potentially irritating effects of DEET.
  • Permethrin-treated clothing and gear can protect against ticks, mosquitoes, and insects without needing skin-applied repellent.

While chemical repellents offer more potent protection, they should be used according to their labels to minimize potential risks. When used responsibly, combining both natural and chemical methods can provide comprehensive protection against insects, allowing campers to enjoy their outdoor adventures with minimal interference from pests.

Bring a Bug Zapper

In the battle against bugs during camping trips, traditional bug sprays and creams play a pivotal role in keeping those pesky insects at bay. These repellents, formulated with active ingredients like DEET, picaridin, or IR3535, are designed to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs, significantly reducing the risk of bug bites and associated diseases. When selecting and using these products, consider the following points for adequate protection:

  • Choose the Right Concentration: The effectiveness of a repellent is not just about the active ingredient but also its concentration. Higher concentrations don’t mean better protection, but they do last longer. For most camping scenarios, a product with 20-30% DEET or a similar concentration of picaridin is sufficient.
  • Application Matters: Apply repellents to exposed skin and clothing according to the product instructions. Avoid over-application; a thin layer is usually enough to provide protection.
  • Safety First: When using on children, choose products specifically formulated for them and avoid applying repellent to their hands, eyes, and mouth. For sensitive skin, test the product on a small area first.
  • Reapplication is Key: Depending on the duration of your outdoor activities and the repellent’s effectiveness over time, reapplication may be necessary. Always follow the product’s guidelines for reapplication, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • Consider Creams for Sensitive Areas: For the face and neck, creams might be a more controlled option than sprays, reducing the risk of inhalation and providing targeted protection.

Integrating traditional bug sprays and creams into your camping routine offers an effective method to enjoy your outdoor adventures without the annoyance and risk of insect bites. Remember to use these products responsibly, keeping environmental impact and personal safety in mind.

Bring Foods That Bugs Hate

Yes, there are foods that mosquitoes and other insects hate because of their smell. This includes garlic, onions, and citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. Therefore, bringing these foods when camping is a good idea to keep bugs away. You can rub your skin with onions, garlic, and citrus peels so the bugs won’t come near you.

Though it may leave you smelling like salad, it is a simple and natural bug repellent, especially if you do not want to use those that are made with chemicals. Aside from this, you can also include garlic and onion in your cooking while you are in the great outdoors. The smell will fill the air and make the bugs go away.

Camping Setting

Avoid Placing Your Tent Near Ideal Insect Habitats 

Selecting a suitable campsite is crucial in minimizing your exposure to unwanted bugs and enhancing your overall camping experience. The location of your campsite can significantly impact the number and types of insects you encounter. To keep bugs at bay, consider the following when choosing your spot:

  • Avoid Water Sources: While the proximity to a lake or stream may offer scenic views and water activities, these areas are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects. Opt for dry sites that are a bit elevated from nearby water sources to reduce bug encounters.
  • Consider Wind Exposure: Bugs have difficulty navigating in windy conditions. Sites that receive a natural breeze can help deter flying insects, making your stay more pleasant.
  • Stay Clear of Dense Vegetation: Dense bushes, tall grasses, and wooded areas can harbor ticks and insects. Camping in areas with less vegetation minimizes your exposure to these pests.
  • Look for Sunlight: Sites with good sun exposure are warmer in the early and late hours of the day and less hospitable to mosquitoes, which prefer more excellent, shaded areas.
  • Use Natural Repellents: Some campsites may naturally benefit from plants that repel bugs, such as citronella, lavender, and peppermint. If you have the choice, setting up near these can add an extra layer of defense.

By strategically selecting your campsite with these considerations in mind, you can significantly reduce the presence of bugs and make your camping trip more enjoyable. Always remember to respect the natural surroundings and leave no trace to preserve the beauty and integrity of the outdoor spaces for others.

Dealing with Bug Bites

Dealing with bug bites is an inevitable aspect of camping that requires prompt and effective measures to reduce discomfort and prevent potential complications. Whether you’re faced with mosquito bites, tick bites, or stings from other insects, having a plan can significantly alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of more severe health issues.

  • Immediate Steps:
  • Clean the area with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Apply a cold pack or a damp cloth to the bite or sting to alleviate swelling and pain.
  • Consider over-the-counter treatments, such as antihistamines for itching and pain relievers for discomfort.
  • For tick bites, use fine-tipped tweezers to carefully remove the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, ensuring not to squeeze or crush the tick, and clean the bite area thoroughly.
  • Recognizing Symptoms of Concern:
  • Pay attention to signs of allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or lips, or a rash spreading beyond the bite site. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
  • Monitor for signs of Lyme disease (e.g., a bull’s-eye rash, fever, fatigue) or other tick-borne illnesses, and consult a healthcare provider if symptoms develop.
  • Preventive Aftercare:
  • Keep the bite or sting clean and avoid scratching to prevent secondary infections.
  • Use hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to soothe itching.
  • Stay informed about the potential risks of insect bites specific to where you camped, especially if traveling to regions known for vector-borne diseases.

By taking these steps and being prepared to deal with bug bites effectively, campers can minimize discomfort and health risks, ensuring a more enjoyable outdoor experience. Always carry a well-stocked first aid kit with the necessary supplies for treating bites and stings as part of your camping essentials.

Campsite Maintenance

Maintaining your campsite diligently is vital to keeping bugs at bay and ensuring a pleasant camping experience. A clean and well-organized campsite is less attractive to insects and helps prevent encounters with wildlife drawn by food scraps or waste. Implementing the following campsite maintenance practices can make a significant difference:

  • Store Food Properly: Keep all food sealed in airtight containers and store them either in your vehicle, a bear box, or suspended from a tree if you’re in bear country. This practice deters insects like ants and flies and larger pests.
  • Dispose of Waste Correctly: Use designated trash disposal facilities if available, or pack all your trash. Ensure all waste is sealed tightly in bags to minimize odors that attract bugs.
  • Keep the Site Tidy: Regularly sweep away crumbs and spills from your eating area. Avoid leaving dishes unwashed or food remnants around your campsite.
  • Drain Standing Water: If possible, eliminate any standing water near your campsite, as it can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.


In conclusion, keeping bugs at bay during camping requires a multi-faceted approach that begins with preparation and extends through every aspect of your outdoor adventure. From selecting the right gear and clothing to choosing an optimal campsite and maintaining it properly, each step is crucial in ensuring your experience is as bug-free as possible. Utilizing traditional bug sprays and creams, alongside natural repellents, can defend against the nuisance and potential dangers insects pose.

Moreover, understanding the behaviors of different pests and implementing targeted strategies to deter them further enhances your protection. By adopting these practices, campers can significantly reduce their encounters with unwanted bugs, fully immersing them in the joy and tranquility of nature. Remember, the goal is not just to enjoy the great outdoors but to do so safely and comfortably, ensuring that your camping memories are filled with the beauty of nature rather than the irritation of insect bites.