A camping trip is a perfect way to enjoy the Great Outdoors, escape the hassle and stress of city life, and reconnect with your family and friends.
Now, although all campers love to get back to nature, some wildlife is not welcome at any pitch. Pests, including flies, midges, wasps, and mosquitoes, can make your life an absolute misery, especially if they invade your tent!
In this guide, I show you some of my favorite tried and tested methods for keeping bugs at bay, leaving you free to enjoy your camping holiday unmolested by those buzzing, stinging, biting, crawling critters that you certainly don’t want as house guests at your pitch!
Tip #1 – Choose your pitch wisely
Many species of nuisance bugs favour wet, damp areas where there’s standing water in which to breed and feed. The same applies to riverbanks and lakesides, so when you choose your pitch, avoid those spots.
Some species of flies, including vicious, biting horseflies, tend to congregate in shady areas under trees, especially around livestock, so those are areas to avoid too.
Before you put your groundsheet down, check to make sure that there are no ant nests on or near the pitch site. Areas of raised sandy ground in the grass are usually signs of a nest, and you can usually spot the insects moving around too. Although ants don’t generally bother campers that much, you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night, literally with ants in your pants because you didn’t check the pitch site properly!
Related Read: 18 Tips When Pitching a Tent
Tip #2 – Repellants
Before you set off on your camping adventure, stock up on repellants.
Bug repellants can be extremely effective in keeping insect pests at bay, although some products are more effective than others.
When choosing insect repellant, look for a product that contains DEET. Lots of DEET.
DEET is a powerful chemical insect repellant that is pretty much bullet-proof when it comes to deterring many biting insects, including mosquitoes, flies, no-see-ums, ticks, and midges. You can buy creams and sprays that contain DEET, so it’s really a case of choosing whichever product suits you best.
The advantage of sprays is that you can apply them over your clothing, rather than directly onto your skin. That’s an important consideration, as some people, especially kids, are sensitive to the active chemicals contained in many repellants. Also, make sure that the repellant you choose is waterproof. Insects are still active in the rain, and getting wet is not a guarantee that you won’t get bitten.
When applying a chemical insect repellant, do so outside or in a well-ventilated room, and be very careful that you don’t inhale the product or get any in your eyes, also wash your hands after application.
DEET-free chemical repellants
If you don’t like the idea of using such a powerful toxic chemical, there are a few very effective alternatives that work on midges, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, ticks, horseflies, and sand flies:
- Alfresco (pregnancy-safe)
- Avon Skin So Soft (Citronellol)
- Lifesystems Natural (Citriodiol)
- Smidge (Icaridin)
Whichever repellant you decide to use, reapply it regularly.
If you apply sun cream, allow it to soak into your skin before you apply your repellant.
Avoiding using perfume can also help boost the effectiveness of the repellant.
If you prefer to take the natural, chemical-free route, you might want to consider using plant-based bug repellants.
Again, even though you’re using non-chemical products, always apply the repellant to your clothing rather than your skin, wash your hands after handling the product, and avoid inhaling it.
You can buy essential oils from health stores and online, together with plastic spray bottles in which to store the repellant.
Here’s a recipe for a simple, effective DIY insect repellant:
- Natural witch hazel
- 10 to 20 drops of essential oil
How to make it:
- Choose your preferred essential oil. All the oils listed below are effective, so simply pick one that you love the smell of or combine a few.
- Combine the essential oil with half a cup of water and half a cup of natural witch hazel and put the mixture into a spray bottle.
Remember to shake the bottle each time you use it, as the oils and water will separate during storage.
Although natural repellants aren’t generally as effective as chemical ones, they do smell much nicer, and you’re less likely to have an allergic reaction.
Oils that make good insect repellants include:
- Tea Tree
White or apple cider vinegar is another effective natural insect repellant, and it’s also something that you might take with you anyway as a condiment.
Spray undiluted vinegar around your tent, on your clothes, and on your skin to keep flies and other buzzing menaces away.
If you don’t like the idea of spraying insect repellant on your kids (or on yourself), you might prefer to use an insect repellant bracelet.
These products unobtrusively emit chemical repellants that create a barrier around you, keeping insects away.
Coils and diffusers
There’s nothing worse than settling down in your tent or caravan at night, only to be woken by the dreaded, high-pitched whine of a mosquito right next to your ear!
And in the case of mosquitoes, it’s definitely the female of the species that’s more deadly than the male. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite you. That’s because the females need the protein and iron that’s contained in mammalian blood to make eggs. Outside of the breeding season, both sexes are harmless, feeding solely on water and nectar.
It’s the carbon dioxide that you exhale that attracts mosquitoes, together with your body heat and various other chemicals that are excreted through your skin. So, if you can mask those enticing scents, you stand a good chance of keeping mozzies away.
You can buy diffusers and coils that emit a pesticide called metofluthrin that can work for up to 12 hours, and are marketed as being up to 100 percent effective against mosquitoes. These devices are powered by a small battery-operated fan that diffuses the chemical around a small area. So, if you put one or two of these diffusers around your campsite, that can help keep mozzies away.
A more traditional mosquito repellant device is the pyrethrum-infused coil. Smoke and a powerful insect repellent are emitted by the coils as they burn. Put several of these coils around your campsite at night to keep bugs away while you sleep.
Garlic is a powerful natural insect repellant.
If you don’t fancy the idea of rubbing yourself in garlic paste, you might want to try taking garlic capsules. The scent is secreted by your pores, keeping insects, vampires, and possibly other campers, away!
Mosquitoes, midges, and no-see-ums are very weak fliers. That’s why you don’t see so many of them on windy days.
One extremely effective way of keeping those insects away from you is by using electric or battery-operated fans. Set a few fans angled upward and facing out away from your sitting or sleeping area, and insects will find it nigh-on impossible to fly through the swirling currents to air to make a meal of you and your camping companions.
There are many herbs that have insect repellant properties. You can deter flies and biting insects by placing bunches of fresh herbs around your tent and campsite.
The following herbs work well as insect repellants:
Burning dried herbs on your campfire can also work well as an insect repellant in the evenings.
Smoke and citronella
Insects generally hate the smell of citrus, and burning citronella candles alongside your campfire can produce a double-whammy of smoke and citrus scent that will keep nuisance bugs at a distance.
You can buy citronella tealights too, which not only create a lovely ambiance when scattered around your campsite in empty jam jars, but they keep biting insects away too.
Although you might think that insects are attracted to light, you can use special battery-operated lanterns to deter insects.
Those lanterns contain a cartridge that releases a chemical bug repellant.
Alternatively, you can get the lanterns that DO attract the pests and then zap them.
Tip #3 – Cover-up
If the weather isn’t too hot, you can keep much of your body protected from biting insects by wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers, especially during the morning and evening when mosquitoes are most active and if you’re heading into areas where there’s a lot of standing water.
Spray your clothes with repellant, and avoid wearing dark colors. Studies have shown that mozzies are drawn more to darker shades, blue in particular, so wear khaki or keep it pastel.
Tip #4 – Lookout for ticks
Ticks are another insect nuisance that you might encounter when camping, especially if you’re hiking in an area where the vegetation is thick, and there are wild mammals present, especially deer, foxes, and badgers.
Unlike fleas, ticks can’t jump onto a mammalian host. Instead, these parasitic insects crawl up the long stems of grasses and plants where they wait for a passing mammal to brush against them and pick them up. Once on a suitable host, the tick attaches itself and feeds. When the tick is full and bloated with blood, it drops off.
If you take your dog with you when you go camping, check your pet (and yourself) regularly to make sure that neither of you is carrying a tick. (I also highly recommend that your dog is treated with a suitable flea and tick preventative before venturing out on an adventure.)
If you do discover one, resist the urge to burn it, cover it in Vaseline, or pull it off. Tick mouthparts are designed to remain fixed firmly to the host animal, and they will remain there even if the creature’s body is pulled or twisted off, and that can cause a nasty infection. Ticks are best removed with a special tool that is useful to have in your armory.
Of course, the best way to deal with ticks is not to pick one up in the first place. So, wear long trousers tucked into your socks and long-sleeves to keep the critters off. A practical tip is to wrap a length of duct tape around the trouser/sock join for extra security!
If you do get bitten by a tick, keep a close eye on the bite for a month after the tick has been removed. Ticks can carry a very nasty infection called Lyme disease, so if the site develops a rash or becomes very red and inflamed, see your GP right away.
Tip #5 – Go fragrance-free
Some highly fragranced personal hygiene products such as deodorant, shampoo, and body spray can attract insects.
So, for the duration of your camping trip, swap your usual product choice for a fragrance-free option that won’t make you quite so appealing to the local wildlife.
Tip #6 – Keep a clean campsite
Wildlife in general, including insects, can be attracted to the aroma of food.
Flies and wasps are especially keen on the smell of cooked food and sweet drinks, so take the following simple housekeeping steps to prevent your campsite from turning into a buffet for pests:
- Keep food in a plastic container with a tightly fitting lid.
- Dispose of all rubbish in a designated site at your campground or package it securely for disposal as soon as you find somewhere suitable.
- Wash up dishes as soon as you’ve finished using them.
- Wipe down surfaces with antibacterial cleaner before and after use.
- After a barbecue, clean down the grill as soon as it’s cool enough to do so. Don’t leave the mess overnight, as that’s sure to attract pests and hungry wildlife in search of an easy meal.
Tip #7 – Zip up your tent
Keep flies, mosquitoes, and midges out of your tent by remembering to zip the door shut to your bedroom every time you enter or leave.
That way, you won’t find yourself trying to capture a buzzing fly when you retire to bed for the night.
Tip #8 – Mosquito netting and screen rooms
If you’re heading to an area that you know is prone to attracting colonies of biting insects, you might want to consider investing in some mosquito netting or a screen room.
A screen room is simply a large canopy or tent that has mesh walls. So, you get to enjoy the view and the cooling breeze without being attacked by insects.
Mosquito netting can also be used to create a screen room. Mount the netting onto poles or trees to create a bug-free zone.
Tip #9 – Dealing with wasps
As the summer progresses and fruit begins to ripen, you’ll notice wasps hanging around your campsite.
Wasps won’t usually sting you unless you aggravate them, but they can be a menace when you’re eating, and some people are highly allergic to the striped peril’s sting.
The best way to keep wasps away from your camp is by keeping all food, especially sugary stuff, securely under wraps.
You can also make a wasp trap to draw the wasps away from your camp.
- Take a plastic bottle and cut it in half.
- Put some flat beer or other sugary liquid in the bottom half of the bottle.
- Place the top half of the bottle inside the bottom piece and tape it together so that you create a funnel that the wasps will fall down, eventually drowning in the liquid.
- Hang the trap well away from the campsite.
If you don’t like the idea of inciting mass wasp suicide, you can make a fake wasp nest instead. Simply take a brown paper bag and fill it with crumpled newspaper. Tie a string around the bag and hang it up in a prominent spot in your campsite. Wasp scouts checking out your campsite will think that the bag is a rival nest and keep clear of the area.
What about bees?
Bees are not generally a nuisance to campers. That’s because bees, unlike wasps, are very picky when it comes to where they get their food from.
Bees collect pollen or nectar, depending on the species of bee, and many are attracted to flowers of a particular species or of certain colors. So, you don’t need to worry that bees will end up in your wasp traps, especially if you’re camping during the spring and summer when there are plenty of wildflowers in bloom.
To wrap things up…
Insects can be a real pain if they invade your campsite or your tent. But you can prevent these winged and crawling invaders from ruining your camping holiday by following my top tips.
Be sure to take plenty of insect repellant with you and use it! Keep your tent door zipped up to keep insects out, burn a campfire (if permitted) to deter biting critters at night, and dispose of or keep all food waste carefully in sealed containers.
If you have any of your own tips for a bug-free camping holiday, do, please share them in the comments box below.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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