A lot of people go camping to enjoy the “Great Outdoors”, but unfortunately that also means getting up close and personal with a lot of bugs. Mosquitos, ants, spiders and other creepy crawlies are part of the package.
But that doesn’t mean they have to ruin your camping experience (or the chance to get a good night’s sleep.
Here are proven strategies on how to keep bugs out of your tent.
- Pitch your tent in the right place
- Keep the fires burning and use smoke to your advantage
- Choose the right tent, and learn how to check it and set it up properly
- Avoid using artificial lights
- Use insect repellants (we tell you which ones really work)
- Zap them with insect traps
- Practice the right habits and hygiene
#1 Pitch your tent in the right place
The secret to good real estate is location, location location—and that’s true for choosing a camping site, too. Avoid places that are naturally conducive for insects to breed, hide, or hunt for food.
Avoid any stagnant water
Mosquitoes and many other insects lay their eggs in stagnant water. So, avoid pitching your tent right next to a lake, pond or creek. As picturesque as they may be, they’ll be buzzing with bugs by nightfall.
Pick a sunny spot
But all nature spots will have places where rainwater can collect, such as tree trunks or natural curves in the landscape.
With that in mind, gauge which areas in the campsite gets the most sunshine during the day—because even if it does rain, water evaporates more quickly.
Avoid any area that stays shaded all throughout the day, and the ground feels moist even if it hasn’t recently rained.
That means the area has a tendency to remain damp and dark, which mosquitoes really love.
Stay away from dense vegetation
Insects like to stay in areas where there are a lot of trees, bushes and foliage. They’re shielded from predators like birds, and the leaves (and the mushy compost) are a steady source of food.
Meanwhile, carnivorous insects like wasps will also go there to hunt for aphids and centipedes.
So, you want to pitch your tent in a clearing, far away from any heavy shrubs or cluster of trees.
You may also want to avoid big rocks and logs, too—insects also like to stay there for the same reason.
Find the breeze
Go where the wind blows! Not only will you be able to sleep more comfortably, the breeze makes it more difficult for flying insects to go near your area.
#2 Keep the fires burning
Campfires aren’t just good for warmth, barbecues and toasted marshmallows. The smoke also drives away insects!
Just make sure you follow fire safety guidelines: use the designated pits, and make sure the area is cleared of sticks, dry leaves and flammable material.
When it’s time go to bed, make sure the fire is completely out—don’t leave it unattended!
At night, you can use insect repellant coils, which generate less smoke but release a scent that most insects dislike.
Place the coils in a tin can, to catch the ash, protect it from the wind, and prevent any mishaps or accidental fires if someone accidentally kicks it.
#3 Choose a bug-proof tent
The best tents for camping will have zippers that completely close, and an additional layer of mesh over their openings.
But whether they actually keep bugs out depends on how well you maintain the tent, and how you use it.
Before you leave for camp, check the mesh and the tent itself for holes or tears.
Patch these up on both sides so that it doesn’t rip back open while you’re at the site. (You should probably pack the repair tape with you, just in case.)
See if the zipper opens and closes easily. If not, clean it with water and soap and then use candlewax to lubricate it.
Zip up the the tent windows and doors before you pitch it. Once it’s up, quickly place all the items you need inside.
(Don’t waste time fixing it—you can do that later on. The less time the door is open, the better.)
Keep your mattresses and sleeping bags rolled until they’re inside the tent. When you leave them exposed on the ground, they may already pick up insects such as ants, spiders or centipedes.
Brush away any bags before you bring them into the tent. And before you unzip the entrance, check for any signs of insects hanging on the tent frame and flick them off before you enter.
#4 Don’t use artificial lights near the tent
Do you see those pictures of campsites with fairy lights and lanterns? They may look pretty in Instagram, but they will guarantee that bugs will be buzzing about your tent the whole night.
Insects are drawn to lights like, er, a moth to a flame. There’s a scientific reason for that: many insects use natural light like the sun or moon for navigation.
But artificial light, which casts beams in several directions, confuses them because they can’t determine its angle and their own position in relation to it.
That’s why they tend to aimlessly circle around lanterns or lightbulbs. (Houston, we have a problem.)
Other insects are also drawn to lamps because of warmth, especially on very cold nights.
If you can’t avoid lamps on the campsite, place a large basin of water underneath the light source. It will reflect the light, and the insects will dive into the water.
So what do you do to keep bugs away from your tent: pitch your tent away from any artificial light sources, and turn off the lanterns when you don’t need them.
Red Light is the Exception
While it’s true, that in general you should avoid using artificial light while camping as it acts as a magnate for insects. Red light can still be used.
This is because most insects can’t see red light. It’s not part of their visible spectrum. So if you have a tent light that can emit red light then you should be all good!
n.b. Not only that, red light tends to not affect your night vision. A useful tip to know if you’re walking in the dark.
We have an entire article dedicated to have insects see red light, check it out here:
#5 Use insect repellants
Even if we buy the perfect tent, pick the perfect location, and control your light sources, you will encounter bugs, because 1) it’s the outdoors, and 2) biology.
Some insects like mosquitoes will be naturally drawn to the smell of human sweat, the way human beings are naturally drawn to the smell of pizza. For them, that’s the smell of food!
So you do have to take extra measures to protect yourself (and your tent) from bugs—and the best defense will always be insect repellant.
DEET insect repellants
Choose a bug spray that contains DEET, a chemical that’s been proven effective and is safe to use.
The FDA would never allow it otherwise—and after being used as a repellant for over 70 years, the cases of toxic reaction are very rare and far between.
Look for a cream, lotion or spray that contains 50% DEET. More isn’t always better: just like the SPF in sunscreen, it’s better to just reapply often than to max up the number.
Higher concentrations are also more likely to cause rashes or have stronger smells.
DEET reacts to plastic, so don’t spray it on your gear and make sure you don’t get it on your sunglasses.
Picaradin insect repellants
If you have sensitive skin or don’t like strong odors, you can another proven chemical compound: Picaradin. It’s derived from plants, is odorless, and is even safe to use on plastic and other materials.
So you can spray Picaradin-based repellants on tents or on your clothes, as an additional layer of protection.
Natural insect repellants
Scientists are on the fence with this one. While some people prefer to use natural, organic repellants made from essential oils, these products don’t have to go through FDA-testing—so there’s no way to say if they work and for how long.
Another factor is the concentration and quality of essential oils. While it’s true that insects don’t like lemon, mint or citronella, you’re never sure how much of that is found in a lotion or spray.
Will it work? Maybe. But you should probably the try the product before you go camping, or use it as a second line of defense rather than as your main way of keeping bugs at bay.
For example, you can light scented candles or diffusers, spray it on your tent, spray it on your beddings and pillows, spray it on clothes, or place scent sachets near the tent entrance.
If you are interested in using essential oils, you can try:
- Tea Tree
#6 Zap them
Electronic insect traps will release an electrical current whenever insects fly near them.
Most of them have a light bulb, which attract the insects and quickly zaps them. Of course, the side benefit is you also have a small light source near your tent.
These electrical insect traps are far more effective than those that claim to emit sound frequencies that insects supposedly hate.
While some people have good experiences with them, most experts and veteran campers will say that the sonic waves won’t really keep bugs out of your tent.
We recommend bringing several insect traps, so it forms a triangle around the tent. You can also hang one by the tent or near the doorway. Some campsites will already have these, or rent them out.
If you camp often, it’s worth investing in them—between trips, you can hang them in your garden, too.
We recommend the FENUN Fly, Gnat & Moth Traps which are portable and effective.
#7 Practice smart habits (and hygiene!)
Interview anyone who goes camping a lot, and they’ll say that the most effective way to keep bugs out of your tent is basic common sense.
- Don’t leave the tent doors and windows open, and avoid going in and out of the tent unless necessary.
- Brush off your shoes and outer clothing before entering.
- Never bring food or water into the tent, because that’s basically opening an insect buffet.
- Keep the camp area clean, and cover trash bins.
As for hygiene, it all boils down to two things: avoid heavy scents, but wash up. Perfumes will attract insects, especially floral scents or sweet scents like vanilla.
So this is not the time to use your colognes or any heavily-scented shampoos or body soaps—unless it’s made of tea tree or citrus, which insects don’t like.
That said, you shouldn’t skip deodorant or bathing. Aside from attracting insects, consider the poor person who has to share the tent with you! Wash up before bedtime.
Don’t get “bugged” by the details
You can’t completely avoid running into insects during a camping trip—after all, this is the great outdoors.
But nevertheless, you can prevent bugs from getting into your tent, so you can rest without worrying about spiders, mosquitoes, ants, and other insects.
Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the camp bugs bite!
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